Review: Adelaide Festival Theatre and WOMADelaide

On my annual pilgrimage to Adelaide for Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Writers Week and WOMADelaide, there was so much to see I’ve milked a couple of weeks worth of blogs from it. I had only been there a little over twenty four hours and my brain had already been thoroughly exercised.

Being immersed in a diversity of creative arts of all kinds provides inspiration and motivation for writing. This blog covers the theatre I attended and WOMADelaide music festival.

The Doctor By Robert Icke

The Doctor starring Juliet Stevenson, is an adaptation, by Robert Icke, of the play by Viennese dramatist, short story writer and novelist Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 production Professor Bernhardi, a portrait of antisemitism.

The adaptation broadens out the focus of the play to be about identity politics (gender, sexuality, race and class), ethics (medical, religious, parental) and power dynamics. The director extended the issues and really messed with the audiences head, perceptions and biases by casting women as men, white people as black and black as white.

The protagonist Ruth Wolff is a Alzheimer’s medical practitioner and secular Jew. She prevents a priest seeing a fourteen year old girl dying of sepsis as the result of a self administered abortion. He was called by the parents but the girl is not in a state to decide for herself if she wants to see the priest. The incident goes viral and provokes a petition and TV debates, that jeopardise Ruth’s career and the medical institutes funding. ‘The incident’ itself had some of the qualities of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas in its impact.

All the characters in the play claim righteousness in their own positions and all are shown to be potentially compromised by their own characteristics or beliefs. The playwright employs an exquisitely torturous interrogation of the use and misuse of language, and the play was an exhausting, mind bending, and brilliantly performed piece of theatre that I will be pondering for some time. If you ever get a chance, go and see it.

Dimanche by Chaliwaté and Focus

The Belgian theatre production Dimanche (meaning Sunday) was both beautiful and harrowing. The almost wordless performance was delivered through the mediums of film, acting, sound and puppetry and depicts three friends tracking and filming the cataclysmic impacts of climate change.

It begins with three filmmakers journeying in an imaginary truck to the arctic to document the breakup of ice flows. Only two survive the experience and we cut to life size polar bear puppets on a futile search for food as their habitat disintegrates. The set switches to a couple living with an elderly relative in extreme heat. As they swelter under fans, the furniture melts, and eventually the elderly woman succumbs to the elements.

With each new scene, another of the friends falls victim to the impacts of climate change until the final scene which depicts the world under water. It was a stunning piece of theatre, precisely executed. I am very glad I went to see it despite leaving feeling like a frog in a slowly boiling pot of water.


WOMAD is a four day music, arts and dance festival held in Adelaide’s shady Botanic Park and a chance to immerse oneself in what feels like a parallel universe. Around 20,000 people per day and hundreds of artist from around the world gather each day to celebrate the diversity or music and arts with performances across eight stages scattered through the park.

My favourites included music by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tami Neilson, Mavis Staples and Spinifex Gum; acrobatic performance by Gravity and Other Myths; and climate talks by Cristiana Figures the former UN Secretary for Climate and reflections on climate optimism by film maker Damon Gameau, scientist Will Steffen, environmental lawyer Michelle Lim and Adelaide Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor.

I departed Adelaide full of creative inspiration and having done some internal plotting and written a few scenes for my next novel, which will have an environmental theme and be set partly in Melbourne, partly in East Gippsland. Watch this space.

Theatre images from the internet

Take a Leaf Out of My Book

This week I wrote a flash fiction piece for fun, inspired by my trip to WOMADelaide.

WOMADelaide is a four day open air festival of Music, Arts and Dance held in beautiful Botanic Park in Adelaide. Every year, around 500 artists from 30+ countries perform on 8 stages spread across the 34-hectare park and 18,000 – 20,000 people go each day.

The leaf people shown in the photos were artworks around the park which I found spooky and were the inspiration for this story…

Take a Leaf Out of My Book

I was amongst the thousands who made the pilgrimage to the music festival each year. We traipsed around the parkland gardens like the faithful seeking redemption, enveloped in sound waves that vibrated through the air around as we lay on the cool grass beneath river red gums, Moreton figs and pencil pines. Reality receded fast amongst the tie die, Indian cotton, beards and pigtails, and the thin trail of weed smoke that wended it’s way through the crowd to a melody so sweet it tasted like fairy floss, enfolding me in clouds of saintly bliss.

I wandered around the park to soak up the atmosphere and noticed creatures fashioned from chicken wire into the shape of people. They were stuffed with brown autumn leaves that looked like skin after too much time in the sun and scattered through the forest like aberrant seeds. Someone’s idea of art, frozen in ghoulish stances, sitting in chairs, leaning on walls and spilling from the hollows of trees. Faceless creatures in poses of waiting. They appeared at every turn and I started to feel like they were watching me.

On the second day I noticed that the leaf creatures moved around the park over night. One that had been playing a piano in a gully on the first day was no longer there and another riding a bicycle had materialised alongside a path. When I mentioned this to my girlfriend she said I had been drinking too much.

At dusk I was sprawled on the grass listening to the sounds of a throat singer and animal sounds emanate from a wind instrument. Their cries were answered by creatures deep in the park. At one point I was sure I heard a human scream, but when I struggled to my elbows all eyes around me were faced front to the stage, no sign anyone else had noticed, so I lay back down again. After an hour the throat singer melted into the forest and an aboriginal women’s choir dressed in colours of the desert emerged on stage and started to croon. Their haunted voices echoed through the night competing with the owls that dwelled in the high tree branches.

My bladder started to fill to bursting so I scrambled to my feet and headed into the dark toward the portaloos down the back, far enough away that the stink wouldn’t seep into the crowd. I passed through a stand of pines and couldn’t tell whether the rustling of leaves was coming from beneath my own feet or others walking in the shadows out of sight. The gouls in my head took shape in the night around me as I thought I caught glimpses of movement in the dark.

Fortunately the dunny queue was short. The bathroom experience was the worst part of festivals. No matter how often the tireless staff mopped out the stalls, at the end of a hot day the smell of urine was still nauseating, but the relief of emptying my bladder to the distant keening of the singers overrode any feelings of disgust I had for my stinky box cubicle with its invisible splashes sprayed around the walls.

When I stepped back out of the loo, I was alone with the sounds of the night. Already a bit spooked, I started to walk stealthily in the direction of the haunting melody that filtered through the trees, then tripped and landed sprawled on the ground. I heard a low painful moan nearby and scrambled to my feet. In the dim shadows I thought I saw a figure prone on the ground and in my mind it’s mouth was stuffed with flaking brown autumn leaves. I turned and ran through the night as adrenaline flooded my body.

I passed a large tree and something latched onto me from the shadows. When I swiped at it I felt my sleeve grabbed and tugged and started to swing around wildly. A shriek escaped from deep in my throat and I struggled with the dark figure feeling the scrape of chicken wire and the crunch of leaves as it wrestled me to the ground. My panicked mind realised that my daytime fantasy of the chicken wire and leaf people coming alive in the night was real. The person I had tripped over lying prone in the forest must have been a victim and now they had come for me.

Another scream echoed through the forest louder than the distant singing. I was fighting for my life, could feel the sting of wire cuts on my arms. In the distance I thought I heard my name being called and yelled for help while I struggled.

Flashes of torchlight leapt through the forest nearby and after what seemed like a lifetime found me. All the spots converged on my face and there was a deathly silence. I scrambled to my feet and wheeled around wildly in the torchlight ready to defend myself again. Peals of laughter started to fill the forest around me. My attacker, one of the chicken wire and leaf sculptures, was flattened to a pulp at my feet, no signs of life having ever been in it.