Vicious Circles
Weeping Spoon Productions @ Tuxedo Cat – The Wine Underground
9:45pm, Sat 22 Feb 2014
Fun fact: ever since hearing the Sex Pistols in high school, and thence witnessing the glory of The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, I’ve been… well, interested in anything surrounding the Sex Pistols. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan, but I love learning about the concocted phenomena of the ‘Pistols… and hey, I hunted high and low for their version of Johnny B. Goode. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Malcolm McLaren’s rambling monologue was the first Adelaide Festival show I ever saw.
Long story short: after the précis promised a theatrical tussle between the pivotal Pistols (and surrounding characters), I was dead keen on seeing Vicious Circles.
So keen, in fact, that I was front-of-queue as we assembled out the front of the Wine Underground. After descending the stairs, I noticed that there was already someone sitting in a front row aisle seat; ah, I thought, a plant. I took the seat directly across the aisle, and soon wound up in conversation with a bubbly lass (and, later, her beau) who – with three (lifetime) Fringe shows under their belt – felt that they were pretty old hands at this Fringe malarkey.
But when Sid Vicious stumbles – in a flurry of flailing limbs – onto the set (a messy collection of detritus with a grimy bed at its centre), amid a loud and caustic stream of profanity, I could feel my previously chirpy neighbour tense up. When Sid yelled “What the fuck you looking at?” towards the previously identified plant, I felt her reach for her partner’s hand; when Sid threw a can at the plant, then leapt off stage to assault him, she cowered.
And I grinned like a loon. This was exactly what I wanted Sid to be; Patrick Rogers nails the desperation and commitment and goofish cluelessness. And when Kathleen Aubert’s interpretation of Nancy purred onto the bed, bedraggled and needy and devoted and desperate for drugs, she was exactly who I expected her to be. And Johnny Rotten… wow. If there was ever a better, more sinister and scowling and sneering and contemptuous personification of punk-era Lydon, I would love to see it… because Shane Adamczak (who I’d previously only ever seen in his much sweeter Zack Adams persona) is perfect. Absolutely perfect… and Rotten even pointed out my hair from the stage and gave me (what I interpreted to be) a sneer of approval.
Sadly, the only character that really failed to connect was that of Malcolm McClaren: Charles Mayer certainly tried to get the self-important haughtiness that epitomised McClaren’s character in the Swindle, but it didn’t quite work… and nor did his physical presence. The fact that he mistook me for a woman as he prowled through the crowd didn’t win him any plaudits from me, either.
With a trio of incredibly strong characters, the show could almost write itself: it’s largely a battle for the control of Sid’s will, with Nancy appealing to the hedonist side of him, Rotten to the anti-establishment punk-purist, and McClaren to the… well, McClaren’s only interested in what’s best for McClaren, really. There’s some fantastic scenes (that I suspect bend the truth quite liberally) as the battle for Sid hots up, with a destructive demise almost inevitable.
But here’s the thing: such is the bile and venom being (sometimes literally) thrown around on stage that I rarely felt safe – my neighbour’s partner was surprised by Sid’s jostling and awkwardly fell backwards in his seat to the ground, causing a bit of concern from all around. It felt like danger was only a script-line away, and even the more tender moments between Sid and Nancy were on a knife-edge of tension. Even the dismissal of the audience at the end of the show had a snarl to it, as we were pushed into the night with a dismissive “fuck off!”
I expected a punkish show about the punk movement; I got an intelligently written piece that leveraged the populist ideas of the movement in the best possible ways. Add on three outstanding performances, and Vicious Circles was just perfect Fringe theatre.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 23, 2014