The best things to do in Sydney in February: our handpicked guide to the hottest tickets in town
Marlon Williams – Māori disco bops
15 February at Enmore Theatre
With gentle strums, a newly sunny disposition and that voice which could make any listener weak at the knees, Marlon Williams’s third solo album My Boy is about as balmy as they come. “I can’t help but write dark songs most of the time,” he told Guardian Australia, “so I set up the world around me to make sure I kept it upbeat.” It’s the musical equivalent of laying in a hammock, full of distinctively Māori guitar plucks. Let it all wash over you at the Enmore.
Related: Summer in the City: your ultimate what’s on guide to the best events and things to do in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and across Australia
The Chills – Dunedin’s finest
16 February at City Recital Hall
The New Zealand cult favourites are back and touring, performing hits from their back catalogue (Wet Blanket, I Love My Leather Jacket, Heavenly Pop Hit) alongside more recent tracks from their 2021 album, Scatterbrain. This gig is being touted as part of City Recital Hall’s “Switched On” series, celebrating their new “world-class 360-degree spatial audio sound system”, which makes the hall “the first commercial venue in Australia capable of full spatial audio”.
Empire of the Sun – pretend it’s 2008 again
21 – 22 February at Enmore Theatre, Newtown
Having remained a constant on all summer playlists and commercial radio stations since 2008’s hit single Walking on a Dream, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore are back performing as their alt-electro act Empire of the Sun for the first time since 2017. With 4.4m album sales and 6.1bn streams under their belts, these shows are sure to sell-out.
Julia Jacklin – Jangly tunes from Australia’s finest
25 February at Enmore theatre, Newtown
During the writing process of her latest album Pre-Pleasure, Julia Jacklin left her instrument of choice – the guitar – to go tinkle some ivories for a change. The result is an impossibly jangly record, where everything from her Catholic upbringing to a cheeky plea for a lover to stop smoking is given the toe-tapping treatment. This is music for waltzing down the street, headphone volume turned up – or better yet, experienced at full blast live. “I just needed there to be a bit of joy,” Jacklin told Guardian Australia.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – smash hit returns
3 – 18 February at Roslyn Packer Theatre
After two sold-out seasons in Sydney, one in Melbourne, and another in Adelaide, Sydney Theatre Company’s smash hit adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic is coming back for an encore season of just 14 shows. The play, which got a five-star review in the Guardian, is a tour de force for Eryn Jean Norville, who spins through all 26 characters with astonishing skill – sometimes live, sometimes pre-recorded, sometimes broadcast onto screens from cameras that move across the stage. Directed by Kip Williams, this will be the final season of the high tech show before it heads to Auckland festival in March.
Choir Boy – a play to raise the roof
From 14 February at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
Like his later Oscar-winning film Moonlight (which he co-wrote with its director, Barry Jenkins), screen and stage writer Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Broadway hit Choir Boy highlights what it is to be young, queer and black – this time in the microcosm of a school choir, where spirituality and sexuality don’t mix easily. This National Theatre of Parramatta production (its contribution to WorldPride 2023) of the Tony-winning play’s Australian premiere is co-directed by Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo.
Kae Tempest – Dazzling spoken-word poetry
17 February at Sydney Opera House
Since bursting on to the London scene a decade ago with their award-winning spoken-word theatre show Brand New Ancients, Kae Tempest has been redefining what it means to be a performance poet. Also a prolific author and recording artist, Kae is in Australia on the back of their introspective fourth solo album, The Line Is a Curve, its songs a blend of electronic, pop-rock and rap. Kae came out as non-binary in 2020, telling the Guardian early this year: “When I perform I go to the depths; beyond gender, beyond body. I leave everything behind.”
Parties and festivals
24 Hour Grumble Boogie – with ‘sex clown’ Betty Grumble
18 – 19 February at Carriageworks, Eveleigh
As Betty Grumble, performance artist Emma Maye Gibson has been described as a “sex clown”, an obscene beauty queen and a pioneer of the “showgirl poo”. Basically, she is a queer fever dream and/or Andrew Bolt’s nightmare. Her work is lurid, brash and surges through you like a glitter-bomb to the vein, so it makes perfect sense that she’s hosting – as the name implies – a 24-hour WorldPride dance party at Carriageworks which promises everything from meditative transcendence to 80s aerobics.
Rainbow Routes – a queer party bus tour
23 – 24 February from the inner city
Also among the myriad festivities at Sydney WorldPride is this riotous fusion of party limo and history tour – like The Magic School Bus, but gay. Hop on a double-decker and time-warp through Sydney’s queer legacy: the parties that made history, the landmark protests, and the neighbourhoods which became sites of mutiny and debauchery. Plus, there’ll be DJs and artists appearing en route, including dancefloor dons Dollar Bin Darlings and Paul Mac, as well as ultra-suave pop sensation Vetta Borne.
Miss First Nation: Supreme Queen – drag stars fight for the crown
26 – 28 February at Carriageworks, Eveleigh
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag queens will be fighting for the supreme title in Miss First Nation, an annual drag event whose alumni include the Drag Race Down Under contestant Jojo Zaho, winner of the competition in 2017. There’ll be two days of heats, before one rowdy final. It’s all happening as part of Sydney WorldPride’s Marri Madung Butbut – a takeover of Carriageworks featuring First Nations work and discounted tickets for mob.
Visual arts and family-friendly
Do Ho Suh – Korean art star
Until 26 February at the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks
Domestic spaces replicated in beautifully unfamiliar materials. Walls, floors and fittings made translucent. Objects we think of as hard made soft and the functional rendered ornamental. The peripatetic South Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s sculptures and architectural installations reflect on ideas of belonging, displacement and identity and are astonishing for their craftsmanship. His work has graced galleries worldwide for more than 30 years – he’s an art star in the US and Europe – but this exhibition of his work is the first to make it to Australia. A must-see if you are strolling The Rocks this summer.
Paul Yore: Word Made Flesh – a wild, queer future
Until 26 February at Carriageworks, Eveleigh
Related: Penis straws and obscene quilts: the artist turning junk into a queer church
Melbourne artist Paul Yore caught the attention of Sydney art viewers almost a decade ago when, aged 26, he was among the 14 early-career artists selected for the MCA’s annual Primavera show. Since then, his trademark work – meticulously made, wildly colourful and provocative – has only become, well, even more so. His latest show, Word Made Flesh (a queer alternative reality created from the ruins of the Anthropocene, no less), is Yore’s anarchic vision at architectural scale, a riot of bizarre structures and sculpture, found objects, collage, painting, video, sound and light.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year – stunning images of nature
Until 5 March at Australian National Maritime Museum, Pyrmont
Launched in 1965 in Animals Magazine (which later became BBC Wildlife), the Wildlife Photographer of the Year is now one of the biggest photographic competitions in the world. This year’s exhibition of 100 images has been distilled from more than 50,000 entries by professional and amateur photographers and it comes to Sydney directly from its premiere showing in London’s Natural History Museum. For a sample of just a few of the stunning and often revelatory images on offer, check out the Guardian’s gallery feature. If “Ndakasi’s passing” doesn’t get you, nothing can.
Moonlight Cinema – starry, starry movie nights
Until 26 March at Belvedere Amphitheatre, Centennial Park
Watching screen stars under the stars is the stuff of the Australian summer, so we’re pleasantly pumped that Moonlight Cinema is back for its 27th season with an (almost-nightly) program of new blockbusters and retro favourites. Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age drama The Fabelmans is screening alongside comedic foodie thriller The Menu and Christmas favourites such as Elf, Love Actually and Home Alone. We’ll be shaking out the picnic rug for Blueback, a feature-film adaptation of Tim Winton’s novella. Pet pooches are also invited, with plush bean beds and canine movie snacks available for purchase.