ff2008 Wrap… ff2009 Kickoff!

I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of days – due to the proximity of the 2009 Adelaide Fringe, I’ve felt absolutely compelled to churn out the rest of my ff2008 writing. What can I say? I do my best work under pressure ;)

It’s been a delight writing up the remaining shows, because it’s given me the excuse to ignore my other obsessions and write about this arty stuff which I really, truly adore. As I’ve said before, that anyone can create something beautiful, or stand on a stage and risk ridicule, or temper their movements so as to cause emotion is something that I envy, something that I admire. All credit to all those that perform such feats!

And, reading back on ff2008, I’m left to reflect that it was a pretty bloody good year. From the incredible new experience of The Smile Off Your Face to the usual Masterson quality imbued in Follow Me; from the anarchic Nick Sun to the delightful DeAnne Smith; the incredibly polished DBR to the ramshackle genius of Bird Lantern; Don’t Look Back, Conclusions: On Ice, Moving Target… every one of them a winner, or at least fun to write about.

But now it’s time to look forward to ff2009… and, less than a week out from the first shows in The Garden, The Scheduling has commenced. And it’s scary.

Tips? The Tuxedo Cat looks to be the go-to venue for comedy this year, and Holden Street for your more serious stuff. Other than that, though, you’re on your own… for now.

Please, keep reading – and tell your friends. It’s going to be a big year :)

ArtWalk 2008

Every Fringe, I say I’m going to check out a whole bunch of visual art. Paintings, sculptures, stuff like that. I figure it’s an opportunity to immerse myself in even more arty things than I normally would in my day-to-day life, heightened by the rarified atmosphere of a ff assault – and it’s even more compelling in a Festival year, with the curated Biennial being a must-see. And hey, my very first art purchase was as a result of a Fringe showing in 1998.

I love my Chili, I really do. Looking a little worse for wear now, though…

This year, I meant it. I went through both the Fringe and Festival Visual Arts guides, flagged the displays of interest, plotted a route, and then…

…left it ’til the last minute. Thus, on the final Friday of ff2008, I found myself faced with an arduous trek around Adelaide in 38 degree heat. In previous years, that would have been reason enough to pike out – but I was committed. This year I was taking my visual arts seriously – if belatedly.

I start out at the (wonderful) Tin Cat Cafe for a delicious breakfast and Emma Hack Body.Art.08 which contained a few pieces of interest – but not at those prices. Cutting back down Rundle Street led me to the Greenaway Art Gallery and a number of Festival-curated pieces – Speed of Light: Iván Navarro (wonderful fluoro-centric furniture) and Thomas Rentmeister‘s perplexing stack of whitegoods. Back out to the sweltering heat, heading back into the city via the National Wine Centre and Julia Blanka Lesniewski’s Canvases With A Soul display – ace stuff, lovely textures. Would have loved to have bought some, but – eleven months later – the impulse has, perhaps sadly, passed.

Continuing into the city, there were some mildly engaging pinhole photos in the Digit! collection (Premier Art Gallery, Rundle Street) before I cut back to the Electric Light Hotel for Joshua Smith’s noir-filled Pulp!. After a spot of lunch with friends, I scooted back to the Adelaide Uni School of Architecture for the nostalgic Designing Designers, then across to the State Library to (a) cool off, and (2) check out the Elisa Sighicelli fragment of the wider Speed of Light presentation – some really nice lightbox ideas, combined with some videos of clunkier installations. Back up through town to the never-before-visited Thea Tea Shop and An Oriental Flair, which meant nothing to my uneducated eyes, then on to the utterly bizarre Urtext Studios on Grenfell Street for the unappealing junk-art of Scary Chicks and Boring Dudes.

All the way back to the Festival Centre Plaza for another Speed of Light piece, Spherescent. This proved to be the highlight of my little visual arts walkabout; ensconced in a tiny, air-conditioned tent oasis in the middle of the baking Plaza lay a simple installation that, with the aid of a shitload of mirrors, created the very real illusion of a patterned ball of light floating in space. Stunning! Pity, then that the Grafitti Research Lab (just across at the Artspace) was so utterly unremarkable – nice technology, but a rather self-important video presentation.

Back up to Hindley Street and the Karma Sukha Gallery for Elements of the Sacred, which left no lasting impact. Across the street at Flightpath, I interrupt a Friday afternoon office meeting(!) to check out Inventing Time. Down to Nexus for Adelaide Ink, across to the Samstag Museum in UniSA City West for the stunning Taiwanese installation Penumbra (including the obervation of one piece over two levels – very interesting), then up the road for the seashell-centric This Everything Water. Up to the Worldsend for a refreshing beer and Chain of 77 Art Party #2, back through AC Arts on Light Square for the underwhelming found art of Cellar Sweatshop, then up to the Fringe Factory – hey, I had Trouble on Planet Earth at 6pm.

The Factory had a fair few displays on: the usual Adelaide Fringe Poster Competition Top 20, the wacky installation works of Don’t Be Afraid, the UpstART Visual Art, and Emilija Jane’s wonderful Paintings in all their fractally-inspired goodness.

See, this sort of thing pushes my pleasure-buttons. Colourful. Textured. Delicious.

And that was all I could manage on that Friday (though, I note with interest, I wound up seeing a bunch of exhibitions that weren’t part of the Fringe or Festival at all. Lucky them, eh?) So the next day, a slightly steamier Saturday, I left home early and headed down to the Parade Grounds for Blue Jeans and Jungle Greens (a neat historical look at the sixties through everyday fashion) and the 2008 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition (which didn’t get close to troubling my wallet). Finally, I headed back through the Jam Factory to check out the Russian Speed of Light: Last Riot, an ultra-widescreen video extravaganza that was high on production values and low on lingering interest. Mischa Kuball’s Speed of Light segment, on the other hand, was spectacular; ReMix / Broca II featured pinpoint light sources and creative machinations to create stunning rooms of light.

Of course, the found-object inspired 2008 Adelaide Biennial also got a look-in somewhere along the line; but that’s pretty much it for my concerted visual art intake for 2008. Slack, eh?

[2008097] I Only Came To Use The Phone

I Only Came To Use The Phone

Yashchin Company @ Queens Theatre

10:00pm, Sun 16 Mar 2008

And so we come to this, the final event of ff2008. And, while the world outside was gradually cooling, the glorious Queens Theatre was still stickily hot – and that may have kept the crowd numbers down. Hell, “crowd” is more than a little generous – there was only a dozen or so people in the audience – which meant that cast-and-crew probably outnumbered us. Again.

One of a series of short stories by Columbian Gabriel García Márquez, I Only Came To Use The Phone was an unsettling piece of work for me, because it plays on one of my biggest fears – of being mistaken for something that I’m not, and mistakenly incarcerated. This is the plight of Maria, whose car breaks down in the middle of an isolated stretch of road; hitching a ride to civilisation on a bus headed for a mental asylum, she is assumed to be a patient at the destination. Her jealous husband, assuming she has run off with another man, refuses her only opportunity to contact him, and she is trapped in the asylum, pleading “innocence” – but then again, don’t all the patients do that? Initially, Maria does whatever she can to leave – debasing herself, sleeping with one of the guards – but, after her husband eventually does find her and, on the advice of her doctor, leaves her in the asylum, she slips into the role of a patient.

Despite the dialogue being often drowned out by the plethora of fans attempting to keep the Queens Theatre from being overbearingly stifling, this was an arresting bit of theatre. Netta Yashchin’s direction is great, with fantastic use of space. The cast are better-than-solid, led from the front by Astrid Pill’s stunning performance; Susie Skinner’s cat was a source of great delight, too, and the quietly studied Stephen Sheehan also puts in a blinder. But why do people rave about Paulo Castro? His acting appears wooden, his English renders some dialogue near-unintelligible… seriously, this man receives plaudits a-plenty, and I’ve no idea why.

But that little gripe is neither here nor there; what matters is that I Only Came To Use The Phone ticks all the right boxes for me, with a (mostly) excellent ensemble cast making a satisfyingly bleak story come to life. There’s some utterly nutball scenes, a little bit of live music, and wacky characters abound. I love this sort of stuff, and would wallow in its uncomfortable, scatterbrained misery for days if I could.

[2008096] Dharma at Big Sur

Dharma at Big Sur

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with Tracy Silverman @ Festival Theatre

7:30pm, Sun 16 Mar 2008

And so, for my final Festival show of ff2008, I trundled into the Festival Theatre for my regular dose of the ASO. And this performance, much like ff2006’s Leningrad Symphony, proved to evoke a real mixed bag of emotions.

The first piece, Toshio Hosokawa’a Circulating Ocean, felt like it oscilated with the tides; periods of unstoppable power alternated with implausibly deep quiet passages. The opening had the audience barely daring to breath, such was the slightness of the violins’ bowing; the ending, in particular, faded into nothing, into a deep murky blackness that had ears yearning for more.

The second piece, however, was almost a polar opposite; opening with a percussive punch, it seemed like it might have blown its wad a touch too early – given that the piece was a mere eight minutes long, this was a bit of a concern. But using the percussion as a recurrent theme, and allowing other sections the opportunity to follow the percussive lead, Gareth Farr’s From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs: Part I turns into an absolute blinder, well worth the price of admission. And yes, that means I’d be happy paying $9 a minute for the privilege; it really was that good. There’s something about the sight of a massive string section attacking their instruments in unison, bows viciously jagging away, that completely sucks me in.

As for the titular piece, John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur… well, it was a massive letdown. Import electric violinist and Michael Bolton wannabe Tracy Silverman attacked his strings with all the subtlety of a boor early on; harsh strings ahoy. It must have been intentional, since later addressing of his bow sounded much smoother; but he never recovered from that rough start. His rock-star facials were also a bit of a turn-off.

After the performance (and a little eavesdropping) I turned to my neighbour: “Excuse me; I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of this music in any way, shape, or form – but you sound like you do. Is it just me, or was that piece shit?” Bemused, he replied “You’ve got a good ear, then. Silverman has a massive reputation, and I don’t think either of us can see why.”

The ASO, however, managed to hold their own, though their role in the piece was relegated to providing a lush backdrop to Silverman’s strangulations. If it were not for their stony-cold professionalism – and a stellar first half – this programme would have been a mess.

[2008095] Stephen K Amos – Gets Next To You!

Stephen K Amos – Gets Next To You!

Stephen K Amos @ Arts Theatre

4:00pm, Sun 16 Mar 2008

Given this is the fourth time I’d seen Stephen K Amos in four years, I could quite easily make this an especially short entry: something like “same old, same old – but still fucking brilliant.”

So I will.

But first I’ll mention – yet again – what an absolutely wonderful performer Amos is onstage. He roams the width of the stage with earnest purpose, but never gives the impression that he’s aggressive – which is a touch misleading, because if you’re his “mark” for the evening, you’re going to cop a metric fuckton of ribbing. But his abuse is so lighthearted and – above all – so funny that you’re almost jealous of that blushing recipient of Amos’ attention.

Notable aspects of this performance? Well, Mike the techie killed Amos’ sound (then lighting) after being ridiculed onstage… brilliant comic timing. And there was a brilliantly referential heckle that would only make sense if you were there (“you should’ve been a lawyer, mate”).

But other than that, all the rest was to be expected – from his love of the “Doors! Doors! Doors!” ad, to his usual “you can do anything” closing message, this was just your average Stephen K. Amos show. The thing is, his “average” is everyone else’s “exceptional.”

[2008008.2] Nick Sun – Tear Out Your Eyes (The Burnout Show)

Nick Sun – Tear Out Your Eyes (for the second time!)

Nick Sun @ The Garden Shed

10:45pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

Making good on my pledge to attend multiple Nick Sun shows, I wait outside The Garden Shed for this, his last Adelaide show. I wind up chatting to the the cool bearded Garden spruiker (you know the one) while Justin Hamilton’s show finishes up. Nick shows up, a bit pissed and ready to go. We chat as Hammo’s crapulence gently buffets us from within the Shed; Nick asks me what kind of show he should do. I issue the challenge: “Do something I’d really fucking hate.” We both look at Hammo cheesing on through the open door of the Shed, look back at each other, and laugh.

We’re on the same page.

He disappears to prep the show. The Spruiker returns, we chat some more. A young woman and her boyfriend roll up at the door, enquiring as to who’s on next: “Nick Sun. He’s fucking awesome,” I say, “but somewhat an acquired taste.” The Spruiker agrees: “He’s different,” he says, before cautioning “He’s not the same type of comedian as, say, Justin Hamilton. He’s a bit more…”

“…caustic,” I finish.

“Oh, that’s alright,” says the woman, “I hate Hammo.” They join the queue.

There’s a fair line building up. Sure, there’s a bunch of pissed people just chucking 15 bucks at a chunk of comedy on the last night in The Garden for 2008, but once the door to The Shed opens, it gets about a third full.

It doesn’t last.

Hidden beneath a sheet, Sun opens the show with… noise. A deep, throaty, continuous noise. After a minute or so of eardrum abuse, the crowd starts getting restless, and the taunts start: “Shutup! Start the fucking show!”

The figure beneath the sheet snaps to attention. “Is the first person ready?”

“Yes!” I yell out.

“Is the second person ready?”

“Yes!” chime in a pair of girls near the front.

“That was more than one person,” the sheet objects. “Is the first person ready?”


“Is the second person ready?”


“Is the third person ready?”


“Is the fourth person ready?”


“That was the same person as the second person. Is the first person ready?”

…you can only imagine how long this went on – maybe five minutes, probably ten. Eventually, Sun removes the sheet to cheers from the increasingly-less-bemused members of the audience. He launches into some familiar material; the room is dead, save some giggles from the back and my own. Sun points me out to the crowd; “that’s Pete,” he says, “he’s my friend.”

I am the recipient of many odd looks.

The couple I spoke to outside the Shed prior to the show are sitting in the front row; He is most certainly not enjoying the show. Sun asks him why; He says “because you’re not funny.” There’s a few hoots, some nervous laughs; He’s offered the opportunity to leave, but She declines. They’re in it for the long haul, apparently.

Not if Nick has anything to do with it.

Sun wanders into the audience, starts rearranging the chairs. Hey, it’s the last show in the Garden Shed, why not help out with the packing up? Soon, Chair Mountain is formed; The Couple are sitting, prone and alone in an oval of chairless empty space. Their presence there is comical in itself, and the show continues behind them as Sun accosts the audience in search of inspiration. Some people display the most abject looks of horror as he verbally cajoles them; one girl attempts to take Sun to task over his use of the English Language when he drops the C-Word into his queries. His overly florid, yet profanity-free response, sends her scurrying from the Shed. There’s a smattering of cheers as she leaves.

Nick Sun is slowly winning some fans. Besides myself, there’s a couple of diehard fans down the back, and a clump of people in the middle are warming to his style. There’s a clump of pretty young things near the front; he starts talking to them… it’s comedy death. The kids think they’re funny, then freeze. One of the diehards yells out “Piggy dance!” Nick’s ears prick up, he motions to the sound guy, and a three-second snippet of the familiar Seinfeld bass-notes starts looping over and over and over. Sun lies on the ground, starts walking in a circle, punctuating the loop with gutteral “HEY PIGGY PIGGY” roars.

It’s starting to get weird.

The Pretty Young Things run away. There’s more applause.

We’ve been going about ninety minutes now, and the Garden Shed staff have a look of absolute bemusement on their face. They’ve thrown the doors open – they try to grab five bucks, maybe ten, where they can, but essentially it’s a free-for-all; people wander in, observe Sun’s self-destruction for a moment, before turning tail and running (to the applause of the diehards). Eventually Sun sneaks back under the sheet and starts making that noise again… after a minute, he makes his intention clear by announcing that the show is over, but the noise will continue if anyone feels like staying. The Couple take this opportunity to bail; She’s won this battle, they’d stayed to the death. A few more minutes of noise, and the remainder of us dribble out into the night air. We diehards all look at each other in glee, beaming grins across our faces – that was certainly one amazing shared experience.

I wandered home and sent Nick an e-mail expressing my gratitude. It’s the only thing I’m capable of. The Burnout Show has left me spent and aloof. And very, very happy.

[2008094] To Be Straight With You

To Be Straight With You

DV8 Physical Theatre @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

It’s funny who you wind up talking to at these shows; I tend to be a chatty fella, swapping stories about shows with other patrons whenever I get the chance (that’s called word of mouth, people). And this evening I wound up sitting next to Albert Bensimon, who was bloody entertaining to talk to. There’s no real point mentioning that – no gossip or anything to report – but it was pretty neat when he spotted me at Dharma at Big Sur the following night, proferring a greeting and a wave. I waved back, rumbled out a “howyadoin?”, then noticed the raised eyebrow of my neighbour. “Oh, that’s Albert,” I said. “We’re like this.”

I walked into this piece expecting a bit of experimental dance – something along the lines of Nemesis, maybe – but DV8 delivered much, much more. A quick flick through the large, tabloid-sized pamphlet that acted as a programme indicated that this was going to be a heavily themed piece, focussing on the issues of human rights (in general) and sexual persecution (in particular).

And as for dance? Well, that depends what you consider “dance”. To Be Straight With You is half contemporary dance, half spoken word, half theatre, half multimedia light-show. This latter aspect, in particular, was astonishing: using images projected from behind the audience, DV8 created some gob-smacking effects, from simple writing on a blackboard to a beautiful spinning globe, all convincingly “handled” by the actors / dancers onstage.

Apparently derived from oodles of vox pop interviews in the UK, To Be Straight With You doesn’t so much explore as flat-out opine on the issue of sexual persecution. Seemingly taking a statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its centrepiece…

The persecution of people because of their sexual orientation is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid. We must be allowed to love with honour.

…director (and DV8 Artistic bigwig) Lloyd Newson presents a series of scenes, snippets of dance, and slideshows that depict many aspects of this issue.

Now – truth be told, I was completely unable to understand some of the thick regional accents used in earlier scenes. Tales of torment and abuse – in South Africa, by English Jamaicans, and others – were nigh-on unintelligible to me; but the physicality of the acting – and the dance, the wonderfully refined movements! – made the message clear. And the production moves on a fast clip, zipping around the world, showing different reactions to sexuality by different races and cultures. Surprisingly, it lingers for awhile on the topic of gay muslims and the fundamentalist muslim responses to homosexuality; this lends a certain political weight to the performance.

But To Be Straight With You never slows down, never becomes dull. DV8 presented a visually and sonically (oh! the soundtrack! stunning) spectacular show which, despite its rather monotonic themes, was completely engaging.

[2008093] Seven Times Me

Seven Times Me

Kat Francois @ SAAFL

7:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

Pretty much everything written about Seven Times Me includes a reference to solo performer Kat Francois’ World Poetry Slam Champion pedigree (see how effortlessly I managed to slip it in?) Precious little, however, tends to be written on the powerful nature of Francois’ performance; apparently “world champion” and “slam” is supposed to convey it all. Never mind the fact that 99.9% of everyone everywhere – including those who copy & paste the words – don’t know what a poetry slam is (I was in that pot too) and can’t be arsed finding out (not anymore, though).

Towards the tail end of our astonishing hot spell, it was a real relief to be going to a show so close to home – the SAAFL, where Shakti’s Garage International contingent are based, is a mere two minutes walk from my abode. That’s great for me, but rubbish for Fringe foot traffic – and I certainly hope that more people turned up on an average night than the three that were present this evening. That’s right, three people – staff & crew outnumbered us two-to-one.

With little fanfare and barely a dip in the house lights, Kat Francois takes to the stage and delivers her monologue. Of West Indian descent, but English-born, her story is of growing up one of seven children. It’s generally a cheerful tale focussed on the closeness and love of family, but there’s some rather brutal underpinnings – the physical violence of her step-father (The Beast), and the psychological violence of her altercations with the police (leading to civil action). There’s also some wrought and tender moments stemming from heartbreak, the odd TMI personal snippet (ewww, tampons!), but throughout you’re absolutely sucked into Francois’ story.

Why? Because, quite simply, she is astonishingly compelling onstage. She’s not that big, but she owns the room when she projects herself into it, roaming with anger, still with compassion. And her vocal delivery is delicious – spoken word effortlessly slips into verse then trips into song then back to prose, her intonations niggling cognition long after the word has passed. Her confidence is supreme; she is a master at what she does.

So, that’s the good – well, the very very good – aspect of Seven Times Me. How about the bad?

Three people. For fuck’s sake, that’s a crime.

Go and watch this video of Kat’s BBC Poetry Slam performance. It is really, truly, fucking amazing. And then admonish yourself because you didn’t see her perform Seven Times Me, because it was as raw, honest, and powerful a show as you could possibly hope for.

[2008092] Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2008

I saw Nora last Festival, and two years later it has left a curious taste – technical merit still resonates, but there’s a very impersonal, detached feeling too. It’s almost like I’d watched the production in some sort of sensory vacuum, the visual spectacle of the glorious rotating stage making as much of an impression as the cold and aloof German delivery didn’t.

And so, when returning to another Schaubühne production, I kinda knew what to expect: impeccable production values. Distancing delivery. A troubled emotional response.

I wasn’t disappointed. Or rather, I was somewhat disappointed, but not surprisingly so.

Taking my seat in Her Majesty’s again, I remember looking at the set with interest; where Nora‘s set startled you with it’s trickery well into the performance, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof lays itself bare for all to see. Plexiglass walls allow us to see the comings and goings of the cast, and allows us constant access to the stage’s centrepiece – the buzzard enclosed above the main performance area.

Now, the buzzard doesn’t actually do much during the performance – a flap here, a shit there, the odd distracting muted caw or flinch. And I can’t help but wonder – why was it there? Presumably, it’s supposed to create a feeling of foreboding, of menace, like an overseeing deity hovering above the display of social decay being presented onstage, ready to pick clean the bones. But, thankfully, the subject matter at hand does a pretty decent job of that anyway – buzzard, or no buzzard.

This was, of course, a production of the Tennessee Williams play, and I reckon it would be folly of me to attempt to summarise it here. Suffice to say that the performances were decent, though the previously mentioned Germanic dialogue delivery feels very remote from the southern drawl we’d expect from the cast. That said, the maliciousness of the characters surrounding Big Daddy’s fortune, as well as the sexual tension associated with Brick and Skipper (and the sexual malaise of Brick and Maggie) are all powerfully communicated; when Maggie spits “we’re living in the same cage,” the bile in her passion is there for all to feel, clunky language barriers or not.

And that brings us back to Nora – and the realisation that it was much more suited to the presentation and style of Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz than Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The former was very European, the latter very American – and the emphasis on the latter seems to be expressed with nods to classic Americana, like the oddball slapstick pie fight. Even the use of Led Zeppelin – opening with the powerful No Quarter, punctuating with Babe I’m Going To Leave You – feels to be an especially western tactic (especially the former, which manages – with some flickering house lights – to evoke a thundery and turbulent atmosphere). And despite the added theatrical flourishes – the odd projection onto glass, synced with Act changes & more Led Zep – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof pales in comparison to Schaubühne’s previous piece… but I don’t think it’s because of lesser quality, more that my appreciation of Nora‘s qualities has matured.

[2008091] Book of Longing

Book of Longing

Philip Glass & ensemble @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Fri 14 Mar 2008

What do I know about Leonard Cohen? Well, Neil relayed the idea that he created beautiful – if gloomy – poetry, and his songs bookended Natural Born Killers (certainly my favourite Oliver Stone movie). What do I know about Philip Glass? Minimalist composer, lampooned in South Park, and I managed to see Scot Hicks’ doco focussed on the man a few days prior to this. Other than that… I know bugger all about these two chaps.

So why, exactly, was I rushing from the Fringe Factory down to the Festival Theatre on another stinking hot night?

Arriving in my own puddle of sweat (with just enough time to cover my torso in deodorant in the toilets before the soothingly urgent doors-open-get-your-arses-in-here bing-binging of the Festival Centre), I notice a wide selection of the crowd pawing through a small booklet – the poems to be covered in Book of Longing. This annoyed me – a lot – since there was only one booklet allocated for every two seats – and my seat wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Sigh. A neighbour super-grudgingly let me briefly flick through their copy prior to the performance; as a short Cohen anthology, it’s a great freebie, and I was delighted to snaffle my own copy post-performance from someone else’s cast-offs.

Of course, that begs the question: why were there cast-offs at all? Don’t other people clutch onto their programmes, their souvenirs, as tightly as I do?

But enough about that. The set was very simple – some of Cohen’s artwork, set in simple geometric shapes, formed a rather insignificant and pointless backdrop to the performers. Glass played keyboards, of course, and was accompanied by a decent selection of strings, a smattering of percussion, and four vocalists who enunciated Cohen’s words over Glass’ score. The vocal delivery ranged from almost straight readings of the text, through soaring flights of operatic pomposity; there were very few times when any of the vocalists voiced something that made me sit up and take notice. As for the score… well, I have to admit that I was expecting something a lot more repetitive and monotonic (well, at least of minimal tonal variation, anyway) than what was presented; certainly the horrid solos provided by the instrumentalists onstage (dropped notes a-plenty) beat expectations. Though not necessarily in a good way.

…Christ, I’m just reading the opening to this piece back, and it makes it sound like I absolutely hated Book Of Longing; but that’s not true at all. It was pleasant, if not mildly enjoyable, with some bits of genuine interest: Glass peering at the vocalists, eyes flitting back and forth between the performers and the score in a grandfatherly display of concern. The surprisingly dynamic score played nicely against some of Cohen’s poetry at times; “This Morning I Woke Up Again”, for example, had a staccato rhythm and repetition that was curiously reminiscent of (my expectation of) Glass’ compositions. And, most of all, the end of the performance was stunning – as the final piece reaches its climax, each of the performers slowly moves to the front of the stage, standing, open, facing the audience; as the piece softly peters out, the house lights gently come up – by the time the last note is played, we’re all bathed in light, sharing what feels like a remarkably intimate moment with those onstage and off.

But the problem is that, whilst there were a few genuine surprises – and despite the glorious ending – I just didn’t really enjoy this performance that much. Now, maybe that’s because of late-FF fatigue, but regardless… it just didn’t click. I kept thinking that Cohen’s poetry would be better heard in my own headspace while I read it myself; I kept thinking that Glass’ score would be better heard elsewhere, without vocal accompaniment.

Post-performance, waiting for the crowd to disperse, the aforementioned grudgy neighbour managed to dissipate any feelings of positivity gathered by the ending by rabbiting on and on to his wife: “In New York and London, they keep coming out while the audience is clapping; here in Adelaide, everyone stops clapping so soon they don’t bother.” Much teeth-gnashing resulted. Strangely enough, the usual crowd of Festival Standing Ovation-ers didn’t seem to be in attendance this evening, either; presumably they would’ve turned out in droves had we been in New York.

Welcome to 2009!

Oh dear.

As you might have noticed, it’s been quite some time since there was an update on this blog. And you also may have noticed a few cosmetic changes, too.

For starters, as I mentioned in my other blog, I had a major problem with my old hosting company. It seemed that they weren’t really serioius about… well, hosting. Losing all content, waiting for a week before the DNS issues are sorted, then being “resurrected” on a new server that doesn’t actually support most of the content you had there before? That’s shit, that is. I’m a nice chap, so I’ll not mention the company in question, but rest assured they’re not going to be getting any recommendations from me.

So – a new host (Ilisys – who have been nothing but utterly wonderful so far), and with it a new blog platform. I’d used MovableType for years (and, prior to that, custom homegrown PHP & Perl solutions), but I wanted to give WordPress a whirl… and, quite frankly, it’s lovely. So there’s a new look here, a better search system, and I’ll gradually crawl through and tidy up all the back-referenced links so that they work.

But now it’s January 2009, and the new Fringe guide has been released this very day (the 14th). Which is exciting, as always – but it makes me feel very-ultra-guilty because I’ve still got 8 shows to write up from 2008! For reference, these are…

  • Book of Longing
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Seven Times Me
  • To Be Straight With You
  • Nick Sun – Burnout Show
  • Stephen K Amos
  • Dharma at Big Sur
  • I Only Came To Use The Phone

…plus a monstrous visual arts walking tour. Which I insisted on performing on the hottest day of the year, if I recall correctly.

Luckily, I’ve still got notes a-plenty to supplement my own memories, so I hope to churn them out before the next Fringe starts. On the 19th of February.


Best get to work then, hadn’t I?

[2008090] Trouble on Planet Earth

Trouble on Planet Earth

The Border Project @ Fringe Factory Theatre (The Crumpet Theatre)

6:00pm, Fri 14 Mar 2008

There were a couple of Fringe shows this year that benefited from a substantial amount of buzz; The Smile Off Your Face was probably the most notable (and certainly the most deserving), but Trouble on Planet Earth was also lauded in many circles for its innovative audience interactions. Even Llysa told me to catch this performance – though, to her credit, she didn’t actually say it was “good”, just “interesting”.

To squeeze Trouble on Planet Earth into The Schedule, something else had to go; and the ADT’s G was given the arse – which was a blessing, in a way. For starters, it was being performed at the ADT’s studios at Belair – leaving me with a mere 45 minutes (if things ran to schedule) to get back into the city for Book of Longing. Additionally, nobody I had talked to – and I really do mean nobody – who had seen G had anything positive to say about it; the most generous comments I heard (from a friendly gent I sat next to in Moving Target) indicated that it was horribly underdone, and may – may – be ready for the 2010 Festival. So I didn’t exactly give my November-bought ticket away reluctantly – and the “lucky” recipient wasn’t exactly gushing praise for G when she returned.

But this entry is not about G – it’s about Trouble on Planet Earth. And the buzz (at least, the buzz that I heard) was right – this was very much a Choose Your Own Adventure book performed live, with the audience’s hivemind used to choose the next course of action for the performers. (In fact, the name of the piece is shared with an old CYOA book).

This sounds interesting, and the first couple of interactions with the crowd are certainly enjoyable. At the beginning of the performance, every audience member was proffered a smooth, sleek and sealed white wand, of similar size and weight to a Wii Controller. At various stages, a “sexy” interlude is projected onto a video screen, explaining the available options. Each member of the hivemind votes for their desired outcome by rotating the wand until the LEDs ensconced within light up the desired colour; from my position at the back of the crowd, it was pretty cool to be able to watch the sea of wands in front of me switch from red to green to blue and back again as decisions were made – with consultation of one’s neighbours, of course. It wouldn’t be a hivemind if we acted independently, would it?

But this exposes a massive problem behind this production: whilst the set is lovely, the acting passable (but by no means exemplary) and the fragmented writing somewhat interesting, there were all these decision points, all these interludes, along the way. And whilst the first couple were, as I mentioned above, entertaining in their own way, by the time I’d sat through a handful I was getting pretty irritable. The “sexy” video introduction for each decision point seemed laughably vacuous, the fifteen seconds allocated to “audience decision time” seemed interminable, and the wait for the results – which, for my show at least, were utterly predictable and sadly lowbrow – seemed like torture.

Now – I don’t want to seem like I’m completely down on this production; The Border Project have certainly created something a little bit different, and deserve credit for putting this show on. But I also felt that I was paying good money to sit around doing fuck all; at no point did the dialog tree branch off in the direction I wanted it to go (yeah yeah, bitch moan gripe), and the waiting was painful.

It’s funny – when I first encountered the web (via CSSIP researcher Matt Roughan in 1993/4), CYOA books were the first thing that sprang to mind – this hypertext linking thing was perfectly suited to this, and it’d be far better to “play” the books in a Web format than risk “peeking” at pages in the story you hadn’t played through yet (and much easier to implement than the horrible BASIC version I wrote on the C64 as a young ‘un). And maybe it’s just the programmer in me, but I really enjoyed the CYOA experience – far more than I enjoyed Trouble on Planet Earth. Because the hivemind, even at 6pm on a Friday evening, is shit. Lured by cheap titillation, each “decision” was utterly predictable – in fact, the only surprise was how much each decision won by.

So I was trapped in a performance with tolerable acting and glossy – but superficial – production. The clean lines of the spacious set, the smooth finish of the controllers, and the AV feedback loop all exuded polish. But it was a production that proffered “choice” where I felt I had none, the story itself was not enough to hold me, and I was jammed in a room with a group of whooping fucktards. Disappointment ahoy.

[2008089] Adam Page Solo

Adam Page Solo

Adam Page @ The Promethean

10:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2008

An old friend raved to me about Adam Page a couple of years ago, but left no impression of what to expect on this balmy evening. I didn’t even know what to expect from the venue – it’s been ages since I was last at The Prom, and I knew that it had shut down, changed hands, and re-opened as a more clubby venue. Arriving well early, I wound up chatting with one of The Prom’s rejuvenators, Richard, about his ace venue.

It’s lush, it really is. Sure, the nifty little VIP-balcony-area was suffering from Adelaide’s persistent sweltering weather, but The Prom has turned into a great little venue: decent stage, comfy seating, intimate feel, great bar… and a decent crowd for this, Page’s first show of the Fringe.

As mentioned above, I had no idea what to expect from this performance (other than the requisite Adam Page performing, presumably, by himself). But within seconds of the utterly charming Page taking the stage, it was clear I was in for an evening of quirky multi-instrumental experiments.

And it was great.

Using a simple looping sampler, Page conjured catchy tracks using conventional instruments – saxophone, clarinet, occasional vox, and a plethora of percussion – as well as not-so-conventional… the wah-wah-carrot being a prime example. He builds up tracks slowly, adding layer upon layer of substance to the tune, breaking to tweak tracks in and out before dissolving the constituents to a satisfying conclusion. He elicits (keen and willing!) audience help for a monstrously complex multitrack, and caps the gig off with a Latin-influenced closer that was simply heavenly.

But the highlight was undoubtedly the “audience request” bit of the show. Asking for a random variety of styles, Page managed to create a tune which was both enjoyable and able to highlight the suggested influences of Gospel, Reggae and Metal. The guttural vocals, alone, were priceless.

I grinned like a loon for the bulk of this performance; it was simply enjoyable tunes created by a likable larrikin in a wonderful venue with what felt like a bunch of friends, not punters. It really felt like Page was creating on stage out of love and respect for the assembled throng, bereft of ulterior motives. And all that added up to a very happy blogger :)

[2008088] Kommer (Sorrow)

Kommer (Sorrow) (Festival page)

Kassys @ Space Theatre

7:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2008

An odd one, this.

Kommer starts with the audience staring down at a sombre scene. Without knowing anything about the piece, you can sense it’s a funeral home. It’s a wake. Six people gathered in mourning. Movements are slow, contemplative; there’s a solemnity about proceedings that slowly begins to shatter as the characters begin to interact. Initially there’s a sense of complicit duty, of keeping-up-appearances; but, gradually, the ice breaks. Ludicrous actions relieves the audiences’ tension, but maintains it onstage: A fight over the CD player. The pecking order of commiserations. A ludicrous topiary demolition of the funeral home’s plant life. And then, one by one, the characters drift offstage.

The audience is left looking at the messy remains of the funeral home, dirt and plant fragments strewn everywhere. And then a movie screen descends from the roof, and we’re treated to (pre-recorded, not live) expressions of the actors back-stage. They celebrate another successful performance on-screen and, as they leave for the evening, they pass through The Space once again, past the audience; the transitions between screen and real-life are tightly managed, and work a treat – the illusion is wonderful.

We then follow, on-screen, each of the actors into their lives outside the theatre – one woman loathes her second job. Another is afraid of her age. One man returns home to his one-room flat to joylessly eat his processed food. One man gets mugged. Another lives out his midlife crisis. They’re all terribly, terribly lonely, each painting a tragic tale of… sorrow.

And that’s the real payoff from this performance; it’s not in the off-beat presentation, it’s not in the quirky performances. It’s in the painful, tortuous lives that these people lead, laid forth bare on the screen. Even the gorgeous Esther Snelder, once the on-stage performance is over, leads a heart-breaking life on-screen. Yes, there’s humour in amongst these grim depictions, but it’s overwhelmed by a feeling of grim… mortality, in a way.

Now, some people may be put off by the miserably depressing tone of the piece… not me. I revel in this stuff: it’s immediately identifiable and perversely uplifting. Wallowing in another’s misery is almost cathartic to me – which says a lot, really. And Kommer delivered the muted, everyday, sorrow of existence in spades, reminding everyone of the pain of simply being, and presenting the opportunity to compare and contrast with one’s own life. Hey, I felt uplifted as a result, though I know many who weren’t.

Sadly, one of the lingering memories I have regarding Kommer is some of the crap that was written about it in the ‘Tiser. It wasn’t deriding the performance – heavens, no, we couldn’t possibly do that; it was a statement like “they break down the fourth wall by building a fifth” (paraphrased). I think that’s a completely bullshit statement, a hopelessly inaccurate attempt at a clever turn of phrase. And yet, that’s the thing that will stay with me long after the memory of sweet Esther has faded, and long after the shared commiserations have been forgotten.

[2008087] A Record or an OBE

A Record or an OBE (FringeTIX)

Shaolin Punk @ Fringe Factory Theatre (The Fridge)

6:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2008

On another stinking hot day, I arrive at The Fridge to find that – despite its frostily suggestive name – it’s a sweltering hotbox. And that I’m one of six people in the audience.

Now, two of those were Fringe volunteer ring-ins, two guys were from Sound & Fury and there was another artist in there, so I’m guessing I was the only paying punter.

The Only Paying Punter.

Which is utterly heartbreaking, because this is a decent show. When the lights come up, we’re looking at Graeme Garden & Tim Brooke-Taylor – the two remaining members of The Goodies after Bill Oddie left the troupe (at the height of their popularity, no less) to pursue a career in music. Tim is adamant that the two of them can sustain The Goodies on their own; Graeme, the hen-pecked writer of much of their work, is far less confident.

Tim’s attitude towards Bill verges on the militant; Graeme is far less perturbed, but obviously misses his writing partner. The conflicting feelings come across in a convincing manner throughout; Tim belligerently spurs Graeme on, eventually to a nervous breakdown, and their resolution is genuinely touching.

It’s far from a faithful rendition of the two Goodies – writer Ben McKenzie’s Garden is pretty good, but Rob Lloyd (from The Hound of the Baskervilles) is initially less convincing as Brooke-Taylor: suitably brash, sure, but not weedy enough, not British enough. Remarkably, though, they somehow manage to transcend this barrier to believability; the half-time “Get It Right!” skit certainly helps.

The great thing about A Record or an OBE is that it’s tightly written, and doesn’t outstay its welcome – at a svelte 30 minutes long, it’s a lovely bit of off-beat Fringery that was criminally under-attended this evening.