[2012007] Kapow!

[2012007] Kapow! [FringeTIX]

Asking for Trouble @ Umbrella Revolution

11:30am, Sat 18 Feb 2012

In the early years of The Garden, these pre-Fringe matinée performances would often be attended only by myself and a handful of other Gardeners. These days, however, parents seem to be right on top of things; there’s a pretty decent crowd gathered for this morning performance, which thankfully avoids the later heat of the day.

As we wander into the surprisingly not stifling Umbrella Revolution, we see Scout – young, caped, with wide eyes underneath her superhero goggles. She sits on her bunk beds, playing with her teddy: the bear coyly waves at the children as they enter, or performs simple tricks around the frame of the beds. Scout introduces herself with a flourish at the top of the show; her house is her world, with the bunk beds and Hills Hoist and kitchen table the defining objects. And then there’s The Fence – imposing, mysterious. The Edge of her World.

But Scout’s not alone: her best friend (and dog) Natalie bounds around with endless enthusiasm, and her (imaginary) friend Terry ditches his newspaper deliveries to come play with her… during an energetic play session, Scout’s teddy goes sailing over The Fence… and the mission to retrieve the bear is initiated. We see the three heroes training (to a peppy soundtrack), installing a laser-defence system, and delivering a heap of vibrant, active, and engaging tumbles and balances. There’s creative use of the kitchen table and bunks, and some of the balance pieces are really quite clever… and, just as the kids are starting to vague out, there’s a massive dodgeball fight that gets their attention back. It really is a brilliantly paced show, and it even has a very clear and friendly disclaimer at the end (to encourage the kids to not go kill themselves at home repeating some of the tricks).

Even as a jaded, middle-aged adult, I found Kapow! to be completely charming. Christy Flaws’ wide-eyed and expressive Scout is absolutely perfect, managing her acrobatics almost effortlessly, and her body language just draws the audience in… it’s an incredibly accomplished performance. Ailsa Wilds’ Natalie is a joyous puppy, full of zest and doggy mannerisms, even whilst sidetracking into verbose monologues about the evolution of the canine species. Luke O’Connor provides the slapstick with Terry, including a well-paced repetition of head-smacking “accidents” that provide rigour to the middle third of the show.

But, even beyond the great performances, the really great thing about Kapow! is the maturity that’s hidden within the script. Sure, the superficial view of the performance sees it encouraging a sense of exploration, a sense of play, but there’s also an undercurrent that there’s no such thing as pure Good Guys and Bad Guys – just a continuum between Good and Bad. Good Guys can be Bad, Terry demonstrates. And I reckon that’s a wonderful little seed to plant in a youngster’s mind; it’s almost a germ of a political statement.

Oooooh, look at me. Finding something political in a children’s show!

Regardless, I loved Kapow!, and would recommend it to pretty much anyone with young kids.

Later that night, I was sitting with Matt and Nat and their youngster in The Garden, just having a bit of a chat; a woman walks up to us and says to me, “I recognise you from the show today.” Seeing the Kapow! flyers she was carrying, I tried to place her – was she on the door? The realisation came with a jolt – no, it was Ailsa, minus her doggy makeup. We had a lovely chat and – after having already raved about the show to Matt & Nat – she gave them a couple of comps, which pleased them no end. Good stuff :)

[2012006] The Phatcave

[2012006] The Phatcave [FringeTIX]

Craig Egan, Mickey D, Tom Gleeson, Svetlanka Seczskittenya, Jamie Bowen, Heath Franklin @ La Cascadeur

11:30pm, Fri 17 Feb 2012

I decide to man up nice’n’early in this year’s Fringe assault and start pushing my sleep pattern out (I know I tend to crap on about sleep patterns a bit, but I can’t help it – I’m a sleep wuss). So I decide that a visit to The Phatcave is in order; I check the Fringe iPhone app and learn that there’s Rush Tix for tonight’s show. “Scoop,” I think in a very retro kinda way, as I toddle up to one of the ticket booths that have been erected in The Garden, to acquire an aforementioned cheap ticket for the aforementioned show. I’m then informed that the ticket will cost $27 – substantially more than the $10 I was expecting. I mention that to my friendly ticket vendor, who subsequently rolls his eyes in the manner of one who’d heard this query many times before. “We don’t do Rush Tix,” he explains, “you have to go to FringeTIX for that. Outside The Garden.”

Grumble. Little networks of conspiracy start weaving through my head as the drunken hordes sway around The Garden. I am miffed, but options are limited. I pay the man, and head over to Le Cascadeur, where I encountered the most arrogant prick I’ve ever met in a queue. First he turned his nose up at my very presence, sneering at my dress sense; then he gave me the cold shoulder (with a blocking turn and everything!) when I tried to chat amiably with him. Oh how I loved watching him struggle with Le Casca’s seats.

Craig Egan is already present when we’re ushered in, resplendent in his shiny suit, DJing some tunes from his iPad. Once host Mickey D takes to the stage, however, Egan acts as the straight-man, with Mickey’s usual coarse performance motoring along. It’s crude, and some of it’s familiar, but it’s that fast-paced that you get washed along with laughter. After a bit of a planning kerfuffle – Mickey D was convinced that Heath Franklin was supposed to be first cab off the rank – Tom Gleeson takes to the stage.

Gleeson started off his slot by veering into scare-mongering media bashing territory – which was quite a surprise for me. That sort of material – political – is not something that I’d have associated with him. But then The Heckler started, insinuating that he was a better man than Gleeson for (a) having sired more children, and (2) not selling out to appear on TV. Gleeson’s instant rebuttal – that the only thing he’d sold out was his show this evening – was both funny and brutal; the way he toyed with The Heckler thereafter was a masterclass in crowd control. But The Heckler continued regardless; when the calls from the audience to throw him out became more frequent, Mickey D tried to placate them somewhat by appealing to our compassion.

If you’ve wandered into any of Adelaide’s comedy hotspots outside the Fringe, you’d be familiar with Svetlanka Seczskittenya; she presented some of her usual material, capped off with the “pussy teeth” gag. Crude, but fun, with some whip-cracking to-boot.

Jamie Bowen (whose alter-ego Munfred Bernstein was recommended by Sam Wills – The Boy With Tape On His Face) was up next, and he was the real reason I decided to come along to The Phatcave this evening… to see if he was Shortlist-worthy. He’s got great pacing, and the ability to make a plain story pretty funny – so on The Shortlist he remains.

Finally, Heath Franklin had a long segment in his Chopper persona – and that’s about all the Chopper I can comfortably handle (fnarr, fnarr). I find his blunt crudity to be bloody funny in small doses, and he dealt with the return of The Heckler (and a new contender, The Dumb Skank – his description, not mine) in an amusing fashion (which even saw Franklin cracking himself up).

Le Cascadeur was nearly full for this first Phatcave of the year; I think the only thing the audience had to complain about were the hecklers. All up, it was a decent hour-or-so of entertainment; don’t be scared by the 150-minute duration listed in the Guide. Unless they all fired up again after I buggered off, of course…

[2012005] The Crooked Fiddle Band

[2012005] The Crooked Fiddle Band

The Crooked Fiddle Band @ Idolize

10:00pm, Fri 17 Feb 2012

One thing I actually do really like about The Garden’s scheduling is that they seem to encourage bands to pop into Adelaide to do a one-off gig. I’ve seen some fantastic acts over the years who I’d never have travelled interstate to see – New Young Pony Club, Lani Lane, and the glorious Washington spring immediately to mind.

What I’m trying to say is that I tend to approach one-shot shows in The Garden as something I might want to prioritise… which is exactly how I came to be sitting in the Idolize watching The Crooked Fiddle Band.

And sometimes – like tonight – that approach really pays off.

The Crooked Fiddle Band (Joe drums and occasionally sings, Gordon plays guitar & mandolin and chips in the odd percussive yelp, Mark rocks the double bass, and Jess is the sole fiddler and holds a few notes) seem to conjure up a healthy mixture of rock, metal, and gypsy music – all in the same song. Where they may open a track with a jaunty folk riff, it will soon break into a solid rock groove in some really odd time signature – Caffeine‘s 3/4 would hold no fear for them. Throw in another huge tempo variation, veering into a pounding metal bridge, then back to a folksy finish… then on to the next song.

It’s thoroughly exciting stuff; you never really know what they’re likely to throw at you. They’re as tight as a duck’s chuff, and there’s absolutely no bum notes or missed beats – technically amazing, from the driving drums that propel them along, through to the trickery of double-bowed fiddling and the two man bass (Mark playing normally, Gordon tapping a rhythmic note on an unbowed string). Joe leaves the drums to tell a two-part tale of ear-biting. And they show a hint of Tolkein-ist geekery with hobbit references.

But mostly, they just assaulted us with folk and rock – something which kept the dance floor crowd (including the guy pogoing in Vibrams) very happy. The only bummer is that the final song in their encore was an acoustic duet, just guitar and fiddle – beautiful to listen to, but very down-tempo from the other tracks of the night. Still, the alleged name of the piece – Jess Rides Over One Thousand Corpses, or somesuch – left me with a little high.

Great show :)

[2012004] Slapdash Galaxy

[2012004] Slapdash Galaxy [FringeTIX]

Bunk Puppets @ The Palace

8:30pm, Fri 17 Feb 2012

I missed Mr Bunk’s Swamp Juice last year, and it felt like ages since I saw Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones (in 2009) – so, in an effort to inject a little variety into the day’s events, I decided to wander into his latest creation.

I don’t know whether The Palace is a reconfigured version of the old Puppet Palace (whose name, at least, appears to have migrated over to Gluttony), but it’s a pretty nice space now: flat floor seating with a raised stage, and a raked set of bench seats at the back. With a small crowd of maybe twenty, I sat near the front with Beth; the stage is littered with junk – plastic bottles and foam objects and a projection screen and a large cardboard frame with a circle cut out of its centre.

Mr Bunk – Jeff Achtem – wanders in, eyes wide behind goggles, grunting like Yoda and chirping like a laryngitic bird. His language has a charm about it, despite only second word being intelligible; he attaches some small foam hands to his big toes, lays down on the stage, and begins the performance. With cardboard faces (that seem to be impossibly expressive) and the foam hands, he presents the story of two brothers seeking out the Pearl Galaxy in their space-ship, encountering a giant space-spider and other trials along the way.

Achtem’s shadow puppetry is, frankly, the product of sheer genius. Using all four limbs to create the illusion of two boys talking to each other (with expressive arm movements!) was impressive enough, but he doesn’t limit himself to the stage; he roams the aisle of The Palace with a small model space-ship and a torch, flying it into the audience’s heads and shadowing the action onto the sides of the venue (if you want to prevent excessive twisting to see what’s going on, it’s best to sit at the back). He projects constellations onto the roof. He creates spectacular smoke rings that give an incredible illusion of movement.

But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan.

This was, of course, his opening night, and it was pretty clear that he was not as organised as he’d have liked. The stage didn’t appear to be blocked out appropriately, and he spent a lot of time shuffling his objet d’art around. He was constantly prompting the tech for changes, and there were a few pacing problems. And when I had to control the space-spider, the pulley on the roof was too stiff for me to leverage the control that Bunk (and I) wanted.

Fair enough, I thought. Opening night, he’s still sorting stuff out. Locally-sourced junk probably has its own peccadillos. I can deal with that. But not everyone else in the audience managed that sense of understanding… especially the chap sitting a row behind me, beer in hand. Audience participation seemed to be the go, in his mind, as he openly mocked Bunk’s efforts to his friend.

As the show went on, the scoffing from the man just increased; “Entertainment?” he muttered. “Don’t go overboard.” He turned to his mate: “I wouldn’t mind being entertained soon.”

Eventually I snapped. Achtem was resetting his props for the next chapter of his story; I turned and suggested, “Hey mate – how about you shut up.”

He continued talking to his friend. “This is fucking…”

“You – shut up. Now.” I’d had enough.

He looked at me, startled. “Uh… why?” The question actually seemed genuine, like he didn’t know what he was doing.

“Because you’re ruining my enjoyment of the show,” I attempted to explain in a level voice. I turned back to the stage… and didn’t hear a peep out of him for the rest of the performance. But all the while I fumed about his lack of awareness – and at the fact that I just upped the likelihood of getting into a fight.

But that little altercation – besides providing evidence of people’s growing self-important sense of entitlement – didn’t really detract from the show itself; because when you outlay cash on a Bunk puppet show, you’re paying for Achtem’s imagination (in storyline and performance), and his ingenuity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the best position to convey those attributes (and his vision) this evening.

I’ll keep turning up to Bunk Puppet shows, because some of the ideas jammed in there are things you just won’t see anywhere else. Whilst the Pearl Galaxy (floating pearls made out of a mixture of smoke, helium, and soap bubbles) didn’t quite work out tonight, I can imagine how it will look later… and that is incredible. And that smoke-ring effect? Stunning.

[2012003] Martin Dockery: Bursting Into Flames

Martin Dockery: Bursting Into Flames [FringeTIX]

Martin Dockery @ The Cupola

7:00pm, Fri 17 Feb 2012

Martin Dockery’s Wanderlust was a highlight of 2011 for me, so it took very little persuasion for me to schedule his new performance in nice and early. Unfortunately, only seven other people thought likewise – which must be demoralising, especially when The Cupola (and The Spare Room, and The Campanile) are buried in the most secluded corner of The Garden – and with no walk-up ticket sales (although there’s a Garden Box Office nearby).

The Cupola is a much wider venue than The Spare Room last year, so Dockery looks a little lonely as he walks onstage and sits on his chair, the sole prop. But then he leaps into action, his rapid-fire style instantly familiar. But something struck me about his performance that I hadn’t noticed last year: there’s a wonderful sense of theatre in his hand movements, with elaborate gestures helping create the world around him.

And, in the first line, he tells us that he’s in Heaven. His descriptions are, as you’d expect from Wanderlust, detailed and evocative; everything is great all the time, and heaven-dwellers seem to spend most of their time throwing parties where the guests always bring bottle of wine and your friends are always amazingly talented and everything is… well, heavenly. Early on, he briefly mentions the presence of Hell – and, if anything, that section of the monologue is even more detailed: Dockery’s Hell is a punishing and painful place.

Having established the presence of Hell, we return to Dockery’s Heaven – where, quite against the norm, he gets married to a woman with an intense desire for failure (with which she ironically succeeds). The tales that surround her – with her terrible hang-gliding, and her unintentionally riotous dinosaur standup material – are just fantastic; so too are the stories (the broken heart, the toke-to-the-moon) surrounding how the Heaven-dwelling friends actually died, how they came to be in Heaven, that form the ascension in the story. And then there’s a really wonderfully managed twist in the tail… it all just works.

But – and it really shames me to write this – there was a point in the show where Dockery changed scenes, shifting the monologue to a new location. A phone started ringing, softly, subtly: that’s odd, I thought, he’d not used any other backing soundtracks. It was only after about six rings that I realised that it was my phone, inadvertently knocked off silent mode; rustle-shuffle-rustle and the noise had gone, but the shame still remains. I had become one of those people I hated.

But it didn’t seem to knock Dockery off his game – he was in the same wonderful form that we’d discovered last year. Sure, there’s the odd word mix-up, but his delivery is so fast-paced that you almost don’t have time to dwell on it. And besides, it’s the slight variations in speed, the very occasional pause, and – most importantly – the intensity that delivers his message.

But… eight people. C’mon, really? Especially when one of them was a phone-ringing arsehole. Dockery deserves much bigger audiences than that, because – even at this early stage – Bursting Into Flames is one of the funniest, most intense, beautifully-delivered pieces of the year.

[2012002] Music to Watch Boys By

[2012002] Music to Watch Boys By [FringeTIX]

Carol Young @ La Bohème

10:00pm, Thu 16 Feb 2012

After the joyous Gady LaLa, my Fringe Buddy and I looked at each other – should we stay for the next show? As we tend to do when faced with this decision, we went with the prevailing vibe; two tickets were swiftly bought, and we settled back in our chairs to savour the rest of the bubbles and cheese platter. Soon, though, we were asked nicely to exit the venue – show changeover, Annie explained. Sure, we responded; can you save our seat for us? No problems, she replied.

So out into the night air we went. We hear the ‘Garden’s opening night fireworks go off in the distance. The Louis Bouillot dries up, the last of the platter is consumed; we turn to re-enter La Bohème and discover a bubbling throng of people already inside. We sneak through, anxious for our preferred seat: we get there to discover a friendly “Reserved” sign. Awww, sweet :)

Renato – my instructor from a TheatreLabs workshop I attended late last year – shows up, and we have a quick catch-up and chat.

Carol Young eventually ambles onstage after taking surreptitious photos of the bubbling crowd – right from the start, it seems, she’s getting her creep on. A quick introduction while she dons her accordion – “stalking is just another way of saying ‘I love you'”, she claims – and she launches into a series of perspective-changing songs, linked by short bursts of narrative that reveal her lifetime of stalking (and focussed mainly on the suburban pursuit of John – “not his real name”, as the voiceovers constantly insist).

Sure, some of the songs – Every Breath You Take, for example – have a well-known obsessive streak to them; but Young’s take on I Was Made For Loving You and Let’s Stick Together (which, sadly, failed to elicit the requested jungle-girl screams from the audience) managed to imbue them with a surprising creepiness.

But it’s very much played for laughs. Young’s presence on stage is completely bereft of pretension; she’s there to have as much fun as the audience, and the more theatrical portions of her act – the lustful stares (or was it glares?) into the audience, the serenading (or was it smothering?) of a guy in the audience (and the corralling of his girlfriend) – were beautifully weighted. And those orange wedge heels of hers, subject to their own dedication? Gorgeous.

Look, Music to Watch Boys By is not a gleamingly polished show. Carol Young can sing pretty well. She frequently mis-fingers the accordion. She forgets words to songs (Hello – “Are you somewhere feeling lonely? Or is… some other word?”). Her headset microphone was constantly slipping underneath her chin. But her complete lack of pretension, and her complete commitment to the bit, makes it so much fun.

And, with a room chock full of family (including the sole Jungle Girl, Aunt Winnie) and friends who really bring the noise with jaunty laughs and croons in Delilah, it was incredibly easy to get swept up in the joy of this show. Brilliant stuff, Ms Young!

[2012001] Gady LaLa – songs for the sophisticated fag hag

[2012001] Gady LaLa – songs for the sophisticated fag hag [FringeTIX]

Libby O’Donovan, Catherine Campbell, Sidonie Henbest @ La Bohème

8:00pm, Thu 16 Feb 2012

Gady LaLa has been sold out for ages (as far as I know – I only really started planning my Fringe assault this week), and it was the only show on The Shortlist that was on this evening (Day 0, as I tentatively called it – the “start” of Festivities (like Easter advertising) seems to be creeping earlier every year). Still, I figured, why not wander down to La Bohème to see if there’s standing room at the bar, or somesuch? After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

My Fringe Buddy beat me there and, as her incredible luck with last-minute ticketing continues, managed to snaffle two tickets which literally became available as she walked in the door. With few other punters present, she also grabbed a cocktail table right in front of the stage. We bought a bottle of bubbly and celebrated a rather splendid start to the Fringe… after all, Gady LaLa was (chronologically) the very first performance event of the year.

Matthew Carey parked at the piano and started tickling the ivories, and with only a modicum of fanfare our three songstresses took to the stage, careful not to upset the balance of their elaborate headwear (Campbell’s beer can rollers and Henbest’s jauntily-angled toy telephone made O’Donovan’s bunny ears look positively sedate… though the rest of Libby’s hairdo was an asymmetric delight). And, as one might expect, they launched the show with a Lady Gaga song – “but that’s the only one,” they back-announce, “so if you were here for a Lady Gaga cover show – or are dyslexic and thought this was a Lady Gaga show – then you’re really sad.”

So Gaga is banished for the rest of the performance in favour of the direction of the show’s subtitle – a series of stereotyped anthems for gay culture. After a couple of solo songs, where Henbest and Campbell profess their fag-hagness (Campbell: “I’ve slept with plenty of of gay friends, and turned them… gayer”), and O’Donovan merely opts for the shorter description of “fag”, there’s a little bit of audience interaction as the girls seek out the sluts (and man-whores) in the audience for some redemption (via the laying-on-of-hands).

But the bulk of the performance is dominated by two medleys, the first of which was the Masturbation Medley. Using individual words and phrases as leaping-off points to other songs, it bounces along a frantic pace, climaxing with the ever-dependable I Touch Myself. Then, with a mere seventeen minutes left in the show, the girls declare their intention to cram six days’ worth of anthems into the remaining time… and, despite a deceptively slow start with Careless Whisper, they make a pretty good fist of it. Consecutive Abba and Village People tracks (and their associated dances!) please the crowd no end; the encore (“we don’t have enough time to get off and come back on again”) results in raucous appreciation.

Adelaide is bloody lucky to have these three ladies in its cabaret circle: their direction and harmonies are fantastic, Libby’s voice is stunning throughout, and Catherine’s versatility (from disco lows to child-like highs) is totally grin-worthy. But it’s their stage presence that completely won me over; the three seem to share a singular sense of comedic timing, and Libby’s sneers of disappointment during It’s Raining Men were perfect. And, it must be said, her fellatio-face miming to Sidonie’s solo was positively alluring.

To be honest, I couldn’t imagine a better start to a Fringe campaign. The bubbles flowed, I laughed my arse off, and the sounds were bloody brilliant. Welcome to ff2012, indeed :)