Review By Carly Fisher
The Adelaide Festival is one of the better run festivals I have had the pleasure to attend or review for - it is well organised, generally punctual and prides itself on the high quality of the productions involved for good, and fair reason.
So it was quite shocking to arrive at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens for the 9pm session on the Fire Garden's opening night to chaos. People were being ushered in through multiple paths, the ticketing system wasn't quite established yet and hoards of people seemed to be flowing through at the same time causing such overcrowding on the initial paths that people around me (including the person with whom I attended) were pushed dangerously close to the open flames the lined the floor of the path or simply off the walking path altogether and onto the grass. Already, this was too many people at once and after the smooth organisation of this great festival, this chaos was surprising. Still, we thought, get through the initial pathways and into the open spaces and it will improve.
It didn't. Simply, too many people at a time are being let in to the point that those around me were audibly complaining of claustrophobia and you cannot help but see this simply as an over commercialised prospect rather than an artwork. At $25-$29 a head, this is a big money maker with swarms of people coming past to watch fire blaze through the park.
It looked nothing like the beautiful provided image on the Adelaide Festival website - an image of lanterns and a suggestion of enclosed flames. The parts of the garden that we saw all featured pots of flames or flame sticks - no lanterns. Some pots simply lined the paths and creeks, others were carefully constructed into artistic sculptures. But at the end of the day, all were just pots. And the enormous amount of smoke being omitted from the exorbitant amount of exposed flame was ill-considered and a bit sickening (literally, it was hard to breathe in parts).
Of course, parts were beautiful and the artistry of the sculptures should be commended. I wish we had been provided a map of the exhibits so we knew what to go see and where - it was all so confusing. When we FINALLY found the live musician too we were thoroughly impressed by the skill and beautiful sounds amongst the gorgeous garden setting.
However, by that point, due to a significant lack of signage to find the exit (we are not all from Adelaide and familiar with the turns and tracks of the park...signage is mandatory), we were in desperate need of fresh air and space and ready to go.
I understand from researching the concept after the event that the proceeds are being donated to the bushfires. I wish that had been more explicitly mentioned at the event. Because not knowing that prior to entering, we felt uncomfortable celebrating fire this year of all years. It felt tone deaf and we questioned the decision to leave this exhibit as part of the 2020 festival when it could have easily been saved for 2021 at least. Perhaps knowing that the artist had considered the Australian climate in which the work is being presented would have made it seem more tasteful so I would definitely consider a greater awareness campaign surrounding this donation at the event.
I would note, this is not an accessibility friendly event due to the uneven grounds, the darkness, the amount of the work that we needed to go beyond the path to see, etc. There is a fair amount of walking involved and the path is not lit beyond the light radiating from the flames.
I was unquestionably disappointed by this event. The lanterns from the picture were a much better idea.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.