For his 2019 Sydney Festival program, director Wesley Enoch has closely tapped the zeitgeist.
It examines the #MeToo movement, celebrates the moon landing, calls for us to actively address climate change, embraces our rich, multicultural society and wants us to party like it’s 1999. The January line-up is Enoch’s most diverse yet.
“I like the idea that cultural landscapes – festivals – provide safe spaces to talk about unsafe issues,” says Enoch, whose third of five annual festivals kicks off on January 9 next year.
There are the fun, big-ticket items, of course. Sydney Symphony Under The Stars is free and at Parramatta Park, and the Festival Garden and Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent takes over Hyde Park once again.
There you can catch Shanghai Mimi, an exciting circus-cabaret show directed by burlesque icon Maura Finucane. It’s set in 1930s Shanghai, dubbed the “Paris of the East”, and features Chinese and Chinese-Australian acrobats and artists. Festival commission Pigalle stars Marcia Hines and iOTA in a celebration of 1970s Paris, while Nigerian opera singer Le Gateau Chocolat’s raucous drag acts take in Shirley Bassey, Kate Bush and Madonna. Paul Capsis, Camille O’Sullivan and Dollar Bin Darlings also bring their star power to the event.
Sydney Festival is giving its own nod to the 2019 international celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with three free, interactive, family-friendly precincts: World Square, Barangaroo and Darling Harbour.
Fly Me to the Moon challenges Sydneysiders to collectively cycle the 384,000 kilometres it takes to travel from earth to the moon, whether it’s through a spin class, pushing a pram or riding 16 stationary bikes at World Square. There are giant waterbeds that allow you to feel weightlessness at Moon Drops, and three-metre-high astronaut models at Barangaroo.
“The moon landing was a collective cultural ambition that everyone could get involved with; and one of our great collective needs in the industrialised world is to think about climate change,” says Enoch.
Headliner Beware of Pity, a collaboration between Berlin’s Schaubuhne and UK’s Complicite, is a “bold, technically adventurous and sexually charged” staging of Austrian Stefan Zweig’s 1939 novel about love, betrayal and tragic revenge. Directed by Simon McBurney, whose 2017 Sydney Festival show The Encounter was revolutionary theatre-making, the show attracted four stars from the Guardian, which noted it was, “A prophetic vision of a civilisation on the verge of collapse.”
American absurdist Geoff Sobelle’s magical interactive show Home is a life-affirming house party to which the whole audience is invited to help build a two-storey house on the empty stage. Enoch describes the festival’s opening night work as “totally joyous”.
At the other end of the spectrum, but no less compelling, is Daughter, a one-man Canadian show that resulted in two-thirds of the female audience walking out when Enoch saw it in Vancouver. From its gently humorous beginning, the monologue takes you back to a loving father’s childhood, and then through the slow building of the toxic masculinity that ultimately pervades his whole life. Again, the Guardian gave it four stars. The festival brochure contains a warning about the play’s content. “It’s the sort of play every man should see but every woman should be warned about, it’s going to be very contentious,” says Enoch.
The idea of home and safe spaces is again explored in Counting and Cracking, an epic four-generation, 16-actor production eight years in the making. Beginning with a collective Sri Lankan feast at Sydney’s Town Hall, it chronicles one family’s experience with volatile political change before seeking safety in Australia. “At the heart of it for me is an incredibly Australian story of how people come to this country but leave behind their history,” says Enoch.
Another artist discussing the notion of home, the migrant experience and governments’ responses is Swedish pop rebel Neneh Cherry, who will perform her new album at Carriageworks. It’ll be her second visit to Australia. In the foyer of the Eveleigh venue American visual artist Nick Cave will create his large-scale installation of shimmering crystals.
Also of note is a performance by Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore, who will play her signature musical loops as an audience floats in the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre pool. You’ll experience both open-air and sub-aquatic sound design.
The Sydney Opera House’s family-friendly adaptation of Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning novel A Ghost in my Suitcase and the klezmer-folk story Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story also explore ideas around refuge and of being an outsider in a different world.
As always there’s a powerful Indigenous thread running through the program. The Vigil at Barangaroo is an all-night event on January 25 – held around a campfire with songs and stories. It’s designed to allow people to reflect the day before the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet.
A small bathrobe-clad audience will be invited into a hotel room to be entertained by Joel Bray, whose Melbourne Fringe Festival award-winning show Biladurang (“platypus”) explores one man’s experience of being unique. Heliosphere appears at Prince Alfred Square in Parramatta, a boundary-pushing aerial trapeze, and artists including the Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill, and Peter Garrett, will collaborate with Marliya, a young Indigenous choir from Cairns, in Spinifex Gum.
“Sydney Festival knows how to throw a party, start important conversations and welcome the world to our shores,” says Enoch.
Sydney Festival is on from January 9 to January 27 in various locations across the city. Tickets are on sale at 9am on Thursday October 25.