Weird and surreal, Cate Blanchett and Shakespeare get dark

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Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright, Australian theatre production The Secret River, Barrie Kosky’s production of Handel’s opera Saul and a film by artist Del Kathryn Barton starring Cate Blanchett mark the highlights of 2017’s Adelaide festival.

The March festival is the first under the co-artistic direction of Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, who worked together for almost a decade at Sydney’s Belvoir StTheatre.

The program for the 2017 Adelaide festival, which is run concurrently with Adelaide fringe, Adelaide writers’ week and Womadelaide, is a celebration of the dark, weird and surreal. Thursday’s announcement also featured details of new festival hub the Riverbank Palais, which will float on the river Torrens throughout March.

Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, directed by Armfield himself, is set to be one of the festival highlights. The stunning first contact story, which won six Helpmann awards, will be remounted at the Anstey Hill quarry, a natural outdoor amphitheatre. “We’re bringing in a sense of ownership for the Kaurna people, given that this is happening on Kaurna land,” Armfield said.

The festival will also feature the Australian premiere of Red, a new short film by two-time Archibald prize-winning painter Del Kathryn Barton and starring Cate Blanchett. The film is inspired by the bizarre mating ritual of the redback spider, whose males offer themselves up to the female as a post-coital meal, and has been described as “a surrealist cinematic offering and a savage tale of female power”.

Adelaide will also be treated to Rufus Wainwright’s “symphonic visual concert” Prima Donna, which will be matched with highlights from Rufus Does Judy, the artist’s recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert which has never been performed outside of the iconic venue; UK company Complicite’s immersive theatre experience The Encounter, which is also part of Sydney festival’s 2017 program; and Schaubühne Berlin’s strange, sinister and adrenaline-filled production of Richard III, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, which Healy said was suitable “for anyone who’s fearful that Shakespeare is usually served up lukewarm”.

Richard III follows on from the company’s production of Hamlet, which played at 2010’s Sydney festival. The lead performance by Lars Eidinger, who also played the title role in Hamlet, has been described as “mesmerising”.
Healy and Armfield also pointed to Betroffenheit, a new dance work about the experience and aftermath of grief by rising dance star Crystal Pite and Canadian theatremaker Jonathon Young, who lost his daughter as well as a niece and a nephew in a cabin fire in 2009. Healy described the piece, which received a five-star review in the Guardian, as “one of the most memorable and affecting pieces of work that I can remember seeing”.

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