Burton pans Black Swan season

• Richard and Sally Burton.

A FORMER patron of the Black Swan State Theatre Company has delivered a withering critique of its recently launched season, Where the Heart Is.

Sally Burton, the widow of Hollywood legend Richard Burton, recently circulated an email within the performing arts community which says the company’s board and artistic director are out of touch with their audience’s needs and need to schedule more “classics”.

Ms Burton told the Voice she’s planning to move back to the United Kingdom in a week’s time after living in Perth for the last 13 years, and was a little nervous about backlash from Black Swan.

“Might as well kick off the debate,” she said.

“I had a theory about theatre audiences, which was that if you are 18 and have a bit of interest in theatre and you go to Fringe with your girlfriend, and you’re paying $80 per ticket each, but you see something that is not particularly accessible or familiar, you’re much less likely to come back.”

Ms Burton also criticised the company for using amateurs in its production of Our Town, saying there was little enough work for professional actors already given the grim economic conditions.

But Black Swan’s artistic director Clare Watson, who’s in her second year at the helm of the company, warned that Ms Burton risked further damage to the industry by going public.

Noting the demise of Deckchair, Hole in the Wall and the Perth Theatre Company, she says it’s had a “ravaging impact” on the state’s acting community.

“Where the Heart Is certainly features classics – the modern American masterpiece by Thornton Wilder, Our Town and a new take on Euripides’ Greek classic, Medea, told by Kate Mulvany amongst them.

“It’s a year full of entertainment that is relevant, inclusive and aimed to appeal to a wide audience,” Ms Watson said.

She says some of the newer material will hopefully appeal to new audiences, whilst still catering to the company’s traditional audiences.

“In regards to the criticism about Our Town, the assumption that amateurs are taking the work of professional actors is simply not true.

“This work was programmed with community engagement at its heart; it is a play about community and we can’t wait to start working with local police officers, teachers and funeral directors to make this production come to life under the stars during the Perth Festival – alongside our professional cast which includes Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires) and Ian Michael (Let the Right One In).

For Ms Burton’s full letter, turn to Speaker’s Corner on page 6.

by STEVE GRANT

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