[2015073] My Life in Boxes

[2015073] My Life in Boxes

Gravity Dolls @ Gluttony – The Lotus Palace

5:20pm, Tue 24 Feb 2015

Cross-artform performances are hardly new; even attempts to merge theatre and circus have been seen before. Where My Life in Boxes could have reeled me in was in the content of the narrative: one of the characters was a hoarder seeking change. I was hoping to find familiarity in that.

Performed in front of a wall of cardboard boxes, a simple relationship between the characters – a café owner, Elise, and a doctor at the nearby hospital, Teddy – develops. The contents of some of the boxes are used to trigger events in the narrative – in their relationship – and one suspects that the idea was to generate a sense of discovery.

It’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into the set, but the manner in which the performers (Tim Rutty & Tarah Carey) interact with it is almost superfluous to both the narrative and the tricks. In fact, more effort seemed to have been given to the viewer‘s interaction with the set than the actors, as audience participation includes minor prep work (that could easily have been avoided).

The acrobatic side of the performance, too, felt unnecessary, and even in stark contrast to the accompanying narrative: tricks often seemed to have energy levels mismatched with the scenes that bookended them. If they were supposed to symbolically add to the narrative, it was lost on me.

I think I can see what Gravity Dolls were aiming for with My Life in Boxes, but it didn’t really work for me. The narrative was too thin and – despite a few poignant moments – bordered on the twee. The physical side of the performance was too basic to engage, and there were a few stumbles with tricks on the night. In the end, I’m not even sure whether the whole measured up to the sum of its parts.

[2015072] Lisa-Skye’s Lovely Tea Party

[2015072] Lisa-Skye’s Lovely Tea Party

Lisa-Skye (with Becky Lou & Nicole Henriksen) @ Tuxedo Cat – Rivers Studio

9:45pm, Mon 23 Feb 2015

I’d previously encountered Lisa-Skye in a couple of guest spots previously, but had never actually given her money for any of her shows; I felt obliged to change that this year, and so I – and maybe a dozen other people – sat in on her tea-party this Monday night.

Lisa-Skye uses the performance as an opportunity to record her podcast, but she front-loads the show with a bit of her comedy: on this occasion, she talked about a weird encounter in her favourite Berlin sex club. She also introduces her board of topics from which her guests would select conversation starters – “Animalia” and “Snack-off” were amongst the selections this evening, and each was introduced with its own jingle.

I was stoked with her guests this evening: Nicole Henriksen brought a slightly tempered version of her insanity to proceedings, and Becky Lou (previously seen at IT’S RABBIT NIGHT!!!) provided a relatively restrained contrast to the madness of Lisa-Skye and Nicole.

The conversation between the trio was wide ranging: phobias, the skin care benefits of semen, coat of arms, and Fringe survival tactics. Lisa-Skye and Henriksen also discussed – with scary statistics and much cattiness – the “joys” of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, and Becky Lou’s nipple health details were… ummmmm. Yes. But, on the strength of her presence during the Tea Party, I committed to seeing Becky Lou’s show later in the Fringe… so that was a win.

Lisa-Skye is a pretty strong personality and keeps the show moving along, but she also has a tendency to dominate conversations somewhat (though she also manages to pull the guests back in after a quiet spell). And hey – the “guest” portions of the show are available on Lisa-Skye’s podcast, so that’s nice too.

[2015071] I Still Call Australia Homo

[2015071] I Still Call Australia Homo

In & Out @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

8:30pm, Mon 23 Feb 2015

Inspired by real-life accounts of homosexual discrimination from all around the world, I Still Call Australia Homo creates a dystopian Australia, where homosexuality has been outlawed & gay-bashing is commonplace. But this dystopia is placed in an eerily idyllic setting: two clean neighbouring houses, manicured gardens, The Great Australian Dream. Two perfect colour-coded couples, Orangey-Red and Aqua-Green.

The Red couple are new to the neighbourhood, and the Greens welcome them with open arms – dinner parties, BBQs, tea and yoga for the women, beer and house maintenance for the men. Early on, there’s a lot of friendly banter and innuendo being flung around… but there’s also openly homophobic remarks, and references to the persecution of homosexuals. The two men eventually develop a relationship, which tears both couples apart… and then the accusations fly thick and fast: just why did the Reds move here, anyway?

For the most part, I Still Call Australia Homo is a relatively conventional production, with a sincere message that is sugar-coated with plenty of humour. Innuendo litters the first half of the show, and the Green Woman stands as a comedic contrast to the rest of the characters. But there’s some really great bits of direction in there, too: the scenes where the characters investigate different dialogue choices triggered by hammering and perfectly synchronised turns of the head are superb.

It’s only long after the show is over that I recognised – and mused upon – one of the more biting aspects of the script: Red Woman is shocked early on by the homophobic jokes of Green Woman, and Green subsequently assumes that Red is a lesbian, though that’s never confirmed by the script. That layer of guilty-by-association is pretty nasty, and perhaps the most sneakily insidious part of this world. And whilst I wasn’t completely sold on I Still Call Australia Homo at the time, it’s nice that it gave me something to think about after-the-fact.

[2015070] Destroyer of Worlds

[2015070] Destroyer of Worlds

Rock Surfers Theatre Company @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

7:15pm, Mon 23 Feb 2015

Caleb Lewis is responsible for one of my favourite bits of Fringe Theatre ever, and this semi-autobiographical piece doesn’t paint him in a good light at all. Destroyer of Worlds wraps the build up – and, more importantly, the breakdown – of Caleb’s relationship with Lauren, and juxtaposes it with the relationship between Little Boy and Hiroshima, which is intertwined with parallels between Haruo Nakajima (the actor in the original Godzilla suit) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (one of the fathers of the atomic bomb).

And, in case that wasn’t enough, Caleb Lewis himself sits among the audience, occasionally stopping the actors – Rebecca Mayo and Phil Spencer – mid-sentence, as he tries to deal with his dissatisfaction of their rendition of his life, and comes to terms with his own issues. Lewis’ harassment of the cast members is brilliantly done, and the best excuse I’ve seen in years to break the fourth wall… the manner in which he alternately attacks and cajoles Mayo to try and get her to evoke the spirit of Lauren is something special.

All the above may seem like a mishmash of incongruent ideas, but it’s actually some of the cleanest, clearest writing I’ve seen in a Fringe theatre piece for years. But it’s accented and clarified by clever use of projections, video overlays (including Lewis’ Mum passing judgement around his relationship with Lauren), and just brilliant direction.

Look – I was likely to love this show from the outset… hey, it’s Caleb Lewis, and Death in Bowengabbie is a major work for me. But the fact that I loved this performance so much, despite sitting there feeling absolutely terrified that I may experience a relationship breakdown like this someday? That must mean that Destroyer of Worlds is something very special.

[2015069] POP POP

[2015069] POP POP

Penny Greenhalgh @ Tuxedo Cat – Rivers Studio

6:00pm, Mon 23 Feb 2015

The photo for POP POP in the Fringe Guide is, frankly, hideous… and the kind of thing that screams confidence. And that, alone, is enough to get me to see a show.

Penny Greenhalgh creates curiosity with her first impressions: creeping in from the rear of the room, she whispered desired “responses” into the ears of the audience, creating an odd – and very slow-moving – ripple of appreciation. There’s a (contradictory) surety to her initial onstage bumblings, and a conviction behind the statement that POP POP was written as an arena spectacular, but subsequently scaled back to a small room experience.

Greenhalgh’s “ice dancing” demonstration (with rollerblades) is a gangly and uncoordinated hoot, and undoubtedly dangerous to both herself and her audience; her attempt at crowd-surfing with an audience that barely hit double-digits likewise risky. And, as is rapidly becoming the norm, I was dragged up onstage to help perform a radio-play version of her soon-to-be breakout hit, “51 Shades of Grey”… the script was hilariously terrible, and required me to make a ton of animal noise sound effects. At least I got to kiss Penny at the end of the piece (leading to a panicky phone call immediately following the show to my Significant Other).

Another Gaulier graduate, Penny Greenhalgh garners a lot of laughs from putting herself into awkward – and dangerous – situations, and then just stewing there awhile. It’s an intriguing presentation from an amazingly confident performer; I’ll certainly be in line to see what she does next.

[2015068] Tripped

[2015068] Tripped

Attic Erratic @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

9:45pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

Two soldiers walking through a battlefield in another land, regrouping after a helicopter crash… until Norm feels the switch of a landline beneath his feet. Mike leaves Norm for help – not necessarily an easy thing to find in battle. In his absence, a foreign soldier points his rifle at Norm in glee… until he, too, feels the click of a landmine as he approaches.

So begins Tripped, in what should have been a taut and charged look at racial prejudices as – in the face of death – Ahmed and Norm talk… not as enemies, but as unlikely brothers-in-arms. They compare their backgrounds: both have lived in Australia, both have families, both are physically wilting in the desert with rapidly depleting water reserves, and both are a footstep away from a mutual death. With so much in common, how could they be on different sides?

The idea – I’m guessing – is that Norm’s persistent racial prejudices (he’s constantly calling civilians “rag heads”) would appear to be such an unsustainable contrast that we – the audience – would nod sagely and think “yep, those there ingrained notions are bad.” But Norm is so blinkered, and so one-sided, that the script is stretched right out, and becomes too overt in its message. I found Norm to be so unlikeable that I started thinking that the loss of Ahmed’s (relatively) innocent life would be a small price to pay to rid the world of Norm.

And I can totally see why people may rave about Tripped: the performances are great (Ezel Doruk holds Ahmed together really well), and there’s some nice little touches in the direction. But I found it laborious and overt in the extreme… if I’d had my way, the story would’ve ended a lot quicker.

[2015067] Zoe Coombs Marr is DAVE

[2015067] Zoe Coombs Marr is DAVE

Zoe Coombs Marr @ Tuxedo Cat – Rivers Studio

8:30pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

Dave would have to be one of the most rank, feral, sleazy shitbag characters to ever grace a stage, I reckon. An aspiring comic, he’s anxious for his stage time to reflect all that is great about the World of Dave… and that makes for a deeply unsettling hour.

Oh – and it’s funny. Dave is funny. We laugh at him – at his poor humour, poor judgement, poor presentation, poor choices… and the yawning chasm of desperation that he inadvertently shows. He’s a hateful, yet utterly sympathetic character.

But it only works because Dave is played by a woman.

Zoe Coombs Marr has created a character that, because of her portrayal of him, is able to get away with some of the most politically incorrect stuff that I’ve heard onstage this year – christ, it still feels bad to have laughed at that rape joke. But because Dave is supposed to be an every-man – or an every-comic – she’s able to put a lot of home-truths into his act, and – in turn – make her act potently political.

And funny. Did I mention that Dave is funny?

With his filthy thin ponytail, sweaty neckbeard, a backhanded admonishment for women, and an overly desperate need for companionship (Dave was constantly trying to find out where I lived so he could come over and hang out), it’s impossible to like Dave on any level. With his terribly immature rant about the hidden clitoris, it’s impossible not to pity him. When he seems like he’s walking down a path to discovering that he’s gay, it’s impossible not to piss yourself laughing at Zoe’s performance, with Dave’s mental contortions evident on his slimy face. And when Dave falls onstage, and stands back up with a trickle of blood running down his face… well, I felt equal parts happy and sad.

In the months since I encountered Dave‘s efforts at comedy, I’ve had opportunities to really mull over its qualities… and I reckon that I’d rave more about it now than I did back then. It’s an astonishingly astute, repulsive, and loveable character that Zoe Coombs Marr has developed; the emotional dissonance I felt in that hour was quite unlike anything else I’ve experienced.

[2015066] Aunty Donna

[2015066] Aunty Donna

Aunty Donna @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

7:15pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

Man, there was some serious buzz around Aunty Donna prior to their short run of shows; I had pencilled them in on the strength of the word “absurd” in their ‘Guide précis, but I got the feeling soon after taking my seat (in a packed Perske Pavilion) that Aunty Donna were really well known.

Apparently, they’ve got a heap of people following them online, or something.

So it turns out that Aunty Donna do sketch comedy… and it’s super polished. The three members of the group – Zachary Ruane, Broden Kelly, and Mark Samual Bonanno – have a wonderful chemistry, and they have their sketches down cold. And – better still – they like to dabble with some unconventional ideas.

Sure, there’s the occasional material that isn’t weird – but parental text messages are the closest Aunty Donna come to conventional. The rest of the time, their sketches are fractured by non sequiturs or just change direction abruptly. But everything just works: songs, sketches, a water fight…

I was bloody impressed by Aunty Donna… but then I started digging on their YouTube Channel. And bugger me if this isn’t the best thing ever. Consider me a devotee.

[2015065] Everything Is Under Control

[2015065] Everything Is Under Control

Angela Yeoh @ Gluttony – Pigtails

5:20pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

After my previous show started late, I was left with a tight fifteen minutes to get from the Channel 9 Studios in North Adelaide to Gluttony. I must admit that I thought about grabbing a taxi, but I eventually decided on performing the only reasonable option on a forty degree day: I ran between venues.

So… I made it on time, and the extreme heat of the day meant that everyone else in the barely-double-digits crowd were sweating like pigs, too, so I didn’t look too out-of-place.

Angela Yeoh left her career in (serious) journalism to train with Philippe Gaulier… and, in the opening moments of Everything Is Under Control, I was really wondering whether she’d done the right thing. Yeoh’s clown – a black top & mouse ears, red-with-white-dots skirt, and red clown nose – seemed completely lost onstage, with faltering speech and a wandering focus. Everything seemed half-thought-out, half arsed…

…until she started bringing people up onstage. And it wasn’t for anything elaborate – the audience involvement was actually really tame and limited. Safe, even.

But there was something in the way that she handled those interactions that totally got me onboard.

Thereafter, I delighted in every awkward moment of the show… whether it was a joke that fell flat, or a stumble onstage, or an over-elaborate setup that suggested that Yeoh suffered from OCD… I just assumed it was all intentional, and I laughed my arse off. Yeoh’s clown is less a physical mischief-maker than an awkward tragic… and she plays with that awkwardness, presenting it to the audience to deal with (or not, as was the case with much of the crowd).

I hung around and had a really lovely chat with Yeoh after the show… mainly about being able to ditch your “safe” career and chase your dreams. I am so madly, deeply envious that she had the courage to do that for herself; but, on the back of my experience with Everything Is Under Control, I am also thankful she did.

[2015064] The Bureau of Complaints

[2015064] The Bureau of Complaints

AJZ Productions @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

4:00pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

So – 4pm had come and gone, and the large audience that had gathered for this premiere of Alirio Zavarce’s latest work were sweltering under the water misters that were providing little relief, but plenty of additional humidity. I hear through the grapevine that entry to the venue was being held back to allow reviewers from The Advertiser to arrive… and I start fretting about how I’m going to get to my next show.

Once we were shunted inside (oh blessed air conditioning!), Alirio Zavarce and Matt Crook appear to much fanfare and introduce the premise of the show: to take the public’s complaints onboard. To that end, there’s a lot of vox pop videos where people air their grievances, as well as (disappointingly few) comments from their specially-commissioned “Confession Booth”, which clearly hadn’t seen too much use from the public. And that’s a shame, since I got the feeling that the Confession Booth was supposed to be the core of the show, with the Bureau responding to the Booth’s complainants.

But, in the absence of more material from the public, there’s a few asides about the need to facilitate the venting of complaint in society, as well as tips on how to be successful with complaints: Chris Crocker’s Leave Brittany Alone meme-trigger was used as a counter-example. And what arts performance about public dissatisfaction would be complete without some soft jabs at political complaints? (Tony Abbott is such a soft – but deserving – target!)

In their trench-coats and trilbies, Zavarce and Crook look the part as agents of The Bureau of Complaints, but when the biggest public complaint (lodged thus far) is about those little stickers on apples, then you have to question the Bureau’s usefulness.

In short: this was a fun idea, but – rather than seeing the premiere of this production – I wish I’d seen it at the end of its season (by which time, one would hope, there would be meatier material to work with).

[2015063] Smashed

[2015063] Smashed

Gandini Juggling @ Royal Croquet Club – The Panama Club

2:00pm, Sun 22 Feb 2015

It’s hot. Really hot. 40-odd degrees hot. And it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m going to see a show in a tent with a heap of Other People. And lots of the Other People are not pleased with the conditions. “Why isn’t the air conditioning on?” asks someone who stopped studying mathematics before they got to “volumes”. “They should have turned the air-con on sooner,” barked a certain ex-Parliamentarian to a Croquet Club worker who almost certainly couldn’t do anything about the weather.


The staging at the start of the performance was intriguing: nine chairs at the rear of the stage, equally spaced, with rows of apples stretching out in front of them. More apples were piled at the sides. And when the this particular troupe of Gandini jugglers took to the stage (Gandini has multiple groups performing Smashed around the world), they wore fixed grins and were remarkably in time.

And I thought to myself – hang on. Is this juggling? Is this dance? What section was this under in the ‘Guide, again? (Answer: Circus)

But – perfectly in sync, grins locked – the cast started scooping up apples as they walked across the stage… and started juggling. Solo, groups, one-handed, two-handed, amidst acrobatic grabs… they juggled. They juggled well, and the apples were arcing across the black stage backdrop in a spectacular visual display. That the performers themselves were immaculately presented (suits and vests for the men, elegant dresses for the women) only added to the spectacle.

Somehow, with no real spoken parts, they manage to weave something approaching a narrative into their tightly choreographed juggling/movement routine… and it reaches a crescendo when the apples start being hurled around the stage, shattering on impact… and the plates (that had snuck their way onstage during one of the more narrative moments) started getting smashed, too.

And I suddenly realised where the name of the show came from.

I loved Smashed. The juggling was pretty polished (not super polished, mind you – there were a few spills), and the direction (choreography?) of the performers ticked all my boxes. But oh, to have seen this performance in a more temperate venue…

[2015062] Lunatics Beer Garden – Late Show

[2015062] Lunatics Beer Garden – Late Show

Ro Campbell [emcee] & a big ensemble @ Producers Garden

11:15pm, Sat 21 Feb 2015

So… there’s a fair few late night ensemble shows now, isn’t there? They each seem to be trying to establish a niche for themselves: one may be strictly standup, another comedy-heavy with a little cabaret, others exclusively young artists, and so on. And being a bit of a fan of Ro Campbell, I thought I’d check out the show that he was emceeing and throw him some support.

And I discovered that the Lunatics Beer Garden niche is sheer, unbridled, almost scary drunken insanity.

It all starts out well enough: Ro does ten or fifteen minutes upfront, setting the rules and trying to corral the more unruly drunks sitting in front of the stage… and let’s be clear, there were a lot of pissed idiots in attendance (hey, it was a Saturday night Late Show, after all). Larry Dean came up and did a chunk of his Scottish gay material, Ivan Aristeguieta did his clever “Aussie Language” bit, and Nick Nemeroff… well, he had me re-jigging parts of The Schedule as soon as I got home. His spot was amazing; even amidst the drunken heckling, his quiet, hyper-restrained delivery got the crowd hanging on Every. Drawn. Out. Word.

After a bit of a break came a bit of human dartboard action. I wasn’t really expecting that. Wooden block over the spine, a dart gets thrown into a guys back, and he leaves the stage. Ummmmmmm… okay. UK comedian Pete Dobbing followed that up by telling a “worst gig” story, which rapidly devolved into a series of ketamine jokes. Darwin comic Amy Hetherington rounded out the bracket with tales from her worst holiday, with sidetracks into father abuse.

Another break, and Campbell announced The Bearpit: a heckle-friendly arena in which no protection is afforded to the comedians who volunteer. John Cameron kicked off with some savagely awful dick jokes, Elf Lyons bravely soldiered through some heckles, Danielle Andrews (another Darwin-ite) didn’t fare so well, and Dave Campbell copped a barrage of abuse from the crowd. The Bearpit looked like seriously hard work!

Finally, Angus Hodge convincingly won a rap battle against Patrick Carl… though it must be said that some contestants were obviously operating under reduced faculties.

This edition of the Lunatics Beer Garden Late Show was certainly eye-opening. Not only did it introduce me to the gloriously tortuous genius of Nick Nemeroff, but it also made me a teensy bit… ummm… scared to be at a show. There was a real feeling of lawlessness in the ‘Garden… but I suspect Ro Campbell wouldn’t have it any other way.

[2015061] My Brain Made Me Do It

[2015061] My Brain Made Me Do It

Freshly Ground Productions @ Tuxedo Cat – Rivers Studio

9:45pm, Sat 21 Feb 2015

Hidden under the “Theatre” section of the Fringe Guide was My Brain Made Me Do It, which teased me with the promise of short plays based on everyday accountability… which, given my own mental leanings, reeled me in straight away.

However, this septet of performances comes across more as loosely-linked sketch comedy than a serious attempt to elucidate about any mental health issues. And some of the sketches – The Tiger Woods Defense, Insecurity Guard, The Imaginary Breakup – are really quite witty, with the laughs coming from irrational responses to identifiable issues.

And whilst the humour is there, most of the sketches in My Brain Made Me Do It make the same mistake: they carry on past their natural conclusion and, as a result, outstay their welcome. And that may be a harsh criticism to make, it does tend to make the entire performance feel too long. Having said that, I got some additional laughs from this show from the quirky little takeaway pamphlet given to patrons, “ADHD and you – A comprehensive guide”, which is chock-full of wry jokes.

[2015060] Nicole Henriksen – Honeycomb Badgers on Acid

[2015060] Nicole Henriksen – Honeycomb Badgers on Acid

Nicole Henriksen @ Ayers House Museum – Loft

8:15pm, Sat 21 Feb 2015

Another year, another visit to my city by Nicole Henriksen, another pull-quote on her flyer stolen from this blog. And that’s totes OK, because the quote in context (which makes an appearance on the back of the flyer) is not bad at all. I’m pretty chuffed with that!

Anyhoo – Henriksen’s madness found an all-new – and odd, given the nature of her act – venue this year in the Ayers House Loft, a tight little space that was filled almost to capacity with a ready-to-laugh crowd… there were clearly friends of Henriksen in the audience, and her eyes lit up with recognition when she saw me enter the room.

As for the show… well, it’s more of the insanity that we’ve been seeing here since 2013: there’s still lots of video support (thankfully projected onto a white wall this year) to break up her ridiculously assured live performance pieces, and all her usual characters are still present. But there’s a strange thread of comparisons to Christ that permeates the material, which somehow gives a more thoughtful continuity to proceedings.

Honeycomb Badgers on Acid is cheek-numbing, eyebrow-raising, alt-comedy goodness. I still adore Henriksen’s work, and can’t wait to see further iterations of these characters that I’m growing to know and love.

[2015059] STRANDS

[2015059] STRANDS

Nigel Major-Henderson [dir] @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

6:30pm, Sat 21 Feb 2015

The Fringe Guide précis for STRANDS lays it out pretty clearly: “How hair and movement is tied together!” it exclaims. So I – along with a surprising number of other people (for a Fringe dance performance) – figured that there’d be some loose thematic elements in choreography that might invoke the thought of hair.

But as soon as STRANDS starts, I realise there’s going to be a bit of a problem… because the Kevin Crease Studio is not really the type of space to be performing a dance such as this. Sight-lines were terrible for all but the middle section of seats, leading me to employ that awful (and ineffective – when will I learn?) head-jerking-craning motion far too often.

For a young cast, the range of movement was pretty good… mostly. Some pieces felt poorly rehearsed, but others just felt poorly timed – the choreographer’s problem (or perhaps the choice of music). And whilst the soundtrack was certainly diverse – Kate Bush to System Of A Down – some of the editing was… well, rough: the music used in the reprise sounded like it had been cut with a rusty meat cleaver, and there were often long pauses with the dancers onstage waiting for their music to start.

The second piece stands out in my mind: highly active pop-ish dancing set to a ponderous classical piece created a memorable dissonance. The piece that had the dancers crawling towards light generated nice shadows within the space, but was again let down by poor timing.

There were moments of creative and physical movement goodness in STRANDS, and most of them related closely to the hair theme, including the pieces where dancers were joined via their hair. But as some point, I remember asking myself: When does it stop being inspirational, and start becoming fetishism?

…Not that I’m complaining, mind you. With hair like mine, it’d be hypocritical to whinge about the fetishist follicular focus of STRANDS. Some of the choreography, though, gave me plenty to whinge about.