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Five essential highlights of Sydney Festival for your diary

Not sure where to start with January’s smorgasbord of shows? We’ve selected five top events as a taster

By Time Out in association with Sydney Festival |
Dodecalis Luminarium
Photograph: Alan Parkinson Dodecalis Luminarium

January in Sydney is set to be magical again with the announcement of the program for Wesley Enoch’s fourth Sydney Festival (January 8-26, 2020). 

It’s another ambitious line-up spanning eye-opening art installations, boundary-pushing drama and dance, gravity-defying circus, and thrilling musical performances. There are 75 events happening across the city, from new Australian work through to blockbuster international shows. 

Not sure where to start? Try these five essential events. Tickets are on sale now.

Want more? Read Time Out’s 20 top picks of Sydney Festival.

Life the Show Sydney Festival 2020
Photograph: Mik Lavage
Theatre, Circuses

Life – The Show

icon-location-pin Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney

One of the biggest shows at Sydney Festival comes from the company behind Limbo, Blanc de Blanc, and most of the biggest hit alt-cabaret shows that have toured Australia in recent years. But Strut & Fret’s latest, ambitiously titled Life – The Show, takes a slightly more serious approach. Through circus and comedy, it traces the trials of one man’s often mundane life, seeking to pose some existential questions. Expect a dazzling soundtrack, plenty of comedy, adults-only clowning, and even an aerial act in a giant, condom-like plastic tube. Did we mention this isn’t one for the kids?

Black Ties Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Photograph: Garth Oriander

Black Ties

icon-location-pin Sydney Town Hall, Sydney

Avid Australian theatregoers know Ilbijerri Theatre Company as one of the country’s leading makers of Indigenous work. We’re probably not as familiar with Te Rēhia Theatre, one of New Zealand’s leading companies for Māori theatre. But this Sydney Festival show, to be staged in Sydney Town Hall, teams up the two companies. It follows the nuptials of Māori woman Hera and Aboriginal man Kane, a wild (and properly funny) clash of cultures as the two families come together for the celebration. The cast is made up of Indigenous veterans and relative newcomers, including Jack Charles, Mark Coles Smith, Lisa Maza, Tuakoi Ohia and Brady Peeti. And you’ll really feel the party vibes at Town Hall, with a live band performing black anthems and wedding reception classics.

The White Album Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Photograph: Reed Hutchinson
Theatre, Drama

Joan Didion's The White Album

icon-location-pin Roslyn Packer Theatre, Millers Point

In many ways, now is the perfect time to revisit Joan Didion’s 1979 essay about the end of an era – as an American counter-culture started to crush itself. That sort of cultural disintegration feels all too familiar to us now, which is why director and artist Lars Jan has adapted the work for the stage. He’s created a striking visual production which uses an onstage audience of people in their twenties, reflecting the many people Didion encountered when she was living in a large Hollywood house during what felt like the cusp of a great revolution. Obie-winning actor Mia Barron delivers the text as the action unfolds behind and around her.

A man in drag on a chair
Photograph: Daniel Linnet
Music, Dance and electronic

Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined

icon-location-pin Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney

Betty Blokk-Buster Follies was a milestone in Australian theatre. Reg Livermore’s 1975 one-man show introduced audiences to a saucy German hausfrau strutting the stage with her hairy bottom exposed, along with her band of has-beens, misfits and survivors. Shunned by the major newspaper critics until its success had made it an unstoppable force, Livermore’s show sold out an eight-month season in Sydney before touring the country. Now, for Sydney Festival 2020, Betty will be reborn, in a restaging directed by Craig Ilott (Smoke and Mirrors), starring Josh Quong Tart and featuring costumes by Priscilla Oscar-winner Tim Chappel. 

Dodecalis Luminarium Sydney Festival supplied 2020
Photograph: John Owens
Art, Sculpture and installations

Dodecalis Luminarium

icon-location-pin Tumbalong Park, Sydney

From the outside, the spectacular luminaria created by UK company Architects of Air look a little like retro spaceships landed from an alien planet. If you venture inside the Dodecalis Luminarium, which is popping up in Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour from January 8, you’ll discover a labyrinth of uniquely curved and beautiful tunnels lit in dazzling colours. As you move from cathedral-like dome to dome, you’ll experience the calming effects of this environment – you’re even encouraged to sit and just take in the ambience. You can explore the Dodecalis Luminarium for free, or instead pre-book online for $20 to ensure you don’t have to wait in line. It’s open from 10am to 6pm on Monday to Wednesday, and 10am to 5pm on Thursday to Sunday.