My Favourite Moments of ff2010…

Less than a handful of sleeps before my first show of 2011 now… The Schedule has been Shortlisted, the first batch of tickets has been bought, and I’m starting to get a bit excited about things. But I remembered a fragment of a post I wrote during the Festival Month last year, and I wanted to just put it out there…

My Favourite Moments of ff2010. The memories of that assault that I’ll never forget, for good or for ill (mostly good).

  • The closing seconds of Freefall. Oh my. I don’t reckon I’ve ever been affected like that before. It still makes me tear up in joyous recollection.
  • The murder of Macduff’s child in Vs Macbeth. Blimey. So… blunt. Heartless. Vicious. Cold. Simple.
  • The opening blast of Mahler 8. I’m pretty sure it knocked a filling out of one of my teeth.
  • The appearance of the Faecal Security Force in Le Grand Macabre. Because sometimes you just need to go to a bowel-tastic nightclub.
  • Megan Washington pulling away from the mike during her Grab Bag appearance. Absolutely mesmerising; you could’ve heard a pin drop before the cacophony of clapping started.
  • The applause for my meagre contribution to Dr. Brown Behaves. God that felt good. That must be why these people hop on stage!
  • “It’s just a box!” yelled the young lad, anxious to get Bubblewrap and Boxes moving. Patience, boy.
  • The opening of Bully. Brutal.
  • “I enter with conviction…” / “I enter tentatively…” Accompanied by forceful stamps and willowy swirls, these phrases helped make This Is A Play a hilarious highlight.
  • Taking a break in Amococo. Just because I forced myself to take a break and just sit awhile. A bit of meditation, taking photos for families… it was all good.

And one other odd thing that added a unique flair on the year: every day I walked into the city from my old North Adelaide abode, my first destination was almost always either the Fringe Office on Hindley Street, or the FringeTIX office next to the Palace. In both cases, the first seven tracks of St. Vincent’s album Actor were the perfect fit for the travel. Close the front door to the opening choral strains of The Strangers; arrive at my destination as Marrow blusters to its conclusion. I love those seven songs, I really do – and they fact that they seemed to fit my life so perfectly for that month was almost unbelievable. Go on, give that album a bash – here’s an iTunes link.

ff2010 Wrap

And so, with just over six days until my first Fringe show of 2011, I finish writing up the shows from 2010.

117 unique shows in all – 104 Fringe, 13 Festival – and I saw 3 Fringe shows twice each. On top of that, I managed to get along to a whole stack of Visual Arts displays under each umbrella (at least 30 Fringe pieces, plus the Biennial and the EAF / Samstag pieces from the Festival)…

…and, best of all, I managed to blag my way into the Fringe Awards on the last Sunday night of the Festival.

And that was awesome.

A great night – much more polished than I would have imagined! – with great people… it was wonderful hobnobbing with a lot of artists I adore, old and new friends alike; and just being there for the event, for the reactions.

Let’s recap the awards… winners in bold italics!

BankSA People’s Choice Award
Operation Mincemeat
Scaramouche Jones
Words They Make with their Mouths

Adelaide Festival Centre inSPACE:development Award
Nikki Aitken Presents
Too Far Again, Not Far Enough

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Fringe Venue Operation
Arcade Lane
Garden of Unearthly Delights
Higher Ground
The Birdcage
The Stables
Tuxedo Cat

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Puppetry
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
Sarkadi’s Budapest Marionettes
Sticks Stones Broken Bones
The Grimstones – Hatched

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Dance
Foxing Round a Story
Sketches of Blood
Too Far Again, Not Far Enough

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Circus
And the Little One Said
Controlled Falling Project
Dos or Duo

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Cabaret
Die Roten Punkte – Rock!
In Search of Atlantis
Nikki Aitken Presents
The Wau Wau Sisters’ Last Supper
When The Sex Is Gone
Where Was I?

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Music
C. W. Stoneking
Josh Bennett
Katie Noonan
The Adelaide Sax Pack Does the Eighties, Nineties and Naughties

Eran Svigos Award for Best Body of Work By An Individual
Sarah Beetson (“YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU EAT: Eating Disorders In Fashion”)
Violet Cooper (The Cars That Ate Screamdance)
Emma Hack (Exotic & Native Mandala with Broadhurst Delights)
Julie Millowick (Close to Home)
Todd Romanowycz (Romy Art)
Ryan Sims (Mechanical Workshop)

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Exhibition By A Collective
2010 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition
2010 Heysen Sculpture Biennial B5
Format Festival
Invisible Red Threads
Knitting Nancy
Palmer Sculpture Biennial 2010
Quiet Reader
Shapeshifter: City/Adelaide

BankSA Support Act Award
Foxing Round A Story
Nick Parnell – Bach to Brazil
Shapeshifter: City/Adelaide
Vigilantelope Presents Tale of the Golden Lease
When The Sex Is Gone

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Emerging Comedian
Granny Flaps – Opens Up
The Golden Phung
The List Operators

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Established Comedian
Adam Hills – Mess Around
David O’Doherty – David O’Doh-party
Ivan Brackenbury’s Hospital Radio Roadshow
Hannah Gadsby – The Cliff Young Shuffle
Stevl Shefn and his Translator Fatima

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Theatre Production
a tiny chorus
en route
Heroin(e) for Breakfast
The Event

Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Theatre Performer
David Calvitto (The Event)
Eryn Jean Norvill (a tiny chorus)
Hayley Shillito (Heroin(e) for Breakfast)
Emily Tomlins (a tiny chorus)

Now, there’s a whole heap of winners in that lot that I didn’t see… but I want to dance about, singing the praises of a couple in particular. Steve Sheehan picking up best established comedian was fantastic, and I couldn’t be happier that Alvin Sputnik got some recognition… but I was totally ecstatic for the Freefall guys (only a couple of which could attend the Awards ceremony because of age restrictions!). I feel blessed to have been able to congratulate and chat with them just after picking up the Award, though they were more startled than thankful for my praise-singing; understandable enough, I think, given the way I launched myself at them.

In the post-Fringe malaise that usually engulfs me, I tool solace in the reading of all the stuff I should have been reading during the event. And there was some interesting stuff in the media; but one snippet, in particular, caught my eye. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve had to applaud Justin Hamilton for his comments in the Messenger (City North Messenger, 24 Feb 2010)…

“I feel the Garden, having so much of an emphasis now, has maybe stopped theatrical pieces from finding a footing,” he says.

“Of course part of the Fringe is hanging out, but there is this ongoing battle to find suitable venues to create a hub.”

Of course, like the rest of his act, Hammo could well have nicked that comment from someone else (oooh, snide!)… but I have to give him props for voicing those words in an interview. Because, with the forced closure of the wonderful Rooftop Bar at the Tuxedo Cat, we’re seeing a spreading of venues across the city now, with less of an emphasis on Rundle Street; sure, Gluttony is setting up camp a mere minute’s walk from my new abode, but I’d hate to think that the Fringe will become further marginalised in the minds of people to The End Of Rundle. There’s a ton of venues out there, old and new, that deserve our patronage: I’ve already peeked inside the new TuxCat, and it looks fantastic; across the road, Weslo are setting up shop in the Adelaide Town Hall, so that little part of King William Street will hopefully become a buzzing hub. And let’s not forget Guy Masterson’s Centre for International Theatre at Higher Ground, which is near the Nexus… there’s lots of little hives of activity springing up, covering theatre and cabaret and comedy alike, all over town… not just near the Garden. So let’s give these venues a chance, shall we?

Worrying semi-rant over… I’ve got some scheduling to do, and I hope you’re all ploughing through the ‘Guide too (I’ve seen two quotes from this blog so far!). I hope to see you all out and about in the next month-and-a-half; happy Fringe 2011!

[2010117] The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury

Elevator Repair Service @ Dunstan Playhouse

6:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2010

I slump into my seat. “This is it,” I think, “my final show.” I’m tired, but I’m here – all I have to do is remain cogniscient for another two-and-a-half hours.

That was much, much easier said than done.

I read the playbill while waiting for the performance to start – and I realise that I’m in trouble. Representing the opening chapter of William Faulkner‘s book, The Sound and the Fury is seen from the point of view of Benjy Compson – a childlike, mentally-retarded 33-year-old who cannot communicate through speech, and who is unable to differentiate between past and present events; they’re all jumbled up in his mind. The chapter – and in this case, the play – is a quagmire of chronologically-mixed memories triggered by one present-day event, as the Compson family (Benjy is the youngest of four children) and their periphery (their neighbours, hired help, and miscellaneous other characters) are laid bare by Benjy’s time-insensitive interpretation.

Now – my brain just about popped a gasket just writing that.

So I’m sitting in the darkened Playhouse, trying to follow the progression of the play… it’s too much. I’m utterly confused, and sleep has a vice-like grip on my eyelids. I give in, letting myself have a quick doze; when I open my eyes again, my head is clearer… but I’m still none-the-wiser.

There’s a lot of fourth-wall breaking going on; actors would deliver their lines, then turn to the audience and reference their character: “…Quentin said.” Initially, I thought this was merely stylistically amusing; soon, however, I realise that it is absolutely essential. Because, as Benjy’s memories flit from present to multiple pasts, so too do the actors flit from character to character; at one stage, Benjy and his Father walk offstage to the left, and immediate back onstage from the right, with different actors in a different time, years earlier.

And that, my friends, is a massive headfuck.

The flipside is that, when you manage to string one, two, or even five minutes of comprehension together, it’s a massively satisfying experience. That’s one of the things that I really like in a production: the concession by the artist to let the audience figure it out for themselves. Sure, that may be a bit too much work for some people (and I, for one, wished that I had at least read the book before seeing this show), but the payoff – as an audience member – is immense.

Massive kudos to the cast, too, capably bouncing between characters and accents in what must have been an insanely difficult play to direct. Their manner was wonderful when a large table, almost the centrepiece of the stage, fell to pieces in the middle of the performance; they carried on regardless until one realised that they would not be able to perform a later movement, then they quietly excused themselves and took a ten minute break while stagehands fixed the problem. The cast returned to the stage without fanfare, the lights dropped, and bang – back into the action.

The Sound and the Fury was, in a way, both the best and worst show with which to end my 2010 Festival Freakdom. It was possibly the most intense show I saw all month, delivered at a time when I was least able to comprehend it properly. But the bits I did glean were oh-so-good.

[2010116] Death Conversation with Himalayan Cultural Eve

Death Conversation with Himalayan Cultural Eve

M. Art Theatre @ The Garage International

4:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2010

Normally, I’m wary of productions associated with Shakti’s Garage International venue; that’s a little unfair, I know, but I’ve been to one-too-many shows where Shakti herself has featured in the production. And her style of eye-fluttering dance just doesn’t gel with me, so I figure it’s appropriate to just not take the risk.

But dance from Nepal? That just sounds too interesting to pass up. And, as I wander into the North Adelaide Community Centre, I’m thankful to see Shakti only handling tickets on the door.

Now – in conjunction with knowing nothing about dance, I know bugger all about Nepal. So as the performance begins (in front of a pretty good crowd of about thirty, on this sticky Sunday afternoon), I’m curious to see what the fundamentals of Nepali dance are. And the first piece had a solo female dancer, clad in robes of muted colour, dancing with a passionless, almost disinterested, facial expression. There’s a lot of emphasis on the hands, though; it became clear that hand movements were of grave importance. The piece livened up with some smooth spinning, but that managed to disorient her somewhat, and she bumped into a separator as she attempted to spin off the stage.

Oh dear, I thought. Not a great start.

The second piece was much more enjoyable; a mixed gender group, it’s all very bright and lively. This leads into the core of the performance, the Death Conversation play, which sees Pushpa in military custody and facing torture as he is interrogated. Different dances are sparked by his memories of happier times – of family, of his people – and by his observation of the world he lives in now, full of anger and mistrust and violence. In the end, he chooses to face Death, rather than let go of the happier times…

All this is, of course, a reflection of the People’s War – not something to be taken lightly. Which makes the lackadaisical stage production feel all the more disappointing; there’s people wandering backstage at random intervals, and the offstage narrator (who really should have been onstage) was hesitant and seemingly unprepared.

But on the plus side, the two principles – Subash Thapa’s pivotal Pushpa, and the dreamlike Shaman of Birendra Bahadur Hamal – were fantastic, each providing strength to their respective pieces (even if the Shaman did appear too keen to bang his drum). They, alone, were enough to carry this performance, which proved to be an interesting excursion into areas I’d not experienced before.

[2010115] The Sociable Plover

The Sociable Plover

Guy Masterson & Ronnie Toms @ Higher Ground – Theatre

9:30pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

“It’s just started,” said whoever was on the door as I ran in… I’d forewarned them of the possibility of my lateness. Trying to soften my footfalls as I quickly crept around the walkways leading into the Theatre space, I took a seat in the front row at the back section. As I slump into the chair, amazed that I’ve made it in to the show with a vague semblance of punctuality, I almost drown in the tranquility of The Sociable Plover – Guy Masterson is sitting in a small bird-watching hut onstage, peering outwards through binoculars, gently nibbling at a sandwich. There’s soft sounds of birdlife in the background.

So… peaceful.

My heart slows down a little; my senses pick up. It suddenly hits me that I know nothing about The Sociable Plover (least of all the meaning behind the curious name), other than Guy had insisted that, of all the shows he was presenting at Higher Ground this year, this was the one I would like the most. And for awhile, I was puzzled by Guy’s comment; I know nothing about birdwatching (other than the fact that enthusiasts tend to exhibit a level of passionate OCD that I’m most certainly familiar with from my other hobby), so the quiet opening – though most certainly peaceful – took me a bit by surprise. Or anti-surprise, if you like.

It wasn’t until the sudden arrival of Ronnie Toms’ character Dave that things pick up; and then the conflict between the two, the mental manoeuvring, the jousting between the brawn and the brain begins. Neither character is particularly likeable – Dave is brash and uncouth and on the run, Masterson’s Roy is obsessively pedantic – but there’s traits in both that are immediately identifiable. It’s hard to pick a side here, and as they get to know each other fascinating little diversions occur. There’s a couple of twists, and the ending seems perfect.

It’s all wonderfully acted and – as with all the shows at Higher Ground this year – beautifully produced; the set is magnificent, full of wonderful detail. But the surprising thing was that The Sociable Plover is funny, as well as being dramatic; it really is a wonderful script, satisfying on many levels. Great stuff.

[2010114] Mahler 8: Symphony of a Thousand

Mahler 8: Symphony of a Thousand

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (cond. Arvo Volmer) and the Adelaide Festival Chorus @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre

8:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

(Be warned: this one’s going to be a bit sentimental. And, if the sentimentality works for you, then you’ll hate the ending.)

My Dad… well, he’s getting on a bit. And, whilst I didn’t really felt like I got on that well with him when I was a kid, I’m cherishing the stuff that we share now – even if it’s an argument over the validity of modern music (or, as he likes to call it, “howler monkeys”) or political inclinations (he’s paid his taxes, so he’s conservative now). And, back in 2009, I noticed that the State Opera Company were putting on a production of The Flying Dutchman – so I bought us tickets and insisted he come down from our familial home in the Mid-North to attend.

Now – my Dad is a proud Australian… but he emigrated from Germany in his early twenties. And, as a German, he has some fundamental passion for Wagner in his blood – it runs deeper than anything I could possibly fathom. It almost appears to be a blind loyalty at times; Dad used to make the pilgrimage to Adelaide any time The Ring was on with one of his old German friends (now, sadly, passed away), and they would drink deeply from each cycle of The Ring and recharge their – I don’t know, their German-ness? – whether it be a “good” production or “bad”. I remember talking to Dad after one particular production, where he lamented that an angst-ridden river of blood was presented using a single red handkerchief fluttering to the stage floor… he loved the story (as always), gleaned his dose of Wagner from it, but hated the show.


The Flying Dutchman was a delight. Of course, Dad grumped about the use of lasers and such (which I thought was quite clever), but he was genuinely moved by it. As I shuffled him into a cab to head back to our friend’s place where he was staying, he was genuinely red-eyed… and thankful. It was a really moving moment, I thought, which we celebrated by saying nothing.

Moving on…

The Festival’s flagship production of Mahler 8 was pre-announced very early; some months before the Festival Programme was released, if I recall correctly. There had been a few little hints of things prior to the announcement – Friends of the Festival were invited to dress in black and attend a publicity photo-shoot involving Paul Grabowsky and the ASO much earlier in 2009 (I’m way down the back, somewhere in the middle). Tickets went on sale very early for Mahler 8; I, of course, chose to leave my ticket purchases until the last possible moment. So, I rang Dad: “Dad – the Festival is doing some Mahler with the ASO. It’s performed once in a blue moon. Make plans to come to Adelaide.”

We wound up getting B-Reserve tickets – it was the best I could manage at such late notice. Way up high on the right-hand side. We got there in plenty of time – with his arthritis and artificial hip, I wanted to take things slowly, not put any pressure on him. Programme in hand, we get to our seats… and the view is tremendous. The “stage” is massive, supporting not only the ASO (and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra) but also the Festival Chorus, which numbered a lazy four hundred. Give or take.

And when conductor Arvo Volmer briskly took to his podium (to appreciative applause, naturally) and lifted his baton, there was a slight pause… and then a wall of noise.

The chorus, alone, created a formidable soundwave; the orchestras merely provided texture beneath. It was, truly, a spectacular moment for the ears… even Dad, with his dodgy hearing, felt it.

As for the rest of Mahler 8… well, I don’t know what to say. I remember looking from my perch upon the sea of people performing this music, and not knowing what to think. I was undoubtedly tired; I sat back and closed my eyes and let the sound wash over me and tried to figure out how to comprehend it, how to understand it, but soon realised that I couldn’t. So I just opened my ears and my head and tried to absorb it. And then, when it was over, I – along with the rest of the Entertainment Centre – applauded long and hard.

The pace picked up a bit as we left – there was a chance I could make a 9:30pm show in town. We scooted as quickly as Dad could hobble to the defined pickup point, and my brother arrived on cue for the first time I can remember. We tried to talk about the performance as he drove, but both Dad and I struggled to get any meaningful words out… and the few times we did get on a roll, my nephew interrupted to talk about Pokémon.

As I jumped out of the car and ran to my next show, I knew there was a squillion-and-one things I wanted to talk to Dad about… but they had to wait until the next week, for our usual catch-up phone call. But it wasn’t quite the same; I couldn’t see the happiness in his eyes.

But I could hear it in his voice.

[2010113] Vital Organs Collective

Vital Organs Collective

Vital Organs Collective @ The Birdcage

5:30pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

A fun – but useless – fact: Vital Organs Collective were responsible for the sixth-to-last show I saw in 2009, and the fifth-to-last show of 2010. I loved Pie Charts & Panties, so when I saw Vital Organs Collective’s name in the 2010 Guide, I had pencilled them in straight away (for my birthday, no less).

Alas, Thirsty Events (where Le Rox used to be – showing my age, there) seemed to disappear without a trace; but Vital Organs managed to scrounge together some times over at The Birdcage, including this early-evening show… their last before returning home to Melbourne.

And it’s somewhat similar in structure to their previous outing: a series of six short pieces, separated by some short, occasionally physical vignettes, allowing performers to catch their breath and prepare for the next longer piece. The performances themselves are a wonderful hybrid of dance and circus-style skills; a curious balance of elegance and brute strength. And that works remarkably well, with the option to either gape at the lifts and holds, or remain mesmerised by the synched twirls and kicks.

With the six performers (three women and three men, two of whom constituted the group-within-a-group of The Lost Rung) were clad in black, with splashes of red on the female ankles and male waists. Creative choreography and great music really helped amp up the excitement throughout the performance, and the last two pieces – Cubic and Velocipede – were a whirlwind of rolls and flung limbs.

Sure, there were a few issues – some of the interludes staggered along, rather than smoothly transitioned, and sometimes the planned bouncing and leaping seemed a little too much for the performer’s limbs to be actually able to manage – but the Vital Organs Collective managed to bring physical and exciting dance to the table. On the strength of that alone, they’ll remain on The Shortlist for years to come.

[2010112] My Name Is Rachel Corrie

My Name Is Rachel Corrie

Daniel Clarke & Hannah Norris @ AC Arts – X Space

2:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2010

To say that this show had garnered the lion’s share of the word-of-mouth buzz around town would be an understatement; just about every theatre-goer, Fringe-centric or not, would drop Rachel Corrie into conversation. The disconcerting thing for me, who scheduled this last-Saturday-of-the-Fringe matinee in early, was that the general tone accompanying those mentions was very variable. Some people would bring it up with the glistening eyes of the true believer; others would tilt their heads forward just a little, and look at you through the guarded corners of their eyes – like they were participating in The Great Betrayal.

So I was a little apprehensive walking into the X Space. I took a seat at the top of the stairs, right next to the chap operating a video camera; it was a great view of the stage, littered with cardboard boxes, and the crowd – a reasonable group of forty or fifty for a lazy Saturday matinée.

As soon as the performance starts, you can acknowledge the production values are first-rate; Hannah Norris is polished as the titular Rachel Corrie, and her performance was extremely accomplished. Daniel Clarke’s direction, too, is stunning; Norris’ blocking is divine, and her constant rearrangement of the cardboard boxes to provide just-in-time projection surfaces for stars, videos, or trigger words was brilliantly arranged. The projections themselves were wonderfully done, too, along with the lighting in general.

The big problem, though, is the content.

The forty-five minutes that constituted the “background” of Rachel Corrie (stories of her parents, her friends, her schooling, all attempting to underline the “artistic sensibilities” of the woman) were tedious, fragmented, and… well, horrible to watch. And it’s not until she builds the cardboard boxes into a giant wall, which subsequently tumbles down (accompanying her arrival in Gaza) that it becomes mildly interesting. There’s still constant references back to her parents that ruin the pacing, and one flashback (to Todd?) is inexplicable in its inclusion. There seems to be a deliberate over-emphasis on portraying Corrie as a naïve, well-intentioned innocent; and there’s masses of cheap, emotive monologue that verges on the preachy – and I hate being preached to.

Note that I’m not railing against the message – just the way it’s been embedded into this stodge. Because, technical excellence notwithstanding, My Name Is Rachel Corrie annoyed me from the get-go; I was clock-watching after thirty minutes, and thereafter begging for it to end.

[2010111] Eddie Ifft: Things I Shouldn’t Have Said

Eddie Ifft: Things I Shouldn’t Have Said

Eddie Ifft @ Mercury Cinema

9:30pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to catch Eddie Ifft in ensemble shows three times; and each time, his crude humour and uncompromising attack has left me impressed. So when the opportunity to see him perform a full hour set came along, I jumped at the chance.

And, unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much difference between short-form Eddie Ifft and long-form Eddie Ifft.

And that’s just fine by me. He’s still got a very casual manner on stage, which nicely contrasts with some of the depravity that comes forth from his mouth; challenges and apologetic shrugs are issued equally to the audience. Besides the almost-expected bad-taste (but guiltily funny) forays into rape and kiddy-fiddling, the other choice takeaways from his set this evening involved the Sex Offender app for the iPhone, his drunk airline pilot bit, and a story about his dog and a condom. And his segment on names in strip-clubs is priceless.

So – Eddie Ifft. Crude, confrontational, friendly, bloody funny. That may sound a little contradictory, but it’s not.

Afterwards, Eddie hung out in the foyer of the Mercury, selling his CD. Knowing full well that this is the big revenue maker for many artists, I snaffled one; I mentioned the first time I’d seen Ifft (where some woman in the audience had heckled him with a serious political question), hoping he’d smile with recognition at the incident. Instead, all I saw were crazed get-this-guy-away-from-me eyes.

[2010110] Andrew O’Neill: Occult Comedian

Andrew O’Neill: Occult Comedian

Andrew O’Neill @ Mercury Cinema

8:15pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

Striding into the Mercury Cinema and prowling from side-to-side at seat level (no elevated joke-telling from this chap), Andrew O’Neill whips the crowd into a left-side / right-side chanting competition, before turning on us – “that’s how racism starts.” Sure, it’s a gag I’d seen him use before, but it’s still bloody funny – and was remarkably effective at getting the small-ish crowd (maybe thirty peeps?) on-side.

With a fetching skirt and his usual lipstick (though stressing that he was still a raging heterosexual), O’Neill also did his “stuff that gets shouted at him as a tranny” bit – again, familiar… but again, still brilliant. And them he got into the core of his show – the “occult” bit. O’Neill contends that all comedy is occult – after all, it’s an attempt to change reality with words alone. And that may be a bit of a stretch, but you know what? It was still an entertaining premise that he satisfyingly fleshed out.

One really brilliant sidetrack that O’Neill went on involved heavy metal. He professed his love of the genre, and went to great lengths describing the various definitions and sub-genres of metal… his passion was immediately evident, and the humour that he brought to the subject was fantastic. This was pretty much what I’d expected from Steve Hughes, so to get it from the guy with the skirt and the pretty glasses instead was chuckle-worthy in itself.

Look – nothing I write here can possibly describe this gig sufficiently. All I can say is that Andrew O’Neill projected real character onstage; he wasn’t just some guy telling jokes, he was a real person who you’d happily shout a beer and chat with at the pub. He just happens to wear makeup and a skirt and be fucking funny.

[2010109] Faceless : Dead & Desirable

Faceless : Dead & Desirable

Unreasonable Films @ Experimental Art Foundation

7:00pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010

I’ve been to see some stuff in the EAF before; in most Festival years (including this one!) there’s usually a part of an art exhibition in there. But when I walked into the bookshop that cunningly lies between the entrance and the gallery, I discovered a couple of dozen chairs set up in the bookshop itself; a woman took my ticket and gestured me towards the seats.

I park my arse and look forward; there’s a medium-sized TV screen flickering static, and a masked chap standing beside it holding a laptop, the empty black screen facing us. Only his eyes are visible, and they point forward dispassionately.

After a minute or so I feel decidedly creeped out, and I begin to lament my early arrival.

I begin to read the text on the sheet of paper I was handed on entry; it’s a rambling treatise on the lack of private spaces in this age of social networks, written by Fiona Sprott. It manages to be both academic in tone and alarmist, all whilst raising some interesting points… but by the time I’ve finished reading it, another half-dozen people have trickled in, and the overhead lights are suddenly switched off, leaving us illuminated by the flickering static on the TV screen.

The performance proper begins. The TV plays a series of scenes that are almost voyeuristic in nature, broken up by more static; the laptop begins to display pointed messages in bold fonts. There’s unsettling electronic music in the background, and the masked laptop holder continues standing there… unmoving, failing to break the forward stare. The laptop-displayed text is, of course, the meat of the performance; first- and third-person accounts of cyber-assault, with some recollections having horrific physical outcomes – stalkings, rape, murder.

Now, a lot of the ideas thrown around by Faceless aren’t exactly new; if you’ve been socially interactive on the Internet at all, you’ve probably been subject to some of the behaviour discussed… or know someone who has. But the cold, clinical manner of the delivery – the anonymous staring man, the crisp clean lettering of the laptop, the pale blue light of the incessant TV static – gives the message an almost otherworldly feel… as I mentioned before, it feels voyeuristic, especially combined with the TV images awash with static. The physical ramifications mentioned thus feel like a distant inevitability; and that, when you realise you’re thinking it, is shocking.

Performances like this are why I love the Fringe. Faceless takes a serious topic and presents it in an unusual way – giving the audience the chance to make of it what they will. I approached the subject matter with a know-it-all’s disdain, and was seriously slapped by the delivery of Faceless – and I love it for being able to do that. This was a deeply profound performance.

[2010108] Carl-Einar Häckner is Big In Sweden

Carl-Einar Häckner is Big In Sweden

Carl-Einar Häckner @ Le Cascadeur

11:45pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

As we file into Le Cascadeur, it’s obvious the stage is just littered with shit. Bits of paper, tatty boxes, cheap plastic toys, crusty tables… there’s junk everywhere.

And then this blonde Swedish chap strides onstage, accidentally headbutts his microphone, and stammers something vaguely apologetic in broken English. He cracks a few weak jokes about Ikea, attempts a lame magic trick with a banana (which he just winds up eating), snorts softly at his own jokes, and headbutts the microphone again.

We’re laughing, though. Oh god, are we laughing.

Häckner picks up a guitar and starts strumming a song for us; the instrument shatters after a few strums and he looks at us forlornly, before breaking into a big goofy grin. A few more lame jokes, a bit of singing, leveraging the accent for comedy value; a bit more chuckling into the mike. It’s all so silly, and we can’t stop laughing.

But suddenly, all the magic comes good. There’s an awesome ace-of-spades card trick that appears from nowhere that catches us off-guard; it’s a great trick, and amongst all the laughter it’s a real surprise. And then there’s a rabbit-in-the-hat trick that goes awfully wrong – the rabbits are burnt to a crisp – and I’m completely sold; gasping from laughter, I’m barely capable of comprehending the tricks that he appears to accidentally be pulling off.

In fact, the flattest part of the entire performance was when Häckner continually queried Irene with “do you see yourself?”, upon which she refused to be drawn… but even that was still amusing.

In short – Carl-Einar Häckner was a revelation. Equal parts silly humour, ridiculous props, and gob-smacking magic, his show was a magnificent mess that managed to entertain far beyond expectations.

[2010107] Bird in the Gilded Cage

Bird in the Gilded Cage

Pieta Farrell @ The Birdcage

10:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

Look, I’ll be dead honest here. I’m typing this on the first day of February, 2011, around 326 days after seeing this performance. And, aside from a handful of notes about this performance, I cannot remember a thing about it.

Now – normally this is not the case. Usually, my notes act as prompts for more memories to come forth; I start expanding on one note, and the memories come flooding back, allowing me to revisit the performance in question and write some more. I like doing things like that (though usually in a more timely manner); it’s like I get to experience bits of the show twice.

Not this time, though. Let’s see what we can manage, though.

Pieta Farrell – Madam P in the performer’s circle – reminds me of Moira Finucane’s Victoriana (from 2006’s The Burlesque Hour); white-faced, almost ghostly, and dressed like a stiff widow. She’s accompanied by a violinist (who, I do recall, was pretty bloody good), along with a few loops and pedals to dirty up the musical backdrop. There’s a very burlesque semi-strip and dance, a lot of clambering and somersaulting and swinging around a suspended birdcage, and a coin-operated boy.

See all that? That was basically my notes thrown together.

But there is another little note that sparked a recollection: there was a lull in proceedings, presumably whilst a costume change was taking place. The violinist strikes up a tune; in the absence of anyone else, we focus on her. The lull carries on, the music is mesmerising… when suddenly, a character comes screaming into the space, jolting the audience like we’d been slapped.

But that’s it; that’s all I’ve got.

Look, I’m sorry this isn’t more detailed; it’s not because Bird in the Gilded Cage was a bad show, by any means (otherwise I would’ve remembered it clearly. I’m masochistic like that). But nothing stuck, and my notes didn’t spark like they usually do. Sorry.

[2010106] Good Morning Mister Gershwin

Good Morning Mister Gershwin

Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

There’s oodles of empty seats in the stalls at Festival Theatre; but I’m buoyed by the massive video screen at the back of the stage. “Warning – this performance contains nudity” it proclaims.

Blimey, I thought. French dance, Gershwin tunes, and nudity? Jackpot.

And, as Good Morning Mister Gershwin begins, you pretty quickly realise why that warning was there; because the opening couple of minutes consisted of video of the dancers swimming in the buff. There’s the odd plastic smile there, too, but it comes across as anything but sexy. Peaceful, maybe.

And then the live performance begins – and initially it’s fantastic. It’s hitting all the right notes for me – very dynamic, limbs seeming being flung around with abandon, but a remarkable level of control being used. It’s colourful and exciting…

…but something’s not quite right. There seems to be a real distance between the movement and the music; sure, there may be a really well-performed robot dance on display, but there’s seemingly no connection to Gershwin’s jaunty tune that burbles along behind it. And, for the most part, the video screen was used as a distracting background; but then there was a fifteen minute piece focussed on the civil rights movement. Was that a video of Rodney King being beaten in the background?

Contrast that with the brilliantly funny gargling skit. Or the larger lass with the eclair and pink ball. Again – there’s some magnificent flexibility and balance and strength on display by the men in the Compagnie, and the short blonde woman was an amazing singer. And the tap bits were pretty slick, too. But the vast discrepancies in mood, coupled with the musical selections that, at times, seemed to heighten the contrast, just made this a frustrating experience.

Look – this was very entertaining… for the first fifty minutes. Once the videos of heaving oceans and civil rights protests and boat people appeared, the dance itself slowed to a torpor. And that’s a massive shame, because the opening promised so much goodness.

[2010105] Austen Found – The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

Austen Found – The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen

ConArtists @ Higher Ground – Studio

6:15pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

It’s kind of tricky to find Higher Ground’s Studio; head over to AC Arts, meet someone at one of the not-exactly-signposted elevators, and you’re escorted up the lift, around several corners, down a bunch of corridors. Bloody hell, that labyrinth’ll thin the crowds out, I thought.

Wrong. The room was packed. Sixty, seventy people, maybe? More? Whatever – I’m stunned. I haven’t heard a lot of buzz around this show, so I’m genuinely amazed to see this many people here… and they were keen. Bubbling with anticipation. Mostly older women, too, though I realise I risk a massive kick in the bollocks for saying such a thing.

ConArtists comprised of four women, all clad in their Austen-ish best, including the delightful Penny Ashton, who acted as an emcee for the show, directing the other three women and the audience, as appropriate. First port of call: the democratically selected name of our lost-Austen, which our selected as “Pride and Perfection”. Then came the derivation of our Austen-name (I was Harry Tobybottom). And then came the performance of Pride and Perfection itself, with the four women filling the principle roles of Felicity, Amiable, Countenance, and Dozy (and their male interests, ably played with a simple costume change).

Now – what I didn’t realise was that Austen Found would be almost entirely ad-libbed.

And you know what? It was pretty bloody funny. In fact, the only thing that felt rehearsed was the YMCA signage during the inevitable ballroom dance sequence.

The ad-libbed songs, in particular, were absolutely brilliant – but I don’t want to take away from any other aspect of the performance. Because these ladies were bloody quick on their feet, knew their subject matter inside out, and had a real feel for what makes Austen Austen… and also what makes us laugh.

Was Austen Found the comedic highlight of the Fringe? Oh no. But it was a romping guffaw or twenty, all wrapped up with charm and grace.