Brisbane Festival 2015: director interview

The following excerpt is taken from the full interview in our print version of the magazine (Vol. 11, No. 13)

For a relative newcomer to the scene, Brisbane Festival isn’t afraid to take risks and do things differently. Launched in 2009 under original artistic director Noel Staunton, it has boldly embraced wow-factor large-scale public events and new commissions.

Now the management team has given acclaimed theatre director David Berthold the chance to make his own mark on the city. And it looks as though the former La Boite Theatre Company AD and CEO will not disappoint: he has pulled together a fantastically diverse line-up – despite this being a career first as a festival artistic director.

Berthold’s programme demonstrates that he is enthusiastic about tackling the big subjects of race, discrimination and violence Subliminal messages and woolly concerns are out – instead, he’s refreshingly direct in speaking about his ambitions to open up difficult dialogues. Early into his appointment, Berthold told the press he wanted to explore ‘colonial legacies, environmental issues and the relationship between race and authority,’ adding that ‘among the serious conversations there would be some serious fun.’

He’s stayed true to his words – a quick glance at the calendar and the strength of Berthold’s personality shines through: his first outing for Brisbane Festival is strong, edgy, cheeky and humorous.

David Berthold
David Berthold

Says the director: ‘A festival should offer a myriad of pathways. People can see single shows that catch the eye, but part of the exhilaration is to see shows that connect and cumulate.’

He refers here to his appropriation of linked performances. ‘Very early on I had the idea of having clusters within the festival around which to gather a theme, rather than a whole sequence of one-off events over a concentrated period. I wanted the programme to be connected so people could follow various strands throughout the three weeks of the festival.’

This is particularly true of Brisbane Festival’s focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo Connection is a series of works relaying life in DRC via African companies, including a reworking of Macbeth; original commission Prize Fighter; Coup Fatal; and Le Cargo.

The world premiere of Prize Fighter, which places the Congo in the boxing ring, has been produced by La Boite Theatre Company and is inspired by debut playwright Future D Fidel’s personal story of fleeing the war-torn country.

Prize Fighter thumbnail
Prize Fighter

The story follows Isa, a talented young Congolese boxer (Pacharo Mzembe), as he prepares for the biggest fight of his career against the backdrop of his past. After being orphaned by war and forced to become a child soldier by the very people who killed his family, Isa’s story straddles time and place in both DRC and Australia.

For Berthold the premiere is a highlight of the festival: Future D Fidel (a current playwright-in-residence at La Boite) was forced to flee from DRC as a child, following the civil war in 1996. After eight years in a Tanzanian refugee camp, Fidel and his siblings were granted refugee status in Australia and travelled to Brisbane. He was awarded the Young African Australian Star Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2014.

Says Berthold: ‘Prize Fighter is a confronting story that will touch local audiences by revealing the unspoken realities of the Congo, and the adversities faced by those living there. Written with incredible authenticity, this work will be undeniably emotive for audiences, through the strong connection between the protagonist’s life and that of Future himself.’

[To read the full interview, including Berthold’s plans for connecting with non-traditional audiences in Brisbane and the involvement of Queensland Symphony Orchestra, visit our subscriptions page]