Goodbye, but not the final curtain for the Genesian

The Genesian Theatre, a very well-loved, small, central-Sydney theatre, is to be ingested by a new 187-bedroom, 18-storey hotel and ground level retail and restaurant development that will be built beside it and cantilevered over it. The proposed hotel will be part of an $82 million development between Kent and Clarence streets.

The Genesian – named after St Genesias, patron saint of actors – was formerly owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. It will continue production at 420 Kent Street for all of 2019 following an agreement between the Genesian Theatre Company (GTC) and the new owner. As a consequence, the GTC, formed in 1944, can celebrate its 75th anniversary in its long-term premises.

The heritage-listed site housing the Genesian was originally St John’s Church and dates from1868. This charming gothic building containing a series of early Australian stained glass panels by John Falconer and has seen a variety of uses. It was both church and poor school until 1932 when it became the Sydney Repertory Company’s Kursaal Theatre. In 1938 it opened as the first Matthew Talbot Hostel and in 1954 became the home of the Genesian Theatre.

Although a performance space is promised as part of the new development it is likely to be catering to a different audience with a different taste and a different ability to pay. According to one spokesperson, the Genesian had paid “a peppercorn rent” to the Catholic Church and consequently it was able to provide reasonably priced live theatre, an aspect appreciated by its loyal audiences.

The theatre and its audience favour a more traditional style of play, exemplified by its sell-out performances of plays based upon Agatha Christie’s detective stories and its present offering, Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders, directed by Jess Davis.
Written by Brian Clemens (of 1960s TV series Avengers fame) Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders, brings together the Great Detective and the famously unsolved case of the serial killer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” in London of the 1880s.

We anticipate that the clever and eccentric Holmes (a suave John Willis-Richard) will triumph in the end but nevertheless follow the twists and turns of plot with amused interest. Aided by his eager and often humorous helper, Dr Watson (Peter David Alison), and a very charming and beautifully costumed psychic, Kate Mead (Zoe Mead) who seeks his help, Holmes is indefatigable in pursuit of a plethora of leads.

We are presented, of course, with several likely suspects. Is it the sinister, knife brandishing Netley (Matthew Carufel), whose name coincidentally is Jack, or is it Sir William Gull (David Stewart-Hunter), whose arrogant conduct makes us believe him capable of the deepest dyed villainy, or could it be blamed upon a conspiracy of the mysterious Freemasons?

The tempo quickening, we arrive a frightening revelation that threatens to shake the foundations of British society, and to a personal decision of Holmes that threatens to shake the basis of Sherlockian fandom. It ends on a good joke, appropriate to the clever melding of fact, rumour and fantasy that make this an enjoyable piece of theatre.

Performed to a high standard by an amateur company, staged with professionalism and presented with graciousness, the audience leave happy with the Genesian experience.

Long may the GTC continue in its new home, wherever it may be.

Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper will be at the Genesian Theatre from April 27- June 15, 2019.

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