Thrills and chills
by Sydney Morning Herald
Baby, it’s cold outside - but the city's entertainment is starting to heat up. Follow our guide to enjoy the best of it from June to August.
If you thought winter was going to stop the finest artists on the planet from coming to Sydney, you'd be sorely mistaken. Not only is the world's biggest pop star set to take over the country this season (Lady Gaga, June 20-24, 7.30pm, Allphones Arena, Olympic Park, allphonesarena.com.au, 8765 4321, from $79), one of the greatest contemporary rock musicians will also be playing a rare Sydney show (Jack White, July 26, 7.30pm, Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park, playbillvenues.com, 9921 5333, sold out).
The erstwhile White Stripes frontman is in town for Splendour in the Grass (July 27-29, Belongil Fields, Byron Bay, splendourinthegrass.com, sold out) and is one of a handful of thrilling artists who have so far announced sideshows. The pick of the others includes two smouldering but sonically different American acts making their Australian debuts.
After her no-show in February - and underwhelming appearance on US TV show Saturday Night Live - many are looking forward to seeing if Lana Del Rey lives up to her phenomenal hype (July 26 and 27, 8pm, Enmore Theatre, enmoretheatre.com.au, sold out). Meanwhile, those of us who have been waiting a quarter of a century to see alt-rockers the Afghan Whigs finally get our wish (July 26, Factory Theatre, Marrickville, factorytheatre.com.au, 9550 3666, $60.50).
Of course, the winter festival season starts long before Splendour, with Vivid Live (today-June 3, Sydney Opera House, sydneyoperahouse.com, 9250 7777, from $29), during which breathtaking artists such as funk diva Janelle Monae (Saturday and Sunday, 9pm, from $59) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O will perform special shows (the latter's being Stop the Virgens, Wednesday-June 3, 8.30pm, from $59).
After that there are two big events on the Queen's birthday long weekend, showing off the funkier side of Australian music. James Morrison and the Cat Empire's Harry James Angus star at Darling Harbour's Jazz & Blues Festival (June 9-11, darlingharbour.com, free), while some of the domestic hip-hop scene's most exciting artists, including Horrorshow and Thundamentals, join forces at Come Together (June 9, Luna Park Big Top, cometogether.com.au, sold out). Headliner 360 has his own show mere weeks later (June 29, 8pm, Metro Theatre, metrotheatre.com.au, sold out).
June is a big month for Australian alternative rock, too, with three of our fastest-rising acts playing their biggest gigs yet: the ever-compelling the Jezabels (June 9, 7pm, Hordern Pavilion, $50), the relentless Matt Corby (June 12-14, 8pm, Metro Theatre, sold out) and, though you might question her presence in such emphatically established company, Lanie Lane (June 2, 8pm, Metro Theatre, $22) - but know that that's Lane's second Metro show, the first, the night before, having long since sold out.
If the Aussies are giving Gaga some fierce (but always friendly) competition as to who owns June, some of our friends across the ditch are staking a strong claim to July. With Jemaine Clement featuring as the bad guy in Men in Black 3 and Bret McKenzie brandishing an Oscar for one of his songs in The Muppets, you can fairly call New Zealand's ingenious comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords ''all-conquering heroes'' (July 5 at Opera House, sold out; July 6, Sydney Entertainment Centre, Haymarket, www.sydentcent.com.au
, 1300 883 622, from $50).
It'll also be fun to see their fellow Kiwi Pip Brown play Anxiety, the follow-up to her ARIA Award-winning eponymous debut as Ladyhawke (July 18, 8pm, Metro Theatre, from $43.90). Finally, just as any good playlist winds down after a big opening and a strong middle, August brings winter to an attractive close with a couple of fine singer-songwriters. Brit success story Ed Sheeran (August 1, 8pm, Enmore Theatre, sold out) caps off a remarkable year or so playing to a full house before Kate Miller-Heidke (August 23, 8pm, Metro Theatre, $49.95) points us prettily towards the joys of spring.
People who think winter is a time to stay in and rug up in front of the TV are misguided. It's summer for the world's largest moviegoing audience (the US), which means, in an age when the films that keep Hollywood going are released almost simultaneously across the globe, your cinema will be overflowing with blockbustery goodness.
You can safely bet that if any flick is going to challenge The Avengers for most box-office records obliterated this year, it'll be The Dark Knight Rises (July 19). The third in Christopher Nolan's flawless reinvention of the Batman legend pits Christian Bale's Caped Crusader against his toughest adversary yet: the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who broke Batman's back in the Knightfall comic-book series.
The other unmissable superhero film of the season is The Amazing Spider-Man (July 4). It feels soon for a reboot of the franchise (even if Tobey Maguire's third and final outing in 2007 was terrible) but the trailers suggest a wittier, thoroughly refreshed take on the web slinger - and that the film is going to make exceptional use of 3D technology.
You don't need a mask and a garish costume - or even characters from the original - to have a successful franchise, though, which is where The Bourne Legacy (August 16) and Prometheus (June 7 - like The Dark Knight Rises worth seeing on the Imax screen) - come in. The former has Jeremy Renner as a kind of successor to Matt Damon's uber-spy Jason Bourne, while director genius Ridley Scott revisits the universe of his sci-fi classic Alien for the latter (although he has denied that Prometheus is a prequel).
Over in the world of animation, the fourth instalment in the Ice Age series, Ice Age: Continental Drift (June 28), cashes in on 21st-century cinema's obsession with pirates, when the prehistoric posse gets lost on the ocean. Those reliable folk at Pixar take a chance on an uncommon type of celluloid hero - a heroine - with some of Scotland's finest actors (Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane and Kelly Macdonald in the lead role of Princess Merida) lending their brogues to new-school fairytale Brave (June 21).
For something completely different - for its star, let alone the viewer - Tom Cruise sings Bon Jovi and Def Leppard when playing a hair-metal divo alongside Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones in an adaptation of hit stage musical Rock of Ages (June 14), which could be hilarious in ways other than intended. Robert Pattinson endured such an experience when he left his Twilight comfort zone for the risible Little Ashes; he'll be hoping his collaboration with the masterful filmmaker David Cronenberg, the thriller Cosmopolis (August 30), fares better. Not that there won't be intentional laughs this season. The cream of the comedy crop looks like being Ted (July 12), the big-screen directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, who created TV's much-loved Family Guy. It's about a man (played by Mark Wahlberg) who has a teddy bear that comes to life. The irreverent MacFarlane also voices the toy, so expect something closer in tone to Wilfred than Play School.
If you pine for something more highbrow, there are three promising film festivals to cater for your needs. There's a smorgasbord of world cinema, quality docos and art-house fare, amounting to more than 150 features, at the Sydney Film Festival (June 6-17, various venues, 9690 5333, sff.org.au).
Over at the Spanish Film Festival (July 4-15, Chauvel and Palace Norton Street, spanishfilmfestival.com) see Salma Hayek in As Luck Would Have It while keeping your eyes peeled for the new Almodovar.
Winter is chock-a-block with theatre, comedy and dance, starting with Belvoir's production of Matthew Whittet's exquisitely personal play about growing up, love and loss and fathers and sons, Old Man (June 7-July 1, various times, Belvoir St Theatre Downstairs, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au, $42/$36/$32/$25). Directed by Anthea Williams, the show features Peter Carroll and Gillian Jones.
In a coup for the Concourse, the English National Ballet will play an exclusive 2012 Australian season in Chatswood (June 8-June 17, various times, Performing Arts Centre, the Concourse, 1300 795 012, ticketek.com.au, $85-$195). The repertoire features George Balanchine's Apollo and Serge Lifar's Suite en blanc, the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake Act III, Kenneth MacMillan's Manon and Hans van Manen's Trois Gnossiennes.
Comedy duo Drew Fairley and Kate Smith return with another furious whirl of snappy dialogue, modern farce and pop-culture references in The Unspeakable Itch, with songs by Phil Scott (June 13-July 8, various times, Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point, 8356 9987, darlinghursttheatre.com, $38/$33/$28).
''In theatre … the writer is lying. The actors are lying. The audience is lying, too. The whole effect is one monumental idiotic lie.'' So says Bruscon, the megalomaniacal protagonist in Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard's The Histrionic (Der Theatermacher). Translated by Tom Wright, this Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company production was called ''appallingly funny'' by The Age. It features Bille Brown as Bruscon, with Barry Otto, Josh Price and Jennifer Vuletic (June 15-July 28, various times, Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, 9250 1777, sydneytheatre.com.au, $79/$40).
Arthur Miller's great classic Death of a Salesman is reworked by director Simon Stone and features Genevieve Lemon and Colin Friels, who returns to the Belvoir boards after 30 years (June 23-August 19, various times, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au, $62/$52/$42/$29).
Lenny Henry's ode to music's role in his life, Cradle to Rave, traverses his devotion to Elvis, first love, learning the piano at 40 and frustrated musical ambitions (June 28 and 29, 8pm, State Theatre, city, 1300 139 588, ticketmaster.com.au, $109/$89/$84/$79). Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery The Mousetrap, which holds the title of the world's longest-running show in its current season on London's West End, has an all-Australian production (June 30-July 27, various times, Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, 9250 1999, sydneytheatre.org.au, $100/$85).
Australian living treasure Dame Edna Everage unveils her farewell stage tour Eat, Pray, Laugh! The Dame, and cohorts Sandy Stone, Sir Les Patterson and Barry Humphries, are not leaving showbiz - just dropping the touring life (July 5-July 14, various times, Capitol Theatre, city, 13 61 00, ticketmaster.com.au, $199/$159/$99).
Face to Face, Ingmar Bergman's extraordinary film about the psychological maelstrom of one woman, has been adapted for the stage by Andrew Upton and Simon Stone. Kerry Fox plays the lead role, Jenny, alongside John Gaden and Wendy Hughes (August 7-September 8, various times, Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, 9250 1777, sydneytheatre.com.au, $130-$45).
Australia's annual international festival of dance, Spring Dance, is this year curated by Rafael Bonachela, the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company (August 20- September 2, various times, Opera House, Circular Quay, 9250 7777, sydneyoperahouse.com). And the Pucci-clad, acid-tongued trolley dolly Pam Ann, alter ego of comedian Caroline Reid, takes off with Around the World (August 3 and 4, 8pm, State Theatre, city, 13 61 00, ticketmaster.com.au, $60).
As every parent knows, hibernating through winter is no longer an option when you have kids going crazy inside. Thankfully, there are plenty of fabulous activities on offer to distract the tribe. It's not winter without skating shows, and this year there are two big ones - Disney on Ice: Let's Celebrate (July 11-16, 11am and 2.30pm, Allphones Arena, Olympic Park, 13 28 49, ticketek.com.au, $24.50-$69.50) and Nutcracker on Ice (June 6-10, 1pm and 7.30pm, Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket, 13 61 00, ticketmaster.com.au, $69-151).
If you prefer to do the skating, visit the Bondi Winter Magic outdoor rink (June 29 to July 15, noon-10pm, 8362 3408, bondiwintermagic.org.au).
Junior builders should get to the Sydney Brick Show (June 2-3, 10am-5pm, Powerhouse Museum, Harris Street, Ultimo, 9217 0111, powerhousemuseum.com, $12 adult, $6 child, $30 family), which showcases fabulous Lego creations by Australia's best builders.
Meanwhile, aspiring little adventurers will love Dora the Explorer Live! (July 4, 10.30am and 1pm, Concourse Theatre, Victoria Avenue, Chatswood; July 6-7, Theatre Royal, King Street, city, 13 28 49, ticketek.com.au, $23-49).
For something truly out of this world, the winter holiday program at the Sydney Observatory (July 2-13, Observatory Hill, The Rocks, 9921 3485, sydneyobservatory.com.au, various prices - see event schedule) features telescope and pizza nights, simulated archaeological digs and 3D space films.
But if you truly want to blow the kids' minds, take them to the Toy and Game Expo (June 9-11, Sydney Showground, Olympic Park, 6287 4567, toyandgameexpo.com.au, $15 adult, $10 child).
There's no bigger art event in winter than All Our Relations: The 18th Biennale of Sydney (June 27-September 16, 8484 8700, bos18.com). Featuring the work of more than a hundred international and Australian artists, BOS18 is spread across venues including the Art Gallery of NSW, Carriageworks, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Pier 2/3 and Cockatoo Island. What better way to spend a winter afternoon? While the behemoth of the BOS rolls on, there's plenty else to see. Australian Symbolism (until July 29, daily, 10am-5pm, Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Road, The Domain, 1800 679 278) is the strange tale of 19th-century Australian artists experimenting with mystical European visions in a local setting.
Marc de Jong's latest show tries to make sense of modern landscapes of shopping malls and hardware barns bigger than castles (July 10-August 4, Sullivan+Strumpf, 799 Elizabeth Street, Zetland, 9698 4696).
Meanwhile, Chris Langlois's landscapes have always had an old-world calm and his latest show demonstrates the artist's consummate skills with paint and classical composition (July 24-August 18, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, 38 Queen Street, Woollahra, 9363 3212).