The New Theatre

Eighty years ago the left-wing author Katherine Susannah Prichard had just come back from Russia and Germany. Impressed by the socialist realist street theatre she saw there she decided to try to organise that kind of theatre in Australia.

Working through the Communist Party, which was trying to expand out from the unemployed workers movement into broader cultural circles, the theatre was founded in 1932 in the midst of the Depression. Early performers came from the militant unemployed and other parts of the working class.

Communism influenced the political direction but classics from Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw and others were also performed, and there was a constant tension between those who only wanted to do “political” plays and those who wanted to put on pieces which might actually earn a bit of money.

Fast forward to today, and the same spirit, remarkably, has survived over the decades. It had a major financial crisis in 2000, but has managed to keep going with a lot of community support. The theatre, in King St, south Newtown, is not overtly communist any more but it still has a distinctive attitude and social conscience. No-one gets paid for working at the theatre as an actor, director, set designer or any of the hundreds of other jobs needed to put on a show.

It provides a useful training ground and showcase for local talent, and its policy is that everyone is welcome and can make a contribution. Louise Fischer is the artistic director – “We challenge, stimulate and entertain. And we foster new talent and new work. I think we play a vital role in the Newtown community by helping grow and develop its distinct cultural flavour. As a destination for graduates and artists wishing to continue to grow their craft we continue to stage works that are large and bold and other theatres often shy away from because of cast size or the risk of venturing outside the safety of the established canon. “

I went to see them for some early rehearsals of a revival of Nick Enright’s The Venetian Twins. In this musical adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century commedia dell’arte classic I Due Gemelli Veneziani identical twin brothers – one sophisticated, the other naive – turn up at the same time in the same town (located somewhere in the region of Goondiwindi) unaware of the other’s presence. Each is in pursuit of a damsel; each has a rival in love; and each must overcome obstacles to achieve their hearts’ desires.

Directed by Mackenzie Steele (pictured here surrounded by some of the actors from the production) the production and team bristle with energy. The cast all have numerous credits from other productions, but find, like most actors, that regular work is elusive. So they choose to keep working and developing, even if they’re not getting paid. I looked at their rehearsal call sheet for the production and it is demanding and intensive for the next few weeks.

The end result should be entertaining and in your face. The season starts November 13 and bookings can be made by calling 1300 347 205 or going to newtheatre.org.au.

Note - some of the historical part of this story was sourced from an article by Peter Murphy in Workers Online.