A Dip into Adelaide’s Festival Frenzy

It has been years since I visited The City of Churches, and I have been saying for just as long “I must go to the Adelaide Festival one day”.  That day finally arrived last Sunday as I boarded a Jetstar flight bright & early, with a ticket to see The Secret River clutched in my hot little hand. The return flight cost a mere $10 more than the theatre ticket!

We arrived in sunny Adelaide around 10am, which meant that most of the city was shut tight. Apparently, Adelaidians are late risers on a Sunday. After a couple of false starts (not only are they late sleepers, we discover that quite a lot of them must also be vegans and/or health nuts as we exit yet another cafe after the lass tried to persuade us of the merits of a coconut milk latté). But thanks to the Hustle pop up on King William Rd we finally get the good coffee fix we needed. Thank you Hustle, you are a life saver.

It is also at Hustle that we discover not only is Adelaide hosting the Adelaide Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival AND Adelaide Writers Week all at once, it is also catering to petrol heads with the running of Clipsall 500 – which turns out to be a motor race. Who knew?  We don’t actually see any cars, but suffer from the Clipsall effect via roads blocked off and jet flyovers during the course of the day.

Suitably caffeinated we head further up King William Rd in search of brunch. Pollen 185 is where we settle, and even though it too is a mecca for vegetarians and vegans, we do manage to get fetta rather than some nut based “cheese”! 

We are now ready to hit Adelaide Writers Week, a week long celebration of books, authors and readers, nestled beside the Torrens River under the shade of overhanging trees. There are two stages (East and West), and a massive book selling tent. Eager book lovers shuffle between these three points, revelling in the talks by a diverse range of authors. And, wonder of wonders, it is all FREE (even down to the free water station for thirsty fans). What a gift from the city to the public.

After working out the geography (which way is east?), we settle down to listen to Krys Lee and AS Patric (a Melbourne boy) talk about their work under the title of The Sadness of History. We follow this up with Just Wicked, where I am introduced to two overseas writers – Amy Stewart, who has written a crime series based on real life sisters, the Kopps, and Kate Summerscale, talking about her book A Wicked Boy, a true crime account of two London children who murdered their mother in 1895. They both go onto my must read list.

It is with some reluctance that we tear ourselves away, but promise to return tomorrow. We have a date with a winery and a quarry. Firstly, the winery – Glen Ewin Estate (http://glenewinestate.com.au) is offering patrons of The Secret River a $55 pre theatre meal, so we head out to the Adelaide Hills to enjoy the last of the sun’s rays on the deck of the bistro.

There is a bit of a fig theme happening, from the illustrated placemats to the menu, thanks to the large fig orchard on the estate. Although be warned – no figs appear with the fig and saffron cured ocean trout. The fig juice was used in the curing of the trout, not in the plating up. But, the chocolate dipped figs to end the meal are beautiful to behold.

Now on to the quarry, and what an inspired venue for this moving piece of theatre it proves to be. The play, written by Andrew Bovell from the novel by Kate Grenville, has garnered rave reviews in both Sydney and Melbourne, but watching it unfold in the natural amphitheater of the abandoned quarry, with attendant gum trees, lifts this wonderful play into another dimension. Despite the cold gully wind, the audience was entranced for the whole 2 hours 50 minutes. This play deserves to take its place within the classics of Australian theatre.

Our second day in Festival City starts with a late breakfast at Argo on the Square. Thank heavens we decided to share the dish:

before making a visit to an Adelaide icon – the Haigh’s factory shop! Interesting that Adelaide is home to two famous and well loved family owned businesses, Coopers Brewery and Haigh’s chocolates. 

All food groups now covered it is time to nourish the mind, so we head back to Writers Week. Spoiled for choice we finally settle on The Critics;  Jessa Crispin and Sebastian Smee talking the art of criticism, and their respective books, under the guidance of our very own Wheeler Centre CEO, Michael Williams. Sebastian is an Australian art critic who won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2011 for his work on the Boston Globe. Jessa is the founder of the blog and webzine, Bookslut, and is one of those frighteningly intelligent, articulate and acerbic young women that I quake before. She takes no prisoners – Sebastian Smee included. Invigorating.

Then we move on to crime, again. First up is a Melbourne (or more accurately, Torquay) local author – Jock Serong – talking about his books, Quota and the latest, The Rules of Backyard Cricket, under the excellent questioning of New Zealand author, Kate de Goldi. Both books sound intriguing, and are added to the must read list (this Writers Festival might be free but it is going to cost me a fortune in book purchases!). Our last session is with the Booker shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnett, talking about his novel His Bloody Project and its predecessor, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. My list grows.

Time to leave the world of books to head off to The Garden of Earthly Delights for much needed alcoholic refreshment, and food. The Garden is an assortment of food trucks, carnival rides & games, and Fringe Festival venues. The vibe is relaxed and fun – a perfect spot to refuel and refresh between gigs.

Our last engagement for the night is a seat in Studio 7 to see Mother’s Ruin: a cabaret about Gin, which proves to be a hilarious musical romp through the history of gin. The only downside was the absence of said gin for patrons to imbibe while enjoying the show. Lots of fun, and those two ladies sure can belt out a tune.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my brief dip into the Adelaide festival waters. So much to see and do; an excess of cultural riches. I have but scratched the surface of what this exhilarating two weeks has to offer. Next time I’ll come for longer.

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