Saturday, November 17, 2018


Adelaide Festival 2019. March 1- 17.

Artistic Direction Neil Armfield and Rachel Healey. Adelaide Festival Centre and various venues. Bookings;; BASS 131246

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Co-Artistic Directors Rachel Healey and Neil Armfield
“Every international festival is special in its own way,” co-Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival, Rachel Healey tells me, ”but our ambition from the outset has been to reassert Adelaide’s role as the national festival if you like. Everyone who wants to see and hear the work of the most energetic, imaginative artists working today can come to see it all in one place in one seventeen day period.”
According to Healey, it is a legacy that she and co-Artistic Director, Neil Armfield, inherited when they were approached to direct their first Adelaide festival in 2016.  Both Healey and I remember that legacy as young people growing up in Adelaide. I remember with fondness performing  in Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde at the second Adelaide Festival in 1962, and then again in Edward Bond’s Saved in 1970. Naturally, Healey and I share a special love for Australia’s longest running international arts festival, the brainchild of the late Professor John Bishop. The Adelaide Festival has grown into the largest festival of its kind in Australia. No longer biannual, it offers audiences the very best the world has to offer every year. It now incorporates the free Writers Week, and the immensely successful world music festival WOMAD. Running alongside the Adelaide Festival   is the explosive Adelaide Fringe, founded by the late Frank Ford in 1975. Together, Festival and Fringe make Adelaide the place for all arts lovers to be in March.

Womad at the Adelaide Festival
Since it became an annual event from 2006, past directors  have been hitting the ground running each year to secure the very best international arts performances and events for the years ahead. It is a daunting, challenging and immensely exciting task, and it is obvious in Healey’s voice that she an Armfield are driven by an overriding passion for the arts and a desire to offer Adelaide the very best of the world’s talent. This is Healey and Armfield’s third festival and I ask how it is different from previous festivals. Healey is quick to point out that his year’s festival will present an unprecedented twenty-three works by first rate artists that will be entirely exclusive to Adelaide. The second major difference will be the connections and links that concern artists. Healey and Armfield don’t programme to any specific theme, but it is obvious this year that artists are very concerned with the issue of forced migration. “It’s thrilling,” Healey says, “to see how artists consistently bring new perspectives and ways of understanding to current affairs.” I ask Healey to outline some of these.

Another LIfe
From Greece comes Another Life: Human Flows/Unknown Oddyseys, a collection of twenty six photographs from The Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki. Healey describes the exhibition as a 360 degree overview of the Greek experience of refugees who have come into Lesbos and more widely into the Greek mainland. The exhibition covers everything from burley Greek fishermen helping those who have arrived in leaky, fragile boats to images of refugees beaten up by Greek skinheads. In a private section one can experience the real horror of bodies being washed up after drowning at sea. It’s a vastly moving exhibition that absolutely grapples with the issues facing Europe while putting Australia’s refugee policy into sharp relief. Other works, such as A Man of Good Hope, a collaboration between the Young Vic and the Isango Ensemble of South Aftrica, expresses a similar theme but is very differenrt. The performance chronicles the journeys of an eight year old Muslim boy, Asad as he criss-crosses six African countries after the murder of his mother during the civil war in Mogadishu. Played by three actors at various ages in Asad’s journey, this part musical, part opera explores contemporary issues such as human trafficking, migration, poverty and xenophobia. Leavened with humour and magnificent song, the production offers fresh insight in resilience and survival.

A Man of Good Hope
In a similar vein, and yet very pertinent to the Australian circumstance is Manus by Verbatim Theatre Group from Iran.  This rough agit-prop theatre promises to jolt you like a high voltage shock.  The main character is based on Kurdish journalist, Behrouz Boochani, now entering his sixth year in detention. The play is performed by an all Iranian company, performing in Persian, and, although not easy to watch, is must see theatre

From Australia comes Two Jews Walk into a Theatre, directed by celebrated choreographer, Lucy Guerin and featuring Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzanek, playing their fathers who have come to see a play created by their two sons. Both fathers’ lives have been influenced by the horror of war and oppression, and this affectionate tribute demonstrates how the social and political winds that buffet our families affect us all.

Two Jews Walk into a Theatre
Teatro Nacional D. Maria ll brings By Heart to the Adelaide Festival from Portugal. “This is a really special work.” Healey says. Inspired by the George Steiner quote, “Once ten people know a poem by heart there’s nothing the KGB or the Gestapo can do about it. It will survive” Tiago Rodriguez’s grandmother is going blind. She asks her grandson to help her memorize an entire novel, so that she will have something to read in her mind when she is blind. By Heart is a wonderful personal story about the importance of handing things down. Ten volunteers are chosen from the audience to learn a poet by heart by the end of the performance.

It would be a gross misconception to believe that the festival is laden with works relentlessly exposing serious social issues and global conflicts. It is the role of theatre to hold the mirror up to nature and Healey is adamant that the role of the festival should be” to present seventeen days of not only entertainment but ideas. A theatre or performance environment is a space in which you’re not plugged in online, or hopefully not spending ninety minutes with your head down looking at your screen. You’re engaged with everyone else in that audience in the one place at the one time with the performers to be entertained absolutely but to reflect on and have new perspectives on whatever the current or universal issue on the stage is be it Uncle Vanya from La Mama UlsterAmerican from Scotland.” Or perhaps Carmen from Germany, Two Feet from Meryl Tankard, Robyn Archer, Tim Minchin or Ben Quilty. And don’t forget Barry Kosky’s production of The Magic Flute from the Komische Oper in Berlin.

The Magic Flute
A look at the programme presents a staggering diversity of artforms and artists from countries around the world. Many will be in Adelaide only, which offers a rare opportunity to see the best the world has to offer at the leading arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

Finally, I ask Healey which weekend she would recommend for those coming from afar. “The opening weekend is an absolute knockout” she replies . “The middle weekend with Carmen and WOMAD is unbeatable and then there’s Camille doing Nick Cave and late night in the Cathedral in the final weekend. “ It’s really impossible” she says bursting into laughter.
Go online, check out the programme and work out the best experience for you. You won’t be disappointed.