Top Picks for the 2021 Adelaide Festival

AF21 S_WORDS and Unfolding photo by Chris Herzfeld_Camlight ProductionsEnjoyed amid warm March days and starry nights, Adelaide Festival’s celebration of creative excellence makes for an event of truly epic proportions. In its 36th iteration, the fifth by Joint Artistic Directors Neil Armfield AO and Rachel Healy, the 2021 Adelaide Festival will feature 70 events, 10 world premieres, 14 Australian premieres, and 18 events exclusive to Adelaide. Australian Arts Review takes a look at ten events worth checking out!

A German Life
Dunstan Playhouse – Adelaide Festival Centre: continues to 14 March
Three years ago, at a nursing home in Munich, a very old lady passed away. Longevity aside, (she was 106), the achievements of Brunhilde Pomsel were pretty modest, although she was undoubtedly a wiz at shorthand. How then did she come to emerge from the rubble near Hitler’s bunker waving a white pillow case to the approaching Russian troops in April 1945? British playwright Christopher Hampton has fashioned an extraordinary theatrical tour-de-force based on testimony this resolutely ‘apolitical’ woman, who worked as a secretary to Joseph Goebbels, gave to Austrian documentary makers at the sprightlier age of 103. One of the last actively involved witnesses to the rise, fall and aftermath of the Third Reich, Brunhilde is intelligent and likeable, honest and credible. For the national premiere of this highly demanding ninety-minute solo, witness the work of our finest stage performer, Robyn Nevin, under the direction of Neil Armfield.

Kingpin Norwood: continues to 14 March
In the spirit of their 2017 Festival smash hit Intimate Space and 2020’s beautiful Art Gallery work, Seeing Through Darkness, Adelaide’s unique, multi-award-winning company Restless once more deliver. When did you last go bowling? Are you a little rusty? Perhaps a beginner? How would you feel if gutter guards and ramps were installed in advance to prevent any possibility of your failing to hit the pins? Well intentioned “help” that smothers potential growth is something people with disability encounter all too often. Denial of the dignity of risk is one of many themes playfully explored in this witty and intelligent new work. You enter, take in the unmistakable vibe, grab your shoes, maybe some chips then go and find your team. Sitting right amongst the action, eavesdropping on intimate exchanges, barracking and getting involved in the game makes for massive, paradigm-shifting fun. You witness fights, love duets, get showered with popcorn, maybe have a shot yourself and face glory or shame. It’s a surprisingly emotional experience with a message to take home.

High Performance Packing Tape
Main Theatre – AC Arts: 4 – 14 March
With every project, we risk things blowing up in our faces. For award-winning, cutting-edge performance company Branch Nebula, that’s just the beginning. High Performance Packing Tape is the OH&S nightmare that transforms the random stationery in a million work stations into the infrastructure of one person’s physical ruin. Heart in your mouth, you’ll watch as the intrepid, poker-faced solo performer scales collapsing cardboard-box towers, or hangs precariously from sticky-tape bridges, or puts to the test the dubious weight-bearing properties of cheaply made office consumables. In High Performance Packing Tape, collaborating artists Lee Wilson, Skye Gellmann, Timothy Ohl, Mirabelle Wouters, Mickie Quick and Phil Downing have forged a performance that dares to ask “is a life without danger worth living?” It’s messy, terrifying, deeply challenging to accepted notions of comfort and safety, and incredible fun. You’ll peer through parted fingers, thrill to success, wince at failure and try hard to contain your uproarious laughter.

Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre: 10 & 11 March
A visceral and thrilling exploration of the juxtaposition of beauty and devastation, Sydney Dance Company’s full-length work, Impermanence is Rafael Bonachela’s newest creation. Contemporary composer, Bryce Dessner has created a new score full of emotional power. Best known as a founder of American rock band The National and for his film scores for The Revenant and The Two Popes, Dessner was initially inspired by the tragedy of the Australian bush fires and the Notre-Dame fire in Paris. The full power of Sydney Dance Company’s ensemble is joined live on stage by the Australian String Quartet. This is an epic, driven performance that packs an emotional punch. Experience the power of dance and music performed live together, laden with meaning, fleeting and vulnerable and from devastation, find energy, urgency, radiance and hope.

small metal objects
Moseley Square, Glenelg: continues to 8 March
It’s street-theatre-but-not-as-we-know-it in which the performers are disguised threads in the very real tapestry of a busy city thoroughfare and we, be-headphoned on raked seating, are the ones on display to be ignored or gawked at by passers-by. Via our ears though, the familiar urban scene becomes a movie replete with evocative score, and its cast of thousands is quickly narrowed down to four protagonists. Locating them isn’t easy, and it’s part of the game, but their story is as surprising and compelling as any thriller. At last Adelaide audiences can be a part of this ingenious piece that festival-goers around the world have savoured for over a decade.

S/WORDS and Unfolding
Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre: 11 – 14 March
Lewis Major was born and raised on a sheep farm in the state’s South East. Clearly, he was pre-destined for a career in experimental dance theatre. We can’t attest to his shearing prowess, but we can confidently promise that this young choreographer, one of only two South Australians shortlisted for the prestigious Keir Choreographic Award, is a hot emerging talent. His early work, including his celebrated Epilogue, has already been presented in major venues in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, Brazil, London and New York. This new double bill is a great way of sampling what he’s been up to. Unfolding melds fluid dance with shifting 3D polynomial animations by creative coder Fausto Brusamolino and it features costumes created in Adelaide by local atelier, Naomi Murrell Studios. A much darker, deeply theatrical work, S/WORDS postulates a flung-together tribe of performers locked in a theatre as the world burns outside; six dancers in search of the rules, rituals and rites that still carry meaning and value. Both pieces are scored by James Peter Brown, composer and sound designer for projects as diverse as Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake and the Fallout series of games.

Her Majesty’s Theatre: 12 – 14 March
Now in his twenty first year at the helm of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Garry Stewart has crafted a unique collective identity for his formidable dancers. His two most recent creations, The Beginning of Nature (with its filmic offshoot, The Circadian Cycle) and South are choreographic responses to that most burning of all issues: humanity’s relationship to the natural world, both as disruptor and participant in its rhythms and cycles. Supernature, the culmination of the trilogy, postulates potential futures for our species, its mythic visual vocabulary surreally blurring the lines between anthropomorphic and zoomorphic. Join this world premiere season as one of Australia’s most influential choreographers and his ensemble of extraordinary dancers invite us to consider how the evolutionary impact of our unnatural ways may force us into a new partnership with the planet we defiled.

The Boy Who Talked to Dogs
Thomas Edmonds Opera Studio – Adelaide Showground: continues to 14 March
Based on the best-selling memoir, this rough-and-tumble tale, starring acclaimed Irish actor Bryan Burroughs, fuses shadow puppetry, swinging Irish music and stunning physical performance to bring Byron Bay ‘Dog Man’ Martin McKenna’s epic true story to the stage for the first time. Young Martin is a misfit. Bullied at school and misunderstood at home, his only comfort comes from sneaking off to the family coal shed to bond with his German Shepherds, Major and Rex. When things reach breaking point, the 13 year old runs away from his home in Limerick, Ireland, and finds himself taken in by a new family – a pack of stray dogs. As they dodge trains, steal meals and fight for survival, Martin finds himself on the road he was always meant to take. Beautifully adapted by Irish playwright Amy Conroy, The Boy Who Talked to Dogs is a magical and mischievous tale of transformation, redemption, and what happens when the underdog finds his pack.

The Image is not Nothing (Concrete Archives)
ACE Open – Lion Arts Centre: continues to 24 April
Yhonnie Scarce is a Kokatha and Nukunu woman whose famous sculpture Thunder Raining Poison reimagines the Maralinga blast (which turned the red desert sand to glass) with 2000 hand-blown glass yams hung in the form of post-nuclear cloud. Together with artist and writer Lisa Radford, she travelled to various sites around the world investigating the commemoration, or deliberate sequestration, of acts of genocide, colonisation and nuclear trauma. This comprehensive exhibition unites the responses of international and Australian artists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to the implications of Maralinga as an example of how terra nullius has seeped into this country’s psyche, rendering land uninhabitable and history unspeakable. And it goes further, presenting provocative reactions to Hiroshima and Fukushima, Ground Zero, Pacific test sites, Ustaše concentration camps and Soviet monumentalism.

The Plastic Bag Store
Level One – Rundle Place: continues to 14 March
If you think the single-use jetsam of your weekly shopping haul is nightmarish, imagine a supermarket displaying aisle upon gleaming aisle of everything you could possibly want, as long as it’s 100% plastic. Brooklyn-based artist and filmmaker Robin Frohardt has created an installation that is as funny as it is horrific. Art, craft, film and puppetry converge in an ingenious installation that makes the most extravagant Craig Reucassel-stunt look low-key. A glance at her hilarious trailer will have you longing to get amongst her lovingly hand-made goodies, created from hundreds of upcycled plastic bags and plastic rubbish, “locally sourced and harvested from the streets and bins of New York City.”

The 2021 Adelaide Festival continues to 14 March. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: S/WORDS and Unfolding – photo by Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions