September 2018 is over, and it seems to have passed in a flash—probably because of the 22 days of Brisbane Festival. Sadly I only saw about 20% of the shows & events (I’ll try to do better next time)… but here’s my #BrisFest2018 ‘wrap.’ Hats off to Festival Director David Bertold for a clever-crafting of an epic program into three ‘acts.’ It’s been hard to pick my top three festival experiences, so here’s my 3 lists of 3: memories, picks, and what I am looking forward to in 2019.
Qweens on King, was one of the official opening events of the festival, complete with opening speeches and a range of musicians, as well as boylesque, drag and comic performers. At its heart was the first mass wedding of LGBTIQ couples in Australia—complete with laughter and tears of joy.
Memorial, is a stunning piece of musical ‘dialogue’ with the performer (a fantastic feat of memory by Helen Moore) of Alice Oswald’s epic poem. Sublime vocals, and congratulations also to the 215-strong chorus for bringing each of the memorialised soldiers briefly to life.
Life—The Show is the newest Strut & Fret cabaret show. If, like me, you’ve seen Club Swizzle, La Soirée, and La Clique, then your very high expectations may first need to be dropped a little. For me, Life had a little too much of the ‘international clowning royalty’ and not enough of different cabaret acts. But it is worth the ticket price to hear Fantine Pritoula, and to see ‘Banana Boy’ (Tim Kriegler), in a spectacular aerial tube act (created by Nick Beyeler and performed by Kriegler with Elke Uhd).
My top three festival shows are Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin (which has been on the festival circuit since 2016, and deserves a legendary run), and two new works, A Coupla Dogs and Dust. All three deserve to sell out every time. I hear from Geoff (Creative Futures photographer) that I would have included Rovers in my top three list—but as I missed it, I will have to track it down in a future run (congratulations to Belloo Creative)
Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin is an unmissable evening: three expert cabaret performers who offer a feminist perspective on the history of gin, with good humour and fabulous close-harmonies. What’s not to love?
A Coupla Dogs combines thinking about fear, desire, hope, and mortality with some very funny moments. A strong team for this world premiere, and I hope that it tours to festivals large and small. A well-written and directed new play, with compelling performances by Ron Kelly and Tom Oliver. See it if you can.
Dancenorth's Dust was a thought-provoking collaboration between cast and creatives: superb dancers and a fabulous soundtrack, with a set and costumes that are works of art.
There are also a number of shows or events I was really pleased to have seen, even if they didn’t make it to my top three. Many of them are likely to be ‘coming to a festival or theatre near you.’ If you get the chance to see Kaput! or California Crooners Club, or David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom, my advice is GO.
Thomas Flanagan’s Kaput! is a marvellous tribute to silent film, and an impressive show that entertains both the under-10s and over-30s.
California Crooners Club is a Hollywood-style party, complete with live music led by a quartet who are determined to ensure everyone has a good time. Try to see it while Maiya Ociean and Johnny Manuel are in the mix.
David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom was one of the many festival events held at the Tivoli. A searingly honest, and very funny sharing of many aspects of Baddiel’s family-life, with a little bit of social media education thrown in for good measure. Inspired by the 2014 death of his mother, and his father’s dementia, the show was both enlightening and downright funny.
Man With The Iron Neck is a compelling piece of theatre which provokes debate about the rate and clustering of suicide in Indigenous communities. Writer/actor Ursula Yovich gave a powerful performance as the widow who lost both a husband and son to suicide, with some spectacular physical theatre work by the cast and marvellous audio-visual design by Sam James. The focus of the piece is in finding hope through trauma, and I commend the team for encouraging those who feel lost to reach out for help, and for partnering with Balunu Foundation (who provide tools and support).
Home was a fascinating blend of mime, physical theatre, dance, slapstick, immersive performance art, and Ikea-style house construction which encouraged audiences to reflect on the nature of ‘home.’
En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events, which brings challenges in the preconceptions and expectations of the audiences. The show included some great performances: a fabulous tenor voice and some exceptional strength, lifts, jumps and balance. We certainly saw a lot. But all together? Not for me.
So… only 11 months until BrisFest2019… Three things I am hoping to see in 2019? Symphony for Me (a symphony for everyone, and I can see why there was an outcry when it took a break in 2017), the local buskers and performers at Arcadia and Theatre Republic, and festival conversations following new works.
The festival had four main locations across Brisbane. The Tivoli and Brisbane Powerhouse are well-known and loved Brisbane icons which needed little festival ‘dressing.’ But in recent years the producers have also created two special festival spaces: the Southbank Arcadia and Kelvin Grove Theatre Republic. In 2018, Arcadia was buzzing all day and into the evening. A great space to relax, to visit some of the food and beverage outlets, watch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light show and enjoy the buskers (some great local acts, although just occasionally too loud for the paying Spiegeltent audiences). Theatre Republic, at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus and La Boite, was a popular evening hangout, with a number of free ‘activations,’ and occasional free music performances. All of these spaces would not have worked so well without the hard work and enthusiasm of over 300 volunteers—with everything from flash mobs and back-of-house input, to the all-important information and usher work. And occasional dog-minding!
One of the great features of the Brisbane Festival program is the opportunity to attend a ‘conversation’ with the cast and creatives behind the major productions. We managed to miss every single one of the official festival conversations this year, but each work prompted our own debates after every performance. Arcadia, Theatre Republic and the Powerhouse were perfect for such deliberations with bars, deckchairs and nooks for post-show reflection. I wish I was there now. Roll on 2019…
Catherine Lawrence, perspectives