Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy’s debut programme has finished with the biggest takings in the Festival’s history.

Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have had a dream start to their tenure as Joint Artistic Directors of the Adelaide Festival with their debut programme taking more than $4.08 million at the box office, representing a 44 percent increase on last year. The 2017 takings were the highest in the Festival’s 57-year history, matching a plethora of rave reviews and high levels of audience excitement.

The Secret River at Anstey Hill Quarry. Photograph © Shane Reid

The Festival, which closed on Sunday, got off to a powerful start with a revival of Armfield’s award-winning production of The Secret River. The original Sydney Theatre Company production, co-produced here with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, was given “a visually rich and intensely moving production” at Anstey Hill Quarry in Tea Tree Gully wrote Limelight editor Clive Paget, who believed that staging the play in the Australian landscape took it to a new level.

Barrie Kosky’s inspired Glyndebourne production of Saul, which received a five-star review in Limelight, and the devastatingly brilliant dance-theatre work Bettrofenheit from Jonathon Young’s Electric Company Theatre and Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot, also dazzled audiences on the opening weekend. Both productions had already sold out before the Festival opened.

Overall, there were 180 sold-out performances and 10 sold-out seasons, with other box office hits including concerts by Concerto Italiano, La Gaia Scienza and Rufus Wainwright among others.

In a programme featuring 17 Australian premieres, three world premieres, 18 events exclusive to Adelaide, and more than 750 artists and writers from 15 countries, the 2017 box office total rose by 44 percent to be more than $1.2 million higher than last year. This total is almost 25 percent higher than the previous box office record of $3.1 million set in 1992. Attendances were also up, with a total audience of more than 284,400 across all Festival events, representing a seven per cent increase on last year’s attendance of 265,935.

Ticketed attendances across the programme were up by 8.6 per cent on last year, with audiences of more than 86,400 across 41 ticketed events, compared to 79,500 in 2016. Attendances across free and un-ticketed events were also up this year, with audiences of more than 198,000 taking in the free visual art exhibitions at the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Samstag Museum, as well as the daily free events programme on board the Riverbank Palais and in surrounding Parc Palais, including a near-capacity crowd of 14,900 for the opening weekend Neil Finn concert on March 5.

Included in this is Adelaide Writers’ Week which attracted a record crowd of more than 134,000 to the Pioneer Womens’ Memorial Gardens for 102 free sessions over six days from March 4 to 9, an increase on last year’s attendance figure of 132,000. (All figures exclude WOMADelaide).

In a joint statement, Armfield and Healy said: “Being Artistic Directors of this magnificent festival is a great privilege and we have been overwhelmed by the local, national and international response to our inaugural programme. This festival’s success derives from the brilliance of the artists on our stages, the willingness of our audiences to trust our vision, the commitment of the Festival staff, and the energetic support of our state government and our many sponsors and benefactors.”

Festival CEO Sandy Verschoor added: “The 2017 Festival programme has seamlessly intertwined old and new, juxtaposing tradition with innovation to both dazzle and inspire audiences to engage in robust discussion, conversations and the flow of ideas, and I look forward to what the next two years will bring.”