Andrew Taylor lists the must-see events of the festival.

THE CONTROVERSIAL

The Secret River

 

Directed by Neil Armfield, this theatrical adaptation of Kate Grenville's award-winning novel is sure to reignite the history wars with its depiction of the violent conflict between early European settlers and Aboriginal people.

Sydney Theatre, January 8 to February 9.

THE SPECTACLE

Semele Walk

 

This radical re-telling of Handel's 18th-century opera Semele begins with models dressed in Vivienne Westwood, sashaying down a long white carpet in the Sydney Town Hall. The show is a coup for Sydney, having been performed only once before, in Germany.

Sydney Town Hall, January 11 to 15.

THE COLOURFUL

Urban

 

The festival's push west gathers steam this year with Urban, Circolombia's fusion of circus, acrobatics and street theatre.

Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, January 15 to 27.

THE CRINGEWORTHY School Dance

 

Matthew Whittet's play about three awkward teenage boys, pictured, was a sell-out hit at last year's Adelaide Festival and draws inspiration from John Hughes's 1980s teen angst movies.

Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, January 10 to February 3.

THE STAB IN THE DARK The Peony Pavilion and The Jade Hairpin

 

Even festival director Lieven Bertels admits the high-pitched singing in this double bill of Chinese operas may not be to everyone's taste initially but he says the plots of both romantic operas are easy to follow and are told with ornate costumes and make-up and exquisite performances.

Sydney Opera House. January 24 and 26.