Fewer than 100 people turnout for $21m festival
A PROBATION officer encourages real life ex-cons to confess on stage why they broke the law.
A semi-naked actor sits in his jocks in the bathtub in a boutique hotel room musing about life.
An Aboriginal artist operates a currency exchange swapping Aussie dollars for "blood money".
Welcome to Sydney Festival 2019. The zany and bizarre acts in the annual arts' summertime program has sparked criticism the 42nd festival has lost its spark and public appeal.
A lacklustre launch that attracted fewer than 100 fans to the festival village Hyde Park has been compared unfavourably to the huge crowds that thronged to the free First Night parties of previous festivals, last seen in 2014.
Jodie Taylor, 49, felt little effort was put into the festival opening.
"I like the Sydney Festival as a concept," she said. "I just think they could have tried harder. Compared to what it used to be, it lacks a bit of love."
Returning festival goer James Wallbank, 29, said: "My initial impression is that it's a little bit sh*t."
Once a platform for performers such as Björk, Brian Wilson, Grace Jones, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, this year's only big star is Swedish singer Neneh Cherry.
The most recent box office figures for the festival in 2017 reveal a 25 per cent drop in takings in two years, from $5.15 million to $3.87 million.
"Box office figures are going down and government grants are going up to fund the event," said previous artistic director Leo Schofield, who ran the festival between 1998 and 2001.
"At a cost of $21 million, you want a festival to be special, a first-class event," Schofield said.
"It's a huge subsidy per head. Few people know it's even on this year, there's a dramatic lack of excitement."
This is the third festival from indigenous theatre director Wesley Enoch and gives a large platform to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. On the night before Australia Day, the festival features a burning vigil to commemorate Australia's colonisation.
"The way to grow the Festival is to look to Western Sydney, Parramatta - the geographical heart of Sydney," NSW shadow arts minister Walt Secord said.
Sydney Festival spokesman Hugo Mintz hailed this year's event as a success, on track to lure around 500,000 fans.
"Almost every single one of our shows has sold out, the festival has been received really well," he said.