[2010002] A Curious Day

A Curious Day [FringeTIX]

Justin Sane @ Bosco Theater

11:30am, Sat 13 Feb 2010

It’s a pleasantly warm day – but the Bosco is sweltering inside at 11:30am as we wait for the performance to start (to the tune of a country version of Devo’s “Secret Agent Man”). The crowd of ten – only three children in that lot, much to the surprise of performer Justin Sane – sweat profusely… well, I do, anyway, and I was near the sole source of cooling for the space. Luckily, the children were (a) cheerful, and (2) the friendly, participating type.

Justin appears, and jovially takes the small crowd in his stride. Targeting the children, he explains that his dog Trevor has gone missing – have we seen him? – and then uses Trevor’s love of playing ball as an excuse to launch into some juggling, his love of music to play some piano, and his love of magic to… perform some magic. So – there’s some juggling, some stumbling physical humour (including a great zit-squeezing surprise), a bit of juggling (three balls & his hat), and some magic (a few rope tricks, and some great cup & ball decoys).

When Trevor, his canine friend who’d been missing for most of the show, finally appears, he’s a cute puppet – and Justin’s ventriloquism is as bumbling as his general demeanour, but he still manages to charm us with his ventriloquism trips (“oooh, that was the wrong voice,” said Justin. Trevor turned his head to him and retorted “they’re onto you, mate.”) And Trevor’s wry delivery was pitched perfectly; as a character, he was perfectly used, and a great spark to the programme.

If I had to use one word to describe this show, it would have to be “charming”. With a child-targeted show such as this, there’s every chance that the delivery would be pitched too low for adults; but the majority of the crowd were in this elder category, and seemed to enjoy it immensely. I certainly did, anyway; Justin’s charm and humility (and innate sense of humour – when his smoke machine failed to function in the heat of the Bosco, he managed to get out of it with great faux fluster) was especially endearing, and he certainly has talent and a cohesive show to work within. Great fun, criminally underseen.

[2010001] Gerda’s Journey

Gerda’s Journey [FringeTIX]

theater simple @ Richmond Grove Winery, Peter Lehmann Wines, and Langmeil Winery

5:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2010

The first Fringe show of the year, and following my ex’s creed of “always take the active option”, we jump in her car and head out to Tanunda to catch the Australian premiere of theater simple’s open-space imagining of Hans Christian Andersen‘s The Snow Queen. Google Maps on the iPhone took us on the circuitous scenic route (via Chain of Ponds) and, distracted by the promise of the delightfully fruity semillon at Vinecrest and the need for a belated lunch, we wind up running late, taking the wrong turn into Richmond Grove and then frantically dashing about, before finally finding the prescribed start location – right where the ticket said it would be. Oops.

The seven stories of Andersen’s tale are told in different locations spread throughout the leafy environs of the three neighbouring wineries; in between stories, the audience is whisked along to the next area by the ensemble cast and a swarm of helpers. It’s a big production; theater simple have brought seven members over from the US, and expanded the cast with a collection of lucky locals. And, right from the opening moments, I know that this was going to contain all the bits that I love about a simple production.

The first two chapters took place at our starting point; we’re introduced to the devils that cause our predicament, and then to young Gerda and her friend Kai. Kai, inflicted with the devil’s cruelty, spurns his friendship with Gerda and becomes enraptured with the Snow Queen, but is presumed dead; Gerda, not convinced by the rumours of his death, then embarks on a journey in search of her friend.

A short walk takes us to the enchanted Flower Garden, chock full of pantomimic exuberance with the reactions of the flowers to their watering (the buttercup’s effervescence and the tiger lily’s yawning indifference). Back to lush lawns for the Prince and Princess; the vocalisations and mannerisms of their crow attendants were divine.

It’s a bit more of a trek to the next location, a small hut that offered the most challenging sightlines of the evening with the sun setting directly behind the “stage”. But the journey itself was probably the highlight of the night for me; with our path stretching into the distance through the trees, we could see the robbers darting between the trees ahead, planning their assault on Gerda – and the audience in tow.

The road back to our starting place is more meandering, with lots of short stops along the way – only a minute here, five minutes there. And this pacing really lends itself well to the production; the children (and there were plenty of them present) were still enthusiastically skipping from one location to the next, and the adults – most of whom had carried glasses and bottles of ever-so-conveniently available wine around with them – were able to replenish supplies from the back of a ute at the appropriate time, with the final rush towards the conclusion of Gerda’s Journey being perfectly judged.

And so, with Gerda’s approach to the Snow Queen’s Palace, the snowflake guards whistle through the crowd to buffet her. The guards, as with the flowers and the crows, were wonderfully costumed with evocative minimalism; their little forward hunch literally raised their imposing hackles. The Palace itself, staged within the drooping confines of a tree and acting as a cocoon for Gerda and Kai’s reunion, led to a great climax; the ascension up the hill to return to our starting point was punctuated by character recurrences, both overt and in the background.

Now, it probably sounds like I’m gushing a bit over this performance – and on the one hand, that’s because I’ve got the luxury of time this early in the Fringe. But it’s also because theater simple have the unerring ability to impress me with their ability to (apparently effortlessly) conjure so much out of so little. The production of Gerda’s Journey is beautifully staged in the grounds of these wineries; the fact that the wineries were also hocking their wares didn’t hurt things, either. The costumes, as previously stated, were divine in their frugality; and the entire cast, local and import alike, managed to exude joy and whimsy with impeccable timing, and surprisingly (given their geographic disparity) they looked like a cohesive troupe.

Yes, I really enjoyed Gerda’s Journey. I’d love to see how the roaming presentation pans out in the Botanic Gardens; hopefully my schedule will allow that. And it was really great to see Llysa, Andrew, and Monique again – I really missed their presence last year. But the icing on the cake was the gathering that inadvertently occurred after the show; catching up with old friends, hugs and handshakes, talking to the cast. Talking wine with Rachael from Rockford; Guy O’Grady (from 2009’s Rough for Theatre II, and one of the floating cast here tonight – including his superb tiger lily performance) starting a conversation with “Are you the Festival Freak?” Made my Fringe, that did, and in the first show of the year, too :)

And so it begins again…

It only seems like a fortnight ago that I finished writing about 2009, and here I am, treading water before the start of my arty binge for 2010.

And, despite my best intentions of taking it a little bit easier this year, the shortlisting process of trawling through the Festival and Fringe Guides didn’t exactly fill me with faith in that regard. The “short” list amounted to…

196 shows.

One hundred and ninety-six shows. And that’s just the things that caught my eye, piqued my interest, with their little fifty-word blurb (in the case of the Fringe) or full-page glossy spreads (bless the Festival Guide). And that excludes any visual arts exhibits, and all the shows that trusted friends will tell me are awesome and which I’ll desperately try to squeeze in.

My blogging instinct, when faced with a number such as the above, is to quip “if I see half that many shows, I’ll be happy.” But that’d be ninety-eight, which would be a fucking miracle (especially in a Festival year). Still, I’m studiously scheduling away; I’ve only got tickets for 29 at this point (including all my Festival picks – though I’m not super-enamoured by the lineup, and even less pleased that the Festival Talk for Shanghai Beauty has been moved to an inaccessible time), and 13 shows have already dropped off through sell-outs, cancellations, or blocks.

And, despite being initially unexcited by the acts on offer this year, I’m now entering that giddy stage… waiting for it all to start. Waiting to start squeezing Stuff into my mind. Waiting to experience.

And, inevitably, waiting to get so far behind on my blogging that it ceases to matter ;)

A Launch, A Look Ahead, A Gentle Reminder…

And so the run up to FF2010 begins; not with a bang, but with a… ummm… absentee fan.

Last Thursday marked the Launch of the 2010 Adelaide Festival program, both with a “private” launch for the Friends of the Festival, followed by a public ceremony. I was invited to both; I managed to make it to neither. The reasons why are irrelevant, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve really missed out by not making it; previous launches have been breathless affairs, with excited Directors imparting their enthusiasm unto me, the gasps and oohs and aahs of the audience providing an indication of the Hot Tickets. And, bereft of these pointers, I admit to being a little nonplussed during my wander through the Guide that I received Friday.

That didn’t stop me from pencilling in about two-thirds of the performances, though, and there’s still some stuff there that’s fired my imagination already (Le Grande Macabre looks great, Good Morning Mr Gershwin looks to lead the dance troupe, and Mahler 8 still feels like it will be a cracker – even if all the super-duper lush seats have already sold out). But… I dunno, I’m just not feeling it (though the little thrill seeing my name in the back of the Guide is still there ;)

Then again, I went through a number of phases last Festival, too – excited at the Launch, fading to perfunctory at the scheduling, and then back to giddy as Opening night approached. So I’m hoping my lethargy is some form of translated disappointment from not being able to attend, and not just a reaction to the Fringe-esque content of the program (the Spiegeltent as a Festival venue? Edinburgh hits as frontline Festival works?)

However, the Program Launch has inspired one very important thing: it’s reminded me I still have 50 – fifty! – shows to write up from 2009. Hey, they were over six months ago; they should be a doddle, right? Six months of rumination should encourage these musings to just pop out of my head, yeah?


…Oh dear. I’d better get writing.