Richard Watts | ArtsHub | Tuesday 1st September 2015

David Berthold’s first festival as Artistic Director has much to offer: here are our anticipated highlights.

Image: Macbeth, part of the Congo Connections program at Brisbane Festival. Photo by Nicky Newman.

When Brisbane’s Warana Festival was established in 1961, its theme was ‘entertainment for the people, by the people’; but by the 1990s Warana’s homely mix of parades, picnics, theatre and eisteddfods – not to mention the Miss Warana pageant – had become a little passé. Reborn as Brisbane Festivalin 1996, the Festival has subsequently gone from strength to strength – especially since its merger with Brisbane City Council’s Riverfestival in 2009.

This year, under the Artistic Directorship of David Berthold, Brisbane Festival presents a sophisticated, dynamic and politically engaged selection of events and art forms, with a special focus on works from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Singapore. Here are our picks of the shows you shouldn’t miss.

4ZZZ Flashback: 40 years of Independent Radio
The Spiegeltent, 20 September 

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Radicalism, ratbaggery and great, raucous music – community radio station 4ZZZ has been indelibly linked to Brisbane’s cultural life for four decades. Celebrate the station’s 40th birthday with a night of quintessential Brisbane music, featuring performances by and interviews with Jeremy Neale, Screamfeeder, Ups and Downs and Ed Kuepper. With the gig streamed live on 4ZZZ, those of us unfortunate enough to live outside of Brisbane can also share in the magic.

Beautiful One Day
Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, 23-26 September

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Part documentary, part drama, Beautiful One Day is a theatrical response to an infamous death in police custody on Queensland’s Palm Island. The 2004 death of Mulrunji Doomadgee inside the Palm Island police station sparked riots and multiple court cases; the office implicated in his death, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, was acquitted of wrongdoing by a jury in June 2007. Despite appeals, no-one has ever been convicted for Doomadgee’s death.

A collaboration between Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Belvoir, Beautiful One Day does more than just explore the case; it details the history of Palm Island and its people, and features three Palm Islanders among the cast – one of them Mulrunji Doomadgee’s niece. Court transcripts, video and live performance are woven together to form a work that is by turns ‘vivid, terrifying, funny and rewarding,’ to quote the Herald-Sun’s Byron Bache. Don’t miss it.

Charlie Lim
The Spiegeltent, 8 September

Australian perceptions of Singapore, which this year celebrates the 50thanniversary of its independence, tend to focus on aspects of its culture such as corporal punishment and the expensive fines applied to those caught littering; rarely do we consider the city-state’s rich culture. This year’s Brisbane Festival pays close attention to our neighbours to the north, with a tantalising array of theatre, film and music – with the highlight being a rare Australian performance by singer-songwriter Charlie Lim. ‘He is just amazing,’ Berthold told ArtsHub. ‘A deep soul voice, a real star, and really at the top of a quite new crop of young singer-songwriters in Singapore which we might not have had a chance to really enjoy before.’

QPAC Playhouse, 23-25 September

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Following his unceremonious departure from Adelaide Festival in 2001, theatre director Peter Sellars could perhaps be forgiven for never wanting to step foot in Australia again. But Berthold has tempted him back, and with him Reggie Gray, a pioneer of one of the world’s newest dance forms, flex. This dynamic street art, from Jamaica via Brooklyn, is characterised by ‘contortion, pantomime, and footwork that simulates levitation’; in Flexn, it’s used to explore racial politics in the USA – in particular the deaths of young black men at the hands of the police. ‘Part protest, part dance party, part collective autobiography … the production rails against social injustice, from police brutality to the prison system’s failures in America,’ said the New York Times. It promises to be electrifying.

Experimenta Recharge
The Block, Kelvin Grove, 25 August – 26 September

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The 6th International Biennial of Media Art focuses on artists whose work is consciously inspired by and entangled with the past, and who use the most contemporary of tools. Inherently multidisciplinary, the 20-plus artists represented in this exhibition have embraced photography, installation, electronic sculpture, interactive and immersive media, robotics, bio art, live art, sound art, 3D printing, animation, film and video. Their resulting works are by turns poetic, metaphoric, interactive and symbolic, but always fascinating and engaging.

Il Ritorno
Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, 9-12 September

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Brisbane company Circa are internationally renowned for their commitment to circus as art, and for liberating the form from those tired gender stereotypes which cast men as powerful and women as merely decorative. Several of the company’s works to date, including Opus and Carnival of the Animals have successfully paired circus arts with classical music; for this year’s Brisbane Festival the company takes the next logical step by fusing circus with baroque opera.

Inspired by Claudio Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (‘The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland’) Il Ritorno explores the experiences of those displaced by war and their hunger to return to home to their loved ones. With some 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014, according to the UHNCR, Circa’s reflection on the plight of the displaced is not just timely – it is a much-need Australian exercise in empathy.

The Listies Make You LOL
The Spiegeltent, 19 September

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Every Festival needs a good children’s program, and children’s entertainment doesn’t get much better than Melbourne duo The Listies. Winners of the Best Production for Children at the Sydney Theatre Awards, and the first children’s comedy act ever to be nominated for the prestigious Barry Award at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, The Listies bring out the child in everyone – even the hoariest of theatre critics – helped by toilet paper guns, artful crudity, and what is potentially the world’s largest collection of digitised fart noises.

Prize Fighter
Roundhouse Theatre, La Boite, 5-26 September

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There are four works from or about the Democratic Republic of Congo in this year’s Brisbane Festival program, and all them are must-sees. But ahead of the pack is Prize Fighter, a home-grown play about a Congolese boy-soldier, written by La Boite Theatre Company’s Artist-in-Residence Future D. Fidel and commissioned by David Berthold in his previous role as La Boite’s Artistic Director.

Fidel’s play and personal experiences inspired Bertold’s interest in the largely overlooked history of the Congo, and led to the inclusion of Coup FatalMacbeth and Le Cargo in the program. But since Prize Fighter came first, it’s also first on our list of the Congo Connection festival-within-a-festival program.

Symphony for Me
Concert Hall, QPAC, 19 September

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Speaking to ArtsHub in June, after the launch of the 2015 Festival program, Berthold noted that major arts festival need to cater for non-arts lovers as well as arts aficionados. ‘A festival needs to speak to the people of its city; I think it has an obligation to. It’s not only for regular arts-goers. And for many people I think it will be their first introduction to an arts-going experience. That’s one of the great things that a festival can do … and I’m really pleased that so many of the pieces in this year’s Festival do exactly that,’ he said.

One such event is the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony for Me, a free concert programmed by the people of Brisbane themselves. If you’re an indie theatre-maker who’s suspicious of so-called heritage arts companies and the funding they receive, or a devotee of classical music whose friends and family don’t understand your passion, this is the concert for you: an opportunity not only to hear great works of classical repertoire, but to hear directly from the people who love them.

Theatre Republic
QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Kelvin Grove, 8-26 September

Theatre Republic: The City They Burned. Image via

A festival-within-a-festival of independent theatre, Theatre Republic is a valuable opportunity for creative cross-fertilisation between cities. Highlights include Minnie and Mona Play Dead by Perth’s The Last Great Hunt, praised by the West Australian as ‘very funny, very fierce and very sad’; the deeply moving, life-affirming and unfortunately sold out Funeral by Melbourne live art collective The Guerrilla Museum; an intimate retelling of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, The City They Burned by Melbourne company Attic Erratic; and Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It, which this writer called ‘provocative and intelligent’ in a review for The Age.

Brisbane Festival 2015
5-26 September

IMAGE CREDIT: Macbeth, part of the Congo Connections program at Brisbane Festival. Photo by Nicky Newman.