So – nearly three months after the end of the Festivities, I’ve finished writing about them. And, I have to say, it’s much easier to write in lazy retrospect, rather than straight after the event; I’ve found that the negative passions subside somewhat, allowing me to focus on the positives of the performance a little more. Undoubtedly, some performances benefited from that.

Apparently, the Fringe is now annual; everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think this is a bad idea. I certainly think that the “odd”, non-Festival-aligned years will lean even more heavily towards the comedy festival that we all fear the Fringe is becoming; but we all know where this rant will go if I continue. Regardless, let’s just hope the Fringe Overload that is about to be unleashed does not diminish the quality of the productions that come to our sleepy little city, nor reduce the enthusiasm of the city to the Fringe.

Best wishes to you all; see you in 2007 :)

One more thing…

And there endeth the “review” portion of FF2006. There are, however, a few other snippets of information it would be remiss of me not to mention:

  • I wound up seeing 52 Pick Up four times within a month; 17 & 18 February (the latter yielded a brilliant set of cards, for all the wrong reasons), and 11 & 15 March. Trust me, it never gets old.
  • I also managed to sneak into another theater simple show that they put on for the YEP (Youth and Education Program), Myth Understandings. It highlighted (once again) their minimalist approach, and it was fantastic to watch a class of year 4 kiddies light up during the production.
  • The Par visual arts exhibit in the Tea House Gallery was fabulous. If it weren’t for the practicalities of keeping some of the exhibits clean, I’d have considered a couple of purchases.
  • I think I single-handedly kept Illy on Rundle Street afloat during the three weeks of FF2006; not only do they have the best coffee on Rundle Street, but there’s a grand total of three seats where you can park your arse with a coffee and leech off Internode’s CitiLan wireless network.

The Festival’s Visual Arts program also provided an intriguing selection of goodies:

  • The Biennial was a bit hit-and-miss. Given the title of “21st Century Modern”, you’d probably expect equal parts insightful, creative, and wtf. And you’d be right.
  • The Francis Bacon Triptych was pretty much essential viewing for those who went to see Three Furies.
  • Walk-In Drive-In is one of those exhibits where you think that maybe the artist had a little too much money to spend. A great idea in theory, it’s a big installation that initially delights, then manages to underwhelm. Poking your head up into the drive-in’s projection room was a great experience, but the later examination of the wider model made me feel hollow.
  • The People’s Portrait: always worth a look as you wandered past.
  • The various Video Venice exhibits were great. Mother‘s hacked up movie snippets were comforting one minute, disturbing the next, with a wonderful presentation. The Trailer for a remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula was completely over-the-top with cameos a-plenty. Lavish, lush, and camp, as promised. The Treehouse Kit video and installation was a delight for anyone who ever tinkered with Lego. But the best of the lot was Coexistencia, in which Donna Conlon paints the flags of the world on leaves, then films ants carrying these flags across a forest floor – miniature flag members of the UN, indeed.
  • [Media State] : Mobile Journeys encouraged artists to use the tiny screen on mobile phones as a canvas. The result was a bunch of low-res attempts at micro-multimedia productions. It’s a tough medium, and it showed.

There’s one more event worth mentioning, but there’s a little bit of a back-story. Some of you (and who am I kidding, there’s only about three people who will ever read this) will know that I was a Festival Angel for 2006. This basically involved tossing a lot of money at the Festival Corporation, for which they proffered cheap and early tickets, a dress rehearsal invite, and recognition of the fact that you tossed money their way (yes, that’s my name on the “Staff and Supporters” page in the Festival Guide).

Kind of like a little sponsor. Of a big event.

Anyhoo, it gave me warm fuzzies to do so, there’s a tax deduction involved, and – despite my thoughts of the quality of the shows – I’m happy to support the Festival.

To cut a rapidly digressing story short – by virtue of the whole Angel thing, I got an invite to a Civic Reception put on by the Lord Mayor to celebrate the success of the Festival. So, at the insistence of the invite, the SO and I dolled ourselves up (well, she dolled herself up… I just applied a foreign object – a necktie, I believe it’s called – to my throat) and toddled off to the Town Hall for a little bit of hobnobbing.

Arriving a little early, we hang out in the foyer with a few other peeps. “Hang out” is a completely inappropriate description, though; it conjures images of people congregating in casual communication. Not here – stiff upper lip, speak when spoken to, treat the youngsters(!) like they are freaks. Luckily, the photographers that had been hired were personable enough, and helped thaw the noticeable chill in the room.

At the allotted time, we enter the Queen Adelaide Room to be greeted by Harbo himself – it’s all very official. The catering looked special – enough said there – and the drinkies were plentiful and very South Australian… but the congregation in the room were awfully cliquey. It was nigh-on impossible to strike up a conversation with anyone; the SO managed to engage in a lively chat with one invited Councilman, who left hurriedly when I returned to her from my tour of the room.

Harbo’s speech was amusing, but suprisingly critical of earlier Festival directors. Festival Artistic Director Brett Sheehy delivered an excellent short speech, praising his troops and injecting some genuine enthusiasm into the room. Thereafter, though, we couldn’t leave fast enough – we collected our photos and turned our back on a room of insular, back-slapping art-politics. It was nice to be invited, but… it was awful, and left me wondering what kind of people I had effectively paid to be with. I know you can’t buy your friends, but I at least expect civility from strangers.

And thus ended FF2006.

[20060094] Leningrad Symphony

Leningrad Symphony

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Sun 19 Mar 2006

And so to the end of the Festival. I sat in one of the Festival Theatre’s coffee venues in my “fuck the norm” orange board shorts, chatting to various people and watching the suits and evening gowns roll up for the traditional closing event. Proud, happy, and sneering, as is my wont. Still, our seats – at the front edge of the dress circle – were fabulous, allowing a wonderful elevated view of the ASO and the video screens behind them.

Ah yes, the video screens. Much had been written about the multimedia nature of this performance, with visual “performer” Tim Gruchy receiving second billing behind the ASO’s conductor, Arvo Volmer. Gruchy – apparently – created live visuals during the performance, projected onto three huge screens.


The music was absolutely wonderful, especially the first movement – building from tiny violin plucks, gently adding in more string plucking & snare drum, gradually buidling to a huge military-esque crescendo. Fantastic stuff throughout.

As for the vaunted video – it was distracting and far from beautiful. Red and black swirls, superimposed on maps, dissolving to reveal skulls and swastika… topical to the piece in content, maybe, but certainly not feel. Instinctively, the bitter rabble-rouser in me would say “the performance would have been better off without it”; time appears to temper anger, however, and it was easy enough to ignore the screens at the time. Just stop talking this VJ bollocks up, please… unless you can do it right.

Despite the dodgy visuals, there was a great finish – to both the Symphony, the Festival, and FF2006. We walked home happy, anyway, high on musical delight and giggling at some of the ludicrous images used.

Ah, maybe that was the point.

[20060093] Nemesis


Random Dance @ The Playhouse

5:00pm, Sun 19 Mar 2006

“Are there any programs for this production?” I asked the woman at the information booth as I entered the building. “No,” she replied, “The person responsible for them hasn’t showed up yet.”

Oh dear. Not an auspicious start; and after the warm fuzzies that I got from Not As Others, I have to admit I didn’t really expect much… but nor did I want the fuzzies to end. Thankfully, after the lights dropped, the music man fired up a pleasing electronica beat, and two performers strolled into a tiny strip of light. Their dance was all pose and fall, pose and fall – the other catching, a very co-dependent jig. Gradually, in twos and threes, the whole troupe get involved in the style.

It’s stunning – all the performers are wearing very brief shorts (and shirts, you pervs)… but the important thing is that their legs are all exposed. You can see every muscle tense and work as they pose, stretch, fall, catch, leap, prance; the muscles in the body are performing a dance within a dance. And the piece grows to a stunning crescendo with dancers mimicking each other in groups of two or three; suddenly a dancer will drop out of one group to join another… it’s a veritable feast for the eyes. Fantastic.

The problem is that, once that climax had been reached, the performance continued.

If they’d just called it quits at that point, I would’ve looked at my watch, thought “hmmm, $40 for 30 minutes… but they were 30 quality minutes.”

But they didn’t. They came back on-stage. Wearing some sort of extendable arm extension thingy that apparently was designed in conjunction with Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop. And those thingies were neat for all of 30 seconds. Yes, the dancers could look like insects; but the movement – you know, the dance – got seriously dull at this point.

Throughout, the video backdrop was pointless and distracting. And, although one can pontificate and marvel at the merging of the organic and the mechanical to create a new strain of augmented movement, one can also counter that the mechanical actually restricted that which makes dance such a wonderful spectacle – the grace of human movement. Devolution investigated the biomechanical far more comprehensively and still made for dull viewing.

And that’s the biggest failing of Nemesis; the opening 30 minutes were so very good, and the rest of the performance was so very… not. This bleak contrast is actually far more memorable than the excellent beginning of the piece, which is sad. I’d much rather remember the movement than the disappointment.

[20060092] Not As Others

Not As Others

Jo Lloyd, Sarah Cartwright, Alison Currie, Ana Grosse @ Ausdance (Leigh Street)

4:00pm, Sun 19 Mar 2006

I wasn’t really sure about this one; Fringe + Dance doesn’t usually yield a great performance (witness one of my fave reviews ever, Bound Sonata). However, after a late start this piece really put itself head and shoulders above most of the genre’s competition for FF2006.

The piece is performed in the round… well, in the square, anyway. It’s a tight installation, with cushions and chairs right up to the edge of the performance square. Three woman stand, sit, lie in three corners of the square; there’s a persistent and foreboding noise coming from the audio system.

The performance starts… the music changes to sound like the droney bits from the Quake I soundtrack – dark, moody, ace. The standing woman bites into a carrot with a very crisp crunch… her greengrocer must have the freshest of the fresh. She snaps off a bit of carrot and throws it at her sitting colleague, who eats it. She throws another chunk, then another, another… the sitting woman tries to stuff it all into her mouth, fails. They collect carroty bits into the corner of the stage. All stand.

And then we begin an odd little exploration of what appeared to be obsessive/compulsive behaviours, aggression between and towards women, and the effect of social isolation on the individual… weighty stuff indeed, and beautifully performed.

If I was being picky, I’d say that this piece was probably not best presented in the round; no matter where you sat, you were going to have action obscured from you at some stage. Other than that, there’s little more to say other than – this was brilliant; in terms of dance, it was second only to Stau for the year.

As I stood in the foyer reading the program, I noted that one of the dancers, Ana Grosse, had a credit for Lontano Blu. “Oh no,” thought I, “no no no no no.” Luckily, she was absolutely fantastic in this piece, as opposed to the strangulated “dancing” in Blu; yet another smack-down to that piece of crap that sadly still sticks in my mind.

[20060091] The Rap Canterbury Tales

The Rap Canterbury Tales

Babasword Productions @ The Pillar Room (Freemasons)

9:00pm, Sat 18 Mar 2006

I’m a big fan of Chaucer, but I was reluctant to see this show on the off-chance that it sucked. However, one of the volunteers at Freemasons that I regularly chatted to positively raved about this show – so it got slotted in.

Baba Brinkman presents three of Chaucer’s characters wrapped up in an improbable story of rap adulation. The framework is flimsy, but when he delves into his rap-ified versions of the Pardoner, the Miller, and the Wife of Bath, the laughs come thick and fast – and the intelligent writing of the piece shines through.

Transforming the original prose in a more-or-less direct manner (there’s a sample translation on The Rap Canterbury Tales site) is a gutsy move, but the academic background of the piece shines through. There’s the occasional cringe at some of the rhymes or rhythms that Baba chooses, but the stories hold their own; and “The Rhyme Renaissance”, his conclusion to the show, is earnest and engaging.

There’s a certain honest naivety to the performance; Brinkman has poured his heart into the writing and the performance, and – whilst occasionally feeling a little cheap and cheesy – the Rap Canterbury Tales benefits from an intelligent analysis of both 14th century subversive poetry and 20th century urban rap. It may not the wittiest, sharpest, rudest, lewdest, or deepest show of the Fringe, but it provides plenty of quality entertainment and – above all – treats the audience with respect.

[20060090] My Family Is Strange

My Family Is Strange

Jess McKenzie (and friends) @ SA Writers’ Centre

7:00pm, Sat 18 Mar 2006

Though I selected this performance in my initial 250-odd-show scan through the Fringe Guide, I was prepared to give it a miss; however, in the queue for La Clique, a young chap raved to me about Ms McKenzie; always one to honour a promise, I slotted the show in, and arrived in the Writers’ Centre to see a small and enthusiastic crowd.

Including some of Jess’ family. Which I thought was a bit odd, since the act was purportedly about them.

No matter. Jacob the Incredible opened up, trying to garner a few laughs from the unreceptive crowd with a few ballsy jokes. I admire his courage but, when you start ripping off Bill Hicks’ “Children” bit – word for word – you lose points real quick. Strangely enough, that bit got Jacob his biggest laughs. +1 courage, -2 IP theft. Sorry.

Jess herself did two small sets, and demonstrated great style – alternating the sweet with the sick, cute naive girl with weary cynical woman. Deft with delivery, and unafraid to delve into utterly gross humour, she’s got a metric truckload of talent, and just needs to mould her material with a little more care. Give her another Fringe or two, and she’ll be headlining – and pulling in huge crowds. I dunno what her grandmother in the audience would’ve thought of some of the familial descriptions, though ;)

The star of the night, though, was Dee Galipo. Singing some great original & covers, playing guitar, she even managed to manipulate the generally distant audience (ie, me – “The Guy With No Rhythm”). Yes, that’s right, I got conned into playing a little egg shaker as accompaniment for one of Dee’s clever and articulate comedic songs. Stunning voice, decent guitar, great presence… a real winner.

In short, this was a show that was high on potential and delivered just enough enjoyment to make it worthwhile. A few Fringes, a little more experience, level-headed editing, and we’re in for a blinder.

[20060089] The Fever

The Fever

theater simple @ The Ballroom (Carclew Youth Arts Centre)

4:00pm, Sat 18 Mar 2006

It was always my intention to see The Fever twice during FF2006, if only because I knew that the experience of hosting a salon performance would cloud my perception of the performance itself. Thus, I reasoned, I should catch a theatrical presentation so that I could fully appreciate the power of the piece.

So all my plans and theories get crushed into tiny little bits and thrown away when, shows scheduled and tickets bought, Llysa tells me that this one-off Carclew performance was intended to be an encore salon-type presentation, demonstrating the piece in a non-theatrical setting to those who missed out on the opportunity of attending a salon performance themselves. Bugger, but no matter; I cunningly snaffled my seat in a comfy couch at the back of the packed room and focused on the work at hand.

Of course, a lot of the words were familiar, but – in the bright light of day, in surroundings unfamiliar – The Fever took on a very different feel, a different texture. I could lean back, close my eyes, and drink the overtly lyrical text in; hear the conflicts and struggle of a character, see in it so much of myself, let pictures be painted in my mind through closed eyelids blurred red from the sunlight streaming into the room.

And it really is a glorious piece of writing. Wallace Shawn’s work is both personal and political, revels in both the minutiae and the massive. We travel with The Speaker, flitting in time throughout their life, observing the moments that define and the actions that conflict. For someone both outwardly assured and privileged, their internal struggles to reconcile past opportunities in the present situation are both alien in context and familiar in content.

I open my eyes, and the room is still. The Fever has gripped the audience, and as The Speaker staggers to their feet in the cold light of day, Llysa Holland bookends the performance by passing through the stunned crowd. The applause is hesitant at first, then loud and longing. The lingerers – and there are many, myself included – are the people who are genuinely affected by the power of theater simple’s work, and by Shawn’s delirious writing.

[20060088] The Bogus Woman

The Bogus Woman

Leicester Haymarket Theatre @ Queens Theatre

1:00pm, Sat 18 Mar 2006

The Bogus Woman is one of those plays that the New Wave of Fringe producers seem to love; it’s a multi-character piece played by one actor, so it’s cheap to tour and guarantees (at least) the perception of value-for-money to the audience. And that’s fine – it certainly shows off the technical abilities of the actors – but it doesn’t carry the “WOW” factor that it once did… especially with the plethora of one-man-shows that are around at the moment.

But onto the story: we follow the ordeals of one Young Woman who, after the mass murder of her family and her subsequent rape and torture, flees her native country and arrives in England, where she is arrested and interrogated at Heathrow Airport. From there, she is incarcerated in a refugee “centre”, where she experiences brutal conditions and the resultant cries for humanity: pleas, protests, riots.

Eventually she is released and ekes out a joyful existence in London, relying on the kindness of others to support her hope for immigration. A few cruel twists of fate tear this existence from her, reducing her to a street urchin, forcing her into prostitution, and eventually seeing her arrested and deported – leading to the end that we all, somehow, knew was coming.

This Kay Adshead play won oodles of plaudits when performed at Edinburgh in 2000; considering the treatment that refugees receive in this country by the hands of “our” Government, this play can be seen as a topical, yet overtly political, piece of work. Sarah Niles plays the (allegedly) 48 characters in the piece – plus the Bogus Woman herself – and is stunning… powerful describes her performance best.

The Bogus Woman certainly gathered a lot of word-of-mouth momentum during the course of the Fringe; the matinee I attended, on the closing weekend of the Fringe (traditionally a dead time for crowds), certainly garnered a solid house at one of the Fringe’s largest theatrical venues. And that’s great for the Fringe, and great for theatre. But I left the theatre sadly underwhelmed. I don’t know whether it was ninety-show malaise, or that I had been led to expect more than what any performance should be able to provide. Yes, it was a technically wonderful performance, and it certainly was a powerful script – but it failed to engage me as much as other performances.

[20060087] (((Strange Sights & Sonic Delights For Synaesthetes)))

(((Strange Sights & Sonic Delights For Synaesthetes)))

InterZone eXpress @ FAD Gallery

11:59pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

The Fringe Guide’s description for this piece certainly paints an evocative description:

Inspired by cut-up methods & stroboscopic flicker experiments of Burroughs/Gysin, InterZone eXpress present a performance series involving live multi-channel ultra-sonics & omnipotent visual accompaniment. Aiming to unlock the hidden power of rhythm, frequency, & light to isolate & hypnotise senses, induce temporal states, & create atmospheres both amniotic & monolithic.

With a description like that, I expected soundscapes, integrated visuals, and a bohemian crowd. Upon arrival, the crowd appeared to be friends-only and they were all pissed. And/or stoned. But certainly not out of the bounds of expectation. We all squeeze upstairs into the extremely cramped Gallery, where there are a few chairs, a lot of cushions, and a shitload of people lying on the floor. A third of the floorspace at the Waymouth Street end of the Gallery was covered with musical gear a-plenty – guitars, drums, electronics. A screen hung from the roof; random discordant images were projected onto it from the control desk, which was also laden with three PCs.

After about an hour of setting up, the two chaps on-“stage” encourage us to apply our provided blindfolds and launch into their first piece of three for the morning (another piece was planned, but technical difficulties cut the performance short). Each piece is structurally the same – starting simply, the two use fed-back loops of whatever they’re playing to build up repetitive and increasingly complex soundscapes (thus fulfilling my expectations). One piece was completely guitar driven (reminding me of a 46-guitar symphony I once heard), the final piece was a gloriously driven drum crescendo, and I’m buggered if I can remember the other one.

Now, I’m no synaesthesia guru, and I have to admit that I was a little confused as to why we were presented with blindfolds and visual inputs – surely there’s some contradiction there? But, with the benefit of hindsight, this was a good move; if indeed this was a synaesthetic experiment, it offers a number of avenues of exploration for the punters. The visuals did nothing for me, but may have been a positive for others.

And I’d be lying if I said this was utterly enjoyable – it’s simply not that kind of music that’s immediately accessible. And, truth be told, I’d much rather have been at home in bed (after three long weeks of FF2006). But, in persevering though this presentation, I found an unexpected pleasure in just leaning back, closing my eyes, and drifting with the incessant rhythm of the pieces. Monotonous, sure – but there’s a simple lulling comfort to be had there.

[20060086] Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh @ Thebarton Theatre

9:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

The Festival mob seemed to be ultra-chuffed to be able to present Talvin Singh, bigging up his Australian premiere wherever possible. “Internationally regarded cult DJ,” they claimed; “spectacular audio and visual set.” Given that I know nowt of the international DJ scene (or even the national or local DJ scenes, for that matter), this was always going to be a risky performance for me. So, how did the evening pan out?

The crowd is an interesting mix; Festival Regulars (definitely in the minority) mixed with The Kids who know of Singh’s work. A bunch of The Kids are in front of my Row K position… though Row J looked hopelessly under-filled. Comps, maybe? No matter; overall, the Festival would have to have been happy with the turnout at Thebby Theatre.

My neighbour (a Festival Regular, and self-professed tabla guru) asks “Do you think this will be traditional, or modern?” I look at the stage – two leather lounge chairs (a la Ota), Mac PowerBook amid a rack of electronic goodies, an array of synths, and percussive hitty things. And the tabla, he points out, at the right-hand-side of the stage… a stage dominated by technology.

I feared my neighbour would be leaving early.

Singh’s cohorts come onstage first to lay down some soothing ambient backing tunage. Keys and samples, and presumably visuals, are covered by two chaps on keys & PowerBooks. The samples sound crackly at times – not overdriven, just poor quality… surprise number one. Surprise number two was the fact that the visuals, crap as they were, weren’t even being generated live… which I though was almost a pre-requisite for a show such as this.

Anyhoo, eventually Singh arrives and the beats kick in – and things take a turn for the better. Drumming away on various sample-laden pads, before moving onto the tabla. The tempo lifts, and the bass-heavy nature of the percussion means that the music becomes a blur that you can feel through your feet. Singh’s tabla playing is great – he seems to eke out rhythms that you’d hardly believe were possible with just two hands.

Despite the troubled opening, after half-an-hour I was feeling pretty chuffed with Tabtek; it had evolved into a complex and intelligent collaboration of traditional percussion and modern technology. However, things took another turn – for the worse – when the three guys onstage were joined by a woman. Her presence was required to repetitively whisper three words – as opposed to “sing” – into a microphone, and dance. And I use the term “dance” loosely; starry-eyed stoner-drone wobbling would be a more appropriate description.

Then the production team start tinkering with echo effects on the tabla mikes – ewwwww. The samples get even more fractured and broken. The delay introduced into the live video feed created a distance between myself and the performers. And then the accompaniment leaves the stage, leaving Singh alone at the tabla… hopes rise for something special as he launches into a tabla solo that lasted at least 25 minutes. And, typical of the entire performance, the first third was great. Unfortunately, the second third invoked feelings of “yeah, we get the idea”, and the final third is best described as “shut the fuck up already.”

It’s a twenty-five minute drum solo, for Christ’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?

The last segment was just plain shit – atonal, devoid of rhythm, disappointing.

So, let’s summarise: there was some nice ambient stuff, some great beats, some crap samples, shithouse “special visuals”, and a lot of tabla. It started late and finished early. And, despite the good bits, it just felt like a bunch of chums gathered onstage to engage in a little bit of navel-gazing knob-twiddling whilst searching for the Brown Note.

And that, to me, does not make a good performance.

My neighbour, perhaps annoyed by the prevalence of technology early on, *did* leave just before Singh’s massive solo. Initially, I felt sorry that he missed the bit he had probably most wanted to see; by the end, I envied him.

[20060085] The Human Layer

The Human Layer

Polaroid Now @ a mystery venue :)

7:30pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

Attracted by the bizarre description in the Fringe Guide, I met up with about a dozen other punters outside CentrePoint on Pultney Street. On a Friday night. OK, maybe not the wisest choice for those adverse to crowds, but there you go.

We’re greeted outside Target by one of the Victoria-based Polaroid Now crew who, true to their name, take a Polaroid photo of our hands. And you sense this is going to be something a little bit off the beaten track. And so it – literally – is, as we’re led on a stroll down Pultney onto Pirie Street. Suddenly, we turn into a dead-end lane – construction on one side of us, car-park on the other.

There, from a pile of newspaper, rustles a man – grimy, gruntingly mute, looking like stereotypically homeless trash. He’s joined by a similarly themed woman; they grunt and moan, lock the audience in a large wire cage, and producing icky little avatar puppets.

The puppets laugh at, spit at, piss on us within the cage. It feels like an intentionally-subtle-yet-unintentionally-overt political statement, but the impact is heightened due to our own semi-cramped captivity. Eventually, the man and woman discard their avatars in disgust; they enter our cage, disappearing behind a previously disregarded screen before having their shadows cast upon it. The shadows mutilate each other, an avatar is devoured, before the screen drops, exposing the man and woman again. Out of a pile of rubbish they raise a huge newspaper puppet, at least seven feet tall; the two of them walk it to the end of the lane, lay it to rest, then burn it. As the embers of this once mighty creation drift in the air, the man and woman cower in a corner.

It’s an outdoors site-specific work and, on a somewhat cold, damp and dank night, the crew were a little worried about getting rained on. No precipitation eventuated, but what they did get, however, was a short visit from Chubb security, wondering what the fuck was going on. It was only a momentary diversion for the alert punter, though, and didn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the piece.

And, I have to say, I really enjoyed this. It was one of those performances where you get completely thrilled by someone else’s creative ability. Where you think “there’s no way I could come up with this.” Where you get completely immersed in another’s vision. Where you come away thankful that you took a chance. Where you feel like you’ve helped validate another’s existence.

Where you feel like you’ve witnessed art.

[20060084] Nora (A Doll’s House)

Nora (A Doll’s House)

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

2:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

More was written about Nora, methinks, than any other Festival show – maybe because of the controversy surrounding the original work. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was, upon release in 1879, one of the first public works to admonish a woman leaving her husband… commonplace now, maybe, but scandalous back in the day. As such, the work is seen as an important piece of early feminist art.

The set is, frankly, sensational; pride-of-place is given to an enormous fish-tank. Though it initially reminded me of an Ikea kit-home – all oblique and semi-deco – it really comes into its own between scenes. As the entire set rotates, it reveals some surprising sight-lines to the audience – there’s a strange delight in being able to see people remove & replace things from the closet, to see people enter and leave the house. Audio support is, likewise, wonderful – as we await the arrival of the characters on-stage, two thick notes set an apprehensive atmosphere, eventually giving way to lounge music over which the domesticity of the initial scenes appears. There’s soft, subtle background static that creates a creepy atmosphere. It’s all very sonically lush.

The casting is excellent – even the children – and much has been written of Anne Tismer’s role as Nora… and with good cause. She owns the stage whenever she walks it, is utterly believable, and looks damn good dressed up as Lara Croft. But her character is deeply intelligent, and deeply unsatisfied with her role as a trophy wife; contrast this with the (lack of) character integrity with her husband Torvald’s blasé attitude towards the death of his friend, Dr Rank.

It seems German arts scene is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, using absurdist physical theatre to try and bring the crowds back to the theatres. Oddly enough, I spied the above-linked article in The Australian mere days before seeing Nora, so I wasn’t disturbed in the least when the stage burst forth with an audience-bending strobe-driven high-octane BPM-fest between scenes. Unfazed by the orange beverages turning bright blue. Worried not by the vomiting, the spitting, the over-acted physicality. Nonplussed by the dunking of a body in a fish-tank with the poor little goldfish. And only startled, not surprised, by director Thomas Ostermeier’s “radical” new ending.

What did surprise me, however, was just how German it felt. Blunt, overt direction. Nora’s sluttiness feeling like an average Harry S. Morgan porn film. The attempted reconciliation. And how desperately un-sexy German is as a language.

My SO – and many, many others – loved Nora; I felt a little more detached from it, though I can’t quite figure out why. My ramblings above seem to paint an enthusiastic picture; I loved the opening (which instantly made me feel like it was Christmas Eve); and there were some facets that were supremely interesting to me (what in the original German script translates to “lagubrious”, for example?) So I’m at a loss to explain why I came away somewhat unengaged. But at its heart, Nora remains true to the political tendencies of the original work. Yes, there’s a sting in the tail, but one assumes that’s only there to maintain the shock behind Ibsen’s intent.

[20060083] Akmal LIVE

Akmal LIVE

Akmal @ Nova 1

9:45pm, Thu 16 Mar 2006

This was the kind of act that, much like Danny Bhoy in 2004, was bloody funny while I was there, but completely forgettable after-the-fact.

So, what do I remember about the show? I remember that Quentin was there; a bit spooky after seeing Diablo a few nights back. Akmal’s Give-A-Young-Comic-A-Chance sidekick Joel Ozborn was reasonable; two Fringes, I reckon, and he’ll be headlining a Nova 1 show himself. Or maybe a Gaiety Grande gig, who can tell.

But most memorable of all was the fact that Akmal returned fire to Daniel Kitson. Akmal claimed that Kitson had been molested as a child, that he hates life, that he should be locked in a room with The Pope and John Laws… all raised honest and agreeable applause from the crowd which, given Kitson’s superb standing as a comedian, was frankly worrying. Then again, these are probably the same types of people that think that Rachel Berger was a talented comedienne. Ho, hum.

I like Akmal – he appears to be friendly and genuine, and has the benefit of having an earnest and endearing style. In fact, I only resolved to see this show after I was impressed by his showing at the Fringe Benefit. I know I had a gigglingly good time at this, but my lack of recollection why leads me to believe that he just produces good quality, but ultimately unchallenging, comedy. That’s alright, as far as it goes – there’s always going to be a place for the act that doesn’t engage on a cerebral level. If that’s what you’re after, Akmal is one of the best.

[20060082] Tomás Ford’s Cabaret Of Death

Tomás Ford’s Cabaret Of Death

Tomás Ford @ The Warehouse (East End Exchange Hotel)

8:30pm, Thu 16 Mar 2006

Apparently, I’m a bit of a no-crowd magnet. Nothing else would explain the lack of people at a whole bunch of shows that I’ve been to. The two of us that were waiting for admittance to the show (joined by a solitary – but enthusiastic – latecomer) were greeted at the door by Tomás – scrawny, disheveled, and sporting a bruised face and massive black eye. Considering the warnings I’d been given by one of the volunteers at Freemasons (who claimed to have seen a Tomás Ford self-destruction set at the Fringe Club), this was only mildly unexpected.

The Cabaret Of Death is very much a one-man-show. Accompanied by a laptop-powered musical backing, Ford prowls the stage belting out both original and cover tunes. He hands out bottles of bubbles and party poppers; he trashes the stage; he serenades his audience of three; he stalks the length of the room; he croons demurely in a foetal position. Make no mistake, this is an act of beautifully weighted contrasts.

His music, hacked together with a PC-based sequencer, sounds like cheap and dirty 4-track techno; but it’s good, and demonstrates that Ford has all the pop-sensibilities of Reznor, but without the sell-out teen angst… he replaces that with a keen eye and ear, cleverly constructed lyrical insights into the everyday that are at once caustic and cozy. It sounds like an early industrial pioneer experimenting with bubblegum pop, whilst getting a Tourettes-ridden Eels vox overdub. Or something. It’s bloody good fun, anyway.

That Ford manages to turn Radiohead’s “Creep” into an even more disturbing torch song (rather than the usual ironic crap that other performers seem happy to create) is testament to this man’s commitment to his art. Tomás Ford’s Cabaret Of Death is unsettling, disturbing, and utterly compelling.

Tomás has some songs available on MySpace and – which is a great cue for everyone to tell me how wrong I am.