With COVID dampening spirits the last couple of years and preventing numerous interstate or international performers from getting to Brisbane, the organisers in 2020 and 2021 had to rely on local dancers, actors, acrobats, musicians, singers, sculptors and all the gang who make a festival successful.
In 2022, with almost all COVID restrictions lifted, the organisers had a far greater range of performers to draw on – but I am glad to see that local talent is still placed forefront and lauded on its own merit … and augmented by, rather than playing second fiddle to, performers from other parts of the world.
Saturday was the last night of the festival. Some years ago the fabulous Riverfire fireworks display marked the end of the event. For some reason, this year the festival opened with a bang.
Riverfire – over eleven tonnes of explosives detonated on numerous bridges, building towers and barges in the beautiful Brisbane River – celebrated the start of the 2022 festival.
As a child I had to save my pocket money to buy a few skyrockets and a few double bungers. I cannot really understand how much eleven tonnes of pyrotechnics could possibly cost, or how much all these bangs, flashes and whallops would impact on our carbon footprints … but then I am the one who is usually in bed and asleep when the New Year fireworks are shot into the sky … so perhaps I am not the right person to criticise something that brings so much joy to so many.
- It would be nice, however, if every organiser of every major fireworks display were to contribute food parcels to the value of the display to those who need rather more basic things to enjoy – such as food and water
I really enjoyed so much of this year’s festival – and so many of the things that happened at about the same time, even if they were not directly part of the Brisbane Festival.
For me, the celebrations started with my finding an ideal husband.
Sorry – An Ideal Husband.
Brisbane’s La Boîte Theatre company is now housed in a superb new 400-seat theatre-in-the round performance space that means every member of the audience is almost a part of the action. This modern re-telling of the Oscar Wilde comedy by Lewis Treston featured a strong ensemble with just eight actors playing a number of roles. Will Carseldine and Patrick Jhanur played the male leads in a 1996 Canberra setting that offered numerous opportunities for Wildean wit and okker-Ozzie humour.
This show was clever, funny, inventive and perhaps even a little erotic: I don’t think too many productions of An Ideal Husband have featured a semi-naked man handcuffed to a bed with another man squatting on him taking selfies … but perhaps I have not seen enough Wilde performances to be able to judge dispassionately.
Brisbane theatre swept from the Victorian England mores of Oscar Wilde to the classical Greek 12th century BC legends of the Trojan War and of superhero Achilles with a dynamic production of David Morton’s Holding Achilles.
Once again, ancient Athens would have had some trouble with this new production – a world première – with wonderful aerial acrobatics, some delightful puppetry from the Dead Puppet Society, and some rather tiresome vocals from a singer known as Montaigne. I think her real name is Jessica Alyssa Cerro so perhaps the one-word pseudonym is an improvement … although I did not find her performance added anything to the tragic tale of Achilles (Stephen Madsen) and his lover Patroclus (Karl Richmond).
I enjoyed Act One and the aerial dynamics and the wonderful bear puppets and the sailing ship sails that transformed themselves into the fleet invading Troy, but I left at the interval. After all, one can take only so much of people spinning on high wires while people below paraded with wooden spears and while Montaigne droned on about something.
And Concerts …
Each year the Brisbane Lord Mayor opens the City Hall auditorium – a marvellous space dominated by a massive pipe organ – for a series of free concerts. I really wanted to attend the David Bailey concert where he played the organ as musical tribute to two silent films – Buster Keaton’s 1920s Sherlock Junior and Cops. However, as I was in Hobart on that day, I attended instead On With the Show, a lovely concert performed by sixty or so students from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Musical Theatre course.
These performers, ranging from their late teens to early twenties, belted out hits from Jesus Christ Superstar, Annie Get Your Gun, Les Miserables and other musicals, and ended with a wonderful version of I Still Call Australia Home, a song made famous by the Qantas airways advertisements, and a song that many people feel should be the country’s National Anthem instead of the dreary old Advance Australia Fair.
A slow boat from China …
I had no such quibbles over another world première – this time at the wonderful Brisbane Powerhouse theatre built within the guts of an old coal-fired electricity generating building by the river.
Slow Boat, written by Anna Yen, is perhaps the best piece of new theatre I have seen for many years.
This production – part Cantonese opera, part circus, part mime, part vaudeville – is presented in English and Cantonese languages and is accompanied by atmospheric music from an on-stage quartet. It tells the story of a small group of young Chinese men who escape from war-torn China at the start of World War II, who survive the appalling conditions handed to them by the “friendly” Australian government, and who celebrate their hard-found freedom with a concert performed at the end of the war at the historic Bulimba Brisbane shipyards – just a hundred metres from where this play was performed.
Julian Wong, Jonathan Chan, Egan Sun-Bin, Waih Jai and Sylvan Rus were the actors, singers, dancers, and Nicholas Ng the master of music. It was the sort of show that strangers, on leaving the theatre looking for a glass of wine or a meal, grabbed each other’s shoulders and exclaimed:
- Wasn’t that just a brilliant evening!
This year’s SWELL Sculpture Festival opened the day after Her Majesty’s death and featured a wide range of works from all over the country, relocated to and dotted along the sandy shores of Currumbin Beach an hour or so SE from Brisbane. Although not a part of the Brisbane Festival, it is located near Brisbane and was presented at the same time as the festival.
Over eighty artists thrilled us with works in stainless steel, re-cycled denim cloth, old plastic bottle, organic lawn dye, fine bone china ceramics, rough chopped timber, used fluorescent tubes, bronze, polished granite and fibreglass.
SWELL is an acquisitive art prize with many of the works submitted purchased by local city and town councils for their public spaces. I enjoyed Earth’s Custodian by Ian Haggerty and Michael Van Dam – see featured image left.
Of the six nominated winners in various divisions I liked just one work – but as my photographs from the day revealed to me when I got home … I did not even take a quick snap of it. I loved The Urchin by Tasmanian artist Marcus Tatton and It’s Not Too Late by Queensland artist Jo Norton, but I found many of the other entries a bit ho hum.
I cannot really see the Gold Coast City Council purchasing Jim Blower’s rather unexciting rusted steel sculpture Affordable Housing at its published price of AU$5.2 m (negotiable) and plopping it anywhere. The “negotiable” would have to imply “Give me a dollar or two and it’s yours”.
- OK – I’ll settle for fifty bucks if you pay for the welding gas …
SWELL is about more than sculpture, as there were all sorts of workshops, some great food stalls offering marinated lamb shanks or Spanish paella, musical events and if you ventured into Tommy’s beachside Italian restaurant you could have joined me in a great glass of Pinot Grigio and a Gamberi pizza (garlic and chili prawns, fior de latte, parsley and lemon zest) before tackling the next challenging art work.
The Art Boat
Titanic may have ruined the prospects of ocean voyages for millions of people but the Brisbane Festival Art Boat is a stately ship welcoming all landlubbers. It is a huge barge pushed and prodded by tugboats of various sizes as it makes its sedate way up and down the river past the amazingly multiplying number of apartment tower blocks lining the river.
A rather challenging soundscape oozed from the on-board loudspeakers as we chugged off into the sunset – sounds that were rather reminiscent of medieval churches, deep underground tombs, First Nation ceremonial gatherings … and of DJs who had had one or two too many puffs of the magic pipe.
I don’t think Lindy Lee had puffed on any pipe – magic or otherwise – but perhaps she had visited the performance of Holding Achilles as she stated that the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras had inspired her work The Spheres featured aboard the Art Boat.
Large perforated mirrored spheres were lit from within – and at times were enveloped in drifting smoke – and were wrapped by a curtain wall of black plastic Swiss-cheese-holed challenges to the sight-impaired.
The return leg of the cruise featured music from MZAZA – a Balkan-French-Moroccan inspired group whose music was exciting and all too short in duration. Perhaps the occupants of all those very expensive riverside apartments complained about unseemly noise when they were trying to play Vivaldi sonatas on their harpsichords … or Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory on their hard-wired full-metal guitars.
Black or White
I had hoped to finish the weeks of the Brisbane Festival with Othello, adapted by Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein from Shakespeare’s classic tale of love and hate, of black and white, of revenge, evil, prejudice … and strawberry-embroidered handkerchiefs.
Like Slow Boat, this production is multi-lingual, reflecting Australia’s heritage and the debt we owe to all those who have come before us and who have shaped our country. This Othello features Captain Othello who is preparing to repel the invading Japanese Imperial navy during the same war that Slow Boat commemorated. Othello is presented in English, Kala Lagaw Ya and Yumpla Tok and honours the languages of the Torres Straits, far to the north of Queensland.
I was looking forward to this show – but the performance I had booked tickets for was cancelled due to cast illness. Will COVID never let us go … ? I am now looking forward to a performance next week … cast and crew illnesses permitting.
Wins and losses
The Brisbane Festival is over for another year. It has been a month or so of great music and theatre and not-so-wonderful sculpture or fireworks or Rugby. There were dozens of other concerts, theatre performances, cabarets, street art wonders to explore and so much more I was not able to get to. Melbourne has its wonderful Moomba Festival. Sydney has a great gay Mardi Gras and Hobart – that tiny city so far down the Australian coast and so clouded in fogs and shows and wicked winds – has its brilliant Dark MOFO winter festival.
But Brisbane has its super BrisFest … and I am looking forward to next year’s fun and games and eating and viewing and …
Journey September 2022
Text and SWELL photographs © Christopher Hall September 2022
All other images from Internet
In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit. I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.
- Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship