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New Theatre’s The Grapes of Wrath: a BIG show

The next production from Sydney’s New Theatre will be Frank Galati’s dramatisation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Across the Midwest of America in the 1930s, a combination of dust storms which devastated farmlands and the eviction of tenant farmers drove thousands to leave their homes and hit the road, desperately hoping to find work and a better life in the fertile valleys of California.

The Joads are one such family. Loading their few possessions onto a battered old truck, they join the great migration west along Route 66, dealing with intolerance, exploitation, death and deprivation along the way. But when they reach their ‘promised land’, the family’s dreams are dashed by the realities of the Great Depression.

Renowned first as a novel, winning John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize, and then as an Academy Award-winning motion picture starring Henry Fonda, this adaptation was Steppenwolf Theatre’s first Broadway production and won the Tony Award for Best Play.

Director Louise Fischer has assembled one of the largest casts seen on the New Theatre stage.

"We have 18 actors in the company, ranging in age from 12 to 70 years, and as the play has 45 characters, many are doubling and tripling roles. As you can imagine, it's been something of a logistical nightmare organising rehearsals - and they're not only acting, there's singing and dancing as well," she said.

This classic tale of migrants seeking a better life will resonate strongly with those of us living in contemporary Australia, the 'promised land' for so many from the world's current trouble-spots.

"I was strongly attracted to the scope of this play and the profound humanity of the story." says Fischer. "Pursuing your dreams and searching for a better life are intrinsic human qualities. Frank Galati has managed to craft a magnificent theatrical text out of Steinbeck's sweeping novel, marrying both epic scenes and intimate moments, and it's been thrilling to work with the actors and my design and production team to flesh it out and find our own style of storytelling."

Tom Bannerman has created the set, a module construction of wooden platforms on wheels, configured to represent different elements including the Joad's truck and the migrant camps. Costume designer Sharna Graham, on her first New Theatre production, is creating 1930s period outfits for 45 characters, a massive task requiring much ingenuity to compensate for a minimal budget. Michael Schell and David Cashman, who both worked on August: Osage County, are responsible respectively for Lighting and Sound Design/Musical Direction, and Victoria Lewis is teaching the company the intricacies of barn dancing.

Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Peter David Allison, William Baltyn, James Bean, Shayne de Groot, Jennie Dibley, Simon Emmerson, Angus Evans, Peter Irving Smith, Brittany Johnson, Caroline Levien, Madeline MacRae, Ryan Madden, Kirsty McKenzie, Rowena McNicol, Andrew Simpson, Libby Stirling, Loki Texilake.

Season: 6 August - 7 September. Performance times: Previews Tue 6 & Wed 7 Aug 7:30pm. Opening Night Thu 8 Aug 7:30pm; Thu – Sat 7:30pm; Sun 5pm; Sat 7 Sep 2pm only

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