It’s been 48 hours since my last Melbourne Festival show… Although Melbourne’s festival lovers are looking forward to being in bed by midnight, food made at home and a couple of days that don’t include arguing about The Bacchae on social media, it’s hard to believe that festival season is really over.
With the Melbourne Fringe running in the weeks before the Melbourne Festival, last drinks at the Foxtel Festival Hub toast the end of six weeks of non-stop art that even the most dedicated can’t see half of. I only managed 55 shows.
The 30th festival was Artistic Director Josephine Ridge’s last, with Jonathon Holloway, from the Perth Festival, set to exhaust and thrill us with his 2016 program.
Ridge said, “It has been a great honour to be the Artistic Director in this anniversary year and I am delighted that the Melbourne public have embraced the 2015 program so enthusiastically. Melbourne is an exhilarating and sophisticated city and I look forward to seeing how the Festival continues to reflect its unique character and beauty in the years to come.”
The program of nearly 80 events – half of which were free – included eight world premieres, 17 Australian premieres, 15 events exclusive to Melbourne Festival and five commissioned works from over a 1000 artists from 23 different countries across more than 30 venues. It also achieved a box office of around $3.3 million, which is the strongest result in over a decade.
It’s impossible to pick a highlight of this year’s event, especially as so many shows were sold out. However, it’s going to be hard to forget the gut-punch of Bronx Gothic and the jaw-drop of YOUARENOWERE from PS122 in New York, the pure emotion of 32 Rue Vandenbranden from Peep Show in Belgium, and the explosive joy of Decadance and Last Work from Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.
Nor the incredible Australian works made to welcome children to our theatres, including Barking Gecko and Opera Australia’s The Rabbits; Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image’s Monkey…Journey to the West; and Griffin Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia’s Masquerade.
One of the most controversial shows of the festival – as well as Peter Sellars’s Desdemona – was The Bacchae, presented at Theatre Works and created by Fraught Outfit and St Martins youth theatre. This adaption of Euripides’s play shocked, bored or thrilled audiences with its cast of teenage girls confronting how young women continue to be portrayed. It also sold out most of its 11 performances.
This year’s festival program took me by surprise – I initially thought it looked a bit dull – but every show – really, every one of the 15 I saw – left me breathless and excited. I don’t have a favourite, but the hour that left the greatest impression was director Peter Sellars’s artist talk. His passion is impossible to dismiss and he talked about theatre letting us see the world from another’s perspective and about creating an inclusive space that previously didn’t exist.
Oh, and the Big West Festival runs from 20 to 28 November in Footscray.