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'An Australian Stratford?' Shakespeare and the Festival

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 21:06 authored by Rosemary GabyRosemary Gaby

Delegates at the opening ceremony of the eighth World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane, Australia, on 16 July 2006, saw some quaint footage from the 1955 Swan Hill National Shakespeare Festival. The film provided a silent glimpse of a period in Australia's history in which Shakespeare's prestige was riding high, when staging Shakespeare and an arts festival seemed to go hand in hand. Ironically, the biennial Brisbane Festival, which began the same week as the World Shakespeare Congress, presented relatively little in the way of Shakespeare performance, prompting John Henningham to complain in the local Courier-Mail that 'our theatre establishment has failed its audiences, its performers and its city'. Under the heading 'Lean visit for Bard hungry', Henningham noted the absence of big-ticket performance events apart from Bell Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and lamented the fact that Queensland's professional and subsidised theatre companies seemed to have forgotten the Bard at a time when so many Shakespeare lovers were visiting the state.

Shakespeare's comparatively low profile within the 2006 Brisbane Festival program reflects a wider trend throughout Australia. While many communities have picked up the baton from Swan Hill and are continuing to produce vibrant local Shakespeare festivals, it seems that Shakespeare no longer appeals to the directors of the country's major arts festivals. Their priorities, quite understandably, are with new writers and new approaches to performance. Nevertheless, it is surprising to look back and see just how quickly and emphatically big festivals have changed direction away from a time when Shakespeare would be an expected, if not inevitable, festival centrepiece.


Publication title

Journal of Australian Studies










School of Humanities


Network Books

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Copyright 2007 Routledge

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