Founded in 2007 by Simon Stone, The Hayloft Project has quickly established itself as one of Melbourne’s most exciting theatre companies with critics hailing it as “a shining light in Melbourne theatre” and “the hottest property in Melbourne’s indie theatre scene.”
So news that the company is relocating to Sydney in 2014 under its recently appointed artistic director Benedict Hardie is very welcome – at least to theatre lovers at the Sydney end of the Hume Highway.
The move follows in the footsteps of Stone, who left Melbourne to become resident director at Belvoir in 2011, and Anne-Louise Sarks who took over from him as artistic director of Hayloft and has now replaced him at Belvoir as one of two new resident directors.
Hardie describes the relocation as “a very exciting challenge for the company next year, to see if we can’t work up some of our Hayloft magic (in Sydney).”
He says that there was a mix of reasons for the decision, some of them personal. “It’s a bit of a homecoming for me. I’m from the Blue Mountains, I went to school in Penrith so coming back is an exciting new challenge for me and an excuse to see my Mum a bit more.
“I think Sydney is looking like an exciting prospect to a lot of theatre artists,” adds Hardie. “The independent scene in Sydney in the last five or ten years has been expanding and acquiring much more legitimacy and interest from audiences and that means, I think, that the Sydney scene is poised only to expand and get more exciting in the next few years and it’s great to be a part of that.”
As to whether he hopes to keep working with actors already associated with the company he says: “We like to establish long-term collaborative relationships with actors and designers so those who can work in Sydney, then absolutely I would jump at the chance to have them working (with us) but that will be on a case by case basis.
“Many actors that we have worked with before have already relocated to Sydney, some of whom you see regularly on the Belvoir stages, so I am looking forward to reconnecting with some of those actors.”
Actors performing in Sydney who have worked with Hayloft include Gareth Davies, Ashley Zuckerman, Shelley Lauman and Eryn Jean Norvill.
Sydney has already seen several Hayloft productions including Stone’s memorable Thyestes, his version of Spring Awakening and The Only Child, which he adapted from Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.
This week the company will perform its post-apocalyptic, black comedy Delectable Shelter at the Seymour Centre as part of a national tour.
Written and directed by Hardie, the play (which premiered in 2011) is set in a bunker where the last five surviving humans plan a utopian future. The production features an eye-popping design, elaborate, five-part, Bach-style, a cappella arrangements of 1980s love songs (arranged by Benny Davis from The Axis of Awesome) and a range of comedy styles.
“My intention was to write a comedy where I could shine a harsh light on some of the prejudices and fears that people harbour but don’t talk about,” says Hardie. “Then it all became bonkers and I ended up creating this very elaborate play set in a bunker underground and spanning 350 years with choral arrangements of 1980s pop ballads.
“But it’s a lot of fun. Silliness and fun were the guiding principles for a lot of it. It leaves no comedy style unturned.”
Delectable Shelter, Seymour Centre, August 13 – 17
An edited version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 11