My Favourite Theatre of 2023

Some years, you don’t really know what your theatre-going year has been like. Sometimes, you’re seeing good things and bad things and when you get to the end of the year, the top ten might come easily – because they are outstanding or because there wasn’t that much competition.

This year, I knew things were strong. This year, the major companies were doing great things. And the independent scene was going off – with some really groundbreaking stuff appearing all over the place.

I didn’t realise, though, how tough it was going to be for me to choose my Top Ten and my Next Ten. Even in other great years, there were usually stand-outs – even if I did agonise over who I might have to drop down to my Honourable Mentions list. Or not mention at all.

This year I had to expand my list… I try to be tough on myself when I make these lists, but this year, it was theatre that was tough on me. Because so much of it was so wonderful.

As always, the individual lists are in alphabetical order. And any shows I’ve seen in previous years in the same production are not eligible.

Here we go with the…

TOP 15

Animal Farm – The Bloomshed, Northcote Town Hall

The Bloomshed is doing some of the best work on our indie stages and this Australian version of Animal Farm which focuses on a government investigation into the events of the book was the sharpest, funniest of satires.

Burnout Paradise – Pony Cam, Melbourne Fringe (my review)

Four performers on treadmills, cooking food, dancing, fill out a funding application and trying to tick off a to-do list was a too-perfect encapsulation of trying to find balance in a far too busy world. Maximalism at its invigorating, infuriating best.

The Crocodile – Spinning Plated, Forty-Five Downstairs

A thrilling theatrical take on Dostoevsky’s short story about fame and trying to overthrow the system.

Fences – Sydney Theatre Company

A classic American play – on stage in Australia for the very first time (!) with an incredible cast, including Bert LaBonte and Zara Newman. Beautifully handled by Director Shari Sebbens.

Grand Theft Theatre – Pony Cam (my review)

Another Pony Cam show in the top fifteen, because of course. They are such inventive, exciting theatre makers. And this tribute to the theatre that shaped them, and changed us was so wonderfully judged and stunning executed.

I Sat and Waited but You Were Gone Too Long – VIMH, La Mama (my review)

The first in Liv Satchell’s grief trilogy (but the last one I saw) is so gentle, so moving and so generous in its depiction of two strangers finding a way to be there for one another. Emily Tomlins and Chanella Macri shone bright.

Into the Woods – Belvoir

A bold, cabaret-style production of the Sondheim/Lapine classic musical, proving that you don’t need large sets when you’ve got beautifully drawn characters and a stage filled with incredible musical theatre talent.

Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill – STCSA/Belvoir/Melbourne Theatre Company

When I saw this show on Broadway with Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday – such an exquisite performance in a perfectly judged production, I never expected I would need or want to see it again. But when Zahra Newman was cast in the role of Billie, it was another must-see. Newman did not disappoint. This was a jewel of a show with a knock-out central performance.

Loaded – Malthouse (my review)

For a story that was such a literary success, later a bold, confronting film, I was wondering if it would work as a one-man show. And boy, does it. The updated setting, crafted by novelist Christos Tsiolkas and playwright Dan Giovannoni, is jarring but just works. And the powerhouse performance by Danny Ball, under Stephen Nicolazzo’s strong direction, made this the equal of its previous forms.

Made in China 2.0 – Malthouse (my review)

I still don’t want to say too much about this simple but powerful tale of making art under difficult circumstances. But it’s stayed with me.

Sunday – Melbourne Theatre Company

Anthony Weigh’s meditation on the story of Sunday Reed and her husband and the Australian art world was a showcase for Nikki Shiels, absolutely, but it was also such a great insight into a little piece of Melbourne history and how their lives fit into a larger world.

Trophy Boys – The Maybe Pile, Forty-Five Downstairs (my review)

Four elite private school boys are tasked with debating the topic “that feminism has failed women” and the end result is brutal deconstruction of the thoughts of privileged boys and the world that is safe for them. Emmanuelle Mattana’s debut play is so striking and so perfectly crafted and I hope it gets to live on and on. Show it in schools everywhere.

The Visitors – Moogahlin, Sydney Theatre Company (my review)

Jane Harrison’s simple but powerful play about First Nations Elders watching the First Fleet arrive in Sydney Harbour has so much to say about how our country still functions and how will have failed the original owners of this land. It’s touring all over in 2024 – don’t miss it.

Wittenoom – Red Stitch (my review)

Mary Anne Butler’s poetic examination of the story of this old mining town in Western Australia – now fenced-off because of the danger it holds – was full of humour and pathos. Exposing yet another dark chapter in Australia’s history and putting voice to people who were used and discarded by an industry that still dominates the state.

Wolf Play – Red Stitch (my review)

This one has stayed with me because the story spins and turns in ways I didn’t expect on reading the premise or even as I watched it unfold. It’s so bleak and so moving.



Bernhardt/Hamlet – Melbourne Theatre Company

Kate Mulvany as Sarah Bernhardt preparing to play Hamlet? What more do you need? A great ensemble piece about theatre and performance and how far you might go to get what you want.

Far Away - Forty-Five Downstairs

Caryl Churchill’s classic take on war and conflict was brought to life in a striking production at Fortyfive Downstairs.

For Love Nor Money – Victorian Theatre Company, Melbourne Fringe (my review)

Angus Cameron’s examination of truth and power in art and politics and threesomes was so complicated and provocative and searingly funny.

Hour of the Wolf – Malthouse (my review)

A wonderfully-crafted hour of immersive theatre with a voice-over guide who helped you through the resetting timelines, even though they may have been an unreliable narrator themselves.

Just a Boy Standing in Front of a Girl – Fifteen Minutes from Anywhere, Forty-Five Downstairs

Beng Oh and Jane Miller’s “funniest Medea you will ever see” was so piercing in its exploration of misogyny and the patriarchy. The central, devastating performance by Annie Lumsden was incredible.

Lou Wall vs the Internet – Melbourne Comedy Festival (my review)

Lou Wall’s search through their nemesis’ online history is inventive and reflective in a way comedy shows rarely are.

Monument – Red Stitch (my review)

A female Prime Minister and her stylist clash over power and privilege is such a simple idea – and Emily Sheehan’s play executes it terrifically well.

Moth – Theatre Works (my review)

Declan Greene’s classic play might feel like a story of its era (the late 2000s) but it’s still potent – and the school kids in the audience loved the hell out of it.

Orlando – Antipodes Theatre Company, Forty-Five Downstairs (my review)

Virginia Woolf’s classic story is updated to include a handful of gender-diverse performers playing Orlando across time, accompanied by lovely songs and some incredible choreography.

The Fence – 29 Scenes, Darebin Speakeasy (my review)

Fleur Murphy’s play tells a story that feels so fresh – how much do you get involved with your neighbours when things are going terribly wrong next-door. And who could blame you if you choose to stay out of their way? The writing is stunning.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom – Little Ones Theatre, Forty-Five Downstairs (my review)

A farewell to Little Ones Theatre in the form of some ridiculous camp. Everyone is having fun on and off stage and sometimes that’s more than enough. So silly. So funny.



Constellations - Forty-Five Downstairs, Melbourne Fringe

Grey Arias – Malthouse, Melbourne Comedy Festival (my review)

He – Rodrigo Calderon (my review)

I Am Seaweed – Theatre Works, Melbourne Fringe (my review)

Jacky - Melbourne Theatre Company

Myra in Space – Baggage Productions, Forty-Five Downstairs

Night Sweat – Melbourne Fringe (my review)

This Is Living – Malthouse (my review)


- Keith Gow, Theatre First