Friday, December 16, 2022





Artistic director Ruth Mackenzie. Associate director: Wouter Van Ransbeek. Chief Executive: Kath M Mainland.  March 3-19 2023. Bookings or 1300393404.

Preview by Peter Wilkins


Ruth Mackenzie Artistic Director -= Adelaide Festival 2023

The Adelaide Festival Board has scored a cultural coup by appointing British Arts Supremo Ruth Mackenzie CBE as the next Artistic Director of Adelaide’s prestigious and premier Arts Festival. Mackenzie succeeds retiring co-Artistic Directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healey who have steered the past seven festivals with enormous success. Mackenzie inherits their programme which on first glance is nothing short of extraordinary.

Mackenzie brings to the Adelaide Festival a vast wealth of experience as a higly respected arts administrator of arts organizations and events as diverse as the Scottish Opera, the Chichester Festival, the Manchester International Festival, the official cultural programme of the 2012 London Olympicsand the Holland Festival in Amsterdam. She was also appointed the first female artistic director of Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. As well Mackenzie was working earlier in 2022 on the "Let's Do London" campaign with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.. It is an impressive list of achievements that she brings to the four festivals that she will direct.

I call Ruth Mackenzie at her rented apartment on the esplanade at Adelaide’s fashionable Glenelg.. Mackenzie always buys a place in whichever city she happens to be working and she is currently on the hunt for a property overlooking the beach at the historic seaside suburb. A charming tram ride from Glenelg will take her past many of the venues that will play host to Adelaide’s vibrant festival of theatre, dance, literature, visual arts, opera and music. “There is no better place to show how vital, innovative, inspiring, collaborative and responsible the arts can be than in Adelaide” Mackenzie says. She pays due credit and lavishes high [praise on the artistic vision and achievements of Armfield and Healy.

It is not surprising that Mackenzie is so adamant about the role of the arts in creating a better and fairer society. Born in the English town of Reading, to which she has never returned, Mackenzie was taken as a very young child to South Africa. Her parents who were both South African journalists became involved in political protests at the time of the 1960 Sharpeville riots and the battle against Apartheid. Her mother, much to her father’s chagrin spent some time with other protestors in prison and when released decided that they would leave to live in England. Nor is it surprising that in the Seventies while at university in Paris she cut her long hair, pursued activism and embraced the punk scene, “which was a cool thing to do.” An unspoken vision of the kind of festival she would lead begins to emerge. “ I was brought up in a very political household so I suppose that politics and fighting for justice have always been a part of my life.” Mackenzie tells me.  It is little wonder then that she is excited about leading the Adelaide Festival with its stellar tradition of presenting confronting, challenging, and inspiring works.  "There’s not a festival in the world that isn’t setting out to be inspiring. That’s the job description of a festival I’d say. It’s in the DNA of the Adelaide Festival.” She won’t be drawn on revealing her specific vision for the future. “This festival has all of Neil and Rachel’s brilliant trademarks.” She undeniably shares similar tastes but her focus is entirely on delivering the 2023 festival with all its inspiring, relevant and innovative performance works. 

When one thinks of the Adelaide Festival, it is often the large international shows that draw the attention. In the past it is spellbinding theatre like Peter Brook’s 1988 production of The Mahabharata or Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War from the Netherlands . For opera buffs it could be Barrie Kosky’s production of Handel’s Saul and for dance lovers Pina Bausch’s company from Wuppertal. But, as Mackenzie points out, the festival experience is also about new works and world class works from Australia.

The Sheep Song. Photo Kurt van der Elst
 For new work that is taking Europe by storm, Mackenzie cites Flemish theatre collective FC Bergmann’s The Sheep Song, an evocative fable about a sheep who, wanting to rise above his peers, strikes a Faustian bargain and encounters the inexplicable and irrational world of the human being. “It’s a good example of rising stars who bring utter innovation and vision to their process. They’re passionate. They’re ironic, subtle and in your face.”

From London comes the powerful Dogs of Europe by the Belarus Theatre Troupe. Based on the 2017 novel by political exile Alhierd Bacharevic and performed by Belarus political exiles now living in London Dogs of Europe provides a highly personal and extraordinarily impactful way of opening doors to the political reality that is happening right now in that region of the world. After seeing the performance in New York, Cate Blanchett rang Neil Armfield and said that he must include it in the programme. “It’s a must see. As simple as that- and who can turn down Cate Blanchett?” says Mackenzie. 


A Little Life. Photo: Jan Versweyveld
Brilliant director, Ivo van Hove, who astounded audiences with his previous Adelaide Festival productions of The Roman Tragedies and Kings of War returns to Adelaide with A Little Life, adapted from the novel by Hanya Yanahigara. The novel tracks the lives of four men over a period of more than thirty years. Hove and his International Theater Amsterdam present a timeless story of a man haunted by his past. “We will be in for a real treat with A Little Life” Mackenzie says. “Audiences will see what happens when van Hove takes on a contemporary text.”


Dogs of Europe. Photo Linda Nyland
 Mackenzie is passionate about developing new work and work where artists can experiment and this is reflected in Armfield and Healy’s programme.. “We’re using our powers as a festival,” Mackenzie tells me,” to offer opportunities for First Nation artists to work with us for South Australian and interstate audiences but also for us to show them off to the whole world. She is excited about Australian Dance Theatre in association with Ilbijerri Theatre Company present Tracker, created by ADT’s first First Nation Artistic Director, former Canberran and Wiradjuri member of the Bangarra Dance Theatre ensemble, Daniel Riley. He has choreographed a work about his great great-uncle who was a tracker with the NSW police. It is a personal and political story, highlighting the discrimination faced by his great -great uncle and his people. Riley is saying “Watch this company. It is going in a dramatically different direction”. “We are very proud to be in the same city as Daniel” Mackenzie adds.

Slingsby's A River That Flows Both Ways.
Mackenzie is quick to correct me when I inadvertently imply that Slingsby’s A River That Flows Both Ways about the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam on the South Pacific and Windmill Theatre and Sandpit’s collaborative Hans and Gret by another former Canberran Lally Katz could be regarded as emerging works .”They are international stars who I am proud to say live and work in Adelaide.!” Mackenzie sees part of a festival’s responsibility is to showcase the world class work by local and national companies.

I could go on talking forever I say. “No you can’t” she says. “I have another engagement.” As ir is we have gone well over the allotted time. But there is still a couple of important performances to mention. I leave it to readers to consult the brochure online at . Guiseppe Verdi’s Messa du Requiem, choreographed and directed by Christian Spuck will enthrall audiences as 36 dancers from Ballet Zurich, Adelaide Singers’ 80 odd choir, who are off the book and both sing and dance, a legacy from Barrie Kosky’s production of Handel's Saul, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will bring every arts tool you can possibly imagine to Verdi’s Requiem

Messa du Requiem. Photo: Carlos Quezada
Choreographer Crystal Pite is changing choreography and changing theatre with her new work Revisor. Pite works with text and in this instance has chosen to choreograph Nikolai Gogol’s hilarious satire The Government Inspector. . “She’s going to change everything you ever thought about The Government Inspector and everything you ever thought about dance.”

With so much on offer at this sumptuous smorgasbord of artistic delights, it seems an almost impossible task to choose. The advice is very often the same. Choose the familiar and also the new and then choose something you thought you’d never do. McKenzie has given some indication of the “must sees” In the first week you can catch the familiar Writer’s Week and Sydney Theatre Company’s remarkable production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted and directed by Kip Williams who stunned audiences last year with his innovative production of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

Daniel Riley's Tracker  for ADT

In the second week there is the indigenous dance work Jurrungu Ngan-Ga (Straight Talk) Marregeku’s work about aboriginals in custody. Remote Theatre Project from Palestine presents  writer/director Amir Nazir Zuabi’s play Grey Rock about a man in the West Bank who decides to build a space shuttle. It’s a charming piece that will make you think about the Palestinian dilemma. Also in the second week is the world music festival WOMADelaide.At Adelaide’s beautiful concert hall, UKARIA Cultural Centre, music lovers can catch Poème: Chamber Landscape Series curated by brilliant Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen. On the last weekend superb New York violinist Jennifer Koh will perform Fantastical Journeys with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Finnish conductor Emilia Hovig

Airplay  Photo: Florence Montmare
“Don’t neglect that last weekend!” Mackenzie says. That is when audiences may also catch the unforgettable The Sheep Song and the magical visual wonderland of  Airplay.

For Mackenzie a festival is a place to have fun, to know yourself and explore the world around you and get to see artists you may not ordinarily have the chance to see. For her a festival experience is like going on an African safari. You know that you are going to have a great experience. There is always something to discover. You may see lions or you may not. . But you will always remember the pride of elephants with the baby giraffes around them and the sunset behind. “My job is to give you an experience that you will always remember.”

Adelaide Festival

March 3-19 2023

Bookings: or 1300393404