Nine shows not to miss at the Sydney Festival in 2019

Every January, Sydney Festival helps kick off the new year with a massive cultural celebration, and 2019 is looking to be no different. The 2019 instalment of the festival includes eighteen world premieres, five Australian premieres, and eight Australian exclusives, and features a programme which runs the gamut of cutting edge contemporary theatre, visual arts and live music, and will spread across the city’s venues.

With such a large and diverse program it can be hard to choose just where to invest your time and money, so we decided to give you a hand. Here are nine essential acts we think you shouldn’t miss out on at Sydney Festival 2019.

Ben Frost

January 12th / Carriageworks 

On January 12th the Australian experimental composer Ben Frost will perform his ambient music at Carriageworks. Frost has evolved his critically acclaimed album, The Centre Cannot Hold, into a bold and innovative live performance concept: sound in the round. Enjoy the unfolding sound of brutally electronic music accompanied by eye-pleasing kaleidoscope like projections. Expect live guitars, analogue tapes, an interesting stage show, and trippy electronic sound effects. Tickets are $39-49 (plus booking fee) and can be found HERE

The Iliad – Out Loud

January 23-27th / Belvoir Theatre

Credit: Hugh Hamilton

Award-winning Greek-Australian actor William Zappa is bringing the oldest surviving work of western literature back to the stage once again. A Sydney Festival exclusive The Iliad – Out Loud, is based (unsurprisingly) on The Iliad by the Greek poet Homer. Adapted for the stage by Zappa, who worked from multiple translations, this new work depicts stories of heroism, war and betrayal. Four actors and live percussionist Michael Skill, turn the ancient tale of the Trojan battlefields into a contemporary exploration with a new rhythmic twist to it. The play will be performed in three episodes (180 minutes each), with the option to binge watch it in its entirety on January 27th, or across three consecutive nights from the 23rd. For those in it for the long haul, lunch and dinner will be provided at additional cost. Tickets can be found HERE


January 9-18th / Roslyn Packer Theatre

Credit: Hillarie Jason

Watch an empty stage transform into a dynamic home. Award-winning theatre maker Geoff Sobelle, best known for 2016’s The Object Lesson, is discussing the meaning of “Home” in his latest play. If you like audience participation in your theatre going, then this could be the show for you, with the performance building to an immersive house party experience on stage.  With a cast of seven actors, and a live score to accompany the entwined lives of the inhabitants, Home explores local and global housing dilemmas and themes of gentrification and immigration, whilst also inviting the audience to ponder on the question: What makes a house a home? Tickets can be purchased HERE. On January 15th, there will also be a Q&A with the artists following the performance.

Orquesta Akokán

January 15th & 16th / Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

You’ll want to bring your dancing shoes for this one! Led by celebrated Cuban vocalist Jose “Pepito” Gomez, this crack big band will be bringing the sounds of 1940’s and 50’s Havana to Sydney in 2019. With their self-titled debut album, the mambo collective, hope to do for original 40’s mambo what Buena Vista Social Club did for son cubano music. Travel back in time to old Havana, and bask in the vibrant rhythms of Cuba with Orquesta Akokán at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. Tickets are available HERE


January 8-27th / Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

Credit: Daniel Linnet

The Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent will also be playing host to the world premiere of glittery cabaret show, Pigalle. Set in a faded Parisian neighbourhood, whose days are glamour are far behind it, this witty and wildly entertaining show fuses burlesque, circus and disco, all to a soundtrack of 70’s classics. The show’s cast includes the iconic Marcia HinesBritish burlesque starlet Kitty Bang Bang and cabaret legend iOTA. Settle in for a night of burlesque, circus and laughter. Tickets can be purchased HERE

Spinifex Gum

January 25th / Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

Don’t miss out on this gem at the very end of the festival! Over the course of several years Felix Riebl (The Cat Empire) made several trips to Pilbara to build relationships and gather stories for a song cycle he was commissioned to write for the Indigenous women’s choir. He then, along with band mate Ollie McGill, went on to write the album Spinifex Gum. Performed by the lush voices of Marliya from Gondwana Choirs, young Indigenous women singing in English and Yindjibarndi, the songs tell stories of racism and injustice based on the region’s local tales. Complementing the powerful harmonies of the all female indigenous choir, will be special guests BriggsEmma Donovan and Peter Garrett. This is a one-night-only deal, so be sure to grab your tickets quick!

Neneh Cherry

January 15th & 16th / Carriageworks

Credit: Wolfgang Tillmans

The iconic Neneh Cherry can do no wrong. The Swedish singer-songwriter’s eclectic thirty-five year career has been an impressive genre-bending display, featuring stints in everything from early punk bands (The Slits, Rip Rig and Panic) to house, jazz, trip-hop and rap music, rightly earning her the title of “the rebel icon of feminist pop”. After a nearly two decade break between solo album releases, Cherry is bringing her new Four Tet produced albums, Broken Politics and Blank Project to Sydney Festival in 2019, and should not be missed! Tickets, starting at $59, are available HERE.


January 18th / Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

South African actor and neo-soul singer Nakhane is one inspiring artist and activist! After facing death threats and physical violence is his native country due to his queer identity and colour, Nakhane fled to London to further pursue his musical career and LGBTQI advocacy. His recent second album, You Will Not Die, is a sultry synth pop exploration of his identity, queerness and religion that is both deeply moving and inspiring. This no doubt powerful and moving performance, is one of two shows Nakhane will be performing at the 2019 festival, the other is a soundscape at Until, an installation by visual artist Nick Cave. Tickets to Nakhane’s Spiegeltent performance can be found HERE.

Seidler Salon Series: Mary Lattimore

January 11th – 13th / Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre

Credit: Dirk Meinecke

The Seidler Salon Series is an amalgamation of music and architecture with a series of concerts hosted in and around the buildings of Australian modernist architect Harry Seidler. The jewel in the crown, Mary Lattimore performing in the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, is an immersive experience not to miss. The LA-based harpist will perform her “dreamy, sunlight-filled arpeggios and otherworldly loops” played through speakers submerged in the centres pool. Attendees are encouraged to swim around and experience the sounds above and below water. Tickets for this aquatic musical adventure can be found HERE


The Sydney Festival runs from January 9th to 27th in venues across the city. For more information on the festival and to see the complete program of events click HERE

Additional article contributions by Gabrielle McIndoe-Parvin

Header Image: Pigalle by Daniel Linnet