I’ve Seen 100 Shows in 2023 and I Have Some Thoughts
Written by Justin Clarke
With Theatre Thoughts escalating in the number of productions we review, I made it my mission to see as much theatre as possible across 2023. With an insatiable appetite for the arts, my intrepid soul embarked on a quest to experience 100 different shows, representing the diverse and vibrant tapestry of entertainment we have here in Australia.
With 100 shows covering the worlds of professional, independent and community theatre, I’ve been lucky enough to witness thought-provoking narratives, absurdly alluring comedy, mesmerising visual spectacles, and new, innovative forays into what theatre can be.
As we approach the end of 2023, it’s time for me to sit down and go through the lessons I’ve learned on my mission to be a connoisseur of theatre. The journey itself has traversed a wide range of genres, mediums and formats resulting in an overall need for me to reflect on the world of the arts and entertainment as it stands today.
With all this in mind, let’s just say…I have some thoughts. Some "theatre thoughts", if you will.
1. Chef - Kings Cross Theatre (NSW)
2. Bright Half Life - Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
3. Hamlet - Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Opera House (NSW)
4. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Capitol Theatre (NSW)
5. Choir Boy - Riverside Theatres Parramatta (NSW)
6. The Rocky Horror Picture Show - Sydney Theatre Royal (NSW)
7. The Lies We Were Told - ARA Darling Quarter Theatre (NSW)
8. Xanadu the Musical - Sutherland Arts Theatre (NSW)
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show - Sydney Theatre Royal (NSW)
10. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)
11. Blessed Union - Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)
12. Hairspray the Musical - Sydney Lyric Theatre (NSW)
13. Cosi - Wollongong Workshop Theatre (NSW)
14. Collapsible - Red Line Productions (NSW)
15. APOCKA-WOCKA-LOCKALYPSE: Adventures in the Deadlands!! - Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
16. Into the Woods - Belvoir St (NSW)
17. ArtsLab: Body of Work - 107 Redfern (NSW)
18. Cherry Smoke - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
19. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) - Meraki Arts Bar
20. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Her Majesty’s Theatre (VIC)
The resurgence in theatre is very much alive, but what about the resurgence in audiences?
There is a truth amongst producers and those on and behind the stages in theatre, and it is that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not lessened. It’s true that there is definitely a resurgence in theatre in the independent sector, with Sydney artists doing what they do best and creating new, innovative and exciting works. The same cannot be said for the professional sector who have gone down the route of anniversary shows and returning productions , which is understandable when considering the need to recuperate the losses the pandemic caused. With shows such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show returning to Australian shores, it was clear from the start of the year that the big theatres were focused on putting bums on seats (read: making a good investment).
The success of musicals this year such as Wicked, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Beauty and the Beast have shown that the hunger is there from audiences to come and see theatre. But do we really need to revive productions that haven’t been repolished or adapted in 50 years? And what's stopping audiences from returning to pre-pandemic numbers?
The answer to this comes in many forms. The cost of living crisis has meant that audiences have had to become more tight-fisted with their money, and they just can't afford to spend over $200+ for their family to come to the theatre. The solution to this comes down to my second thought later on in the article, but nonetheless it deserves to be mentioned here. We need to make theatre more affordable for the general public.
From my 100 show journey, it’s become abundantly clear that creating, expanding and maintaining audiences is crucial. Especially when considering factors such as shifts in demographics, the changing landscape of entertainment preferences and the competition from digital platforms. Australian theatre must continually reinvent itself, to engage and diversify its audience to remain relevant.
21. Rosie Jones: Triple Threat - MICF 2023 (VIC)
22. Sh!t-faced Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet - MICF 2023 (VIC)
23. Jenny Tian: Picture This - MICF 2023 (VIC)
24. Eighteen - MICF 2023 (VIC)
25. Adults Only Magic Show - MICF 2023 (VIC)
26. Actually, Good - MICF 2023 (VIC)
27. 12 Lies I Told Before 21 - MICF 2023 (VIC)
28. Gabbi Bolt: Odd Socks - MICF 2023 (VIC)
29. Ed Gamble: Electric - MICF 2023 (VIC)
30. Legacy - Michelle Brasier - MICF 2023 (VIC)
31. Greece Lightning - Garry Starr - MICF 2023 (VIC)
32. Best of Melbourne Comedy Festival - MICF 2023 (VIC)
33. UFO - Griffin Theatre Company (NSW)
34. The Lucky Country - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)
35. Mortel - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
36. Shit-Wrecked - Sydney Comedy Festival (NSW)
37. The Culture - Flight Path Theatre (NSW)
38. Party Girl - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
39. Mamma Mia! The Musical - Sydney Lyric Theatre (NSW)
40. Driftwood the Musical – Riverside Theatres (NSW)
More Government Support is needed for the creation of Festivals in NSW
If my recent love for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and my experience at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has taught me anything, it’s that the NSW Government needs to put much more support behind the creation of festivals if they ever dream of being in the same league.
Sydneysiders, let me paint a picture for you in case you’ve never been: You organise a night out with your friends to go and see some comedy, maybe a Fringe show or two one Saturday evening. Preparing for a long night, you start the evening early with some dinner at your favourite food joint. After you’re satiated, you ensconce yourselves within your first venue: a small room out the back of a bar around the corner from your restaurant. After one hour has passed of your chosen entertainment (be it standup, improv or musical) you then walk to the next venue because, hey, it’s only five minutes around the corner! You grab your drink of choice, and settle yourselves in for a second viewing. You’re now getting the urge to continue your night, what else could be on the agenda? Can you afford it? Well there’s another show 10 minutes walk from this venue and it’s only $15, so you all decide to continue the night. And so it goes!
Fringe and comedy festivals are by far my favourite time of year. Not just because I get to see my regular favourite acts such as Michelle Brasier, Garry Starr, Gabbi Bolt, Gillian Cosgriff, Mel & Sam (the list is endless), but because I get to see beautiful cities come to life.
If the NSW government wants to produce and create festivals of the same calibre as Melbourne, they need to deploy funding and policy decisions - and they need to deploy them now. Imagine opening up the entirety of The Rocks, Walsh Bay, Darling Quarter and George Street to host Fringe shows and comedy gigs, both with international and local acclaim? Funding priorities, grant structures, and collaborative efforts between theatre companies, venues and related industries can make this a reality, and in return, make Sydney a competitor in the festival market.
41. Slide Night - Sydney Opera House (NSW)
42. Tough Titties - Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
43. Beauty and the Beast the Musical - Capitol Theatre (NSW)
44. Beauty and the Beast the Musical - Capitol Theatre (NSW)
45. Dumb Kids - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
46. Fences - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)
47. Reagan Kelly - NUTS (NSW)
48. Stop. Drop. And Listen - Shopfront Arts Co-Op (NSW)
49. Forgetting Tim Minchin - Belvoir 25A (NSW)
50. & Juliet - Regent Theatre (VIC)
51. Homegrown Aus - Melbourne (VIC)
52. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 - Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)
53. Short Blanket - Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
54. On the Beach - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)
55. Mr Bailey’s Minder - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)
56. Elvis: A Musical Revolution - State Theatre (NSW)
57. F*ckboy Fairytales - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
58. Stamptown Comedy Night - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
59. Le Wine Club - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
60. Fierce - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
Make 2024 the Year of New Work and New Musicals
God bless the Michael Cassel Group! Currently it seems that Michael Cassel is solely responsible for bringing new and blockbuster productions to Australia. At one point, 2023 saw the three major theatres in Melbourne housing MC backed productions: Mary Poppins, & Juliet and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In 2024, they’re teaming up with Sydney Theatre Company to bring the long awaited Dear Evan Hansen to Sydney, and let’s not forget they also recently announced the 2025 production of everyone’s favourite mischievous ghoul, Beetlejuice: The Musical for Melbourne.
Meanwhile, in my favourite venue, the Hayes Theatre Company have cooked up a year of new and innovative works. Choosing to forego the large named productions in place of new developments, the Hayes are bringing Lauren Murphy’s latest musical Zombie! as well as their joint venture with Griffin Theatre Company, Flat Earthers: The Musical. It is visions such as this that empower artists and audiences alike to expose themselves to new and exciting theatre, rather than venturing out to see The Phantom of the Opera for the 200th time.
Supporting the creation of new Australian works in all aspects of theatre; from actors to directors, designers and technicians, is crucial to sustaining the arts and creating a vibrant landscape. This includes funding research and development, supporting emerging playwrights, and providing opportunities for new works to be produced. However, training and development programs must adapt to changing industry needs and ensure that pathways to success are accessible to all.
61. Hello Kitty Must Die - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
62. Chriskirkpatrickmas: A Boy Band Musical - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
63. Annabel Marlow...is this okay?? - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
64. Losing the Plot - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
65. Tomorrow's Child - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
66. Ed: The New, Totally Unofficial, Ginger-Inclusive Parody Sketch Show -Edinburgh Fringe
67. Lear Alone - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
68. Beautiful Evil Things - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
69. Dugsi Dayz - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
70. Jazz or a Bucket of Blood - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
72. Best of Ed Fringe - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
73. Shakespeare for Breakfast - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
74. Kirsty Mann: Skeletons - Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK)
76. The Crucible - Gielgud Theatre (UK)
76. Back to the Future: The Musical - Adelphi Theatre (UK)
77. Macbeth - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (UK)
78. As You Like It - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (UK)
79. Guys & Dolls - Bridge Theatre (UK)
80. Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical - Shafetsbury Theatre (UK)
I’ve become acutely aware of the lens through which I view theatre
As my time as a reviewer has developed, I’ve become acutely aware of my voice as a watcher and a responder of works. I’ve been confronted with the question of how I dissect work from a masculine, Eurocentric perspective. Indeed it’s been made abundantly clear to me by many vocal advocates that this is essential to me when writing about any given work that is outside of my sphere.
In my development of my own writing skills, trying to seek out new means and opportunities for this to happen has not been granted from established platforms, because voices similar to mine already exist, and so the onus has been on me to do my own research, read others' work, and reflect myself. To be honest, it’s been a difficult journey, but truly an important one. My conclusion is that both theatre creators, reviewers and audiences must consider their perspectives through which they view theatre in its entirety.
There is a growing demand for better diversity representation, both on the stage as well as behind the scenes. The theatre industry must address issues related to cultural appropriation, casting and storytelling, to better reflect the multicultural nature of Australian society. Without it, there truly cannot be change in the industry and we run the risk of staying behind other major players such as Broadway and most certainly the West End. Seeing a show at the Globe Theatre is a brilliant way to guage what I'm talking about.
81. Aunty Donna: The Dead Cat Tour - Enmore Theatre (NSW)
82. Wicked the Musical - Lyric Theatre (NSW)
83. A Very Expensive Poison - New Theatre, Newtown (NSW)
84. Class Browns - Factory Theatre, Sydney Fringe Comedy (NSW)
85. Is God Is - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)
86. The Importance of Being Earnest - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)
87. The Maids - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
88. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)
89. Blacklisted - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
90. Plenty of Fish in the Sea - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
91. Not So Great Expectations - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
92. The Visitors - Sydney Theatre Company (NSW)
93. Blank: An Improvised Musical - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
94. Unkissed - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
95. The Dismissal - Seymour Centre (NSW)
96. Boom - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
97. Girls in Boys' Cars - Riverside Theatres, Parramatta (NSW)
98. MANSION/WITCH - Sydney Spiegeltent (NSW)
99. In Between Moments - Shopfront Arts Co-Op (NSW)
100. Pear-Shaped - ARA Darling Quarter (NSW)
I Love Theatre
The final and most obvious conclusion that I can make from my journey to 100 productions in 2023 is plain and simple: I love theatre!
I love sitting in the auditorium, hearing the musicians tune their instruments before the opening chords of a musical begins. I love walking into the same auditorium and taking in the lavish set design. I love hearing the audience bustling with excitement and sharing their favourite moments after leaving the theatre.
I love seeing actors share hidden moments on stage when their characters aren’t lit. I love hearing and talking to artists about backstage mishaps and inside jokes. I love meeting artists who share my passion for new work.
I love seeing artists and audiences fight for change. I love positive discourse to call out cultural appropriation when it’s needed. I love that there are advocates for theatre who want to see it change for the better.
I love seeing new works that change the game. I love seeing outdated musicals adapted for contemporary audiences. I love seeing the beauty of the West End and imagining what Australia’s Theatreland could be.
I love supporting women in theatre. I love seeing queer voices represented on stage. I love the rise of First Nations representation on stage in contemporary works. I love meeting amazing artists to discuss their new productions.
In short, I love theatre.
Writers note: Not all shows listed in this feature have been for review purposes. The lists contained within the article is mixture of shows reviewed on Theatre Thoughts and those paid for as entertainment and research.