In a recent interview with Brett Sheehy, Melbourne International Arts Festival’s Artistic Director, I asked for his Top 3 Picks for the festival. Expecting a list of three shows to then research and report on, Brett instead gave me an in depth rationale for his top three theatrical choices at this year’s festival. This man is deeply passionate about his work, and this is evident in the way he speaks about the theatre, the arts and these three shows:
Artistic Pick Number One
Rhinoceros in Love
National Theatre of China (China) Thu 6 – Sat 8 Oct at 8pmSun 9 Oct at 6pm “In terms of cultural relations, this is really significant. This is the first contemporary Chinese drama that has ever toured outside mainland China. After discussions with artists in China and the Chinese Government (who flew SHeehy to CHina last year to look at some work) it has become apparent that the reason we have never seen contemporary Chinese drama before has sprung from the ‘West’ declaring that in terms of festival and commercial presenters, all we have wanted to see are the traditional chinese operas and ballets, the acrobats and plate spinnings. The cliches which have dominated all touring chinese performances for decades.”
“Even though this kind of work has value, of course, and it is beautiful and artistically excellent, In curating a 21 century arts festival, I wanted to find in Chinese theatre what is emerging in Chinese visual arts and taking the world by storm. I knew in a country of 1.3 billion people, there must be extraordinray contemporary theatre being made. The only reason we weren’t seeing it was because no-one had ever asked them”.
After requesting to see energetic and new contemporary theatre in China, Sheehy found Rhinoceros in Love. He believes that this play resonates with audiences the world over. It has been a commercial smash hit in China’s capital, Beijing, playing to packed houses every night.
“It’s a fabulous love story. Tragic and comedic all at once. It’s about a guy who is a rhinoceros keeper at the zoo, he falls in love with a girl, the love is unrequited so he does something dramatic to win her heart. It’s incredibly funny. There is great music in it – from traditional Chinsese music right through to western pop. It’s absolutely a work for our time and place.” Historically, the presentation of this piece is incredibly important, as it’s the first time we have ever seen contemporary Chinese theatre anywhere in the world. The show will also feature in the OzAsia festival in Adelaide and the Brisbane Festival. Sheehy is confident that this work, which is presented in Mandarin with English surtitles, will be enjoyed by any teenage Australian, and middle aged Australian and anyone who loves theatre.
Artistic Pick Number Two
Schaubühne Berlin (Germany) Wed 19 – Sat 22 Oct at 8pmSun 23 Oct at 1pm
“Next cab of the rank in theatre for me is Hedda Gabler”, said Sheehy. ”Hedda Gabler is from the Schaubuhne Berlin is one of the greatest theatre houses in Europe, and this is a first for Melbourne audiences. The Schaubuhne Berlin have never had their work presented in Melbourne”. ”What I love about this company is they mainly do classic work, but Artistic Director of the company Thomas Ostermeier directs these classics in brilliant contemporary adaptations. This is absolutely a Hedda Gabler for the 21st century.” The show is set in a minimalist apartment, which is all glass and perspex and mirrors. Sheehy explains that when you put the character of Hedda Gabler in the 21st century in a sexually liberated society, the result is completely different to the original.
“The reason why classic plays survive, is that their themes are universal enough to last – with meaning for audiences across the centuries. This work proves without a doubt that Hedda Gabler will be a classic for all time, because it absolutely stands up to a contemporary interpretation, and the character Hedda is still completely meaningful and believable as a 21 century character.” This work will be presented in German with English sur-titles Photo by Arno Declair
Artistic Pick Number Three
Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen (USA) Tue 11 – Fri 14 Oct at 7.30pmWed 12 & Fri 14 Oct at 2pm “I’m thrilled that we are doing this great American play about the Iraq war and refugees. This one is incredibly important as the debate rages in this country around refugees, and the use terms like “illegal” in relation to them. Under the UN convention, there is nothing illegal about someone seeking refugee status in another country.”
“The New York theatre workshop team went to Jordan and interviewed many Iraqi refugees who had fled to Jordan. It’s a verbatim theatre piece – every word spoken onstage is true, spoken by an Iraqi refugee. What is says about humanising the refugee experience, and the responsibility of the west to help is phenomenal. I love this work. I love it for it’s honesty and it’s humanity, and I love that it’s an American work which takes a really honest look at the invasion of Iraq and the ‘aftermath’ of that invasion.”
For more information about the Melbourne International Arts Festival, visit
http://www.melbournefestival.com.au/ *Happily, these three shows also appeared in AussieTheatre.com’s top picks for the festival. Great to know we were on the same wavelength!