Across 24 action-packed days, the 2024 Sydney Festival opens today with a city-wide celebration of arts and culture across the city and surrounding suburbs.
Enlisting the talents of hundreds of international and local artists, this year’s festival is a testament to the creative appetite of Sydney and its culturally curious audiences. Australian Arts Review takes a look at twelve events worth checking out!
Andrew Bukenya: Bach in Colour
The Neilson – Walsh Bay Arts Precinct: 27 & 28 January
From Mozart to Marsalis, Robert and Clara Schumann to Roberta Flack, Piazzolla, Florence Price and Poulenc to Paul McCartney. Centuries after his death, Bach’s music and singular musical intellect continues to inspire and excite musicians across genres and forms. Join Andrew Bukenya and a hand-picked vocal ensemble in a short, intimate and joyous acapella program of vocal music inspired by the Baroque master. This vocal celebration spans Bach motets and Renaissance polyphony through to sounds inspired by Ward Swingle, spirituals, soul and beyond. Bach in Colour is a joy-filled concert that will transport and uplift.
An Evening Without Kate Bush
Wharf 1 Theatre – Sydney Theatre Company: 18 – 21 January
Howl with the Hounds of Love, dance on the wily, windy moors and let your inner Babooshka run free in this glorious celebration of the irresistible forces and incandescent genius of Kate Bush and the fans who adore her. UK singer-performer Sarah-Louise Young’s and Russel Lucas’ award-winning chaotic cult cabaret rejoices in the raw and fearlessly pioneering artistry of one of the most influential voices in pop culture. A passionate fan since childhood, Young takes on Bush’s haunting songs, inspired costume changes and pays homage to some of the most idiosyncratic interpretive dance moves in music video history. Far more than an act of mimicry, An Evening Without Kate Bush is a spellbinding, shape-shifting, communal spectacle for new and diehard fans alike.
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: continues to 14 January
From the award-winning song-writing team behind Muriel’s Wedding The Musical and multiple platinum-selling albums comes a fabulously funny music comedy celebrating the glorious absurdity of people following their impossible dreams. Australia’s least-loved punk rock protest band Kitty Litter has hit a wall. After four years they’ve accumulated just one actual fan. To add insult to injury, a scheduling mix-up has just seen them play to an audience of little kids – where they learned that their furious diatribe against corruption in politics, Bananaland has been adopted as a kiddie-pop anthem. Is Kitty Litter set to become the next Wiggles? (Spoiler: Yes!) Can they buy into their accidental ‘kids’ band’ fame and still keep their heads high? Maybe. BANANALAND is the story of one band’s struggle to meet its creative destiny.
It’s a Sin: Songs of Love and Shame
Wharf 1 Theatre – Sydney Theatre Company: Friday 12 January
Vale Park, Adelaide, 1987. Michael Griffiths is about to start a new Christian secondary school. New uniform. New peer pressure. New everything. He’s also trying to navigate his sexuality in a time when the AIDS epidemic was full blown, when the Grim Reaper was on TV every night and homophobia was everywhere. In these times, the coolly melancholic songs of electronic duo Pet Shop Boys – aka Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – provided solace, and a safe space to explore feeling out of step with the world. Directed by Dean Bryant (Sweet Charity, Assassins) and featuring Julian Ferraretto on violin and Dylan Paul on double bass, It’s a Sin sees Griffiths bring his inimitable cabaret style to PSB classics like Rent, Love Comes Quickly, Suburbia, You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk, Go West and It’s a Sin, linking each song to some of the most important (and sometimes hilarious) episodes, incidents and people in his life. Most movingly of all, it gently but unflinchingly explores the challenges of long-term relationships.
Living Sculptures: How the Birds got their Colours
Various Locations: 10 – 14 January
From Queensland’s Arc Circus Co., the creators of A Bee Story (Sydney Festival 2021), comes a visually amazing piece of site-specific acrobatics and physical theatre – living sculptures created right in front of your eyes. Made in collaboration between Arc Circus Co., Luther Cora and his team from Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers, and inspired by a Dreamtime story, How the Birds got their Colours fuses traditional First Nations dance, storytelling and contemporary circus into an experience that will touch your heart and open your eyes. Hosted in the open air, against the moving canvas of the sky and sea, this free performance is perfect for everyone aged two and up. Let your imagination take flight.
Lost in Palm Springs
Manly Art Museum & Gallery: continues to 25 February
Lost in Palm Springs is a multidisciplinary exhibition that explores the magical qualities of the landscape and the celebrated mid-century modern architecture found in the desert city of Palm Springs, California. The exhibition features works that respond to, capture, or reimagine the unique characteristics of the city, its surroundings, and its Bauhaus sensibilities. Lost in Palm Springs also explores the strong connections between Palm Springs and Australia, particularly through the current renaissance of interest in modernist architecture. A selection of Australian artists and photographers featured in the exhibition include Kate Ballis, Tom Blachford, Paul Davies, Rosi Griffin, Anna Carey and Robyn Sweaney. Their works explore the resurgence of mid-century modern architecture from Mt Eliza to Canberra, and Mermaid Beach to Sydney.Ode to Joy (How Gordon Got To Go To The Nast Pig Party)
The Neilson Nutshell – Walsh Bay Arts Precinct: 16 – 21 January
Gordon is a Scottish public servant living a sedate life and slowly coming to terms with the idea he might be deadly dull. All that changes when he meets a couple of fairy godmothers in Marcus and Tom, AKA Cumpig and Manpussy, at a sex party in Berlin. Come away with us, they say, to Europe’s biggest gay-sex party at Berghain. Gordon is excited, curious… and freaked the f*ck out. Will stripping his homonormative behaviour and adopting an up-for-it alter-ego ‘Pig-Gordon’ be the ticket to a good time? Or the start of something more profound? Created by writer-director James Ley, this riotous queer play about love, hedonism and sex was one of the succès de scandales of the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe. It even came with a handy glossary of terms – which are absolutely NSFW. Featuring a pumping techno soundscape from DJ Simonotron (Hot Mess), Ode to Joy is a ribald rites-of-passage story, a finger raised to the rising tide of homophobia, a graphic celebration of kinky sex with strangers.
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House: 12 – 16 January
In Brokentalkers’ first Sydney Festival appearance since 2015 (the bruisingly funny Have I No Mouth), Masterclass melds Adrienne Truscott’s comic brilliance with the slippery dramaturgy that is a company trademark in a wickedly funny takedown of the macho artist. Feidlim Cannon plays a tweedy TV host interviewing a shotgun-toting, dick-swinging playwright (Truscott), for whom “there’s this thing called the truth. It exists and it’s pure and we have to seek it out”. But what of those rumours about his backstage conduct – pure, existing truth too? It’s fun. It’s familiar. There are wigs. And just when you are getting comfortable with the parody and fake moustache, things take a turn for the meta and real-life rears up to reveal more difficult truths about privilege and power.
Send for Nellie
Wharf 1 Theatre – Sydney Theatre Company: 10 – 14 January
Seventy or more years ago, there was a catch call in Sydney showbiz circles. When a show wasn’t quite strong enough, falling short of raising the roof, they would say, ‘send for Nellie!’ That would fix it. Nellie was singer and cross-dressing cabaret artist Nellie Small, the toast of the town in top hat and tails, a queer black icon from a time before anyone thought those words could go together. For 40 years, Nellie was an entertainment industry legend, a dashing figure who sang jazz and blues in prestige clubs, dressed a la Fred Astaire and lived in North Sydney in a very showbiz arrangement with her talent manager Edith, and Edith’s husband Ted. Written by Alana Valentine, this premiere season unearths one of our great untold stories in song and Nellie’s own words, with powerhouse performer Elenoa Rokobaro (Caroline, or Change; Tick, Tick … Boom) centre stage and dressed to the nines.
Smashed: The Nightcap
Wharf 1 Theatre – Sydney Theatre Company: 6 – 27 January
Your favourite femme-fronted brunch crew is cruising back to the Wharf for a full season residency at The Thirsty Mile – and this time they’re taking charge of the night. Smashed: The Nightcap raises a toast to the hot-handed hustlers, the wild women, the immoral voices and the beautifully damned bodies deemed too provocative to be seen in the prudish daylight. Your host, award-winning cabaret queen Victoria Falconer, serves up a late-night variety feast with tasty cabaret, exquisite drag, jaw-dropping circus and a live band – plus a smuggled-in selection of the Festival’s headliners as nightly special guests. Swap your mimosa for an extra-dirty martini and get ready to kick on!
City Recital Hall, Sydney: Wednesday 17 January
A radical reinvention of the solo recital. In Soliloquy, multi-award-winning musician Genevieve Lacey undertakes a radical re-invention of the solo recital. Subverting the hierarchy of traditional concert music presentation, the recorder virtuoso shares the stage with renowned contemporary dancer Stephanie Lake (in a thrilling rare performance) and 32 bodies moving in unison. This chorus of bodies will create a performance around Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann’s extraordinary Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute. Working to simple directions – Soliloquy is all about listening – these bodies become a living part of the music, makers of a unique and enthralling ritual unlike anything you will have experienced before.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House: 19 – 21 January
An investigation into the nature of investigation, with the unsolved murder of a pop icon at its centre. It’s the 1970s and Fereydoun Farrokhzad’s star is blazing bright – he’s a sex symbol and chart-topping pop singer – imagine an Iranian Tom Jones. A decade on and he’s living in political exile in Germany, though still performing to sold-out audiences in Europe. On 7 August 1992, he’s found brutally murdered. The neighbours said his dogs had been barking for two nights. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is a wild ride down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia and murder mystery podcasts, sorting through the tangle of information available online in a post-colonial world to reveal the limits of search engines in solving a decades old cold case.
The 2024 Sydney Festival continues to 28 January. For more information and the full program, visit: www.sydneyfestival.org.au for details.
Images: Genevieve Lacey in Soliloquy – photo by Pia Johnson | Ode to Joy (How Gordon Got To Go To The Nast Pig Party)