ABOUT THE PRODUCTION CONTENT GUIDE
Each play description below indicates whether there are acts, language or behaviour that may have an impact on some audience members (for example, violence, sex, language, drug use or nudity) and whether those occasions are made reference to, described or enacted.
Please note: the following information also contains ‘spoilers’ which may impact on your experience of the production.
The Lady in the Van
The Lady in the Van
by Alan Bennett
Allan Bennett (2) is writing a play about his younger self, Alan Bennett (1), and his relationship with Miss Shepherd, a 65-year-old woman with a lot of stories, no clear past and who lives in a van. Allan Bennett (2) is our narrator and guide as Alan Bennett (1) first meets Miss Shepherd, helping her push her van to a place near to his. Soon he is embroiled in her day-to-day living, even being a point-person for her social worker. As he negotiates his own mother’s declining health (Mam), Miss Shepherd negotiates a range of unsavoury visitors, who attack her van [enacted] culminating in Alan Bennett allowing her to move a new van (as donated by a wealthy patron) into his backyard.
Her hygiene (or lack thereof) and her secret past fascinate him particularly as she becomes further integrated into his life. When he hasn’t seen her for a while he and the neighbours fear the worst and decide to look inside the van. Just as they peer in an irate Miss Shepherd arrives back from a ‘retreat’, chastising them for looking through her things.
Mam slips into a coma and Miss Shepherd begins to look worse for wear. Calling the doctor, she reluctantly agrees to go to the day centre from where the social worker expects she will go to hospital. Unable to be contained, however, Mrs Shepherd returns to the van having been washed for the first time in many years. When the social worker arrives the following day they find Miss Shepherd has passed away [described].
Bennett, left with the van, encounters Underwood, who has come by for what he discovers is a bribe. Underwood has been blackmailing Miss Shepherd for many years due to her involvement in a car accident that resulted in the death of a young boy [described].
As Bennett stands at the gravesite, he ruminates on what her life must have been like. She arrives, a ghostly apparition, to have the last laugh. Alan Bennett (1) and (2) leave the stage together, reflecting on the fact that while she lived largely in the periphery of his life, he now realises the large part she actually played.
Contains coarse language, smoke and haze effects (used throughout the production)
Arbus & West
Arbus & West
by Stephen Sewell
It is 1971 and legendary actress, writer and mistress of the double-entendre Mae West is performing in Vegas when her dresser tells her that photographer Diane Arbus has taken her own life [described]. West feigns not to remember who Arbus even was, but the play gives lie to this as we slip back to 1964 when Arbus went, on assignment for a New York magazine, to photograph West. Indeed, Diane is determined that she captured the real Mae West on film.
West recalls that she thought Arbus was a flake but, as Norman Mailer once asserted, giving a camera to Diane Arbus was ‘like giving a hand grenade to a baby’. We then witness Arbus working relentlessly, astutely and cannily to not only have Mae West assent to a photograph, but to consent to doing so without wearing any make-up, a fancy dress, flamboyant backdrops, trick lighting, Vaseline filters or frosting.
Their different versions of feminism clash and clang, as do their understandings of the nature and purpose of art and the expectations and desires of an audience, while Mae does all she can to distract and dissuade Diane–including taking her to Mae’s fabled room of lover’s replica ‘mementos’ [enacted].
Ultimately, Diane gets the photo. For a woman who prides herself on her artificiality, we receive a privileged glimpse of West’s true rage, joy, ingenuity and ambition. She opens up about her difficult childhood, her ferocious and brilliant climb from poverty to vaudeville to Hollywood – a journey that saw her writing her own material, controlling her look and constructing her ‘brand’ – and the great love she so bitterly lost.
Mae West always said she hated the photos but they offer us, as does the play, a portrait of ageing beauty, regret, wildness, star power and longing.
Contains coarse language, sexual references, references to suicide, haze effects and moments of flash photography.
A View from the Bridge
A View from the Bridge
by Arthur Miller
Alfieri – Italian born and bred, now an American lawyer – introduces us to Red Hook, a roughneck wharfie (or Longshoreman) neighbourhood in Brooklyn inhabited by, amongst many, many others, another Italian-American, Eddie Carbone and his wife Beatrice.
They are looking after Eddie’s orphaned niece, Catherine, who is approaching her 18th birthday. Eddie and Beatrice are good people and they will do what they can to help their family and their community. The play begins when they offer to shelter two of Beatrice’s cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, illegal immigrants.
The addition of these two to the house exacerbates tensions already brewing there. Firstly, Eddie and Beatrice’s marriage has gone cold; and secondly Eddie is nursing a growing attraction to Catherine whose study to be a stenographer sees him increasingly jealous of the time she spends away from the house, sometimes with other men.
When Rodolpho and Catherine share an attraction, Eddie makes sense of it by thinking that Rodolpho, who wants to be a singer, must be homosexual and is feigning love to get citizenship through marriage. Eddie seeks advice from Alfieri and both the lawyer and Beatrice think that the boys should move out.
Eddie starts teaching Rodolpho to box; and Act One ends with Eddie inflicting an ‘injury’ on Rodolpho during a training session. Marco comes to Rodolpho’s defence, threatening Eddie by holding a chair of his head [enacted].
A few months later Eddie aggressively tries to kiss both Catherine and Rodolpho [enacted]. A subsequent violent confrontation has Eddie kicking Rodolpho out; and worse, with Alfieri proving no help to him, Eddie calls Immigration Services. The immigrants are arrested – with Rodolpho and Catherine about to wed in a week – and Marco, in the States to earn money for his starving Italian family, spits in Eddie’s face. Eddie denies knowing who ratted on them.
On his release from prison Marco – who will now have to return to Italy – confronts Eddie, stabbing Eddie with Eddie’s own knife [enacted]. As friends and neighbours watch him die, Alfieri acknowledges Eddie’s goodness and his weaknesses.
Contains sexual references, violence and mature themes
by Louis Nowra
Lewis has been employed to direct a theatre production with a group of patients in a mental health hospital’s burnt-out theatre in 1971. Their social worker describes them as ‘normal people who have done extraordinary things, thought extraordinary thoughts’ – while some of their misdemeanours are implied, one is described as an arsonist and cat murderer [described].
One of the patients, Roy, is determined to put on Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. The fact that none of them can sing and each of them face a wide range of mental health issues all provide a seemingly never-ending set of obstacles for the young director.
Outside the walls of the hospital, the political and social climate is heightened by Vietnam War protests and an impending moratorium, where Lewis probably should be. With Lewis pulled in multiple directions, he becomes closer to the patients and becomes increasingly aware of the compassionate and redemptive power of music and performance to help us forgive each other and ourselves, for our shortcomings.
The production is thrown off-kilter, then almost cancelled, not only because they cannot sing, but because one of the ‘cast’ sets fire to the toilets, then the theatre [described].
Nevertheless, the show does go on and it’s a triumph. Although Lewis’ relationship with his girlfriend Lucy and friend Nick suffers, like the characters in the opera, Lewis learn a lesson about the power of love, art and fidelity, for as Roy comments, ‘the music of this opera keeps the world in harmony’.
Contains coarse language, sexual references, drug references and references to suicide
- References to suicide – there are occasional mentions of self-harm throughout the play and in Louis’ final monologue he mentions Ruth’s drug overdose; although it’s not explicitly stated that it was a suicide.
The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You
The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You
by Finegan Kruckemeyer
Connor, 16 years-old, explains how he has turned slamming doors into an art form. He is unafraid to challenge his parents, argue with bus-drivers, tease his best mate Timo, even ruin the school excursion to the art gallery [all described].
Part 1 moves fluidly through a typical teenager’s haunts: home, bus stop and classroom. After Connor ‘goes mental’ in school detention, his parents send him to stay with his uncle – who runs an auto shop to straighten him out and work with his hands. Connor cannot resist, however, playing a prank on one of Uncle Mal’s customers. His self-destructive behaviour culminates in a fight over nothing with Timo that leaves Timo unconscious.
Later, as Connor’s parents take him for a drive to the country they are unusually, eerily, chirpy. His parents wake him when they arrive at a dense forest, explaining that they are leaving him there for a week in a run-down shack built by his grandfather. Connor vents his anger – nothing new – as his parents drive away [Connor trashes the shack, which is enacted].
He tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to survive in the wild. Just as he fashions a rudimentary bow and arrow , a 16 year-old girl Lotte surprises him with a ‘hello’ and he narrowly misses shooting her with an arrow [enacted].
Lotte is on a camping trip with her family. The two teenagers bond over similar experiences – alienation, voicelessness and a loathing for the adult world. When they meet up the following day, Lotte persuades Connor to run with her deeper into the forest, away from the torments of adults, and adolescence, to be truly and completely lost.
It is night-time. Connor imagines out-loud a future life together with Lotte. The next morning, while Connor sleeps, Lotte gets up and walks away.
Contains coarse language. Recommended for ages 14+
by Simon Stephens
Georgie kisses the back of Alex’s neck at 6.24pm at London’s St. Pancras Station. Thus begins Heisenberg. This entirely unremarkable event becomes increasingly more remarkable as the play progresses. Firstly, Georgie doesn’t know Alex. She thought she did. It was an embarrassing accident. An oddly intimate moment between two strangers. Secondly Georgie is American. What is she even doing in London? Thirdly, Georgie is 42 and Alex is 75. And another: she is a waiter at a posh restaurant, and he is an almost retired butcher and loner. Their worlds should never have collided and now that they have, and two disconnected lives, two patterns of living utterly separate from one another, have now become, for a moment, unstable, uncertain, glancing.
This feeling of instability is deepened when Georgie turns up unexpectedly at Alex’s butcher shop. Are we headed to chaos, obsession or something truer, more familiar but also more deeply exotic and wonderful?
The title refers to the principle identified by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927 – that it is impossible to measure the position, and velocity, of a sub-atomic particle at the same time with absolute precision. You can know only one or the other, but never both. Stephens applies this idea of natural unpredictability and unknowability to two entirely unrelated people.
Quiet, inhibited Alex gradually welcomes the forceful Georgie into his life and they become intimate. Once he has fully committed to their relationship [a sexual encounter is enacted], Georgie reveals that she has lost touch with her adult son and needs money to return to the US to find him. Over the course of their increasingly regular time together, Georgie has encouraged Alex to reveal, incrementally, that he has a decent nest egg. Maybe he can help her? He declines. She has set him up. Perhaps her son has run from Georgie because she is erratic, fragile, contrary, and impossible to love. Alex later relents, handing her the money in a brown paper bag.
In the final scene Alex, who has never left the UK, marvels at Jersey City’s Pulaski Skyway – he has accompanied her. Georgie says that she finds his face reassuring. She thanks him for coming. She wonders if he wants to be her boyfriend. He says no. They could spend some more time together though.
Contains coarse language and sexual references
by Colin Thiele, adapted by Tom Holloway
Hideaway Tom and his son Storm Boy live secretly in a shack by the ocean. While walking in the bird sanctuary nearby, Storm Boy meets Fingerbone Bill. Despite Tom not being keen on Bill (or anyone) knowing of their existence, he allows Storm Boy to go with Bill the next day to the sanctuary again to look at birds. They come across three sick baby pelicans that have lost their mother to hunters known to poach in that area. Storm Boy takes them home determined to take care of them.
Time passes and the pelicans: Mr Proud, Mr Ponder and Mr Percival, are all fully-grown. Tom and Bill decide it is time for them to be released into the wild and so, reluctantly, Storm Boy goes with them out to sea to let them go.
Tom wakes him the next morning – Mr Percival has returned. And Storm Boy loves spending time with him on the beach. More time passes and they learn from Bill that Mr Percival has been defending the sanctuary by attacking hunters, but also that people are beginning to talk about the boy who plays fetch with his pelican on the beach.
There is a particularly severe storm and a boat runs aground near to them. With the help of Mr Percival they drag the sailors ashore saving their lives. The sailors and others in town, now they know about them, offer to help Storm Boy attend boarding school in the city. Storm Boy, confused by what this means for him and angry with his dad, leaves the house in search of Mr Percival.
He returns with a dying Mr Percival who has been shot by hunters [depicted]. After they bury him, Tom apologises to Storm Boy for taking him away from everything and they agree that while it might take him and Bill longer to come back into the world, school in the city might not be such a bad thing. Bill reassures him that birds like Mr Percival live on forever in our memories.
Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love
by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, music by Paddy Cunneen
Will Shakespeare has writer’s block as he waits for a new muse to inspire him. He begins auditions for a comedy (which we recognise to be a proto Romeo and Juliet) discovering a brilliant actor, Thomas Kent.
Kent is actually a woman named Lady Viola. Because acting is illegal for late 16th century English women she has had to disguise herself as a man. When Will comes to tell Kent that ‘he’ has secured the part of Romeo, Will interrupts a party designed to broker a marriage between Viola and Lord Wessex. On meeting Viola, Shakespeare falls in love with her. He has found his muse!
Rehearsals commence, as does correspondence between Will and Viola using ‘Kent’ as the intermediary. Will learns she must be married to Wessex and then, that she and Kent are the one person. With Viola unmasked they consummate their love [referenced].
Later, when Wessex arrives to take Viola to meet the Queen, Will accompanies them disguised as Viola’s female cousin and, inadvertently, makes a bet with the Queen that theatre can replicate genuine emotion.
Rival theatre Manager Burbage arrives at rehearsals to recoup the script that Shakespeare promised him but, deceived, leaves with the wrong one. Viola and Will briefly separate after her discovery of his wife and children back home. Rehearsals continue and, with Will still writing, the play becomes a tragedy.
Simultaneously, Wessex, Burbage and Lord Chamberlain arrive to kill Will, get the script and the production shut down. Viola, outed as a woman, leaves with Wessex. Burbage comes to their aid, offering his theatre for the production in which Will must now play Romeo.
Viola and Wessex are married but on the eve of her departure with him overseas, she runs away to watch the show. Their new Juliet has lost his voice so she must step on in his place. The lovers say their final goodbye on stage as Romeo and Juliet while the company members trap Lord Chamberlain and Wessex, who both arrive to interrupt the production, underneath the stage. As Chamberlain breaks free, the Queen reveals herself and covers for Viola, silencing him. She declares Will the winner of the bet. As Viola sails away with Wessex, Will talks to the ghost of Marlowe about a new play that will capture the spirit of Viola – we know it to be Twelfth Night.
Black is the New White
Black is the New White
by Nakkiah Lui
A narrator begins to tell the story of the Gibson family Christmas, before they do it for him. Charlotte Gibson, a successful lawyer from a prominent Aboriginal family, is bringing her fiancée Francis Smith – a poor, White, experimental Cellist – to meet her family for the first time.
It starts off badly as a naked Francis stumbles into the lounge room interrupting his semi-naked future in-laws Ray and Joan Gibson [enacted]. Charlotte’s sister Rose and her husband Sonny arrive and, after Francis gives them the correct directions to the holiday house, so do his parents: Marie and Dennison Smith. Dennison and Ray turn out to be long-time political rivals who still wage war on Twitter. Tensions escalate as Francis makes a series of poor taste jokes that put him in an even worse standing with the family.
Things peak the next day at Christmas lunch when Charlotte confronts her father over negative impacts on Aboriginal people because of policies he passed in government, not to mention, though she does, the hypocrisy of their relative wealth. Francis panics when he learns he will be cut out of his family trust and he and Charlotte fight resulting in their break-up. Rose suggests this is for the best but Charlotte takes issues with her reasoning and they begin a food-fight. Dennison and Ray join in and, after Sonny gets a phone call telling him that he isn’t Aboriginal but is in fact Tongan, everyone leaves to get some air. Marie confesses she’s always liked Joan and asks if she might kiss her, which Dennison sees causing him to despair. Ray comes to his aid and they agree that if they don’t want to lose their children they must sign a Treaty to put aside their differences and help Francis get Charlotte back.
As Joan and her daughters share a moment over a joint, Francis, carried by the others, serenades Charlotte with the song that he first used to woo her, Mysterious Girl by Peter Andre. They make up, as do the other couples and Sonny marries Francis and Charlotte on the spot. The narrator closes the tale of this newfound family – ‘they will all live happily ever after, because they are all very rich’.
Contains coarse language, nudity and drug use
by Anna Ziegler
Rosalind Franklin is a brilliant young scientist who no one seems to know what to do with. That she might have plans or interests of her own does not generally seem to have disturbed the equilibrium of the almost exclusively male post-WW2 world of the British academe. Certain that she was ‘always right as a girl’ and ‘never lazy’, the scientific establishment cannot cope with Rosalind’s forthrightness, self-confidence, prickliness and stern disregard for the clubbish and seeming daffiness of her male colleagues.
Her daily battles for respect and parity, mostly with her overtly chauvinistic and anti-Semitic boss Maurice Wilkins, form the bulk of the play. The play condenses Franklin’s critical career phase during the early 1950s – specifically her work on X-ray diffraction images of DNA at King’s College in London. Wilkins’ assistant, Ray Gosling, is one of the few who treat her as an equal and together they find space for her to work relatively unimpeded.
The photograph of the title, taken by Rosalind, became the key image that helped confirm DNA’s double helix structure. It won a Nobel Prize for Wilkins and his friendly adversaries at Cambridge University, James Watson and Francis Crick; though by the time of the award Franklin was already four years dead from ovarian cancer, aged just 37.
The play moves backwards and forwards in time balancing her journey towards that major discovery, with the men’s retrospective thoughts about Rosalind. Scandalously Rosalind’s colleagues had raided her work drawers to find the photograph and then used it without her consent. She had wanted more proof, but they went ahead and rushed to publication.
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Book by Terrence McNally, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig
Prisoner 16115, Valentin Arregui Paz, age 27, is dragged barely conscious into a cell by two guards [enacted].
Accused of Marxist terrorism he must eventually break and will then reveal his comrades under continued torture [described]. His cell mate is Molina, Prisoner 57884, Luis Alberto Molina, arrested for corrupting a minor, in his third year of eight years. Occupation; window-dresser. Molina dreams of a movie star, Aurora, who regularly transports him from this hell. He adores all her roles, but one terrifies him, the Spider Woman, whose kiss is lethal.
Molina cares for the damaged Valentin but, once he is conscious, Valentin wants nothing to do with Molina. He has no interest in Molina’s fantasies, lifestyle or camp dreams and only has eyes for his girlfriend/conspirator Marta.
The Warden lets Molina know that any information, such as Valentin’s girlfriend’s name, might well be worth giving Moline the chance to visit his ailing mother. Meanwhile their food is poisoned as part of the continued effort to break Valentin. Molina shields Valentin, even ending up in the prison hospital from knowingly eating poisoned food [enacted].
Valentin comes to realise that Molina is kind and brave and that his silver screen memories and fantasies shut out the nightmare world that surrounds them. Valentin begins to see Molina as human and genuinely caring. But will Molina double-cross Valentin? Soon Molina is set for release and Valentin begs him to deliver a message to his revolutionary cell, offering Molina sex in return for the favour. Valentin then kisses Molina.
Later Molina is brought back to the cell having been caught trying to relay a message to Marta. When the Warden threatens Valentin by holding a gun to Molina’s head – give me names or else – Molina refuses, declaring his love for Valentin and is then shot [all enacted].
Valentin celebrates Molina’s memory and will remember his name. We see Molina dancing with the Spider Woman, and they kiss.
Contains coarse language, sexual references, violence and mature themes