22 October 2012

A weekend at the Foxtel Festival Hub

Wunderacts (Circa), Life Art and Leigh BoweryThe Love of Books: A Sarajevo StoryThe Enemy of the PeopleMiles O'Neil and Simone Page Jones 

I've seen some terrific stuff this festival (Orlando and last night's An Enemy of the People are highlights), but the absolute jump-up-and-dance winner of this year's Melbourne Festival is the Festival Hub (ok, the Foxtel Festival Hub).

My favourite hour of this festival was spent sitting on a red velvet couch listening to Boy George, Paul Capsis, Le Gateau Chocolate and Richard Watts talk about identity, drag and the politics of being yourself. I had good coffee (really good coffee) and a cup cake with a purple flower, I was with people who remember the 80s and there was free Wi Fi to tweet from. Can't ask for anything more.

On Saturday afternoon, I saw Circa's Wunderacts. And yes it is.

And here's a chat with Daniel Crisp from Circa. 

Circa make intelligent, funny, sexy, mad and wonderful circus. From its fuck-me red stilletto shoes to the throwing of teddies, Wunderacts is an utter joy that had the audience on their grinning and cheering feet.

Circa take traditional tricks and add layers of skill and complexity that leave even the most jaded of us gasping. Throw in a world where strong women are bases, men dance gloriously in pink tulle and everyone is wonderful just as they are, it's the kind of show that simply left me feeling happy.

Their last performance is tonight (Monday).

After such a treat, there was no chance of going home to sit in the dark and write as there was sun, a roof top bar with cocktails, amazing views, great conversation and a very cute dog running from table to table for pats.

Sunday started with a documentary (yes, there's a film program in the festival). The Love of Books: A Sarajevo Story is a mix of first-person interviews, re-enactments and footage from the city during the siege. There were only two screenings, but it's well worth finding.

During the Bosnian war (1992–95), the city of Sarajevo was burnt and shelled, 250, 000 people were killed and two million refugees fled.  As snipers lined the streets and friends and families were killed and threatened, a group of  people risked their lives to move and hide 10,067 irreplaceable manuscripts. They put them in old banana boxes (books so old that they can't be exposed to light or held by human hands today) and ran. Then they did it again when the libraries in the city were burnt.

A man who was born in Africa and had made his home in Sarajevo said, "It would have been better to die with the books than to live without them."

I saw this film because I'd read Geraldine Brooks's fictional People of the Book, which was inspired by this story, and I wanted to see the exquisite ancient texts. They are so beautiful, but I was humbled and moved by a story that should be known far wider than the few who see this documentary.

Next it was back to the Hub for more coffee and was happily surprised to see that uber-gorgeous singers Miles O'Neil and Simone Page Jones had been asked back for their second Sunday. Even better, they performed with Nathan the dog. Every performance should have a dog.

And Schaubuühne Berlin's The Enemy of the People  supported my solid theory by having a German Shepherd. Every show should have a dog.

I was on a date ticket, so will leave the raving to others – who will be raving.

The pre-show whinge was "two and a half hours with no interval" – it's a big ask in the middle of festival – but have a wee before you go in and you'll be fine. And put up with the fuzzy surtitles (there were lots of complaints about how hard it was to read them).

I was near people who hated it and saw some wonderful huffy walkouts, but they should have stuck it out. The first stretch is contemporary uber-naturalism Ibsen with German hipsters and David Bowie songs. A young doctor had a new wife and baby and has uncovered that the local spa water is poisoned, but the local council convinces the local paper not to publish the findings. This leads to a very long speech about the "sodding liberal majority" that left me wishing that I wasn't one of the sodding, and then it gets so brilliant that I don't want to talk about it and ruin the impact. All I can say is that Melbourne audiences are wonderful.

And I'm hoping to get back to the Hub on Thursday for the forum about European Theatre with Schaubuühne's director Thomas Ostermeier.

All photos by me.

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