InReview’s 2023 Adelaide summer festival season picks

As the 2023 ‘Mad March’ festival season kicks off, eight of InReview’s writers and critics share their must-see shows and events across the Adelaide Festival, Fringe, WOMADelaide and Writers’ Week programs.

Feb 17, 2023, updated Feb 20, 2023

Farrin Foster recommends:

Grey Rock (Adelaide Festival): Returning to Adelaide Festival after the embrace of his gentle, funny and affecting Azza in 2018, Palestinian playwright and director Amir Nizar Zuabi brings us Grey Rock – the story of an ordinary man in the West Bank attempting to build a space shuttle in his shed. Depicting two extremes of life – big-scale dreams and quotidian realities – the play is brought together by Zuabi’s poetic and poignant scripting. ­– March 9-12, Space Theatre.

Recalibrate (Adelaide Fringe): A new and very different work from SA Playwrights Theatre (whose show The Deep North was lauded at Fringe in 2021), Recalibrate is a story of feminine kinship and its many pitfalls and joys. Written by Lucy Combe and nominated for the Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award, it features powerful local actors including Kelly Vincent and Emma Beech, and has strong potential to become the next homegrown highlight. ­­– March 1-5, Light ADL.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Adelaide Festival): From dance company Marrugeku, whose work has been held up alongside the likes of legendary contemporary choreographer Hofesh ShechterJurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] blends dance, sound and installation to take audiences into the fractured Australian psyche. Examining both Indigenous incarceration and the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, it is an urgent call to reconnect with the emotional reality of these ongoing and often abstracted human rights abuses. ­– March 10-12, Dunstan Playhouse.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] is coming to Adelaide Festival. Photo: Prudence Upton

Michelle Wakim recommends:

The Coconuts – Brown on the Outside, White on the Inside (Fringe): This musical comedy duo is made up of queer filmmaker and TV presenter Leela Varghese and actor Shabana Azeez. The pair first bonded over “being brown” and have channelled their unique perspectives and experiences into original songs, witty banter and cheeky political commentary. They’ve made a name for themselves in the Adelaide Comedy scene, and if Sammy J or Flight of the Conchords are your thing, no doubt you’ll get around The Coconuts. ­– The Bally at Gluttony, March 7-19.

Catch YUCK Circus’s DEADSET at The Vault. Photo: Jess The Pit Photography

YUCK Circus: DEADSET (Fringe): Award-winning company YUCK Circus is back in Adelaide, bringing comedy and acrobatics together in an ode to Australian icons such as Kath and Kim, Bondi Rescue, and “the Aussie larrikin Identity”. The WA ensemble is made up of all femme-identifying individuals – in roles on stage, at the tech desk and in creative and managing positions ­– and they endeavour to amplify the female creative voice in any way they can. – The Vault at Fool’s Paradise, February 21 – March 5.

A Little Life (Adelaide Festival): Hanya Yanagihara’s captivating, critically acclaimed novel A Little Life explores universal and timeless themes of ambition, privilege and power – and now it is coming to the Adelaide stage. Presented by International Theater Amsterdam with an impressive ensemble under the direction of Ivo van Hove, who is celebrated for his epic productions, this is set to be a unique theatrical experience. – Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, March 3-8.

Love on the Margins (Adelaide Writers’ Week): Randa Abdel-Fattah, a multi-award-winning Palestinian Egyptian Muslim author, and Sarah Ayoub, a Lebanese journalist, bestselling author and academic, will be in conversation about romance, young-adult fiction, and the complexities that come with writing non-western characters. Drawing from personal experience, Abdel-Fattah and Ayoub are set to discuss how they craft realistic characters, the tropes of the romance genre, and how their experiences of “otherness” inform their work. ­– Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, March 5. (Read more about Writers’ Week in this InReview interview with director Louise Adler.)

Audiences at Adelaide Writers’ Week. Photo: Tony Lewis

Graham Strahle recommends:

Ngapa William Cooper (Adelaide Festival): If you came across Compassion, the exquisite song cycle by Nigel Westlake and Lior from some years ago, its shiveringly beautiful concluding song “Avinu Malkeinu” (Hymn of Compassion) will immediately spring to mind. Well, they now have a new work, Ngapa William Cooper, which addresses similar humanitarian issues through focusing on the remarkable anti-war protests of Yorta Yorta man William Cooper. It was created in collaboration with one of his descendants, singer-songwriter Lou Bennett (with additional creative lyric content by Sarah Gory). The premiere of this work is unhesitatingly my first Festival pick. – UKARIA Cultural Centre, March 5, and Adelaide Town Hall, March 7. (Read Graham Strahle’s interview with Westlake and Lior here.)

KRONOS Five Decades (Adelaide Festival): KRONOS Quartet gets an easy recommendation, too. Adelaide audiences have long admired this Californian classical crossover group for its modern sonic edge and unrivalled innovation in developing new repertoire. This time, they play a retrospective program that looks back on an almost unbelievable 50 years of playing together. George Crumb’s “Black Angels” will be the piece to hear. KRONOS are also appearing at WOMADelaide if you’re headed to that. – Festival Theatre, March 13 (Adelaide Festival) and WOMADelaide, March 11-12.

Messa da Requiem (Adelaide Festival): No, Verdi’s religious work is neither an opera (as billed) nor a dance piece (as primarily described), but this choreographed version of his Requiem Mass draws the greatest curiosity at this Festival both for its audacity and its stupendous scale. The stage will be swirling with some three dozen dancers from Ballett Zürich. Christian Spuck’s production, first shown in Zurich in 2016, has gained wide admiration for its visually arresting power. But even musical purists should be satisfied as well, with an excellent cast of singers joining the ASO in this performance. – Festival Theatre, March 8-11.

Messa da Requiem is the Adelaide Festival’s 2023 centrepiece. Photo: Carlos Quezada

Alison Flett recommends:

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Adelaide Festival):  After the tidal wave of rave reviews and accolades for Kip Williams’ 2022 production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s hard not to get super-excited about the latest offering from the Sydney Theatre Company artistic director and his team ­– an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic classic Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. With the additional draw of Ewen Leslie in the starring role, this is sure to be a 2023 Festival highlight. ­– Her Majesty’s Theatre, March 3-12. (Read InReview’s interview with Ewen Leslie here.)

Escaping, with Shannon Burns (Adelaide Writers’ Week): I was blown away when I read Shannon Burns’ memoir Childhood last year. The beautifully crafted, utterly compelling prose gives a rare insight into the mind of a child struggling with a difficult home-life. I’m looking forward to hearing Burns’ further reflections on his tempestuous upbringing and his escape into the world of literature. My top pick for AWW 2023. ­– Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, March 7, 10.45am.

Electric Dreams: Torrent (Fringe): I do love the magic and thrill of multi-media events, and Torrent (an exploration of our relationship with water) has all the ingredients of an experience to remember. Live dancers leaping into a digitally-created world, propelled by electronic music from dynamic British duo Yard Nule and new spoken-word poetry from award-winning Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha poet Ali Cobby Eckermann: prepare to be mesmerised! ­– Light ADL, February 17 – March 18. (Torrent’s director explains more about the show in this InReview story about Fringe experiences that put the science in art).

Torrent is is part of Fringe’s Electric Dreams program.

Katherine Tamiko Arguile recommends:

Gerard Malanga, Andy Warhol, 1971, New York, gelatin-silver photograph; National Gallery of Australia.

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Andy Warhol & Photography – A Social Media (Adelaide Festival): A social media influencer, perhaps, before influencers became a thing, Warhol would no doubt have loved Instagram and TikTok. Yet for all his fascination with celebrity life, the artist himself was somewhat of an enigma. This exhibition presents his hidden side through his and his contemporaries’ photographs – as well as experimental films and paintings, such as his iconic 1960s portraits of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Munro. It promises to be as unforgettable as the man himself. ­– Art Gallery of South Australia, March 3 – May 14.

The Umbilical Brothers – The Distraction (Fringe): I have to confess that I’d made assumptions about this Australian comedy duo, based on snippets I’d seen of their children’s TV series The Upside Down Show. That was until I saw a YouTube clip of their later, adult-oriented work. I was sold. Combining virtuosic mime, music and cleverly crafted ideas, it is just what we need in fraught times. The Distraction has them making use of giant digital screens, tapping into our screen-oriented lives. Guaranteed laugh-out-loud stuff at an inclusive, affordable ticket price. ­ – Garden of Unearthly Delights, Feb 17 – March 19.

Messa da Requiem (Adelaide Festival): Standard music-only productions of Verdi’s Requiem are already big. Performed by 200 singers, musicians and dancers from Ballett Zürich, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Festival Chorus, with choreography by Christian Spuck, this version of Requiem promises to be huge and utterly unforgettable. With imagery reminiscent of a Delacroix painting, the extraordinary staging is likely to be a performance that will stay with you for a lifetime. A steep ticket price, but it should be well worth it. ­– Festival Theatre, March 8-11.

Suzie Keen recommends:

The River that Ran Uphill (Adelaide Festival): Having listened to Ni-Vanuatu man and consummate storyteller Edgell Junior recount first-hand his experiences of being caught up in the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific in 2015, I anticipate this show by Slingsby Theatre’s Flying Squad ensemble will be a homegrown highlight of the Festival. Based on Edgell’s story, and incorporating the kind of theatrical techniques for which Slingsby is known ­– including shadow and light-play, live music and 3D miniature worlds – it promises to transport audiences to the eye of the storm but ultimately deliver “a raft of hope”. – Space Theatre, March 1-6. (Read more about the show in this InReview story.)

Adelaide Fringe regular Kween Kong is back this year in a new show.

B.A.Bz World Tour (Fringe): Speaking of homegrown talent, drag artist and 2023 Adelaide Fringe ambassador Kween Kong (aka Thomas Fonua and head of local drag collective Haus of Kong) is taking to the stage this festival season with a new show featuring two fellow finalists from season two of reality-TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under: Hannah Conda and (winner) Spankie Jackzon. It’s an irresistible line-up for fans of the international juggernaut that is Drag Race, but anyone looking for a high-energy night of fun, glitz, laughs and “insider tea” should sashay on down. – Wonderland Spiegeltent, Hindmarsh Square, March 8-18.

Place des Anges (WOMADelaide): The sight of thousands of festival-goers gazing skywards, bewitched by spectacular aerial acrobatics performed under the stars in Botanic Park and then smiling in delight as they were blanketed by cascading feathers, remains one of my most memorable festival moments of recent times – and this year French company Gratte Ciel is returning to present Place des Anges not just on one night but across all four evenings of WOMADelaide. It’s a must-see for festival goers. (And if you’re interested, an article on the event website explains more about the feathers used in the performance.) – WOMADelaide, Botanic Park, March 10-13.

Murray Bramwell recommends:

Jack Stokes in the Fringe play Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me.

Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me and Bonnie Fechters (Fringe): I can never go past the Holden Street Theatres program, especially its sponsored Edinburgh Fringe selections. This year, Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me by UK writer Philip Stokes ­– whose Heroin(e) for Breakfast featured back in 2010 – is the story of a strange boy and a Mother’s Day like no other. ­– Holden Street Theatres, February 14 – March 18. And, also hailing from Edinburgh, is Morna Burdon and her cabaret show Bonnie Fechters, a stirringly Scottish tribute to women of courage down the ages. ­– The Warehouse Theatre in Unley, February 16 – March 5. (Read an interview with Morna Burdon in this InReview story.)

The Sheep Song (Adelaide Festival): The entire theatre program is strong this Festival, especially the outstanding and diverse offerings in the first weekend. But it is The Sheep Song, late in the final week, that also catches my eye. From the striking performance image in the printed program – of a sheep standing up for itself in a “two-legs good” kind of way – to the fact that it is described as a wordless parable of a sheep leaving the flock to seek acceptance in the wider world, I am intrigued by this Belgian production from FC Bergman and Toneelhuis. It promises 90 minutes of theatrical spectacle and dark surprise. ­– March 16-19, Dunstan Playhouse.

Rizwan and Muazzam Qawwals (WOMADelaide): With a record number of artists attending this year, where to begin with suggestions?  A feature of this event over 31 years is that, while always bringing innovative new music, it has its traditions as well. From the very first WOMAD in 1992, when the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan introduced his superb Qawwali vocalising rhythms, Adelaide audiences have been drawn to this meditative Sufi art form. This tradition continues with the return this year of Nusrat’s nephews, Rizwan and Muazzam, and their troupe, who will fill the late-night air on Saturday and Monday with their sublime sounds. ­– March 12 and 13, WOMADelaide in Botanic Park.

Rizwan and Muazzam Qawwals are bringing their sublime sound to WOMADelaide.

Rachael Mead recommends:

Where to From Here (Fringe): Adelaide living treasure Tracy Crisp has a new show and I can’t wait for this fresh dose of her witty and insightful Gen-X perspective on the modern world. Adding to my excitement is that it’s the first of a new trilogy, so there will be two more exceptional Fringe shows to look forward to in the future. ­– March 2-5 and 9-12, Studio 166, Goodwood Theatre.

Adelaide Writers’ Week:  Writers’ Week always keeps my diary packed, and this year looks especially exciting for poetry lovers with Australia’s Sarah Holland-Batt, British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and a session on the Poetry of Dispossession including Mohammed El-Kurd streamed from New York. Kim Mahood, Ann-Marie Priest and Shannon Burns are also at the top of my non-fiction must-see list. ­– Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, March 4-9.

A Little Life (Adelaide Festival): This epic novel by Hanya Yanagihara burned its self into my consciousness when I first encountered it back in 2016, so there is no way I’m missing this stage adaptation by the sensational Ivo van Hove and the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam. ­– Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, March 3-8. (Read more about A Little Life in this InReview story.)

A Little Life. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Keep up to date with all InReview’s 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here, and check out all out 2023 Adelaide Festival coverage here.

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