Festival Review: Mona Foma in Launceston finds its quirky, inclusive footing for its 2023 edition

After debuting its Launceston component in 2019, it’s a shame that Mona Foma – so often associated with its decade+ engagement in Hobart – had to momentarily stall its grind (as did the rest of the art scene) when a certain pandemic gloomed over the globe.

In 2023, it’s more than making up for lost time, with the city embracing the inclusivity of its artists and festival goers for an extended weekend of art, music, and exploration; for a town built on a smaller aesthetic, Launceston sure know how to wow the city kids.

Whether it was quirky theatre productions that blended elements of fact and fiction, extended musical play – you want a drummer playing for 12 consecutive hours? You got it! – or simply a quiet area to gather your thoughts on all you have the ability to creatively and psychologically ingest over the three main days of action (this year’s festival ran predominantly between the 17th and 19th of February), Mona Foma, and by extension, Launceston, had you covered.

Strolling around the Launceston Tafe for the appropriately titled Launceston Old Tafe Sessions, an all-day party atompshere encapsulated the area where musical artists such as I Hold The Lions Paw, Soccer Mommy, and Kae Tempest performed energetic sets night after night (Tempest’s spoken word/rap statement of “Pick your battles. I’ll fight you til I win” speaking quite personally to the adoring crowd) and daytime activities saw participants enjoy interactive rooms, where joysticks controlled the sound and light distortion of one, and table tennis play filled another; “Anthem Anthem Revolution” seeing players respond to automated tennis serves with words of affirmation uttered throughout.  “Australia, a place of anyone and anything”, never feeling more apt than when walking about here.

If the music on hand isn’t necessarily your interest (although I find it hard for anyone to pass on the absolutely stunning collaboration between Van Diemen’s Band and Ensemble Kaboul, where the Persian music of Afghanistan meets the European sounds of the 17th century), then the theatre scene created should earn interest, with “The Director” and “Body Body Commodity” providing largely fascinating insights into, respectively, the career of a funeral director and female autonomy.  “The Director”, led by theatre director Lara Thoms and co-creator (and funeral home director) Scott Turnbull, bleeds the lines between the tragedy and the humour of the funeral business (you’ll start to think twice about what your funeral music truly says about you), whilst “Body Body Commodity”, choreographed and created by Jenni Large, revels in the absurdity of interpretive dancers interacting with pastel foam objects on stage as a means of communicating our volatile relationship with body positivity.

Given Launceston’s stunning weather pallet (at least across the February weekend attended), it makes sense that the festival would embrace outside locales too.  The city’s unmatched Cataract Gorge, a blindingly beautiful stretch of river and wilderness only 15 minutes from the town centre, is utilised to perfection as one of the festival’s centrepieces; “Floors of Heaven”.  A recorded soundscape of underwater electronica (playing for over 9 hours each day) meant that in addition to basking in the glory of the Basin Pool, an extended watering playground overlooking the lush sights of the Gorge’s watering holes, visitors could listen to an eclectic arrangement of music whenever they dipped underwater.  An installation originally commissioned by, and presented at, Sydney Festival 2022, “Floors of Heaven” is almost worth the trip to Launceston itself.

On that note, whilst certain activities required paid tickets, so much of Mona Foma are free ticketed events; though you’ll still have to register for the ticket itself.  As I haven’t attended the Hobart edition of the festival I don’t have a comparable product on how Launceston conducts itself, but as a first-timer it was effortless in how to navigate each event, and the Mona Foma staff themselves couldn’t have been friendlier and more accommodating.

Given the reputation and notice the Hobart festival has, I can only hope (and assume) that Launceston will continue to build off the foundation it has clearly laid.  Bringing prominence to a smaller location is what a city such as this deserves, and if it’s executing smooth transition between each day and attracting the talent it provided this year, Mona Foma might as well be retitled to FOMO FOMA.  Next year can’t come soon enough.


For more details about Mona Foma, which this year was held from 17th to 19th of February in Launceston, head to their official page. The event will return to Launceston in 2024.

The trip to Tasmania was made possible thanks to Mona Foma and their partners. While in Launceston we stayed at Peppers Silo (89-91 Lindsay Street, Launceston TAS 7250).

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.