John and Sunday Reed and their coterie of artists at Heide changed Australian art for good.
Actor Nikki Shiels stars in a new play about the arts patrons at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and believes the show heralds a similar transformation at the MTC.
"I think it's a really exciting new Australian work and I haven't been involved in anything quite like it before," she told AAP.
It's been a long time coming. The world premiere of Sunday, by playwright Anthony Weigh and director Sarah Goodes, was originally slated for the MTC's 2021 season.
Various lockdowns and cancellations have meant it's the first show programmed by the company's new artistic director Anne-Louise Sarks, who Shiels believes is transforming the MTC.
"She's creating great change at the company and it's a similar wind to that of the Reeds, change is occurring and it's really exciting time," she said.
Sunday Reed was born into Melbourne's wealthy Baillieu family, but rejected her privileged background to live a back-to-nature lifestyle with husband John (played by Matt Day) at the Heide property in the 1930s.
The couple shared their home with artists including Sidney Nolan (played by Josh McConville), Albert Tucker, Charles Blackman, and Joy Hester (played by Ratidzo Mambo).
The Heide circle, as it became known, was arguably the crucible of Australian modernism - Sidney Nolan began his Ned Kelly series on the kitchen table at Heide in 1946.
"It captures a slice of Australian history ... they're all reaching for this new identity in Australian culture, and that is quite profound in a way," Shiels said.
The Reeds' infamous menage a trois with Nolan provides the show's dramatic tension, and an exploration of the patron-artist relationship.
Could Nolan's paintings really be Sunday's "children", if she provided the painter with nourishment, both literal and intellectual, but he held the brush?
The script is replete with Melbourne humour: jokes about class, real estate, and of course Sydney; but with Sarks aiming to tour original MTC works, these may not translate to audiences elsewhere.
Yet Shiels believes Sunday should have a life beyond Melbourne, because at its heart lies a universal tale about relationships.
The artistic legacy of those relationships already includes countless artworks and publications, the Heide museum, and Sunday Reed's much-loved gardens.
Sunday adds a mainstage play to that inheritance.
Sunday is on at The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, until February 18.