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Peter Wilkins' top five Canberra theatre picks for 2017

  • Peter Wilkins

A glimpse at the year's theatrical activity in Canberra illustrates the dynamic nature of the theatrical offerings available to a relatively small population.

Certainly, the city has no state theatre company, unfortunately, but audiences are nonetheless well served by some excellent theatre provided by major local and interstate companies.

Mamma Mia! at Canberra Theatre Centre. Center, Jayde Westaby as Tanya. Photo: Jamila Toderas Photo: Jamila Toderas

Diverse programming by the Canberra Theatre, the Street Theatre, the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre across the border and the Ainslie/Gorman, Tuggeranong, and Belconnen arts centres as well as the long-established and reputable Canberra Repertory Society create a "something for everyone" feast of amateur or professional theatre.

In virtually any week of the year, enthusiastic audience members can select a high quality amateur musical or a visiting professional performance from Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Theatre Company or State Theatre Company of South Australia as well as independent producers such as HIT Productions.

Canberra audiences can be justly proud of the quality of local talent and the opportunities to see first- class visiting productions.

The following five top picks have exhibited a high level of diversity, excellence and innovation.

Mamma Mia! The Musical

Mamma Mia! at Canberra Theatre Centre. Photo : Jamila Toderas

In a theatrical coup by the Canberra Theatre Centre and the ACT government, Canberra secured the premiere season of the new Australian production of the worldwide phenomenon, Mamma Mia! The Musical. Canberrans were treated to a musical theatre event of world quality standard. Every aspect of this production that played to sell-out audiences delighted and enthralled by this ideal feel-good pre-Christmas treat. Producers, cast and creatives served up a show that burst with vitality, fun and a refreshing rendition of the Abba favourites. Let's hope this will be the first of many further initiatives to premiere blockbuster musicals in Canberra.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Damien Ryan as Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo: Kate Williams

Rostand's 19th-century play about the fortunes and failings of poet, philosopher and soldier , Cyrano de Bergerac requires a director with imagination, intelligence and vision and an actor with stamina, sensitivity, passion and an inner insecurity that portrays a tragic figure in a hero's guise. As both director of this vital interpretation of Rostand's epic play and the lead actor in the title role, Ryan staged a performance for Sport For Jove that was unforgettable in its inventiveness and riveting in its emotional impact. Among the many fine productions in the Canberra Theatre season, this was an exceptional stand-out.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Craig Alexander as Roo, right, and Jordan Best as Olive in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Photo: Novel Photographic

Pigeonhole Theatre Company is gaining an enviable reputation as a local company, creating work of the highest standard. Their naugural production, Playhouse Creatures, was selected as one of the five finest of 2016 and adapted for presentation at the 2017 international theatre festival in Monaco. The 2017 revival of Ray Lawler's classic Australian drama about the consequence of change in a relationship bristled with relevance with outstanding performances from Jordan Best as the Melbourne barmaid, Olive, and Craig Alexander as the cane-cutter Roo. Under Karen Vickery's direction this iconic, groundbreaking Australian drama captured the essence of a changing nation and the challenges it faced in forging its identity.

A View From The Bridge

In A View from the Bridge: from left, Alexander Clubb, Karen Vickery, Tegan Braithwaite, Grant Simpson, Knox Peden, Liz St Clair Long, Peter Harvey. Photo: Helen Drum

Arthur Miller's powerful drama about Italian migrants on the docks of New York was given an insightful, sensitive and highly dramatic production by Canberra Repertory Society under the excellent direction of newcomer to Canberra's theatre scene, Chris Baldock. Baldock inspired outstanding performances from his cast, in particular Knox Phelan as Eddie Carbone and Karen Vickery as his wife, Beatrice. There is also a wonderful performance by another newcomer, Katrina Hudson as Eddie's niece, Catherine. Rarely seen on the amateur stage, this production was a highlight of Canberra Rep's 2017 Season.

Strictly Ballroom. The Musical

The cast of Strictly Ballroom the Musical dancing away. Photo: Ross Gould

Chris Baldock's production of the stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's popular film lent a touch of Broadway to Canberra Philharmonic's staging of a musical that is identifiably Australian in character yet Broadway in panache. Its demands on amateur performers to embrace the choreographic demands of the show can mark the difference between success and failure. It is to the credit of director, choreographer, musical director and creatives that the show succeeded and provided the ideal showcase for the talents of its two leads, Ylaria Rogers and Joel Hutchings. This was a slick and classy production of the quirky, funny and uniquely original Australian musical.