[2014135] The Kransky Sisters Piece of Cake

[2014135] The Kransky Sisters Piece of Cake

The Kransky Sisters @ Royalty Theatre

7:20pm, Sun 16 Mar 2014

As I’ve written before, I first discovered The Kransky Sisters through the otherwise-lamentable In Siberia Tonight; and, coincidentally, I last saw them perform the same year (2006) as The Umbilical Brothers… though I thought much more highly of their show at the time.

But, despite my initial glee at being able to schedule a Royalty double-header, it turns out that the venue is not able to handle a twenty-minute changeover; the “doors open 7:10pm” note on the ticket seems laughably optimistic, in retrospect. And, quite honestly, it was a bit of a relief that this show started about twenty minutes late; there had been an outside chance, if everything ran to schedule, that I could’ve caught an 8:30pm show at Gluttony, but the lengthy changeover meant that The Kransky Sisters would be my final show of the Fringe. And, with my I’m Over It malaise settling in, that was probably for the best… it just allowed me to sink a little deeper into my chair, and feel that My Work was done.

And, quite honestly, this show was a decent send-off for the year.

Familiar, funny, and full of their trademark dryness and tension, the three sisters – Mourne, Eve, and Dawn – cycled through their quirky renditions of songs (including my favourite Pop Muzik, with Dawn performing a perfect tuba bass-line). Some of the other crowd favourites included AC/DC and Queen; Eve’s musical saw (and a cheap Casio keyboard) starred in their occasionally bizarre instrumentations, accompanied by tight vocal lines and deadpan expressions.

The banter between the Sisters was as expected, with Mourne shouldering most of the load (and Eve’s habit of repeating key words acting as gloriously silly – and well timed – punctuation), and Dawn remaining mute throughout. Eve – as usual – gets a few moments to shine as she slips out from under Mourne’s puritanical shadow in some delightfully awkward idolatry of the male form, triggering those delicious moments of stony-faced tension onstage. And, once again, there was an audience interaction segment, with two men being plucked from the audience to become honorary Sisters (complete with matching blouses and wigs).

It had been eight years since I last saw The Kransky Sisters, and not much has changed in their act in that time (except for the increase in audience interaction numbers). But what has happened in the meantime is that Eve Kransky (or, rather, Christine Johnston) brought the Rramp to the Cabaret Festival in 2013… and that was, by far, the show that impressed me most that year. And, unfortunately, it seems like The Kransky Sisters will be living in the shadow of that incredible show for some time to come… Piece of Cake was fun, and a nice way to round off my Fringe, but it lacks the creativity of Rramp… at least, for this veteran. Maybe a Kransky-newbie would have found it to be more of a standout.

[2014134] The Umbilical Brothers: A KiDs ShoW (Not Suitable for Children)

[2014134] The Umbilical Brothers: A KiDs ShoW (Not Suitable for Children)

The Umbilical Brothers @ Royalty Theatre

6:00pm, Sun 16 Mar 2014

Remember The Big Gig? It was an awesome Australian alt-comedy show on the ABC that blooded a bunch of great comics (before a lot of them tempered their material a bit, going mainstream and – occasionally – a bit shit as a result). That was where I first came across The Umbilical Brothers, who popped up every week for a five minute skit of violent and anarchic physical humour.

But when I eventually saw them live for the first time (The Rehearsal in 2006), I was mightily disappointed by the inconsistent nature of their show. I’d avoided them since, but with the passing of time – and the positive experience of David Collins’ The Luck Child earlier in the year (and the opportunity for a Royalty Theatre double header) – I felt it was about time to give the Umbilicals another shot.

It’s certainly true that the boys can still pull a crowd in – the Royalty’s a big space, and whilst there were some gaps in the crowd, those that were in made a lot of noise. And after a cheesy opening to their kid-friendly “show”, Shane and David slowly back offstage… and, once they reach the curtain at the rear of the stage, they momentarily disappear before returning in “backstage” mode. It’s a neat trick, but my pragmatic mind continually tells me that somethings wrong… I wish I could shut that part of my head up.

Backstage, the Umbilicals are the hilariously hyper-violent physical comedians that I remember, exaggerated actions and on-the-fly sound effects creating a lot of laughs. Their constant berating of their audience (their imaginary kids show audience, not us) pleased the misanthropic parts of my brain, and the adult humour that accompanies the violence – and subverts some of the kids show props – is pretty good, too. There’s an inspired Brady Bunch slaughter segment, and their petrified peeks around the curtain to the audience are adorable… and profane.

These are all Good Things.

But there was a Bad Thing, too: at some stage in the performance, my brain just… well, it checked out. It happens every year: towards the end of the Fringe, my brain just decides that it’s had enough, and the final handful of shows become a real struggle. Usually it happens with a day or two to go, so I feel blessed that I made it to the penultimate show of my Fringe before the nasties crept in… but none of that was the fault of The Umbilical Brothers. Their performance was great, with much more even material than The Rehearsal; I’m a little sad that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it more.

[2014131] The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth

[2014131] The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth

Jethro Compton Ltd @ The Bunker

8:30pm, Sat 15 Mar 2014

It’s not just me who exited Agamemnon and went straight into the queue for Macbeth: there were at least a dozen people who were doing a Bunker double-header (or even a triple-header, though – as I’ve previously stated – that would be a pretty brutal five or six hours). And I must admit to being giddy with excitement heading into this show: having seen the Bunker aesthetic applied to the other two in the series, I was anxious to see how one of my favourite pieces of the Bard’s work would be transformed.

It becomes immediately apparent that this would be a very different Macbeth, and not simply because of the limited cast of four; the play opens with Macbeth and his armies on the verge of defeat, with the now-familiar aural accompaniments of Bunker-warfare creating a powerful backdrop to the introduction. The most significant moments of Shakespeare’s work are then exposed through a twisted series of flashbacks, with the linearity of time being yet another casualty of The Bunker’s war.

And that was just fine by me, because I’ve got a familiarity with the source material. But it did make me wonder what others may think of the performance if they only had fleeting knowledge of Macbeth – would they not find it impenetrable? That led me to contemplate my own experience with Agamemnon (and, to a lesser degree, Morgana)… and, thence, to mull on what Compton and Company have achieved here at The Bunker.

Re-imagining seminal works of theatre in retro-contemporary(!) settings sounds like a pretty risky endeavour, but I reckon this company better-than-succeeded; as with the other performances, Macbeth was absolutely drenched in atmosphere, and – once again – it’s the small directorial touches that completely sell the work in this setting. In particular, the use of gas masks was particularly powerful in this setting; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth arguing in The Bunker’s doorway (or, rather, the foyer) was another engaging touch that heightened the senses.

It’s intriguing that the performance in The Bunker Trilogy with which I was most grounded was also my least favourite… but the bar was set very, very high by the other two shows. Having said that, I still very much enjoyed Macbeth – it was an utterly engaging interpretation of Shakespeare’s themes in a twentieth-century setting, and was still one of the more prominent pieces of Fringe theatre this year… but the sublime mystery of Agamemnon and (more significantly) Morgana won me over.

[2014130] The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon

[2014130] The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon

Jethro Compton Ltd @ The Bunker

7:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2014

Four weeks – almost an entire Fringe! – had passed since I’d seen Morgana at The Bunker; whilst there was a generous opening crowd there that afternoon, word-of-mouth had spread. The houses were sold out for the two performances at the venue this evening, and the door staff also had to contend with a steady stream of people trying to buy tickets on the night; the wait list extended to about twenty people.

And that, I must admit, makes my heart soar: Jethro Compton and Company took a massive risk setting up their own venue well away from the usual Fringe haunts (if you ignore 2008’s Fringe Factory), but the quality of their work – and word-of-mouth – has seen them pull in great crowds (if this closing Saturday night was any indication).

But on to Agamemnon: of the three Bunker Trilogy plays, this is the one I knew the least about going in. The source material was completely foreign to me, so I was unable to see how the First World War makeover affected the storyline… but that’s not to say that the play suffered for it.

Agamemnon is, once again, a young soldier at war; for much of the performance he lays in the painful shadow of death, trapped in the trenches at the front of battle. Scenes flit between Agamemnon’s pain and fear – with bombs going off overhead, and gunfire nearby – and his cottage at home, where his young wife Clytemnestra waits dutifully for his return. There’s flashbacks to their pre-war courtship, and a bit of confusion as (I think) Agamemnon hallucinates what her response will be to his war-time indiscretions when he returns. But Clytemnestra, trapped in her cottage with only Agamemnon’s cousin to keep her company, has her own reasons to turn against her husband…

If there’s one thing that Agamemnon absolutely nails, it’s the feeling of tension that the production conjures from nowhere. On the one hand, we have the titular character struggling to stave off his own death, driven (and haunted) by thoughts of his wife and home… but knowing full well that the call to fling what meagre reserves he has left at the enemy is incoming. On the other side of the coin, we see Clytemnestra transform from doting lover to scheming murderess, never really knowing whether she – and cousin Aegisthus – will have to carry out the deed.

It’s real edge-of-the-seat stuff, and it’s absolutely hammered home by the performances of James Marlowe and Bebe Sanders as husband and wife; the anguish that both actors could create was absolutely palpable. And, once again, the venue plays a major role in the immersion in the play; even after four weeks, the earth underfoot still fills the nose with a richness that plays against the mustiness of the walls and seating, creating a unique environment that feels utterly convincing, given the setting of the First World War.

It feels almost glib to say that I “loved” Agamemnon; its subject matter is far too dark and grim to support such an expression. But it was an incredibly immersive experience, packing an emotional punch and leaving me a little bit fragile… I’ve no idea how some people managed to see all three Bunker Trilogy shows back-to-back-to-back.

[2014129] Temper

[2014129] Temper

Point & Flex Circus @ The Producers Bar

5:00pm, Sat 15 Mar 2014

A last-minute decision to see Temper was made based on my mood coming out of my previous show and a convenient time (one of the few remaining shows on my Shortlist that accommodated my plans for the rest of the evening). It certainly seemed like my choice would be vindicated when I arrived to a heaving crowd of people at Producers; my lateness afforded me the option of a seat in the second row (yay for single seats!), and an opportunity to check out the assembled crowd.

Lots of families with youngsters, I noted. Hmmm. Was this a kids’ circus performance? Because I wasn’t sure I was ready for that… but, then again, what notable circus performance would perform in the Producers Bar?

My hopes further plummeted when one young woman (girl?) quite deliberately – almost awkwardly – took her mark onstage and delivered the text of the show’s Fringe Guide précis; it felt like a terribly pretentious start, a desperate plea for sincerity. The opening routines also felt awkward, and I had started to rue my decision…

…but suddenly the show opened right up. Lisa Goldsworthy’s hoops routine was dynamic and well paced (though a few hoops did go flying into the audience), Taylor Dawson’s ball and stretch dance routine was fascinating in the confined space (unintended contact was made with equipment on the cramped stage), and Goldsworthy and (the impossibly young-looking) Dylan Phillips performed some balance tricks and acrobatics (with Phillips being flung around in a scarily carefree manner).

Sure, a few of the segments fell a little flat: the bottle walking didn’t quite reach the heights of the other segments, and the group juggling piece was a little bumpy. But (director) Marina Gellmann’s sideshow blockhead freakery – eating glass, laying on a bed of nails – was a surprise, and a seemingly innocuous marshmallow face-stuffing competition between the four performers escalated into a full-blown gross-out eating competition, featuring an onion, handfuls of margarine, bottles of soy sauce, and a bottle of shampoo.

It’s only late in the show that I managed to catch my breath; I’d been cheering and ooh-ing and aah-ing with the rest of the audience without even noticing. I’d been totally engrossed in the performance of these four youngsters, whose commitment to the show – and each other – was absolute; the rapport between the members was evident during the group scenes. And it’s only at the end of the performance that the troupe mention being Cirkidz alumni… and, (as with another graduate I saw this year), Point & Flex are wonderful ambassadors for that school.

A copy of the programme that I managed to snag on the way out provided names and illumination, as well as some well-weighted explanatory text; that, and some infectious buzzing from the rest of the crowd, left me with a remarkably positive memory of Temper. Despite the rocky start and a few hitches in the middle, this was an energetic and enthusiastic performance by a group of young adults that – I am sure – will blossom into greatness.

[2014127] The Breakfast Club

[2014127] The Breakfast Club

Mickey D, Liz Cahalan, Glenn Wool, Jon Bennett @ Nexus Cabaret

11:00am, Sat 15 Mar 2014

It appeared that I had learnt nothing from last year’s Breakfast Club adventure – post-Zorn, Helen and I had hit Lola’s Pergola until… well, until it was politely insisted that we leave. And so, once again, I found myself trudging to Nexus nursing a honky wonky hangover; once again, Mickey D and Boo greeted me at the door with coffee and pastries. Disappointingly, the audience wasn’t as large as last year’s bumper crowd… and they seemed a little quieter, too. More sedate.

Which was somewhat appreciated by Messrs Honky and Wonky.

Mickey D emceed the show with his usual aplomb; it’s still odd to see him perform such child-friendly material, but he gets the kids onside relatively easily… except for the toddler who decided to headbutt him in the shins. But the first guest to the ‘Club was Dizzy Ms Lizzy (Liz Cahalan), who performed some Bollywood-inspired dance for the crowd before inviting many of the older children up onstage for an impromptu dance lesson. This could have gone terribly wrong, but Cahalan handled the kids well… all while subtly delivering an anti-bullying message in amongst the positivity.

Just as I was stunned by Lindsay Webb’s appearance in the ‘Club last year, I raised an eyebrow at Glenn Wool’s appearance onstage… but he really opened up to the youngsters in the audience (who also took a liking to his vocal eccentricities) and proved to be wonderfully engaging. A rambling story about his Mountie father entertained the quizzical children, and when he – inexplicably – started talking about Turkey joining the EU, one of the kids near the stage crossed his arms with an audible harrumph: “absolutely not!” the future geo-political genius bluntly stated.

Finally, Jon Bennett came out and… well, he proved what a brilliant storyteller he is. Starting with stories about his hairy Dad (of course), he dragged the progressively more unruly youngsters into line by telling stories of Megan the pig (delicious!), and a grossly funny story that involved him using a dead cow’s bloated stomach as a trampoline… while wearing sprigs on his footy boots. You can guess the rest.

As with last year’s show, The Breakfast Club allowed these performers to show another aspect of their act; whilst Bennett’s material can occasionally be kid-friendly (meth-addicted brother excepted, of course), I was surprised at the ease with which his storytelling style got the kids’ attention. Wool’s performance, too, was an eye opener, and Cahalan provided a physical feel-good exercise. So, as Mickey D wrapped things up with the same parents-versus-kids gags as last year, I figured that The Breakfast Club was still a decent show to catch… but I really, really should learn my lesson about the Big Night Before.

[2014125] A Gaggle of Saints

[2014125] A Gaggle of Saints

Colourwheel Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

6:30pm, Fri 14 Mar 2014

The second play of Neil LaBute‘s Bash: Latter-Day Plays, A Gaggle of Saints is a real rollercoaster of an experience; a sweet and pure opening turns into horrifically violent homophobia, before returning to the (now tainted) visage of joyful innocence.

It’s a tight fit for the audience, as we’re seated on the stage; the performance space is little more than one of the stage wings. We soon meet the bubbly couple Sue (Chelsea Evans) and John (Eddie Morrison, a Golden Phung regular); they (and their friends) are travelling from their college town to New York for a formal ball. The opening third of the piece has the couple delivering interleaved – but never engaged – monologues, describing the mood of the group travelling to the Big City… there’s a tangible sense of the thrill-of-the-new, of barely-contained excitement for the adventures ahead.

But with hotel room acquired, and the female contingent of the group resting and preparing for the upcoming shindig, the males wander the nearby streets and Central Park; by chance, they encounter a gay couple, and – fuelled by alcohol – the men (led by John) entrap and beat the couple to a pulp in a public bathroom. During the beating, John’s shirt gets blood splashed upon it; in order to maintain an alibi, one of the other men breaks John’s nose, and they concoct a story that John tripped and caused his own injury.

The play ends with the women re-joining the men; the monologues merge at this point, and John presents Sue with a ring he stole from one of the men he beat up. As the lights drop, the couple join together: they’re as cute as can be, The Perfect Couple.

And that feels absolutely vile.

The ability of John to maintain his righteousness, after committing acts of despicable evil… it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. That these people, whose introductions and confessions of Christian ideals imply that they’re as pure as the driven snow, could be so despicably evil… well, it made my blood boil.

And that’s pretty high praise for such a play.

It’s all performed in a tight thirty-odd minutes, with Morrison taking the lion’s share of the heavier text; his ability to convincingly tout religious dogma in one breath, and flout it the next, was chilling. Evans proves to be a gorgeous contrast, with a sweetness and innocence that still manages to beg the question: what evil is she hiding? And despite the relatively separated text that the two characters play, they work wonderfully well together onstage; as macabre as it seems, their comic timing works wonders with the dark contrast of the script; their performances were ably assisted by clever direction and lighting within the tight performance space.

Despite its short length, A Gaggle of Saints was worth every cent of the ticket price (plus the two panicky taxi rides to and from Holden Street); it was an immaculately presented, tautly performed exploration of hypocrisy and the devil within. Love love loved it.

[2014124] Some Funny C*nt from New York

[2014124] Some Funny C*nt from New York

Matt Romot @ PJ O’Brien’s Balcony

5:00pm, Fri 14 Mar 2014

I’d never seen a Fringe show in PJ O’Brien’s (apart from a show in the 1998 Fringe when the venue was called “Racketeers”); the type of shows that seemed to settle into that venue always appeared to be… well, not my cup of tea. But a chap who ostentatiously names his show Some Funny C*nt from New York? And promises anti-conservative, anti-bogan humour? And has a friendly 5pm timeslot? This I had to see.

Arriving atop the stairs in PJ O’Brien’s, Matt Romot appears to be a very quiet, almost shy, character; he was almost apologetic as he performed his own ticketing duties. There’s only about a dozen people present, but there’s a couple of older women who are clearly enjoying the combination of a warm muggy afternoon and cold alcoholic beverages. We have a bit of a chat, and then Fee turns up; she’s a ton of fun at the worst of times, but she’s decompressing during a day off and positively buzzing as a result: we have a great catch-up before Romot awkwardly does his own sound tech and stammers into the start of his show.

A small audience must be daunting for a comedian at the best of times, but we’d somehow managed to arrange ourselves in just about the most awkward arrangement possible, lining the edge of the balcony. Upon remarking that it was difficult to play to such a crowd, one group moved to the seats directly in front of the stage… whereupon Romot realised that the group was two parents and their teenage son. He pulled up short – “You know this show’s going to have some rude words, right? I mean, it’s in the title…” – but, on the back of the laughs that followed, he appeared much more comfortable.

Romot’s delivery has a hint of nervousness about it, as he jumps from one thread to another in an almost skittish manner. And, despite the promise of “weird stories and ideas” promised by his précis, Romot’s material was relatively conventional. Sure, there were tales of drug abuse and related hijinks, and a few forays into left-wing political ideology, but for the most part it was material that could have been presented by any number of left-leaning comedians.

Except, of course, for the undoubted highlight of his set: a lengthy piece on paedophilia that skirts the boundary of social acceptability before Romot throws midgets into the mix for a brilliant climax. It’s a beautifully constructed joke, and demonstrates that Romot is more than capable of delivering quality material; but this short set only showed glimpses of that ability. I’d have no qualms seeing Matt Romot perform again as part of a lineup show; another full show of his own would be a big ask, however.

[2014123] Rip, Drag & Ruminate

[2014123] Rip, Drag & Ruminate

Graduating Dancers of Adelaide College of the Arts 2014 @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Main Theatre

2:00pm, Fri 14 Mar 2014

Last year’s patchy Rip Drag Ruminate show delivered enough quality (or, rather, one significant highlight) to warrant another look at what the graduating class of AC Arts were capable of. And, in contrast to last year, there didn’t seem to be as many family members present… though that may have been because of the Schedule-friendly 2pm weekday timeslot I selected. There were, however, a large number of students in the quarter-full audience, all scribbling furious notes… and talking. As I read back over my own notes (this being one of the few shows I actually wrote notes for), I discovered that they were chock full of the phrase “stop talking”. I guess I was hoping that people were peeking over my shoulder.

The first piece, Konstanz Symeonakis’ Find the Light, was an interesting exploration of the use of light and shadow. Early impressions, however, almost turned me off: blunt and unimaginative lighting created a real disconnect. But once the movement of the piece kicked in (lovely sync with the dancers), the side lighting provided a much more pleasing visual effect; the use of flashlights, whether whirling them around or visualising heartbeats, was really quite appealing.

Emma Watkins’ O & C started with an OCD contrivance that was blunt enough to annoy the OCD-ish part of me; but the general tone of the piece was quirky, evoking thoughts of daydreams and distractions. The movement of the dancers, however, lacked the dynamism to sell the quirkiness of the piece. Taylor Whitchurch’s Words, Letters, Language kicked off with dancers scribbling on a long strip of paper at the front of the space; illegible text and seemingly pointless projections were offset by some occasionally wonderful dance. When the performers engaged with each other, when they connected, their movements were really engaging; without the group focus, the choreography felt desperate and contrived.

The Vanity, by Samuel Koh, seemed dominated by the spectacle of circus-inspired acrobatic movements… but the performers were occasionally a little too shaky to pull them off convincingly. A door prop, combined with some inspired lighting, produced a wonderful visual treat… but only for a subset of the audience in the wide Main Theatre space. The final piece, Courteney Cox’s Subliminal, featured some engaging group movement (with plenty of falls & catches) that was only let down by the sharpness of the dancers, and a lack of cohesion in the overall structure of the piece.

Judging by these performances, the 2014 Graduating Class have a fair bit to be proud of: each of the five pieces featured moments of inspired choreography and solid dance. On the other hand, each piece also featured moments of frustration for the uneducated observer (i.e. me); but the fact that there were no real standout negatives within the programme is quite heartening. (And the one-sheet programme for the show? Phwoar – the texture of that paper is amazing.)

[2014122] Come Heckle Christ

[2014122] Come Heckle Christ

Joshua J. Ladgrove @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 5

11:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2014

One of the more wonderful things that happened in the lead-up to the 2014 Fringe was the “uproar” over the new show by Josh Ladgrove (a.k.a. Dr. Professor Neal Portenza), Come Heckle Christ. I quote the word “uproar” because the only people who complained about the presence of the show (and official complaints were made, to the Fringe, sponsors, and politicians) appeared to be devout Christians, concerned about the “blasphemy” of this “anti-Christian hate show”… despite the fact that they’d never seen it.

Many, many threads of complaint kicked off on Facebook (here‘s an example), the most enjoyable of which resulted in many other Fringe Artists interjecting and claiming that their show disrespected sandwiches (in a gloriously delicious attempt to ride the publicity wave). There was plenty of media coverage (from the ABC and Guardian, amongst others), and eventually Ladgrove himself published an open letter… which – if one bothered to actually read it – explained that the show itself was not blasphemous… just a construct for comedic exploration that just happened to have a bit of a confronting title.

But the publicity did wonders for ticket sales, with the three scheduled shows quickly sold out; I managed to grab the last ticket for this evening’s performance, fully aware of the likely shift in tone from the show before. But the show put a strain on the Tuxedo Cat’s staff, with security guards and metal detectors in use for each performance of the show; as we quietly filed into Room 5, walking past the dozen-or-so protesters standing (thankfully) quietly and solemnly with candles and signs, there was a jam on the stairs as we were carefully vetted for entry.

Ladgrove was waiting for us onstage, caught in the crossfire of spotlights, standing with his arms outstretched, attached to a cross. Through the microphone perched in front of him, he quietly greeted the audience as they filed in.

Then came the performance itself: Ladgrove Christ invited heckles from the audience, to which he would attempt to respond. As a result, the quality of the show is dictated by the quality of the heckles… and, sad to say, I didn’t think many of the heckles this evening allowed Ladgrove opportunity to shine.

Many “heckles” were rebutted in a matter-of-fact manner, a simple “that’s not a heckle” shutting down that episode; others were disappointingly juvenile in nature. The occasional heckle caused Ladgrove to pause a moment to collect his thoughts before offering a (usually witty) response… and then there were the great heckles, that caused a back-and-forth of increasingly biting humour, all couched in the gentle phrasing that one might expect from the Son of God.

But unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were few and far between. That’s not so much a reflection on Ladgrove as the audience; I spoke to people who reported that the audiences at other Come Heckle Christ shows provided reams of material for Christ to work with. And that’s always going to be the chance you take with a show like this: despite the potentially inflammatory title, this is little more than comedic comebacks as a spectator sport… an interesting subversion of standup comedy. And unfortunately, with relatively few notable exceptions, the audience weren’t really up for it this evening… and I, in my shy mode, take some of the responsibility for that as well.

In short: great idea, shame about the support.

[2014120] La Leçon

[2014120] La Leçon

Jean-François Gavanon, Lisa Harper Campbell, Daniele Allen @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2014

Out of all the Fringe shows I’ve ever seen, La Leçon is the only the second show that I can immediately remember that featured subtitles. They were very much required, since this incarnation of Ionesco‘s The Lesson was performed entirely in French… and my three years of language study were sufficiently long ago that I’m not much use beyond bonjour, ça va?

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen The Lesson, of course; I’d caught an excellent (English-speaking) version on my fortieth birthday which proved to be a real highlight of that Fringe. And it really is a cracking play, with a seemingly normal opening descending through absurdism to take on almost farcical qualities, before turning back upon itself to tie things up in a nice, cyclical bow.

Jean-François Gavanon plays the pivotal Professor role, bringing with it a convincing ascension of anger. Lisa Harper Campbell’s Pupil started off saccharine sweet, though her protestations as The Lesson progressed felt rushed and forced; Daniele Allen’s Maid was brusque, eschewing the doting care of the Professor in favour of a more perfunctory relationship. Gavanon, who also directed the performance, was clearly at home reciting Ionesco in French: his speech was lush and vibrant, with beautiful pacing. The two women were a little less convincing, though; the dialogue didn’t to roll as smoothly from their tongues, and lacked warmth as a result… luckily, that didn’t really affect the comic impact of the piece.

As an hour of entertainment, La Leçon hits the mark: Ionesco’s absurdity is easily relatable with or without the subtitles, which were thankfully legible and well placed. As a reminder of how much French I’ve forgotten, it was also successful, and it was fun to follow the subtitles and marry them to the dialogue. But it’s impossible for me not to compare this performance to the stunning production I saw in 2011; and, whilst Gavanon whipped Ionesco’s original French text around in a manner which befits the beauty of Molière’s language, he lacked the conviction and physical presence that Guy O’Grady brought to the Professor… likewise for the other two roles. Unfortunately, that 2011 cast was almost beyond reproach, and – try as they might – Gavanon, Harper Campbell, and Allen weren’t able to match up to them.

But still: laughs were had, entertainment was enjoyed, and an interest in French was re-kindled.

[2014119] A Nightmare On Love Street

[2014119] A Nightmare On Love Street

left hand productions @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

10:30pm, Wed 12 Mar 2014

It sounds like a great premise: two charismatic performers with ten horror scenes under their belts, coagulating a story from five of those scenes at the audience’s request. Throw in a deliberately B-grade movie aesthetic, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a rollicking good time.


Alas, no. Whilst performers Kurt Phelan and Branden Christine – playing the love-torn characters Freddy and Carrie – certainly don’t lack enthusiasm, the relentless pace and raucous delivery got a little tiresome after a while, with the cacophony of noise and colour feeling a little too one-note-ish. Of course, I’d felt immediately disenfranchised during the voting process: with ten movie posters on display to the audience, we were asked to applaud for each one to determine the scenes to be used for the performance; sure, Poltergeist, The Shining, and Evil Dead received healthy support from the rest of the audience, but so did Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th… and when it came time to support Twin Peaks, I was the only member of the audience to hoot and holler. The rest of the crowd turned and looked at me, quizzically; “Oh, come on, you fuckers!” was the only way I could express my disappointment.

Freddy and Carrie lusted after each other through the five disconnected scenes, interleaved with lascivious lounging: the safety word “Pineapple” was used a few times to jolt the next scene into action. But, for me, there was very little to connect with here, and – with the Evil Dead tree rape scene being the notable exception – there was little empathy for the snippets of material on show.

And that’s a shame, really, because I do like a good bit of schlock horror… it’s just that I never really had a reason to engage with A Nightmare On Love Street. It felt like it was targeting people for whom Scream was a credible horror movie… and I found that incredibly difficult to reconcile.

[2014117] HolePunch

[2014117] HolePunch

Violet & Veruca @ Tandanya – Firefly

6:30pm, Wed 12 Mar 2014

I was all fired up to see Gaga v Assange this evening and, as I arrived at Arcade Lane for the performance, I thought I’d just check that the ninety minute running time was still on-the-mark (since I had an 8:30pm must-see show). The door team weren’t convincing: “Ninety minutes? Sure… closer to two hours, though.”

What? Erm… what time did last night’s show finish?

“A little after half-past-eight,” they responded.

Fuck. “Oh – sorry, I can’t see it now. Cross my name off the list, thanks.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you’re running half-an-hour longer than expected. I’ve got another show to see.”

Door peeps seemed unconcerned: “I’m sure FringeTIX will refund your ticket…”

[No, they won’t.]

“…and there’s plenty of other shows on nearby – why not try the Tuxedo Cat?”

[Because they’re closed on Wednesdays.]

So I’ve walked away from Arcade Lane very, very annoyed. Out came the phone, cross-referenced with The Shortlist… and it’s a quick dash down to Tandanya, arriving with seconds to spare before the lights drop for HolePunch. And, as I took my seat, it suddenly struck me that – aside from the fact that it was on The Shortlist – I knew nothing about HolePunch. I didn’t even know what genre it was proposing.

A simple set – a few desks and a prominent photocopier – creates an office setting, populated by an all-female cast of four: Michelle, the officious and clueless boss; Nige, the larrikin “bloke” with a penchant for Cheezels; Ben from IT, with his accompanying sound effects and poses; and Tash the intern, ditzy in the extreme. Together they tackle the broken photocopier, with various scenes filling in the backstory of intra-office lust, Nige’s forgotten birthday, and typical power struggles.

All of this is described – of course – through song, dance, (constrained) acrobatics, and even a little bit of strip-tease. It’s all incredibly silly stuff that also happens to be spot-on, entertainment-wise: the cast are universally superb throughout, with tongues planted firmly in cheeks as they milk the laughs from the script. And Tash the intern’s sexy glue dance? Oh my… oh my. That, alone, was worth the price of admission.

Retrospectively, I’m super glad that Gaga v Assange ran long… because HolePunch turned out to be a very pleasing mix of cabaret, circus, comedy, and burlesque… and, even better, it was perfectly sized and paced. There wasn’t a single second of wasted effort in the show… and that is something that the Violet & Veruca crew could teach some of their more senior cabaret cousins.

[2014116] The Luck Child

[2014116] The Luck Child

David Collins @ Royalty Theatre

10:00am, Wed 12 Mar 2014

I was always a fan of the Umbilical Brothers back-in-the-day, but – having seen them perform live in 2006 – I’d given them a wide berth since. But eight years have passed since that incredibly uneven show, so I figured that I’d give them another shot… and when I realised that half the ‘Brothers were also presenting a kid-friendly show, in a kid-(and Freak-)friendly timeslot, I snaffled a ticket pretty smartly.

But it was only after I grabbed a flyer on the way in to the Royalty Theatre that I saw a few words that were obviously meant for parental reassurance, but resulted in my nervousness: “Ages 4-10”. Even from mental maturity perspective, that’s well below my age… and I started to wonder whether I’d just dragged myself out of bed early to see something that was going to offer nothing to me.

There wasn’t a massive audience for this performance – maybe thirty people all up, half of which were children in the target age range – and that certainly had me questioning the viability of using the Royalty. Regardless, there was joyous applause and yelling as David Collins took to the stage, introduced himself with a few vocal effects, and went straight into the story of The Luck Child – a seventh son of a seventh son, banished by a power-hungry Evil King. Collins plays all the characters in his twisting tale, rubbery features and nimble voice adapting with little apparent effort.

In the centre of the stage was the only prop of the show, a three-metre-tall cardboard tower seemingly built out of boxes, which Collins rotates throughout the show to provide different backdrops to the story. It’s a clever construction, and clearly captured the imagination of the youngsters present; far moreso than the slow start, with a wizard exploring his alchemy to great sound effects (but little audience response). Once Collins won the kids over, however (and it only took a few brain-freeze shenanigans), he was set; the rest of the show allowed him the freedom to tinker with the audience’s imagination in the most absurd ways possible. And the Q&A session that followed the performance was a hoot: there were a bunch of questions (mostly from kids) about the cardboard set (that Collins answered with constructive detail), a lot of “Where’s Shane?” queries (“Mantra, Room 111b,” Collins replied, quipping “all the Mums can write that one down”), and probing about specific episodes of their TV show (which I hadn’t even been aware of up until that point).

The Luck Child was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an Umbilical Brothers show targeted at children: clever noises, bold (and clever) over-acting, and sheer absurdity. But it also proved to be pretty entertaining to the adults (or, more specifically, this adult) present too, and whilst it could hardly be deemed a must-see theatrical event, it was most certainly worth waking up for… if only to see David Collins’ ridiculously assured stage presence.

[2014115] Pat Burtscher’s Overwhelmed

[2014115] Pat Burtscher’s Overwhelmed

Pat Burtscher @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 3

9:45pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014

Even though Pat Burtscher has been a regular face (and stalwart) around Tuxedo Cat in the last few years, and he’s always been a great guy to talk to, I’d never actually seen him perform (save a short spot at a Rhino Room Late Show)… mainly because I was somewhat scared off by a friend’s reaction to his Patopotamoose show a few years back. But that same friend stumbled into this year’s Overwhelmed by mistake, and reported an enjoyable experience: a gap in the Schedule saw me in Raj’s Room 3, along with a handful of familiar TuxCat faces… and around half-a-dozen other people who seemed very unsure as to the reason for their presence.

There’s a complete lack of fanfare as Burtscher wanders in and starts trotting out material. It’s relatively low-key stuff – recollections of events from his past, thoughts inspired by others – and it encourages a gentle bubbling of mirth in the audience. There’s a couple of choice tales – a drug-fuelled rave odyssey is good value – and Burtscher also shows a very left-leaning political bent when he starts calling out society’s ills… and that’s just fine by me.

The rambling, unstructured nature of the show – if, indeed, there is any structure – is evident by the complete lack of any kind of central thread; Burtscher appears to mentally lurch from one short tale to another, with some tales just petering out into discomfort. And whilst this lack of a central thread could work, the material needs to be either stronger in content or laughs to be able to support the show… and I don’t really think that’s the case here.

At the end of an hour of Pat Burtscher’s standup, I felt like I’d just engaged in a one-sided chat with him: the show had that kind of conversational flow to it. But, in just the same way that you never trot out all your A-grade stuff when you’re down the pub with a mate, I never felt like Burtscher was really giving us his best material. And whilst the grins and chuckles that I did have were pleasant, I usually prefer heartier laughs from my comedy.