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The Best Things to See and Do at Brisbane Festival 2018

Including a kaleidoscopic house of mirrors, a spine-tingling theatre show and a trash-themed block party.
By Sarah Ward
September 07, 2018

The Best Things to See and Do at Brisbane Festival 2018

Including a kaleidoscopic house of mirrors, a spine-tingling theatre show and a trash-themed block party.
By Sarah Ward
September 07, 2018


Including a kaleidoscopic house of mirrors, a spine-tingling theatre show and a trash-themed block party.

What begins and ends with two massive gigs, will light up the sky three times a night, and includes everything from unsettling shipping container installations to a kaleidoscopic house of mirrors and a mind-bending circus? That'd be this year's Brisbane Festival, which will feature nearly 600 performances across a huge 22 days when it returns between September 8–29.

Marking his fourth stint as Brisbane Festival's artistic director, David Berthold has curated a stacked program of almost 70 shows for the 2018 lineup — featuring more than 1000 artists, taking over 17 venues, and serving up 100 performances for free.

As always, the fest's lineup spans the full array of arts, culture, performance and music events, so if you're keen to catch an inventive new play every night at the returning Theatre Republic — or schedule your life around gigs at Brisbane Arcadia — then you're about to become mighty busy. To help you out, here's our list of our top ten.

  • 14
    Hiromi Tango and Craig Walsh: A Force

    From Brisbane Festival‘s free program comes A Force, an interactive, immersive installation from artists Hiromi Tango and Craig Walsh. Taking over Flowstate between Monday, September 10 and Friday, September 14, it’ll evolve and change over the course of its stay — adding materials, responding to ideas and capturing memories. This part of the festival isn’t just something to look at, however. If you have a spare morning between Tuesday, September 11 and Friday, September 14, you can also participate. In sessions facilitated by Queensland College of Art students, you’ll learn about transforming materials such as cables and wires into a piece of art, contemplate the connectivity that they represent and think about linking up with the world beyond the confines of a digital device. The workshops are also free, but you’ll need to register to attend.

    Image: Simon Hewson.

  • 13
    Peter Grimes

    First performed back in 1945, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes tells a tale of a fisherman, an English coastal village and a missing appearance. That storyline mightn’t sound like something to sing about; however the acclaimed opera has been proving that notion wrong for more than 70 years. Considered one of the defining British operas of the 20th century, it’s coming to Brisbane Festival on September 20 and 22, with Grammy-nominated Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton making the trip back for what’s shaping as a rousing, resounding staging. Coming to QPAC’s Concert Hall, the production will also 18 soloists, the Opera Queensland Chorus and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

  • 12

    When you head to the theatre, you see something made from nothing. A previously empty stage comes alive with actors, and becomes the setting for any story that a creative mind can whip up. At Home, attendees will literally see something come from nothing, with a house built on-stage as part of the show. Coming to Brisbane from the US — and enjoying its Australian premiere at Brisbane Festival between September 12–15 — Home combines choreography, construction, live documentary and more, conjuring up its setting room by room. You’ll discover what makes a house a home as the minutiae of daily life fills the abode and, naturally, you’ll also get to take part in a huge house party. Image: Jacques-Jean Tiziou.

  • 11
    Brisbane Festival Closing Party

    When Brisbane Festival comes to an end in 2018 — just for the year, don’t worry — it won’t just be lighting up the sky with Riverfire. The fest is also putting together a one-day mini music festival within the overall three-week festival, because that’s how you throw a closing party. On the bill is Violent Soho, Meg Mac, Methyl Ethel, WAAX and Mane, all hitting the stage on Saturday, September 28 from 2pm onwards. They’ll be joined by I Oh You DJs, Tired Lion DJs, Last Dinosaurs DJs — and yes, if fireworks are your thing, you’ll be able to see them bursting overhead once evening hits.

  • 10

    You wander into The Johnson, head to a room, and everything seems normal — that’s what people at hotels, after all. But if you’re doing so between September 12–15 as part of Brisbane Festival, then you’re not there to stay. Rather, you’re seeing a show. Yes, as well as hitting up venues all around the city, this year’s fest includes a one-man show in a Spring Hill hotel room.Created and performed by Wiradjuri man Joel Bray, it’s called Biladurang, with the title meaning platypus. As you’re trapped in the room with Joel, you’ll watch him dance, act, wonder why he’s there and loosely relay a dreamtime story.

    Image: Pippa Samaya.

  • 9
    Umami Mermaids

    From Team America: World Police to Avenue Q to The Happytime Murders, puppets have long stopped being innocent pieces of wood or felt. Sometimes that works out hilariously, and sometimes it doesn’t — but newcomer Umami Mermaids might just have the most intriguing and out-there puppet comedy concept there is. In Anna Straker’s world-premiere show across September 18–22, mutated mermaids are looking for revenge in a post-apocalyptic realm. Gothic meets gore, fairy tales meet feminism, and Brisbane Festival ensures you’ll never look at characters fashioned out of fabric the same way again. All performances take place at La Boite, and after the session on Wednesday, September 19, you can also enjoy a conversation about the production.

  • 8
    Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin — Milke

    Does your favourite tipple make you want to break out in song? Whatever you just answered, the popularity of drunken karaoke attests otherwise. And, so does Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin — which tells you what it’s about and why it should grab your attention right there in its moniker. On Brisbane Festival’s lineup across September 18–22, this ode to everyone’s favourite juniper spirits will turn La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre into a gin joint, all thanks to performers Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood and Jeremy Brennan, plus the folks at Milke. Discover just where gin has been in a musical show that doubles as a boozy history lesson, all to tunes by Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, Martha Wainwright, Tom Waits, The Pretenders, Sia and Jessie J.

  • 7
    LIFE - The Show — Strut & Fret

    What would Brisbane Festival be without a new show from Strut & Fret Productions? It wouldn’t be boring, but it certainly wouldn’t be quite as bright. After bringing Blanc de BlancLimbo Unhinged and Fun House to the fest in previous years, the creative outfit return with LIFE – The Show, which once again takes over The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent. Cocktails, clowns, cabaret, circus and acrobatics are all a part of this world-premiere effort, serving up a celebration of what it means to be human and alive, as the name suggests. A word of warning: Strut & Fret’s shows are always popular, which is why it’s running every night except Mondays for the entire duration of the festival, aka until Saturday, September 29.

  • 6
    Heaps Gay Trash Palace

    Kicking off this year’s Brisbane Festival in vibrant style, The Tivoli is getting a one-night-only makeover, becoming the Heaps Gay Trash Palace on Saturday, September 8. Just what does that entail? Think dumpster decadence, which is a term we’ve just coined to describe the shabby chic vibe. Also, think DIY frocks, a celebration of all things queer, and a heap of performers, live acts and DJs. It’s an 80s-themed trash wedding, after all. And, the shindig won’t just take over The Tiv’s interior, but will spill out into the car park too, becoming a block party. It’s a ticketed affair, for $40 per person — and it’s the finale to eight actual LGBTIQ weddings, which are taking part on King Street down the road as part of Qweens on King. Image: Ezra Qua-enoo.

  • 5

    There’s a big, white container coming to South Bank. But, like most shipping containers in the city, it’s not being used to transport furniture. And the word ‘séance’ will be written on the side in black. It’s kind of ominous. Séance is actually a new installation where participants take a seat inside the tiny space, put on a headset and place their hands flat on the table in front of them. The lights go out and the container enters complete darkness. For the next 20 minutes, participants are fed ‘suggestible information’ through their headsets. Séance is a sensory experience that looks at the psychology of a group sitting together. Despite not being a horror or supernatural-themed piece, it’s a scary indicator of how easy it is for confusion, information overload and the people siting right next to us to affect our judgment.

  • 4
    Horror — Jakop Ahlbom Company

    Do you like scary movies? If your answer is yes — and that question has you itching to revisit Scream — then Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror is for you. The acclaimed Swedish director and film aficionado has turned his love of all things frightening into an internationally acclaimed physical theatre production, and it’s making its first trip to Australia Serving up spine-tingling thrills while nodding to everything from The Shining to Rosemary‘s Baby to The Exorcist, Horror blends black humour with the genre that gives the show its name, complete with a host of cinematic special effects that aren’t usually used in live theatre. That means not just blood-splatter aplenty and slasher flick-style orchestral screeching, but swinging an axe through a wealth of classic movies and tropes in a head-spinning fashion.

    Image: Sanne Peper.

  • 3
    House of Mirrors

    Since Dark MOFO first introduced House of Mirrors back in 2016, the installation has sat at the top of everyone’s must-do list. Created by Australian installation artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a walkthrough space filled with reflective surfaces that will not only strands you in a maze of your own image, but turns your likeness into a kaleidoscope. Is it fun, creepy or both? You be the judge. And if you missed out last time it came to town, don’t worry. Eager Brisbanites will soon get another chance to wander through the disorienting, perception-altering, panic-inducing, optical illusion-based labyrinth for themselves. Trust Brisbane Festival to bring the attraction back to Queensland as part of its 2018 program. From September 8–29, the installation will take over part of the fest’s Brisbane Arcadia space at the South Bank Cultural Forecourt for weeks of reflective roaming pleasure.

  • 2
    Arcadia at Brisbane Festival 2018

    Taking over the city during September, Brisbane Festival does many things. It gives everyone an excuse to devour entertaining cultural delights — and it serves up a new hangout. Actually, make that hangouts. Yes, Brisbane Festival’s central hub offers multiple spaces in one. Revamping South Bank’s Cultural Forecourt, Treasury Brisbane Arcadia boasts everything from pop-up food stalls to the spiegeltent to everything in between. Indeed, as well as offering a place to go when you need a wine, craft beer or food between shows, there’s two places you’ll want to check out. Stop by Divine for a dose of drag entertainment over a frosé, plus late-night DJs — or head to The Box for outdoor dancing and pop-up parties.

  • 1
    #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light

    Every year, when Brisbane Festival rolls around, two things happen. Firstly, the city explodes with an array of arts, culture and music performances. Secondly, it explodes with colour and light thanks to a big riverside light show. In 2018, the latter is called #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light — and while hashtags in event names deserve the cringes that they instantly inspire, the actual combination of water fountains, lights and lasers will inspire awe. A free 10-minute show taking place at 6.30pm, 8pm and 9.30pm each night between September 8–29, it’s designed to spin the traditional story of the dreaming serpent that created Brisbane’s brown snake of a waterway. Catch it from the Arcadia precinct, on the South Bank Cultural Forecourt, over a few beverages.

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