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Sydney Festival reviews

Read all our reviews of the 2019 program
Sydney Festival general image 2019
Photograph: Prudence Upton
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Time Out's review team is out in force over the month of January, taking in all that Sydney Festival has to offer from January 9 to 27. But what shows and events are worth your time and money? Here are all our reviews: wild spiegeltent cabarets, big international acts, local gems, spectacular dance, avant-garde theatre and more.

Recommended: The best shows in Sydney this month and how to score cheap tickets.

1
Theatre, Drama

Counting and Cracking review

It’s only January, but we have an early contender for the best play of the year in Counting and Cracking. And we certainly won’t see another play like it any time soon. Set in a recursion of town halls – a Sri Lankan-style one built inside Sydney’s landmark Town Hall – Counting and Cracking takes place in both Colombo and Sydney, in the 1970s and 2004.

Time Out says
2
Dust Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Pippa Samaya
Dance

Dust review

Dust begins like a deep intake of breath: intentional and pure. And then, like breath, each movement is followed by another, each step a forward motion. It’s a chain of events in sequence that brings to mind history-building, myth-making and evolution of human life.

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3
La Passion de Simone Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Victor Frankowski
Theatre

La Passion de Simone review

French philosopher, activist and trade unionist Simone Weil was hardcore. She contracted tuberculosis at the age of 34, due in part to the punishing work she was undertaking. But instead of taking her doctor’s advice to eat well and rest, Weil, living in England at the time, refused to eat any more than her fellow French living under Nazi rule.

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4
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story
Photograph: Prudence Upton
Theatre, Musicals

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story review

Can you capture the complexity of political refuge, the trauma of pogroms and the fragility of new love and new hope in a difficult – though peaceful – new world in 80 minutes? You can if you are Canadian folk musician Ben Caplan and playwright Hannah Moscovitch. Old Stock, a folk and klezmer-driven musical that quite literally spills out of a shipping container onto the stage, is a small team harnessing an enormous force.

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5
Biladurang Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Pippa Samaya
Theatre, Drama

Biladurang review

One of the best things a festival can do is make you look at a city, and the spaces within it, in a slightly different light. That’s exactly what happens in Australian dancer Joel Bray’s Biladurang, in which he invites a group of around 16 people into his suite for a glass of bubbles and some rather intimate confessions.

Time Out says
6
Julia Holter and her band on stage at Sydney Festival
Photograph: Prudence Upton
News, Music

Julia Holter review

It wasn’t a comfortable start to Julia Holter’s Sunday evening performance at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent: we felt like sardines, seated shoulder to shoulder, unable to wrestle free for relief from the clammy enclosure. But the impressive turnout for the Los Angeles-based musician, who is known for her avant-garde musical compositions with influences spanning pop and folk to classical music, was promising – perhaps Sydney’s live music fans are more dedicated than some give them credit?

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7
Since Ali Died - Omar Musa - Griffin Theatre - Batch Festival 2018 - photo by David Charles Collins
Photograph: David Charles Collins
Theatre

Since Ali Died review

Rapper/poet Omar Musa’s new work places his hero and icon, Muhammad Ali, as a touchstone in the centre of the piece. From his interaction with Ali’s legacy spins the stories of Musa’s life, which hasn’t been the same since Ali died.

Time Out says
8
Theatre, Musicals

In The Heights review

When shows transfer to bigger theatres, they generally don’t skyrocket immediately from a 110-seat boutique theatre to the 2,600-seat Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. But that’s what’s happened with this gorgeous production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, which originated at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre in March 2018. 

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9
Deer Woman Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Prudence Upton
Theatre, Drama

Deer Woman review

There are plenty of audience members who will tell you they found Sydney Festival’s divisive production of Daughter deeply upsetting and distressing. Some criticised the festival for not providing enough information to audience members about intensity of the show’s content and its relentless depictions of misogyny and violence. The festival certainly isn’t making that mistake with Deer Woman, a solo show about a Blackfoot woman seeking vengeance for the murder of her younger sister.

Time Out says
10
On stage production shot at Shanghai Mimi
Theatre, Circuses

Shànghǎi MiMi review

Moira Finucane has been Australia’s unofficial queen of burlesque and cabaret for quite a few years now, taking her own unique style across the country and around the world. But for her latest show – in which she serves as director but doesn’t perform – she’s spread her wings a little bit further and set her sights on China, with this circus-slash-nightclub, conjuring up the magic of swinging Shanghai in the 1930s.

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