A major rift is opening up between the country’s flagship theatre company, the Sydney Theatre Company and the broadsheet newspaper regularly condemned for blindly supporting it, The Sydney Morning Herald.

It all started on Saturday when an article appeared on page 3 in both the Herald and The Age. It exposed an off-stage drama between Colin Moody, an actor who has recently resigned from the full-time ensemble of the STC, and the company about to be taken over by husband and wife team Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton.

Moody states that he said “an Oscar for acting is not a suitable recommendation to run the biggest theatre company in the country”.

But the spray didn’t stop there. Fairfax reported that “he said under [Robyn] Nevin’s reign, the STC had been ‘importing people who are manifestly frauds and charlatans and asking them to do a task that they haven’t got a clue how to do’.”

The article sent ripples through major news outlets, letters pages, arts blogs and the theatre community as they watched on to see this very public fight.

A Fairfax employee has suggested to Crikey that the SMH and the STC are trying to have it both ways after being in each others pockets for so long. The employee laughingly said that it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me… Or is it the other way around?”.

One person in the theatre industry told Crikey that “for many, it’s the ‘It’s Time’ factor. Time to let out all the frustration with Robyn Nevin’s bullish tenure that has built up over the years, time to rail against the blatant celebrity – especially Andrew’s [Upton] coat-tail rise, time to stop the theatre company’s appalling arrogance.”

Ex-Sunday Telegraph journo, Diana Simmonds also launched an attack on the company saying “in a recent review of Upton’s Riflemind I expressed concern about the self interest, sycophancy and starstruck silliness now surrounding the STC and its new artistic leaders. Who is going to tell the playwright when he’s prancing around starkers?”

However, Michael Billington theatre reviewer for the UK’s Guardian newspaper weighed in on the discussion stating that the “most potent parallel with Blanchett is Kevin Spacey. Like Blanchett, Spacey is a theatre animal who brings Hollywood clout to running a prestigious building – in his case, the Old Vic. Whatever qualms I had about Spacey’s first season, it is time we faced a blunt truth: that London is lucky to have him…”

Many others are fearful that the debate that Fairfax is creating and is debasing what could be a more constructive dialogue which has been quickly expressed on the active blog community.

One comment on Alison Croggon’s Theatre Notes explained that “Colin Moody is a very talented actor but a complicated and troubled man, which goes some way towards explaining why he had become unemployable in the industry and was working as a hospital cleaner when the STC took a chance on him.”

Others feel more vindicated with one comment stating that “it seems to me that when two exceptional actors walk away from what is being touted as the most envied of positions back into the uncertainty of the freelance career all is not creatively well in Wonderland.”

Senior Herald arts writer Bryce Hallett has stood the ground of the arts editorial team, publishing an op-ed piece yesterday. “Moody’s ill-feeling towards his former boss,” Hallett says, “and the validity of his criticisms about people hired from overseas to direct the company’s productions is difficult to ascertain because Nevin has declined to comment. Perhaps she believes her record speaks for itself but there are issues that need to be addressed.”

And this from a writer who only last year wrote about an interview “on this sunlit morning in Walsh Bay, Nevin’s shock of white hair almost resembles a halo”. The differences couldn’t be more stark.

Meanwhile, the letters page of the Herald has been abuzz with the Colin Moody story.

On Monday Michael Rolfe of London wrote that “Colin Moody is to be applauded both for his courage and incisiveness in taking Sydney Theatre Company to task”.

But Rolfe didn’t stop there.

“I could also lament that its record of importing talent (there has never been an important international actor or director at the STC) is, to say the least, patchy.

“One of the pleasures about London is not having to cope with the rudest theatre administration you could find anywhere in the world,” he said.

Cilla Tey of Mulgoa preferred to put a heavenly twist to it by saying that “I don’t care what Colin Moody says, our Cate is perfect.”

Then on Tuesday, David Keegan of Rozelle pitched in saying, “How is it actors with no real experience are shoehorned into these type of positions? Has the company learnt nothing from the Nevin years?”

Richard Lynch of Waterloo then wrote in yesterday and preferred to put the blame squarely on “stupid audiences and brilliant producers”.

Whatever it is, the debate in Sydney has well and truly reached critical mass and the stage has been set for a showdown between the STC and the SMH. Whether the STC respond is still unknown, but for an organization paying good money for its public image especially to attract sponsors, the current debate is probably the last thing they want or need.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off