Brisbane Festival is the granddaddy of the Queensland cultural calendar, rolled out over three weeks of world-class theatre, dance, music and comedy (sometimes all smashed together).
Artistic director David Berthold recognises that heft, but sees it as an opportunity to create an event that’s both ambitious and inclusive. “[The artists] create a brimming, utopian space,” he says. “They give [us] permission to think and do differently,” he says.
With such a stacked program it can be hard to decide what to see and do. So Berthold has given Broadsheet tips on what to see at this year’s festival.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Queensland Performing Arts Centre, September 9–17
“I’m a theatre director and I’ve seen what feels like hundreds of productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but of all of those this is definitely the funniest. It’s so gloriously unpredictable. Only about 70 per cent of it is Shakespeare’s text and the rest feels like improvised stand-up comedy, which is completely right for the seat-of-the-pants spirit of the play. It’s great to see the characters so creatively reimagined – for example, Oberon, the king of the fairies, is a guy in a superhero uniform. There’s a big food fight in the middle with the audience. And the live music is fantastic, played on stage by a band called The London Snorkelling Team – which should give you some indication of the kind of anarchy you can expect.”
Troppo – The Courier Mail Piazza, September 13–23
“This is a new show from Circa, which is one of the great Brisbane companies and one of the absolute superstars of the circus world. They’ve played in 34 countries around the world, and just a couple of weeks ago were playing big shows in London. Troppo’s a circus show but it’s really comic. The idea is a simple one – the story of a circus troupe stranded on a desert island, and the troupe have to get off the island before they all go troppo. The whole show is sort of a big beach party; there’s trapeze and a big tango dance with the audience and lots of water action. It’ll be a really exuberant, fun night out, especially for families. It’s kind of The Tempest meets Alice in Wonderland. The Courier Mail Piazza is a great space for shows like this because it’s big, open and democratic.”
Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid – Aurora Spiegeltent, 15–24 Sept
“Meow Meow these days is an international star, and as a singer and cabaret artist there’s no one like her. She’s been doing lots of shows in Europe lately, so we’re so happy that she could come back to Australia and fit us in. This show is her take on the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid; it’s a big show in the Spiegeltent with a live band, but it’s a really subtle and insightful version of the story. It comes from a mature woman’s perspective, so for a story that’s traditionally so based on naiveté she really pulls it apart and shows it in a new light. All the songs from the show are original, written by people like Megan Washington and Kate Miller-Heidke and Amanda Palmer. The prince in the story is played by Bobby Fox, who people might remember from Jersey Boys a couple of years ago.”
En Avant Marche – Queensland Performing Arts Centre, September 3–7
“‘En avant, marche!’” is French for ‘forward march’. This is a collaboration between one of the world’s great theatre companies, Belgium’s Les ballets C de la B and The Brisbane Excelsior Band, who have been Australian brass-band champions four times. There’s about 30 of the band on stage with another 10 artists from the Belgian company. The story is set in a brass-band rehearsal room, and follows a guy who’s been demoted from trombone to cymbal. It’s a really funny, exciting story of how he deals with that demotion, and tells us to kind of ‘forward march’ through life no matter what it throws at you. I saw it in Brussels and was so moved by it, I knew we had to have it for this festival.”
Chekhov’s First Play – Brisbane Powerhouse, September 21–24
“This is from a young Irish company. I saw it in Ireland last year and it was one of the best pieces of theatre I’d seen in a long time – so smart, funny and insightful, and I knew I had to have it at the festival. It’s a headphones show, so the audience can listen to this ‘live director’s commentary’. The actors start doing the show and the director is in your ear commenting on it – and then it all starts to go wrong. I don’t want to give to much away but towards the end the audience gets involved in a really interesting way.”
Rules of the Game – Brisbane Powerhouse, September 14–17
“Jonah Bokaer, choreographer for Rules of the Game, is one of the best in American contemporary dance. This is just a great collaboration between music and visual art. Visual artist Daniel Arsham has created this extraordinary video that plays through the show, and much of its joy comes from how the dancers interact with the video. So in a way it’s kind of creating a new form – dance as moving sculpture. Pharrell Williams did the music – he’s a friend of Bokaer and Arsham’s. He was so intrigued by this new form that he wrote an original orchestral score for theatre and dance, something he’s never done before. It’s a completely new piece of contemporary dance, with three artists at the top of their game coming together to create something we’ve never really seen before.”
Brisbane Festival runs from September 3–24 in various locations around the city. More details and tickets available here.