ff2009 Wrap


Just 315 days after the 2009 Adelaide Fringe finished, I’ve wrapped up my blog posts. Blimey, that was a tough year; a truckload of shows (one-hundred-and-three. 103!), blogging as much as I could, traipsing along to all the visual arts displays, as well as still turning up to the office (of the fourteen days annual leave I was supposed to be taking, I managed six).

It all started with a surprising discovery; the Illy / UCB on Rundle Street, preferred purveyor of caffeine for this little Festival Freak, was no more… leaving me to acquire coffee from other establishments of less pleasing quality. Still, Illy’s loss is Cibo’s gain, especially given the latter’s rock-solid leechable WiFi access.

For the record, I spent $2267.40 on shows this year; yes, fair reader, I really do buy all my own tickets. Of that, $277.75 went to FringeTIX – I was thinking of making some crass joke about ownership to one of the FringeTIX desk jockettes, but wisely determined that such a comment would be completely misinterpreted and liable to prosecution.

Just for shits and giggles, let’s look at the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Award nominees (and, in italics, the eventual winners):

BankSA People’s Choice Award
Circus Trick Tease
James Galea – I Hate Rabbits
Sound & Fury’s ‘Sherlock Holmes & The Saline Solution’
The Boy with Tape on his Face
Titters! A Showcase of Award Winning Funny Women

Crikey. As great as the Sound & Fury guys are, I’m not convinced that the People who made their Choice could possibly had seen Circus Trick Tease or the superlative-inducing The Boy with Tape on his Face.

BankSA Support Act Award
3xperimentia: Live Cut
The Attack of the 40 Foot Wedge
The Boy With Tape On His Face
The Grimstones – Hatched

Ah. There we are. Nice little consolation prize there.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Established Fringe Venue (operational as Fringe venue for over 2 years)
Electric Light Hotel
Higher Ground
Holden Street
La Boheme
Nexus Cabaret
The Masonic Centre

Oooh, bit of a snub to Holden Street there; Higher Ground is still plagued by nasty sight-lines in the basement, though the café upstairs is pretty good.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Emerging Fringe Venue (operational as Fringe venue for under 2 years)
Adelaide Airport
Edgewater Gallery
South Terrace Office Block
Tuxedo Cat

I don’t know three of those (in the context of being venues, of course), but I’ve waxed lyrical about the Tuxedo Cat plenty. I love it :)

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Puppetry
Dreamer In The Deep
Pegging Up The Sky
Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones
The Grimstones – Hatched

Fair enough, that.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Dance
3xperimentia: Live Cut
AC Arts Dance
Crush – A Solo
Medico Manoeuvres II
Out Of The Dark
Serpent Dancer

As much as I adore the highlights of the Playground girls (and Capture certainly contained one of the Fringe highlights), I’d have given this to Out of the Dark.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Cabaret
A Company of Strangers
Accordion Boys Do It Better
Die Roten Punkte – Robot/Lion Tour
The Wet Spots

No. Just… no.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Music
Abbie Cardwell & Her Leading Men
Adam Page Solo
Black Ruby – The Step-Sister of Little Black Dress
C. W. Stoneking
Dallas Frasca
Jane Badler

No Washington? Jess Ribeiro was also a revelation.

Eran Svigos Award for Best Exhibition By An Individual
Art In An Alleyway
Ice, Ice
Once Upon An Intrigue
Rope Art Exhibition
Touching Base

Can’t really comment on this, though Ice, Ice was darkly wonderful.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Exhibition By A Collective
Adelaide Ink 2
Home Safe
Revealing Meaning In Cloth
Toes To Prose

Again, I don’t really feel qualified (ho ho – like I’m ever qualified) to comment on this one either.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Emerging Comedian
Cellblock Booty
Jason Pestell Jumps The Shark

Cellblock Booty is “emerging”? Is that a poor physical pun?

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Established Comedian
Deanne Smith Lacks Focus
Judith Lucy’s Not Getting Any Younger
Mickey D – Barb Dwyer
Stevl Shefn’s Little Comidy Spots
The Boy With Tape On His Face

Whilst it was great to see DeAnne Smith & Steve Sheehan get nominated here, the result here is probably fair enough – apart from the fact that I’d never heard of the “established” Sam Wills prior to this show ;)

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Theatre Production
After The End
Death in Bowengabbie
Six Minute Soul Mate
The Tailor of Inverness

One of the few categories where I’d seen all the nominees, this was probably a toss-up between Death in Bowengabbie and Six Minute Soul Mate… I would’ve gone the other way, myself, even if Soul Mate did provide some of the most confronting moments of the Fringe.

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Theatre Performance
The Brown Council (ensemble): Six Minute Soul Mate
Hannah Norris: After The End
Guy O’Grady: Rough For Theatre II
Matthew Zajac: The Tailor of Inverness

Another one I’d seen all of; it’s pretty hard to go past Guy O’Grady for me.

Spirit of the Fringe Award
Karen and David Hyland

What’s this one all about, then? The Sydney Morning Herald tells it best, though The Advertiser reported that this was awarded to the Hylands on the basis that they’d seen a “record” 80-odd shows. Bless.

As for my own highlights… well, the shows are mentioned here, but more important for me was the experience. The people I met. The couple that offered me the best seat in the house for Washington. The girl with the gorgeous eyes at Holden Street, remembering my birthday with a smile and a plump glass of wine. Michelle, yet another one of those arty people who simultaneously inspire and depress me with their innate ability.

And, most importantly, all the artists. Every single one of them – whether I loved your show, or thought it was worthless crapulence, I utterly admire your ability to step onto that stage and attempt to deliver your vision.

And so, to 2010… it’s time to start scheduling!

[2009103] 3xperimentia: Live Cut

3xperimentia: Live Cut

Felicity Arts @ Mercury Cinema

8:00pm, Sun 22 Mar 2009

And so it came down to this: my last show of 2009, the hundred-and-third. And, coincidentally, there just happens to be a bit of a soirée, a very convivial atmosphere, champers and nibbles in the foyer of the Mercury; lots of smiles and laughter. My geeky t-shirt attracts a like-minded fellow and, after a bit of a chat, I discover that he was involved with the programming behind the 3xperimentia production; given I had no idea what the performance was about, our conversation piqued my interest markedly.

Upon entering the Mercury, the audience members were issues a pair of 3D glasses – the polarised kind, not the red/blue. This, again, was a bit of a surprise, even though it was explicitly mentioned in the Fringe Guide; I’d completely failed to comprehend the significance of all those words. This production of 3xperimentia, as the show title suggests, is a “live” dance performed in a virtual space and projected onto the Mercury’s cinema screen in 3D (amidst pre-recorded video). And, as the performance began, we were gently introduced to the 3D effects; and they’re very convincing, leaving me wondering where the ball that I was seeing hovering above a chap in the first row was appearing for him.

Accompanied by quality live percussion, the insertion of “live” dance into the video background was… interesting. The “dance” was performed – or rather, conducted – by Amanda Phillips, using a large touch screen to control her on-screen representations. And I find this idea fascinating; in much the same way that light-synths absorb me (both to watch and also to create), the ability to create tangible engagement from within a virtual space is a premise I love chasing.

It’s just a pity that, whilst the pre-recorded dance bits were interesting, the virtual dance pieces felt a little… dull. It was alright, competently choreographed, just… not exciting.

But you know what? That’s OK – this is a new medium, and Felicity Arts are just starting to feel out this enormous performance space. Sure, there’s the odd technical issue to sort out – there was the occasional stutter in the assembled projection – but I’ll be following the evolution of this idea carefully… there’s just so much potential there.

[2009102] Supersensonics – Voyage into the Synergy of the Spheres

Supersensonics – Voyage into the Synergy of the Spheres

Sacred Resonance @ Mercury Cinema

7:00pm, Sun 22 Mar 2009

Supersensonics was another one of those shows that made the list by virtue of a personal association; in this case, the principal performer (Darren Curtis) being the nephew of a work colleague. “He’s pretty full-on,” said my mate when he mentioned the show, “and it’s bound to be pretty trippy.”

And so it was.

Putting aside lofty claims that this performance “activate[s] one’s inner mind and consciousness to… …a vision of future worlds and new paradigms”, this was – essentially – a light-and-music show. Darren Curtis performed three distinct musical pieces – a heavily treated guitar drone, a moody synth drone, and some Moog-ish phase twiddling. You might have noticed the repetitive use of “drone” there; that’s quite deliberate, because all three pieces shared common traits: no sense of progression, certainly no ascension, and all seemingly geared towards a meditative experience. And, by “meditative”, I mean “sleep-inducing”. Certainly the couple sitting behind me in the comfy Mercury Cinema nodded off, waking with a start and kneeing me in the back in doing so.

All three pieces were accompanied by visual works projected onto the Mercury’s screen; these seemed to alternate between detailed mandalas and (seemingly) computer-generated landscapes. There were some really interesting images used, too… but, since the visual slideshow was ticking over at its own sedate tempo, they were fleeting, often disappearing before one could absorb all their intricacies.

In the accompanying programme, much was made of Supersensonics‘ attempts to encourage the mind into accepting a higher state of consciousness through the use of interdimensional music… but all it really did was make me sleepy. The eye candy was inconsequential and lacked cohesion, and Curtis’ live musical performances had a lulling monotony; even the synth pieces that reminded me of Distance To Jupiter‘s slower tracks lacked the elements that make DTJ’s work so engaging. As such, this was a bit of a lacklustre show for me, but a welcome one; being able to kick back and tune out for a little while was very much appreciated.

Most fascinating, though, was the collection of people who gathered for this performance. There were maybe twenty people all up, including a hippy-ish looking couple, the stoner couple, and a collection of youngsters decked out in their finest new streetwear, caps askew – what were they doing there? And why were they emitting such enthusiasm both before and after the performance?

And what is a “choreographer of consciousness”, really?

[2009101] Adam Hills – Inflatable

Adam Hills – Inflatable

Adam Hills @ Thebarton Theatre

5:00pm, Sun 22 Mar 2009

Now – if I was feeling really lazy, I could copy’n’paste the contents of my post for the 2007 Adam Hills show in here and, apart from the duplicity of the Ali McGregor comments, no-one would notice a thing. Because Adam Hills’ 2009 show is more-or-less identical to the one I saw two years ago.

And that’s a good thing.

As I wrote back then, Hills is funny – and he’s adamant that he’s going to make people feel better, feel happier. That’s the purpose of his show’s title, he tells us: you can either focus on “inflating” people – making them feel bigger, better – or “deflating” them… and his comedy is wholly geared towards the former.

So we’re treated to tales from his Paralympics gigs, some adulation for Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee (well… he is a local boy), and a reprise of Advance Australia Fair to the tune of Working Class Man. Even his audience mark for the evening, the secretive Steve, didn’t get Hills down with his refusal to divulge the usual audience-banter-information. But, most importantly, this show also featured his Auslan interpreter – today’s funny phrases to sign were “clitoris”, “wank”, and “fuck a sponge”.

Adam Hills is still bloody funny. Long may he never change :)

[2009100] VIRUS


Aidan Kane Munn @ AC Arts (Main Theatre)

9:30pm, Sat 21 Mar 2009

I remember climbing the steep stairs at AC Arts and dropping my arse into the seat; the sense of relief was overwhelming. It no longer mattered that I was 50-odd shows behind in my blogging, because this was my hundredth show of this Fringe. One hundred. And, despite the fact that all it takes to watch a performance is to sit on your arse and keep your eyes open, it had taken its toll. I was bone-tired, but happy to be… wherever I was.

Ah yes. VIRUS. Recommended to me by a friend (though, in retrospect, I can’t really remember whether it was a recommendation or a simple “my mate’s in this” type of comment), I had my curiosity piqued by the “inspired by Japanese anime, set in a post-apocalyptic city” tag-line. But then, waiting for the show to start, staring into the depths of the AC Arts space, I suddenly realised that the elements that could be inspirational could also be tragically handled.

The opening signs were not good. Reminiscent of the Evangelion opening, repetitive music with no progression blared away whilst we watched a projected animation that was both crudely drawn and over-produced; lens-flare was everywhere. I guess this opening was intended to act as an introduction, the background to the world of VIRUS; but what it actually achieved was irritation. It felt like that opening was fifteen minutes long… fifteen minutes before we saw any dance, and in a forty-five minute performance that’s pretty nasty.

Mind you, once the two dancers appeared (he sported spiky yellow hair, she carried pink) and started performing… well, “lacklustre” is a phrase that comes to mind. There seemed to be a bit of stylistic emphasis placed on the fact that they often danced over a video projection – but that’s been done before, and most certainly done better. Needless to say, the movement parts of the programme were not my cup of tea.

And as for the animation… well, I wasn’t expecting (the early, well funded) Ergo Proxy, nor was I expecting Urashiman – but VIRUS‘ animation was far closer to the latter, and was rudimentary at best. And, given the amount of actual dance in the performance, it feels like the animation was being used as filler… which is tragic on a number of levels.

To say that I was not enamoured by VIRUS is an understatement. It had so much potential, too: anime and dance, two of my favourite things, unfortunately blended into a garishly colourful milkshake that tastes… you know… wrong.

[2009099] Rough for Theatre II

Rough for Theatre II

Go Begging / Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ Holden Street Theatres (The Studio)

7:30pm, Sat 21 Mar 2009

Apart from a cursory knowledge of Waiting for Godot, I know nothing about Samuel Beckett’s work.

And, despite having sat through Rough for Theatre II, I’m none the wiser.

A post-performance scouring of Wikipedia’s entry for the play doesn’t really help, either; well, it does help, because it spells out all the finer points of the play that I completely missed. Which was most of it.

You know, were I a professional – or even just a wannabe – critic, I’d feel pretty bloody embarrassed now; unable to comprehend the piece as it was presented, I was scurrying off to The Interwebs to read someone else’s idea of what it was all about just so that I can eventually stroke my chin, cast a deeply patronising look over my face, and feign deeper knowledge in conversation. Luckily, that’s not me at all; luckily, I can write whatever the hell I like, safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever read it, and thus I’m not exposing my blinkered ignorance and rusty interpretative skills to anyone.


As the play starts, a man stands on a windowsill with his back to us, motionless – contemplating suicide, he remains there the entire show. Two bureaucrats enter, and sit at their identical desks on either side of the man, and start discussing the worth of the man’s life.

From there, it gets a bit existential.

My initial impressions were that Sarah Dunn’s direction was fantastic – leaving The Man (Croker / C) centre-stage the entire time, quietly ominous, then placing Bertrand (A) and Morven (B) almost in the wings, causing the audience to spend much of the first half of the play flitting their eyes left and right. I later discovered that Beckett explicitly demanded that set in his script, that the symmetry is important; regardless, the mood on the stage was delicious – unsettling and ponderous – with the lighting almost entirely provided by the desk lamps on the bureaucrats tables. Kym Begg was solid as Bertrand, but Guy O’Grady’s fire and brimstone was perfect for Morven. Jon Ho… well, he’s got a nice back. And he can stand still. Really still.

I left Holden Street with no understanding as to what the fuck was going on. But, given it was only thirty minutes long, I wasn’t left stumbling in the dark for too long… and a bit of supplemental reading has me convinced that I’d love to see this play again. No, I’d love to see this production again, because – whilst I was left confused – I loved the way this performance made me feel: highbrow and impotent.

[2009098] Pie Charts & Panties

Pie Charts & Panties

Vital Organs Collective / The Lost Rung @ Holden Street Theatres (The Studio)

6:00pm, Sat 21 Mar 2009

On my last trip out to Holden Street for 2009, I was a little disappointed that the girl with the gorgeous eyes wasn’t behind the bar – I would’ve loved to have seen her again. Instead, I merely had to make do with a pair of shows back-to-back. The first show on that Holden Street double header was Pie Charts & Panties, a pair of dance pieces… wait, that sounds a little wrong. “Physical theatre” is a much better fit, because these performances were real feats of strength, as well as balance and choreography.

The first piece, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Pie-Charts, was presented by Adam Jackson and Josh Mitchell (collectively known as The Lost Rung). As the name suggests, it leverages ideas put forth in Steven R. Covey’s renowned tome, with snippets of the text (projected into the dance space) acting as themes for each piece of dance. Though, again, “dance” may not really be the right word; these were feats of strength, with power and balance pieces familiar to those who frequent the circussy acts in The Garden. The difference here, though, is that the performers started out in neat suits and, indicative of the humour that pervades the piece, the initial power-handshake led to an all-out assault. Great stuff.

The Lost Rung chaps re-appeared with Ben Leeks, Kathleen Skipp, and Emma Vaiano in the second piece. After a moody opening – a comically sultry dance, with a blonde woman perched upon a bloke’s shoulders – Frilly Knickers becomes a much more invigorating piece. It’s a more traditional dance presentation – the two girls and their frilly knickers being swung and flung between the three blokes with scary regularity, amping up to a brilliant high-energy finale. There’s laughs a-plenty here, too, especially when the blokes own the stage – pantomime-ish wary looks and the resultant flying bodies really make this stand out.

Overall, I really enjoyed Pie Charts & Panties – it was great movement, enthusiastically performed. Best of all, though, was the immediacy, the impact, that I felt sitting down the front of The Studio – hearing the performers pant with exertion, seeing sweat droplets streaking through the air. That gave the performance that extra little bit of oomph, and made it genuinely exciting.

[2009097] After the End

After the End

Daniel Clarke, Nick Pelomis, Hannah Norris @ The Bakehouse Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 21 Mar 2009

After the End seemed to have a fair bit of buzz about it, having been nominated for a Best Theatre award. There was certainly a fair few people coming into the Bakehouse this afternoon on the strength of that nomination, and the venue would’ve been maybe two-thirds full.

The first thing you notice in The Bakehouse is the set; columns of gleaming metal, ample perspex, and strip fluoro lighting lend a very clinical feel to proceedings, but it’s a bloody impressive setup for a Fringe theatrical production.

We’re then introduced to Mark and Louise, acquaintances who find themselves trapped in a nuclear shelter following an attack in London. The early scenes lay the groundwork for their interactions; He is the sensible one, trying to conserve their meagre supplies and taking a logical approach to their predicament, whereas She appears over-emotive and irrational. She handles Her distress by weeping quietly; He’s obviously attracted to her, and blessed by their situation, but she has no interest in him whatsoever.

This, of course, devolves their relationship into one of Power; Mark rapidly develops from hapless, to control-freak, to maniacal, assuming dictatorial control over their supplies and using them as reward or punishment for Louise’s behaviour. He eventually chains her up, and the inevitable rape scene leads to the complete destruction of civilities; a line is crossed. Tables eventually get turned, there are emotional breakdowns, and genuine discomfort is felt when genitals are threatened with a knife.

Performances are solid, and the direction on that luscious stage is great. But unfortunately, I suspected the (rather massive) story “twist” about ten minutes into the play… and I relished the anticipation of the reveal. But, when it came, I was utterly underwhelmed; the final scene, closing the circular exposition, was waaaaay too long. In fact, that charge could be leveled at the entire play – I reckon it could be trimmed back to a lean 45 minutes that would absolutely rock. Instead, we have a massive beast that lumbers along, occasionally sputtering some audience goodness.

[2009096] David O’Doherty – Let’s Comedy

David O’Doherty – Let’s Comedy

David O’Doherty @ Nova Cinema 2

11:30pm, Fri 20 Mar 2009

David O’Doherty was someone I’ve been meaning to see ever since I did some comedy “research” in the form of consumption of the Edinburgh and Beyond series. “Nice style,” I thought, “well worth a look.”

Unfortunately, poor planning meant that the only time I could squeeze his show in was this late show. On a Clipsal Friday Night.

Now – I really didn’t want to head over that side of town any night that the Clipsal 500 was on; but that desire was ever-so-slightly overwhelmed by the need to check O’Doherty out. And, wandering down Rundle Street past people passed out on footpaths, vomiting in gutters, and yelling incoherently in my ear as I walked past, I wasn’t really sure I’d made the right decision.

However, I made it safely into the Nova. Found a nice safe seat in amongst the three-quarters-full crowd. Then, to much yelling and applause, O’Doherty came on.

And I’d love to wax lyrical about his comedy, but I can’t, really… because this performance was dominated by the audience. In fact, O’Doherty probably only held centre-stage for half the gig. Yes, after a wonderful self-introduction from behind the curtain, there was some gentle humour, only really veering into the crude when discussing dolphin ejaculation facts; but the rest of his time was spent dealing with drunken audience shenanigans.

Every minute or two, someone was ducking out for a piss; O’Doherty made the mistake of asking the first such fleeting deserter what he was doing, and thereafter every bloke on a piss break would announce their intention. His first audience mark, nicknamed The Governor (in lieu of comprehending whatever was slurred in response to an identity query), presented O’Doherty with a Planning Institute of Australia conference satchel upon his urinary return; upping the ante, one team brought a nappy-change table that they’d nicked from the toilets. The stage rapidly became littered with crap, the crowd became more and more convinced they were part of the show, the Dublin Guy thought he was funnier than the guy on stage, and… well, it was a shamozzle.

Only when O’Doherty announced that he was going to play a song did he wrest a semblance of control back from the audience; they started yelling names of his (apparently quite popular and well-known to everybody but me) jingles out, with the Text Message Song getting an outing. Which is funny and all, but…

Ah fuck it. I know this show wasn’t the best way to determine a comedian’s worth – he was basically on a hiding-to-nothing this evening. And I suppose O’Doherty was worth a chuckle or two. And I guess he handled the audience pretty well (all things considered). But I don’t think I’ll be putting him high on my must-see list again anytime soon.

[2009095] A View of Concrete

A View of Concrete

Binka Boo Productions @ Queens Theatre (The Big Room)

9:15pm, Fri 20 Mar 2009

So I arrive at the Queens Theatre branch of the Fringe Factory half-an-hour early. I type up some notes and memories from the previous show, then start browsing the flyers sitting atop the half-barrels next to the unpatronised bar. I pick up a postcard for After the End and read “set in a nuclear shelter following a terrorist attack in London”… the words stick on a burr in my brain. The doors to The Big Room open, and as the crowd of about fifty – not bad for a Clipsal Friday night, I reckon – are let into the space, the staff warn us: “this show contains mature language, drug use, and simulations of sex.”

“No shit,” I retort in my own mind, “isn’t that what the Fringe is all about?”

I feel all smug for a moment before realising that (a) no-one else heard my comment, and (2) it’s a stupid thing to say anyway.

So A View of Concrete starts, and the jacaranda-laden opening soliloquy has me a mite confused: Jacarandas? In London? Aren’t they native to the southern hemisphere? Never mind, perhaps there’s a point to be made. Hang on, though, that lass sounds a bit ocker. I mean, she’s not even trying to get a pommie accent together.

As another three characters are introduced, I’m increasingly confused: where’s the nuclear blast? Is that room supposed to be a fallout bunker?

It’s a good five minutes into the performance before I realise that I’m not actually seeing After the End at all, that this is a different show, and that I’m clearly mixing inputs, burnt out. I suddenly feel that whirling sensation you get when you think you’re moving in one direction, but then you pass a landmark and realise you’re travelling in completely the opposite direction. Disoriented, I realise that I’m now hopelessly lost; I have no idea who these characters are, can’t remember a single thing about the premise behind this performance, and am mentally flailing.

So – why did I bother writing the above? The answer is quite simple, really; it’s because that memory, of disconcerting realisation of my own failings, is a far nicer memory than that of the performance itself.

Yes, there was the occassional nice video projection used to create texture on the perfunctory junk upon the stage. But the tale of urban alienation and self-destruction (more drug-references ahoy – it was like I never left Dead Jim behind), coupled with overly protracted shouty hysterics, felt like annoying white noise. And, as a result, I spent much of the performance hoping that this blunt message (loudly delivered, with no subtlety) would be the closing line.

And, y’know, that’s not much of a recommendation, is it?

[2009094] The Adventures of Dead Jim / This Place

The Adventures of Dead Jim / This Place

Bad Company @ The Bakehouse Theatre (Studio)

6:30pm, Fri 20 Mar 2009

Bad Company, a local company of international composition, brought me to the Bakehouse – as far east in the city as I was prepared to brave at this hour of the day. Sure, I’d be heading down Rundle Street around midnight, but hopefully at least some of the post-Clipsal bogan hordes would have dispersed by then.

The first piece of the evening, The Adventures of Dead Jim, evoked curiousity from the opening seconds: three revellers stumble into their loungue room, Jim trips – and is dead. And, for the first couple of minutes at least, there’s a few Weekend at Bernie’s-style laughs to be had, but when the play adopts a repetitive drugs are bad, mmm-kay tone, it’s snooze time… the only interruption being a massive emotion-wracked whack on the floor.

At least Jim is wonderfully un-acted; his living cohorts, Liz and Louis, are hopelessly mechanical as they take turns lamenting their mistakes – drugs, neglect, debasement – to the corpse. And that’s about as kind as I can be about this portion of the programme; it really was sub-par, going nowhere and providing little.

Luckily, the second piece in this double-header, This Place, was much better; Eliza and Olivia are two women, each afflicted by a form of madness. In essence, they are the mirror image of each other: Eliza lives in a psych ward, trapped by her physical surroundings, whilst battling inner demons, while Olivia is a successful artist, feeling internal pressure to produce her sculptures. They’re linked by Olivia’s boyfriend, Gareth, who is treating Eliza – trying to lure her out through art.

And Gareth is the driving force of the ply – he constantly belittles Olivia’s art as insignificant compared to his work, whilst encouraging Eliza to produce more scribbly pieces which he deems of critical importance. And so we come to the duality of the piece – meaning in art, art in meaning, each part being portayed by similar-looking actresses (which I guess is the point, really). In fact, as Eliza drags herself back toward sanity, and Olivia descends into madness, I almost expected the two to trade place onstage at the end of the show – though that may have been a bit too overt, and hence would’ve left a bad taste in my mouth.

I really liked This Place – it was an engaging and thoughtful piece. Dead Jim, on the other hand, was anything but. It’s odd how much contrast there was between two plays by the same company on the same bill.

[2009093] Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up

Sample Theatre @ Iris Cinema

9:00pm, Thu 19 Mar 2009

The Iris is a tiny venue – maybe twenty seats, tops – and I haven’t seen a show here in years… since 2002, to be exact. But the Iris still manages to feel full with only half-a-dozen people in the audience. Maybe it’s the claustrophobia induced by the tight entry, with a pair of birds (that is, actresses dressed as avians) standing near the entrance along with a large electric piano. One of the birds starts playing, and it’s a worryingly simple plinky-plonk tune with a hint of moroseness – but then the other bird starts singing. That voice… that voice! It’s sweet and beautiful and mournful, and it manages to set the perfect tone for the play.

A young bird, Bertie, is scared and alone, but finds a friend in the gorgeous Sloan and her flock, led by Ken the Crow. To say that Ken is mad with power is an understatement; he rules the flock with an iron fist, accepting no autonomy, and using the power of the group to keep individuals in line. Not averse to engaging in a bit of violence himself, Ken sure surprised a chap in the front row when he stabbed a small bird to death; the blood spurts showered the lad. As the (short) play progresses, Bertie and Sloan secretly plan an escape from Ken’s clutches; the result is more blood. Lots and lots of blood. Which kinda explains why there was black plastic all over the floor.

Sure, it was overtly (perhaps naïvely) political, but at least it wasn’t handled in a clumsy manner; and what’s more, there are a lot of really nice touches. As Ken delivered his soliloquy, the rest of the cast quietly clucked around the Iris, and the performance ended with the birds softly singing whilst sprinkled around the audience. And yes, it wasn’t perfect – the lighting was decidedly lo-fi and simple, but still managed to be effective – but the good well outweighed the bad.

Sunny Side Up was exactly the kind of theatre that I want to see during a Fringe.

[2009092] Mark Trenwith – Express

Mark Trenwith – Express

Mark Trenwith @ Rhino Room Downstairs

7:45pm, Thu 19 Mar 2009

Mark Trenwith is a bit of an interesting one. After having been unimpressed by his standup efforts (and only mildly amused by his video work) in 2007, he came highly recommended this year by Karen and David Hyland (you know, the couple that see tons of Fringe comedy every year). And he’s got a very Australian feel to his comedy, and his energetic enthusiasm can be infectious… the problem is that I’m not convinced he’s a very good standup comedian.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the man is funny. Or rather, he has funny ideas. The problem is that his standup delivery is a little wooden, and so he winds up leaning on pre-recorded video segments for large chunks of the show. And that’s fine – they’re all very well produced and edited, and the use of video as a medium certainly opens up a range of possibilities not available to a man onstage, armed with just a microphone. And several of the segments are brilliantly funny – the costume shop and compliment bits stand out, and the hip-hop battle is the highlight of the night (even if it was cunningly staged).

But I’m of the (old-fashioned?) opinion that a standup comedian should be… you know… a comedian first, and anything else on top of that is a bonus. Trenwith’s show is almost the opposite; it had me feeling like I was at an (admittedly entertaining) home movie night, punctuated by a mildly amusing chap trying out some average new material (there were Wii puns, for god’s sake – haven’t we got past that yet?). And there’s a clumsy attempt to wrap the show up neatly, as he wonders why we don’t express ourselves (is it repression, culture, comfort?) and then goes for the big feel-good “I love you” ending.

Things were running way late at the Rhino Room this evening, which means I’m clock-watching the entire show. It didn’t really matter in the end, though; Trenwith only had 45 minutes of material, meaning I was able to scoot across the city to the next show in plenty of time. And, to be honest, I reckon I might’ve started getting stroppy if he’d gone on much longer – because that would probably have meant another video, and that would then be taking the piss.

[2009091] Die Roten Punkte – Robot/Lion Tour

Die Roten Punkte – Robot/Lion Tour

Die Roten Punkte @ Bosco Theater

11:00pm, Wed 18 Mar 2009

This was the fifth time I’d seen Die Roten Punkte; they’re fast becoming Fringe regulars for me, despite the previous show’s letdown. And that means that I’m starting to run out of words to write about this act, as well as losing perspective on its quality – I dare say that familiarity is taking the edge off the quality of the show.

Unfortunately, this performance owes more to 2008’s gig than the fun-filled singalongs of earlier shows. There are a few standout moments, though – the extended Robot/Lion techno piece was superb, and the storming finale left me on a high.

But, while enjoyable, it’s still missing the joy that was in those earlier shows. A bit more fun and they’ll be getting my raves again; regardless, I’ll keep going to see them if they keep coming, just in case that mojo returns.

[2009090] Zack Adams: Awkward

Zack Adams: Awkward

Shane Adamczak’s alter-ego Zack Adams @ The Tuxedo Cat

9:15pm, Wed 18 Mar 2009

As my fourth consecutive show at The Tuxedo Cat this evening (and still sober), I wouldn’t have been surprised if malaise had kicked in and meant that I remained unimpressed by Zack Adams, and henceforth plonked some ordinary words on the page after moping about for weeks thinking about something to write.

Happily, though, Adams was ace.

Appearing in his black “rock” clothes & sporting his trademark scruffy beard, Adams made plenty of self-denigrating comparisons between himself and state-mate Tim Minchin; he then pushed on to stories based around his WAAPA years, relating the academy to Fame and recounting his WAAPA stalking experiences. He occasionally whips a guitar out for a bit of a song, too – his “Awkward Pause” song, in particular, was genius.

In general, though, Adams is a relatively gentle comedian – he doesn’t place himself on a pedestal, he’s audience friendly, and it’s only moments where he reveals his mannequin fetish or exposes his black thoughts in the form of cartoons (as he closes the show out) that things get a little nasty… and in that regard, the title of the show is spot-on. But, above all, he’s funny – whilst Adams lacks Minchin’s refinement at the moment, he’s got his own unique style that should polish up a treat in a year or two.

(I bumped into Shane on the way to my next show, and got to buy him a drink in the Garden whilst chatting with a circle of Fringe regulars; artists take note! I have no qualms supporting your Fringe drinking if I like your show! ;)