[201608] Moving Too Fast

[201608] Moving Too Fast

Michaela Burger & Zac Tyler @ Adelaide Festival Centre – Space Theatre

7:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2016

I’ve no idea why Moving Too Fast made it onto my (very) Shortlist; I think it was because of the description of “life as we know it” as “complicated”. It certainly wasn’t because of the promise of a song cycle (that’s not usually my style), or the performers (although I’ve seen Michaela Burger perform admirably in the past), and it certainly wasn’t the proposed focus on New York composer Jason Robert Brown – who I’d never heard of prior to tonight’s show. But, judging by the size (and age!) of the assembled audience, it was abundantly clear that there were a bunch of people that were here for those reasons.

As it turns out, JRB’s tunes are pretty good. The selection chosen for this performance all seemed to be based around midlife crises: relationship breakdowns (or buildups) and life-passing-you-by seemed to be recurring themes. His lyrics are straightforward – there’s little in the way of metaphor in his writing – but his turn of phrase is quite lovely; You Don’t Know This Man and Stars And The Moon were particular highlights, the latter being a standout solo by Burger.

The songs seemed to be evenly split between duets and solos by each of the two singers, with Zac Tyler’s solos allowing him to roam and flirt with the crowd, a broad smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye; Burger’s other solos were a little more adventurous, with one dragging an audience member onto the stage. Morty seemed very pleased with his lot as he cavorted on the sofa beneath Burger’s gyrating form.

There’s no denying that Burger and Zac Tyler can work a crowd… and sing – their voices are strong and versatile, and there’s a crisp cleanness to their delivery that is a credit to both them and the Space’s technical support. Their supporting band – Mark Ferguson on piano (who also directed), the always-awesome Alana Dawes on double (and occasionally electric) bass, and Jarrad Payne on drums – was superb: their rendition of My Iron Lung was brilliant.

Moving Too Fast was an incredibly polished cabaret performance… and that’s possibly the only knock against it. There’s no way that this could really be considered “Fringe” – it would be perfectly at home in the Cabaret Festival programme, and there’s nothing “fringe” or risky about this show… but I can’t deny its entertainment value. To watch a set of enjoyable, lyrically engaging songs delivered by such a competent bunch of performers was a great way to spend an hour.



Sarah Gaul @ La Bohème – Upstairs

6:00pm, Sat 13 Feb 2016

After a bit of a rocky start, I’ve become a massive fan of Sarah Gaul – her show two years ago was a brilliant bit of cabaret, and my desire to see SLUMBERLAND pretty much shaped my Scheduling for this Saturday. Of course, I’d completely forgotten that there was supposed to be a Fringe Parade (and other assorted hijinks) in the city this evening, resulting in a… well, thin crowd at La Bohème. Six people, actually, some of which didn’t appear to have English as a first language (which always concerns me with a show which relies heavily on nuanced dialogue for humour).

I hate to admit it, but I really stared at Gaul as she took to the stage and sat behind her piano – I (perversely) wanted to see whether she was phased by the pittance of an audience. But if she was, she certainly wasn’t showing any signs of disappointment: she leapt into her opener, Morning Song of Mourning, with gusto, and its hangover-and-lack-of-caffeine feel was well matched by her soft-then-snarky delivery.

What I love most about Gaul is that her songs work as songs – they’re genuinely enjoyable tunes, generally revelling in the lower notes… Gaul relies heavily on her left hand. And whilst the subject matter is not necessarily original – there’s songs about her ex-boyfriends, her dog, and her aspirations for her yet-to-be-conceived daughter – her lyrics are sublime comedy, opening up with a gentle (even twee) premise before exposing something far, far darker… a classic one-two punch. Shooting Star typifies this attack, with a sharp twist that’s like a knife in the back of the song’s inspiration, and the now-familiar (but no less impressive) closing song about the drowning of her ex is a brutal delight.

Sure, the back third of the show lacked the intensity of the opening, but Sarah Gaul still proved herself to be a superb cabaret singer-songwriter. I’ll continue seeking her shows out wherever I can.

[201606] A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

[201606] A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

Gary McNair @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

3:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2016

My first trip out to Holden Street for this (sure-to-be-svelte) Fringe yielded no real surprises; as a venue, it’s cultivated its charm, and has no need to change. But there’s a disappointingly thin crowd in attendance for A Gambler’s Guide To Dying – sure, it’s early in the season, but I’d got the impression that Holden Street’s Edinburgh Fringe Award carried a little more cachet… I had hoped that it’d drag the crowds in prior to reviews appearing.

After the house lights drop, Gary McNair takes to the stage with little fanfare… and the stage itself is bare, save a chair or two. His story centres around his grandfather, who had placed a winning bet on the outcome of the 1966 World Cup… a brave move in Scotland at the time, and one which earned him the physical ire of others in the community. This bold bet typified his grandfather’s approach to gambling, so – when he was diagnosed with cancer in the late nineties – he bet (against the odds) that he would live to see in the new millennium.

McNair’s characters are brilliantly realised, and the relationship between grandfather & grandson is tangible; the description of the elder introducing the younger to gambling (and the rituals they develop together) is gorgeous. His script is beautifully paced, too, encouraging a tension as the hours tick down towards the New Year, with huddles of anxious – for multiple reasons – family gathering to celebrate the patriarch’s big win… or commiserate his loss (in more ways than one).

Gareth Nicholls’ direction is minimalist, with McNair relatively static throughout – there’s only an occasional movement onstage. But whilst McNair doesn’t roam much, his presence and presentation just demanded my attention; MJ McCarthy’s sound design is fantastic, too, with perfectly timed murmurs and punctuations guiding the monologue along.

I really, really enjoyed A Gambler’s Guide To Dying: it was good, honest theatre built atop a wonderfully human script… and McNair – who I bumped into a week later at The Human Project v1.1 – proved to be an incredibly charming chap. I can only hope that, after the positive reviews appeared in the local press, that more people took the trip out to Holden Street to check this great bit of work out.

[201605] Tink Tank

[201605] Tink Tank

Bunk Puppets @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Factory

12:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2016

I’ve loved Bunk Puppets’ work over the years, and even when the show isn’t at its most polished (as with Slapdash Galaxy early in 2012) there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had simply from observing the results of Mr Bunk’s imagination.

But I was a little surprised to see Mr Bunk taking a seat with us in a humid Factory at the beginning of the show, and two new puppeteers – neither of whom I could recall having seen before – taking the stage. And they’re amiable chaps, easily engaging with the children in the audience (a fair few families were in), and their exaggerated movements (as they elaborately twisted arms and torsos to create the appropriate shadow source from their patchwork clothing) were a delight.

Narratively, there’s a small cast of characters – a baby in a pram, a cow, and a rooster – and a quirky story that saw the three navigating a series of environments. Sequences of land-based travel were shadow-cast using a familiar Bunk trick – a hand-rolled surface onto which shrubbery and rocks were frantically placed – but the standout segment was when the characters were trapped in a convincingly turbulent sea: a large fabric cloud (a parachute, perhaps? or maybe a balloon?) was pumped full of air, and the puppeteers used blue torches inside the swirling fabric to create an unlikely shadow stage.

But even that bit felt like it went on too long… and there was a bit of a feeling that some of the shadow sources were perhaps a little too creative (or insufficiently rehearsed). And the dark tone of proceedings (un-stuffing, and then re-stuffing reviving a teddy bear?) seemed a little heavy for the some of the kids in the audience… But when you have something as clever as 3D puppetry (using offset two-colour light sources), it’s easy to forgive a few rough patches.

As mentioned before, I’d been surprised to see Mr Bunk – Jeff Achtem – sitting in the audience throughout Tink Tank… but Achtem is still credited with writing the show, and it’s still full of his humour and creative aesthetic and lo-fi process. But I can’t help feeling that the cast & crew were still feeling the show out a little; whilst entertaining, it lacked a lot of the polished process that I associate with Bunk Puppets. Still, maybe that’s to be expected this early in the season.

[201604] Ollie and the Minotaur

[201604] Ollie and the Minotaur

Duende Collective @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

9:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016

I was super excited to see that Duende were going to be putting on a production of Ollie and the Minotaur this Fringe; I’m a massive fan of Duende’s work (and Alan Grace’s direction, in particular), and I had fond memories of the last time I’d seen that play… way back in 2008.

Or I thought I did, anyway. When I went back to check my blog in preparation for this performance, I was surprised by the grumpy tail-end of the post… but, as the corrupted memories started sorting themselves out in my head, the re-reading did its job: I felt more prepared for this year’s rendition.

It is, of course, the same play with the same characters: three girls engaging in a traditional sozzled Girl’s Weekend inadvertently pick away at each other until a brutal deeper truth is revealed. Laura Brenko’s Bec is perfect as the more malleable of the three girls, and Shannon Mackowski absolutely owns the stage when her Carla is on a roll… but manages to balance her in the closing sections of the play, when Carla loses prominence onstage. And whilst I initially thought that Dee Easton was too soft for the pivotal Thea, the guts that she brought to her performance after The Turning Point left me convinced that no-one could have done better… and her fragility in the closing moments made for a nervous denouement.

The technical side was impressive, too: Alan Grace’s direction didn’t disappoint, and Nick Russell’s sound design was excellent, bookending the play with gorgeous soundscapes, and perforating the piece with perfect ambient noises.

And whilst my previous opinions about the play itself – that the final act is a sudden lurch that just doesn’t feel right – has not really changed, Duende’s production managed to paper over those cracks somewhat. Great performances, and excellent technical support, made this a much more satisfying experience than floogle’s 2008 effort.

[201603] A Night At The Venue

[201603] A Night At The Venue

The Three Cs @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

8:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016

When I read the précis for A Night At The Venue in the Fringe Guide, I remembered thinking that it sounded like it would be a good fit for the Tuxedo Cat… so I wasn’t all that surprised to see Bryan Lynagh (who now spends most of his time in the Coffee Pot, leaving Cass Tombs running the ‘Cat) waiting outside the Cusack prior to the show. But I was surprised when he told me that he’d written the play.

But if I didn’t realise this was Bryan’s story before, I certainly would have afterwards. The central character of the show, a laidback-but-charming chap running the (nameless?) venue, is Lynagh’s doppelgänger, and the venue itself is reminiscent of the Tuxedo Cat in its various guises. The ancillary characters, too, are recognisable from late-night conversations with Cass & Bryan – arsehole-ish overly-officious council and regulatory officials, glib “personalities”, skinflint artists who exploit the goodwill of the venue, and the completely dodgy bag ladies angling for any opportunity. And there’s plenty of jabs at media “reviewers”, and the impact of mega-venues on the Fringe: all the side characters seemed to be more interested in the “Bocce Social Club” than in the venue they were currently in.

But alongside the completely unsubtle commentary about the wider Fringe audience (and red tape), there’s glimpses of the moments that make the running of the venue worthwhile: there’s staff and artists (and even patrons) who get together to provide some positivity and community. There’s a real-life plug for another TuxCat show in the middle of a scene, when the performer behind Jizz is spotted in the front row. And the water-cooler – a symbol of the venue’s compassion and forthrightness – becomes a running gag… but one which opened my eyes to the abuse of the water-cooler in TuxCat, as witnessed on this Fringe’s closing night.

In the end, Lynagh’s autobiographical script doesn’t become too weighty; most of the time, the negative aspects of running an arts venue are played for laughs… then again, the misanthropic & selfish actions of the side-characters were almost too depressing to play straight. Performances (by a small cast of familiar TuxCat faces) were okay, and the staging & direction were perfunctory… but they got the point across. And that’s fine, because A Night At The Venue is like the Tuxedo Cat itself – rough around the edges, but with the biggest heart of gold.

[201602] Old Tech New Decks

[201602] Old Tech New Decks

Vanessa Nimmo & Matt Rankin @ Hains & Co – Upstairs

6:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016

I can’t remember what attracted me to Old Tech New Decks, though I seem to recall it being driven by a desire to create a flow to the evening that avoided the mega-venues as much as possible. And as I arrived at Hains & Co, I discover one of my regular event-buddies sitting outside; we have a quick catch-up, then wander upstairs, grabbing some nice central bar-stools at the rear of the room.

The performance space was cramped with a series of stations, but there were precious few traditional sources of sound to be found: an old turntable was visible, but apart from that the stations seemed littered with old TVs and typewriters. Vanessa Nimmo sits at one typewriter and starts typing: a camera attached to the typewriter roller follows her fluently tapped introduction, which also served as a charming and amusing title card for the performance. It soon becomes obvious that her typing has an intentional rhythm: Matt Rankin sits at another typewriter and starts filling in the spaces with his own typing, and soon a complex tune forms.

The pair of performers occasionally shift between their performance stations, using the “instruments” at each to create an odd bed of sound; there’s beeps and bloops from a sound pad, old records crackling away, baby-boomer telephones ringing, and old ads are sourced from a laptop and mixed in. And these explorations are really quite lovely: these (somewhat) found instruments create a soundscape which is right up my alley. But then comes the middle third of their performance: a fifteen minute block where the audience is asked to play old 8- and 16-bit video games (spread over four screens) to provide sonic source material for some live looping. This brought the performance to a screeching halt: whilst it’s a neat idea, the selection of games felt odd (familiar titles – other than a requisite, but lesser known, Mario title – may have elicited better audience engagement) and sonically weak, and the fifteen minutes allocated really dragged. In fact, the group of people sitting in front of us – who had obviously decided to attend on the back of some early positive press – seemed almost disgusted by the looped cacophony; one pulled out their phone in the middle of the performance to apologetically pass the review around.

But that was just one third of the performance; the other two-thirds were great little soundscapes, produced by the ever-charming Nimmo (and markedly less-charming Rankin). There’s an element of retro nostalgia in the presented audio, too, and a bit of a retro games session after every show… it just felt a little stop-start-ish with that well-intentioned, but over-long, audience interaction segment.

[201601] Lifeline

[201601] Lifeline

Butterfly Theatre @ The Wheatsheaf Hotel

5:00pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016

I realise that I’m totally becoming a grump when I start harrumphing at my watch at 5pm on the dot, with no sign of any action on the Wheaty’s great stage; my grumpy hackles were raised, and I’m counting minutes with the knowledge that I’ve got a little bit of a tight changeover between my first two shows of the season… even though I’d sworn that I was going to take things much, much easier this year.

Wesley van Gelderen takes the stage – call-centre corporate with a phone headset in place – and sits at a small table, hands on a laptop. James Whitrow follows him on, and very deliberately ties a noose using a fragment of rope that’s clearly been used for that purpose before. He throws the noose over one of the Wheaty’s rafters, and prepares to hang himself… when he receives a phone call from Lewis (van Gelderen) urging him not to go through with it.

Their initial conversation paints Guy (Whitrow) as newly-separated and (understandably) depressed… and Lewis as in a position of power. Passive-aggressive language leads Guy from suicide, and suggests that he’ll be able to reconcile with his ex… but there’s a trade to be made. Veiled threats, through knowledge of intimate details of his life sourced online by Lewis, push him into a corner and lead him into actions that are unthinkable. Guy is goaded into making semi-anonymous phone threats, choosing between ordering either an execution or a child slave, and is then forced to listen to the results of his “free” actions.

The highlight of the performance, though, was the denouement – with Guy out of the picture, Lewis dispassionately makes his next call… and a phone in the audience goes off. A woman next to me answers it, and we hear Lewis’ call-centre-perfect introduction again… “Oh shit,” she softly gasped.

It was a perfect end to a show that preyed on fears of technology.

Nat Texler’s script is not what you’d call cheery: there’s a lot of threats and (toothless) counter-threats, steeped in a healthy dose of internet-paranoia. Lewis’ justifications are thin, at best, and Guy’s reluctant desire to succumb to Lewis’ sociopathic requests borders on disbelief. But there’s enough there to keep the plot rolling along, and – at a relatively short forty minutes – it doesn’t drag too much… though the final five minutes could most certainly have benefited from a little extra trimming. But as my first show of this year’s Fringe, Lifeline proved to be a decent – but not rave-worthy – theatrical foray.