[2013156] Of Dysentery and Madness: A Trapper’s Tale

[2013156] Of Dysentery and Madness: A Trapper’s Tale

Tiprat Theatre @ The Tuxedo Cat – Green Room

7:15pm, Sun 17 Mar 2013

As my arse thuds into the familiar Green Room seats one last time, I clearly remember feeling a sense of relief. This is it, I tell myself: the last show of the year. The last time you have to make your brain sponge-like so you can write stuff about it (much, much) later. But also the last time (for a month or two) that you’ll see someone Create in front of you… and that’s a little bit sad.

I’m here because of Will Greenway, one half of The Lounge Room Confabulators: I’ll happily see anything those lads are in. And this tale that he has written is, as with the Confabulators, charmingly absurd… and tinged with sadness.

Trapper is in the Antarctic; the rest of his party (Vic and Jemima) have disappeared. Isolated in his snow-swept hut, he drifts in and out of consciousness; he has visions of Vic and Jemima returning, but he also has repeat visitors to his mind… most notably, Caryn the Penguin.

Flip-flopping between Trapper’s tenuous mental states, Of Dysentery and Madness is a thoroughly odd experience: Trapper may physically torture himself, then flashback to a chat with Vic and Jemima, they’ll sing a quiet folky song, then Caryn will appear and mock Trapper. It’s all remarkably gentle and charming… and confusing. But in a good way.

I leave with a smile on my face… sure, some of that comes from the sense of relief, now tangibly physical. But a lot of it is because Of Dysentery and Madness was genuinely entertaining: quirky, funny, and engaging. A great book-end for the year.

[2013154] Water Child

[2013154] Water Child

Newcastle Theatre Company @ Nexus Cabaret

2:00pm, Sun 17 Mar 2013

Despite my advancing years, I’ve never felt the need to procreate – the idea of having children hasn’t really tickled me for a couple of decades now. But I’m not naïve enough to discount the fact that I may actually change my mind on that in the future… so the promise of a play that discusses procreation and fertility in more mature couple lures me to Water Child.

The problem is that it was incredibly difficult to sympathise with any of the characters on display.

Jeannie and husband Mark open the play just prior to her twelve-week ultrasound; bridging their forties, the couple have experienced multiple miscarriages at the eight-week mark previously, so there’s a cautious optimism heading into the checkup. The test reveals bad news, however, causing Jeannie to sink into tearful sadness, whilst Mark over-drowns his sorrows at the pub.

But then Jeannie’s mother (Denise) and sister (Katie) enter the mix. Denise’s rip-off-the-bandaid approach to overcoming grief feels ludicrously cruel, and Katie’s self-centred proselytising (from her experience as a mother-of-three) is brash and obscene. Mark’s obsession over his desire to have children makes him appear like a complete fucking wanker, especially when Jeannie starts contemplating that the physical and emotional stress over their failed pregnancies may have taken their toll.

In fact, the only character that I even vaguely liked is Jeannie’s friend Angela… but I’m not convinced that it was because I could identify with her lack of interest in children. She’s simply the least reprehensible person on the stage; the only character for whom dialogue rings true, and traits appear multidimensional. Jeannie has her moments of contrast – she gets some wonderfully glib one-liners, and she lights up with biting anger when Mark becomes a selfish arsehole – but much of the play (understandably) sees her wallowing around in grief.

Water Child (the title comes from mizuko, the Japanese term for a dead – typically miscarried or stillborn – foetus) was painful. Approaching two hours in length, it wallowed in misery with characters that didn’t do anything but become more and more unlikeable… and, hence, unidentifiable. I can understand (in theory, anyway) the grief that dominates the lives of the principle couple, but that’s about all; with the aforementioned exception of Angela, every other character was completely foreign to me.

And the conclusion? Well… the nicest thing I can say about that is that it felt offensive to me. When I checked the programme after the fact and discovered that the play was written by a woman, I was gobsmacked – it felt like a ode to patriarchy, in a play in which The Man was portrayed as the morally and emotionally weakest character present. Maybe it’s a bit much to expect a hint of feminism in the script, but I walked away from Water Child genuinely angry.

[2013153] An Audience With Tomás Ford

[2013153] An Audience With Tomás Ford

Tomás Ford @ The Tuxedo Cat – Red Room

9:45pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

As I wait downstairs from the Red Room, I can’t help but chuckle to myself when looking at the other punters turning up: bizarrely, my head pigeonholes them all as conservatives, covering all ends of the spectrum: late teens with button-down shirts. Greyed parents with their adult children. Bald musclemen. Greasy clubbers.

But all of them were there to see Tomás Ford… and, having seen him twice before (in 2006 and 2011) with a total crowd of four (that includes me, twice), I was absolutely thrilled to have a crowd there with me.

Ford’s gear seems to have expanded – it looks like he’s creating his tunes with a raft (or at least multiple screens) of computers now – but his act is pretty much the same: raucous electronic cabaret. Correction: glorious raucous electronic cabaret. He manically roams the crowd, straddling seats to serenade and rest his sweaty form upon giggling members of his audience, encouraging them to move and groove with him… but it’s not until he decides to start crowdsurfing that they really get involved. And whilst some of them tried to dodge the implicit commitment to keep Ford aloft, he managed to corral us all into a single, sweaty mess, with everyone dancing (such as we could) and grinning like idiots… musclemen and silvertops alike.

And this was a completely new experience for me… I mean, I’ve always loved Ford’s musical creations – their harmonies and catchy pop sensibilities buried underneath a wall of dirty electronica – and his singing and sashaying presentation is exactly what I want from modern cabaret. But this is the first time I’ve experienced Ford with a crowd… and his management of us was sublime.

All told, Tomás Ford cemented his place in my list of must-see artists… the artists with whom I feel a genuine rapport. Because, quirky aesthetics aside, his work is Stuff I Want To Experience. That he shows so much commitment to the bit makes me feel confident that I’ll get to see it many, many more times in the future… and that makes me super-happy.

[2013152] Geraldine Quinn – You’re the Voice: Songs for the Ordinary by an Anthemaniac

[2013152] Geraldine Quinn – You’re the Voice: Songs for the Ordinary by an Anthemaniac

Geraldine Quinn @ La Bohème

8:00pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

I love Geraldine Quinn. Love her love her love her. I think she’s got an awesome singing voice, an even more awesome wit, and I’m dead jealous of her hair. Why she isn’t a mainstay in Adelaide during Cabaret season is beyond me – she’d be a perfect fit for the major CabFest, I reckon, and would sell out a CabFringe season easily – as demonstrated by the sell-out crowd tonight.

But she’s had the odd patchy show in the past… sure, the trademark Quinnisms have always been present (except for, maybe, The Divine Cabaret), but occasionally her shows haven’t quite gelled. So, when she strutted out wearing an Australian flag, buffeted by a wall of music, I was thrilled by the opening… but a little voice in the back of my head wondered whether she could keep it up.

Short answer: yes.

Based on her love of the classic anthems of the eighties – of course You’re The Voice was a driving force! – Quinn belted out an hour of rock anthems which were a continuous, glorious ascension. Epic ballads, excursions into glam, and a magnificent eight-minute rock-opera all impressed musically, but they were all coupled with lyrics that celebrated the ordinary – ordinary people, ordinary events. Stuff we can all identify with.

And so we wind up with songs about drinking, cross-country road trips, sleazy pickup merchants, growing up in the country, and teenage backyard parties. And Festival Rhapsodical, the aforementioned rock opera that covers a plethora of musical styles… and every part of the artist’s Fringe Festival experience.

I’m struggling to recall a dud moment in the entire show, I really am. Her songs are still wonderfully entertaining – catchy tunes, sweet melodies, and harmonies with her backing tracks (only a few wide-eyed, fierce nods to her tech tonight!) – and if anyone was born to sing rock anthems, it’s Quinn. Seriously, she would have outshone Meat Loaf on Bat Out Of Hell. Even the slower songs in her set compensated for their pace by doubling down on the humour.

So… yeah. I still love the Quinner. And this show was just brilliant.

[2013151] Tommy Dassalo – Spread

[2013151] Tommy Dassalo – Spread

Tommy Dassalo @ Rhino Room – Beer Garden

6:30pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

I’d seen Tommy Dassalo a couple of times in the past and, whilst I’d been entertained by what I’d seen, I didn’t feel compelled to put him on my Shortlist. But after he put in some sterling work on a FACTY FACT panel, and followed that up with a quality five in a Rhino Room Late Show, I figured he was in pretty good form, and well worth another look.

The central narrative in Spread relates to Fred Walker – Dassalo’s great-grandfather – who essentially “discovered” Vegemite. Now, one would imagine that it’s pretty sweet to have that sort of thing in the family, but we all know that the Australian way is to eschew any kind of plaudits and just get on with not profiting from the breakthrough. And so it is with Walker (who Dassalo comically mimics with his old-man voice, a charmingly silly thing to hear from one who looks so young).

But that thread is used as a launching pad for Dassalo’s other jokes, which remain centred on the everyday: his family, his relationships, his own wellbeing, and even some familiar jokes from previous years reared their heads. And it’s all quite funny stuff, even if the Vegemitey narrative is very loosely managed… but then, some of the threadbare segues were funny in themselves.

There’s no doubting that Dassalo can write a good joke, and he’s clearly improved his pacing markedly since I first saw him; that this show also had a very sincere familial aspect to it also helped things along. But Spread felt like more of a yarn-spinning session than a standup show; it’ll be interesting to see which of those two directions Dassalo continues exploring, because I reckon he could excel at either. It’s just that this show was a little light-on in persistent laughs, and lacked a bit of cohesion in structure.

[2013150] 2880 Minutes Late

[2013150] 2880 Minutes Late

Painted Tree @ The Soul Box

4:30pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

“An intimate performance blending slam poetry and physical theatre,” said the Guide, and I was onboard.

But I’m not sure the production actually lived up to the précis… or, rather, what my imagination created from the précis.

Opening with a curious seated movement piece, performers Eleanor Stankiewicz and Benjamin Winckle start out sitting back-to-back in matching white t-shirts and denim jeans; there’s a plainness in their initial presentation that completely belies the complexity of the dialogue that follows. It’s certainly lyrically dense, with the content focusing on… well, I’m not really sure. I reckon there’s a fair few relationship metaphors in there, along with a treatise on infidelity, but then there was a protracted piece about the city, and chunks of the dialogue were done as verbal exchanges whilst other bits were rhymes and occasionally something approaching a song appears…

Whether it was a general tiredness, an end-of-Festival malaise, or simply because my brain was not firing on all four, I did not click with 2880 Minutes Late at all. I didn’t even figure out what the title was all about! And, whilst I could appreciate a few pieces of nice stage direction in the interactions of Stankiewicz and Winckle, and I giggled with glee when the dialogue would burst into fragments of verse, it just didn’t work for me. In the end, I just left The Soul Box a little disappointed that the idea in my mind didn’t match the production… but that’s entirely my fault, because what was on display was pretty polished.

[2013149] Mindfulmess

[2013149] Mindfulmess

Rich Batsford @ Higher Ground East – Art Base

3:00pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

When skating through the Guide prior to the Fringe, something about the précis for Mindfulmess caught my eye; I think it was the use of the word “meditative”. And, spying a late-Fringe matinée timeslot, I started pondering whether it could help with the Great Fringe Wind-Down… the fact that Rich Batsford contacted me via Facebook to personally invite me to the show pretty much sealed the deal.

So after dashing across the humid city from Cor to make the 3pm start, I scuttled into a seat at the back of the narrow Art Base in Higher Ground; it’s really dark room, and I immediately suspect that the lack of light, coupled with anything close to meditative, may send me snoozing.

But when Rich Batsford comes out to perform his solo piano material, it soon becomes apparent that “meditative” wasn’t supposed to mean “slow”… more like thoughtful or introspective. Playing a mixture of originals and covers, instrumentals and sentiment-laden vocal tracks, Batsford’s piano – like his vocals – are clean and precise, and at times lack warmth.

But when Batsford hammers the lower keys, things get a little ragged and emphatic… and that’s a good thing. And if there’s one thing he absolutely nails, it’s the ends of his songs – and I don’t mean that in a snide way. I mean that he’ll include variations of the song’s melody, reworking it – speeding up, slowing down – before consistently coming to a great finish.

Whilst The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows was the most notable cover, it’s Batsford’s original instrumentals (such as Cello Song) that impress the most: they’re typically long, well constructed pieces. When Rich has to sing, it’s almost as if he’s afraid to let the song drag on too long – those tracks tend to be over before they’ve had the opportunity to begin.

But his lyrics tend to be very reflective – and he’s not adverse to baring his soul for all to see, and he doesn’t tend to use much in the way of metaphor… with his partner in the audience, you almost feel like you’re watching a couple make up after a fight. But there’s a charm to his raw honesty, and that – combined with his chilled choice of music – makes Mindfulmess a pleasant diversion.

[2013148] Cor

[2013148] Cor

Alexandra Knox @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Main Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

After winning me over with last year’s Wyrd… with grace, Alexandra Knox is a name that gets immediately highlighted in the Fringe Guide; an early afternoon matinée seals the deal, and I end up nabbing a seat halfway up the seating bank in the ACA Main Theatre.

(Have I mentioned before how much I love the ACA Main Theatre as a dance venue? The steep raking of the seats mean that pretty much anyone above the second row has a glorious view of the wide open spaces of the stage. It’s lovely :)

The performance starts in the dark, with soft down-lights fading in and out, dotting the space; eventually, Rebecca Fletcher is picked out, and her movements drop into a heartbeat rhythm. Tae-li Andrew Haycroft enters the fray and, with red twine connected to Fletcher’s limbs, it’s almost as if she’s a marionette; human puppetry over, a more contemporary dance emerges: always fluid, always organic, always engaging.

Knox merely acts as choreographer for Cor, and it’s a compelling collection of pieces that she has assembled. Fletcher and Haycroft are wonderfully light in their movements, and their costumes are fantastic: with deep reds and browns, it’s almost as if Fletcher’s legs were exposing the flesh and muscle beneath the skin, and the flourishes provided by fabric drooping off the arms was hypnotic. So, too, was the lighting… and Tim Rodgers’ soundtrack, ranging from organic heartbeats to pounding industria (and back again), is also a treat.

Shifted from the XSpace into the Main Theatre at ACA, it’s hard to imagine the performance without the elevation that the Main Theatre provides; I really think it would’ve lost something with the audience at a lower level. But Cor proved to be a wonderful work of contemporary dance that always choreographically challenged this viewer… with lots of visual flourishes to keep the eyes entertained.

[2013147] MKA’s Unsex Me

[2013147] MKA’s Unsex Me

MKA: Theatre of New Writing @ The Tuxedo Cat – Green Room

11:30pm, Fri 15 Mar 2013

After I’d seen the other two shows produced by MKA (22 Short Plays and SOMA), I was delighted to see that an Artist-Friendly performance of Unsex Me was arranged for late-Friday night; whilst I would probably have seen it anyway, the opportunity to squeeze the show in and still see something else was too good to resist.

And so a motley band of performers and punters filed into the Green Room, with no attempt made to extract money from anyone in the crowd (the show was advertised as “free for artists”, but I was expecting to pay for a ticket). A recognisable cluster of TuxCat (and MKA) artists hung near the back of the ‘Room, but I parked in the second row… moments after I sat down, two muscle-bound blokes – in their tight-t-shirt best, with beers in hand – sat down next to me. I gave them a quick “Hello,” as I am wont to do, and attempted to engage them in chat… but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t here for this show, per se – they were here for “The Fringe”.

But more on them later.

Mark Wilson takes to the stage, bearded with a tartan dress allegedly made from a collection of kilts. He is an award-winning ballerina-come-actress, obsessed with her own media coverage, and preening herself for her upcoming role as Lady Macbeth, to be directed by her own much-lauded father. Presented as an media puff-piece, Wilson happily answers questions from her off-stage interviewer in a lightly effeminate manner, her bearded appearance in stark contrast to the content of her replies.

At this point, one of the lads next to me (let’s call him “Muscle Boy”) turns and speaks to me (note that I explicitly didn’t say ‘leaned over and whispered’): “Hey mate, this is pretty fucked up, right?” In reply, I offered my shut-up-I’m-trying-to-pay-attention hand gesture, so he turned and started discussing the perceived fucked-up-ness with his friend. Not loudly, but audible. First-row-head-turning audible. Actor-on-stage-glaring audible.

But Wilson continues the interview amidst the off-stage chatter, and the questions turn to her relationship with her lover, Guy. Wilson’s eyes sparkle, as she announces that Guy will be joining the interview; she walks into the audience and singles out Muscle Boy, a coldness taking over her gaze as she wordlessly makes it quite clear that it was time for him to put up or shut up.

“Aw yeah, alright,” Muscle Boy said, puffing his chest as he walked to the stage. Once seated, however, it was clear that he was out of his depth; Muscle Boy tried playing his few lines for laughs, but no-one was joining in. The scene generated a weird vibe… the atmosphere in the room became serious, tense. And after Wilson attempted to kiss Muscle Boy, he unceremoniously bolted from the stage, hand covering his mouth, laughing nervously… as he sat down, his mate was overtly careful not to touch him, and their conversation picked up again – “oh mate, this is fucking stupid.”

More turns, more glares.

Then Wilson reveals a condom, rolls it onto the microphone, and starts anally penetrating himself with it.

Just read the above line again, because I’ve tried write it as casually, as nonchalantly, as it actually happened.

And Muscle Boy and his mate… well. “What the fuck is he doing…?” was quickly followed by “Is he…?” and “This is fucked. You people are all fucking stupid” and a quick, chair-tumbling exit, accompanied by quiet chuckles from the remaining crowd.

Without the vocal distractions in the audience, the rest of the performance was a WTF-y treat, generating questions aplenty on media manipulation, sexuality, and gender identity. The denouement – a critical analysis of Lady Macbeth’s suicide, compared to the death of a child – is both coherent and bewildering… much like the rest of the performance, really.

Unsex Me is another one of those shows that makes me so glad of the performance opportunities that the Fringe provides… the fact that I went straight out and bought ticket for the Saturday night performance of the show (to give Mark & MKA some money for their work) should speak volumes.

[2013144] My One and Only

[2013144] My One and Only

Acorn Productions @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Fri 15 Mar 2013

Back into the Bakehouse (for the final time this Fringe) for a play that promised to tackle issues of intimacy and stalking, there was a fair old crowd in attendance; there’s a bit of word-of-mouth about My One and Only, and the AUSLAN interpreter seemed to have brought in a few people, too.

Layla (convincingly played by Tamara Bennetts) has ended her relationship with Ben, and starts dating Noah… she soon discovers that she still has obsessive feelings for Ben, and Noah becomes obsessed with her. So begins a bizarre stalker-triangle which – over the course of the play – throws forth plenty of twists, constantly prompting the audience to consider who to side with.

I loved the fact that no-one in My One and Only is whiter-than-white; everyone has flaws, with the play carefully controlling the extent to which these are played up… one moment you’re feeling pity for Noah, and the next you’re hating him. The other curious note around this performance was the fact that it featured an AUSLAN interpretation – I usually try to attend these where available, since the interpretation adds another little element of fascination to the mix for me. In this instance, though, some of the aurally challenged members of the audience didn’t really take into account the noise created by their actions, leading to a couple of incidents where there were audience members blowing their noses loudly (and I mean loudly) during a quiet, tense monologue… which kinda killed the atmosphere somewhat.

But the main problem with My One and Only is that it feels very unevenly paced; a lengthy and emotive soliloquy sets expectations early, but then there’s a couple of rapid-fire scenes before another thoughtful time dilation. The shifts never really allow the play to develop any real momentum, and – as a result – the denouement feels almost perfunctory… and certainly anti-climactic.

And that’s a massive shame, because the ideas in the show – and the manner in which the story is built up – are pretty clever… it’s just that the direction lets it down somewhat. It’d certainly be interesting to see a more balanced production of this play.

[2013143] Bane

[2013143] Bane

Whitebone Productions (Joe Bone & Ben Roe) @ The Tuxedo Cat – Green Room

9:45pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

It’s fair to say that Bane was the recipient of a lot of crowd buzz around the tail end of the Fringe; many people had raved about the show to me, and this near-sellout Thursday night crowd was positively bubbling with anticipation in a hot & sticky Green Room.

And if the Green Room environment was unpleasant for the audience, spare a thought for writer / performer Joe Bone, who creates the hard-boiled titular detective whilst wearing a heavy trench-coat; that he could perform so well in such adverse (self-inflicted) conditions is impressive. The sole other presence onstage, Ben Roe, creates a lovely textured musical backdrop on guitar throughout, and looks far more comfortable than Bone.

But Bone’s performance is impressive as he creates a parody of the hard-boiled action hero. With gravelly voice and vocal sound effects and noir influences, he narrates a pulp detective novel chock full of dames, villains, twists, and violence. And it’s all brilliantly performed and cleverly written…

…but it’s all been done before. Hell, even Sound & Fury took a crack at noir – though, admittedly, their show was very much focussed on comedy, rather than noir. Bane has the opposite approach: it attempts to generate a noir feel first-and-foremost, and then wodge some incidental humour in there too.

But the big problem with Bane is that the parody of the subject matter’s cliches feels… well, cliched. Ironic, really: it’s a cliche of a cliche. And, for me, it never really establishes its own identity; and all the wonderful atmosphere and performance skills can’t help a script that seems unsure about what it’s trying to achieve. Sure, this was only one part of the Bane trilogy, and maybe it’s unfair to judge it out of context… but, on the basis of my experience here, I’d be unlikely to attend the other two episodes.

[2013142] Le Foulard

[2013142] Le Foulard

Lucy Hopkins @ The Tuxedo Cat – Red Room

8:30pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

“I am… an Artist,” declares the spotlit Lucy Hopkins at the start of Le Foulard (“Art Show”)… and a knowing chuckle emerges from some in the audience. Others in the audience raised eyebrows and looked around, trying to figure out the laugh cues, or laugh nervously at the absurdity of the gangly black-clad figure before them.

Hopkins’ pretentious Artist roams the stage with awkward-looking, angular movements, before – with a flourish of her scarf – switching to another character, a silent and confused hunched woman. Another flourish, another character… and she maintains the three distinct personae throughout, each with their own physical traits, facial expressions, and (in two cases) accents. But it’s somewhat demonstrative of the headspace that I was in that the most endearing character – the character that triggered the arty parts of my brain – was the silent one; her constant confusion was a source of sheer delight, and her use as punctuation to the other two characters did wonders for the pacing of the show.

Le Foulard‘s monologues all revolve around the construction and consumption of Art; as a result, it becomes an exercise in meta-theatre. And it’s quite intelligent stuff, with a few oddball diversions (most notably the overly theatrical and haughty version of I Will Survive) along the way. But, even though I hang around theatres and arty types as much as I can, I started thinking that some of Hopkin’s text was a little too… inside baseball. It’s not meant for people like me to understand; rather, it’s almost a self-parody of the artistic process.

Don’t get me wrong, though; Le Foulard is an extremely polished Fringe show, with some cutting insights and quirky humour. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a show by An Artist, for other Artists to appreciate… and if the general public came along for the ride, well, that’s almost accidental.

[2013141] Specimens of Her

[2013141] Specimens of Her

Jascha Boyce @ The Birdcage

7:15pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

I rave about Gravity & Other Myths at every opportunity, and I’ve vowed to follow that group of performers on whatever artistic path they choose to take. So when I see that Jascha Boyce – the nimble diminutive flyer of the group – had her own solo show, I was there in a heartbeat.

The stage was simple: a series of jars and vases, all different sizes, lined up in order of height. Behind them, to the right, a folding screen, backlit for seductive shadow-work. The performance, too, was short and to-the-point: a little juggling, a little tumbling, some hoop work, and a little bit of contortion work… all performed with the skill that is synonymous with GoM, though there were a few stumbles with her hoop routines (then again, Jascha’s recovery always included an apologetic smile to the audience that was so lovely that it almost made me hope for another mistake).

In between these short physical pieces, Jascha would take little scraps of paper from within (or on) the containers, reading the provocative snippets of text that they contain; the containers acted as a progress bar to the performance, and there was a bit of tension as she approached the jar that held a mousetrap, proffering it her tongue… a smile, a wink, and she avoids the confrontation. And, curiously, the manner in which she shrunk into the largest of the containers caused me to flash back to Bonsai Kitten (a very early internet meme).

I can’t recall a single woman in the small audience that assembled for this performance of Specimens of Her; I do recall wondering if that was a little… well, creepy, what with Ms Boyce being such an adorably cute young creature. But she totally owns the stage, and – whilst Specimens didn’t completely engage me for the entire performance – it contained enough quirks and nuances to convince me that there’s Something Different in the mind that created it… and that, as always, makes me feel happy.

[2013140] Alice in the Madhouse

[2013140] Alice in the Madhouse

Madhouse Circus @ The Birdcage

6:00pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

Three years ago, Gravity & Other Myths proved that a young acrobatic act could still perform incredible feats, without the benefit of mature muscles and frames; they almost single-handedly encouraged me to keep attending circus performances put on by young troupes, always hoping that they could be the Next Big Thing.

And what Victoria-based Madhouse Circus lack in age, they make up for in vision: they present a series of acrobatic, dance, and physical performance pieces underpinned by the themes and characters of Alice in Wonderland. Their background music is superb, and a lot of the performances – balances, acrobatics, juggling – are quite polished in their delivery.


At times, the show feels almost hampered by the narrative that has been forced around it; the Tweedledum & Tweedledee big ring exercise being the most egregious example, though the justifications given for other character pieces verged on the insulting. There’s an audience interaction segment that dragged the momentum of the entire performance to a screeching halt – and the end result (when it finally happened) was most certainly not worth the effort. Then again, it was a pretty crap audience: clearly inexperienced in the usual applaud-at-the-end-of-a-trick customs, most of the show was performed in the crowd’s silence.

But that may have been because of the tightly packed nature of Madhouse’s show; there were none of the customary pauses for applause, as trick rolled into trick rolled into trick and then offstage whilst another performer comes on. And, if that was a directorial choice, that kind of subversion of the established give-and-take of the audience is a pretty bold thing for a young company to do… on the other hand, maybe they were just nervous and ploughed through their set.

So – some decent performances by a promising bunch of youngsters, held back by ruthless direction and a desperate need for narrative. Whilst it wasn’t the best show I’ve seen, it certainly wasn’t the worst… and hey, at least someone loved it.

[2013139] Symphony of Strange

[2013139] Symphony of Strange

Gareth Hart @ The Tuxedo Cat

10:00am, Thu 14 Mar 2013

It’s getting towards the tail-end of the season, and matinées are like gold dust – and I’d heard that Gareth Hart’s latest work, Symphony of Strange, had an 10:00am session. I hit FringeTIX too late: “sold out”, it tells me, and I am shattered: I loved Ellipsis, and the Schedule already has other shows that would block Symphony… so, after bumping into Hart at the Fringe Club one evening, I asked if I could sneak into that session. “For sure,” he replied, before issuing a warning: “you will be seing the show with 33 school kids!”

So my Event Buddy and I turned up at the appropriate (early) hour and, as expected, were surrounded by schoolgirls. Once corralled, we’re all led through the labyrinthine lesser-seen parts of the Tuxedo Cat complex, up multiple sets of stairs until we reach a wide open space… there, we’re offered chilli chocolate (yum!) and a washcloth for our hands… as with Ellipsis, it appears Hart is aiming for an all-encompassing sensual experience.

There’s a circle on the ground, hazily determined by leaves and twigs, and Hart dances within it, moves fluid and elongated. A light rotates, occasionally catching Hart with its glare, and I think about how much more spectacular that would have appeared in an evening show, rather than in the mid-morning buried-urban murkiness. A collection of five musicians rhythmically crush items underfoot as they wind their way to a stage littered with everyday objects; once there, they start playing a (mostly percussive) composition scored by Edward Willoughby using jars, drums, fire extinguishers, and kitchen utensils.

All the while, Hart is exploring the floor of this abandoned building, lightly flitting between predetermined spaces defined by tea candles. I was immediately compelled to follow him as he begins to roam, but felt held back by the pack of schoolgirls; eventually I overcame the social pressure (“social pressure”? I’m over twice their age!) and pushed through, doing what I love to do in situations like this: finding the space. Framing the shot with my own eyes. Adding my visual filter to someone else’s presentation.

Flames become a common theme; the tea candles are everywhere, and there’s a sequence where Hart is “throwing” lit matches. But, with the dissipating shyness of the schoolgirls leading to their scattering around the space, he also takes the opportunity to duck back and dance amongst the crowd… nearby people freeze, looks of concern covering their faces, as they worry that they may inadvertently ruin the performance.

Suddenly, it’s over: there’s no real sense of climax in either the movement or the music (indeed, the latter softly peters out), it just stops. And I’m left with a sense of awe for the space that Hart has so fluidly skipped through, light as air… this empty space, hidden above the streets in my city. This empty space that so wonderfully filled with the noise of found instruments – the score was gorgeous. And I feel lucky to have managed to engage in this performance: hot weather be damned, I left TuxCat still nursing the taste of chilli chocolate in my mouth, and curious scrapes and rings in my ears, and flickering flames in my eyes, and I’m happy.