[2015028] Justin Stone in Who’s the Boss? The Tony Danza Experience

[2015028] Justin Stone in Who’s the Boss? The Tony Danza Experience

Justin Stone @ E for Ethel

8:45pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

Shameful admission time: in my early teens, I had a soft-spot for Who’s the Boss?, and it wasn’t entirely because of the young Alyssa Milano. Even as a younger entertainment consumer, I was definitely aware that it was a cheesy, contrived, inappropriately laugh-tracked show… but still I loved it. The contrived plot-lines, the awful child-“acting” of Danny Pintauro, the wooden adult-acting of Judith Light, and the blissful ignorance of Tony Danza were so-bad-it’s-good elements of transience.

So – even though I had no idea who Justin Stone was – on the strength of the title of this show alone, I was there.

Justin Stone awkwardly took to the stage with all the elegance of a first-time rehearsal in the small space, performing a dance to the opening music of Who’s the Boss?… but the word “awkwardly” completely undersells the hesitant, self-obsessed performance (I initially thought it was a reproduction of Tony Danza’s moves from the opening credits, but painful research proved otherwise). The music finished, he looked at the assembled crowd… and then the music started afresh, leading to a repeat performance of the dance.

And that kicked me into Ludicrous-Land… which made me grin manically, and set me in good stead for the rest of the show.

The Tony Danza Experience is a wild, albeit oddball, ride: anchored with an odd letter to Danza, Stone loosely attaches other bizarre snatches of humour… his karate demonstration was hilarious, if only for the potential danger involved (to both audience and performer). There’s a constant undercurrent of pitiful sadness, though, which Stone injects through throwaway comments to his still-at-home unemployed life, his widowed Mum (“Dad left us,” Stone mentions, before outwardly trying not to think of his father’s exploding head), and references to grim sexual release. The latter threads also contain oblique references to his mother: “We don’t like the same porn,” Stone laments, before a curiously descriptive “Who knew a breast could go that colour when constricted?”

Throughout, Stone’s stage presence remains incredibly awkward; even the ending – where he leads us out onto Melbourne Street, then yells at us (to the raised eyebrows of passers-by), before running off in the direction of Zambracca’s – seems to be intent on maximising the discomfort to both himself and the audience…

…but I loved it. The Tony Danza Experience is a wonderful demonstration of what the Fringe can foster: a focussed, bloody-minded, and completely mental event that couldn’t really exist anywhere else. Justin Stone created an experience that had no real peers, that was unique in its bizarreness… and it still makes me grin to think about it today.

[2015027] The Show Must Goon

[2015027] The Show Must Goon

Four Stripes @ E for Ethel

7:20pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

The ukulele has become a bit of a prop for comics in the last few years, I reckon: there’s been a glut of barely-funny comedy material that has made it into routines on the basis that a simple uke strum turns it into a “song”, and a handy way to break up the set. And so, when writer/performer Caitlin Armstrong takes to the stage with ukulele in hand, I involuntarily steeled myself.

The thing is… there was no need.

The Show Must Goon follows the booze-related tales of Suzi (or “Suze”, “Su”, or “Suzanne”, depending on the timeframe) as Armstrong delicately presents her transition into adulthood, leveraging those two most fertile sources of material: romance and drinking. There’s lust and heartbreak, cheap wine and vomit, and the stories are beautifully rendered and teeter between sickeningly sweet and painfully groanworthy… Armstrong’s puns are excellent, including the two songs that book-end the performance (“champagne in my arse” is a blinder).

The stories are supported by clever ditties on the ukulele, but also by something quite unexpected: wine tastings. Suzi’s tales each revolve around a particular cheap’n’nasty bottle of booze, which she airily offers to the audience… and they were all, to my rather uncouth tongue, rough as guts. The Gossips Sweet Lips Moscato was a viciously unsubtle poke in the taste-buds, but the Sunnyvale Fruity Lexia benefited from being paired with a fantastic projectile vomit story. The Bowler’s Run Shiraz rounded out the terrible trio, but its accompanying story managed to overcome the affronting nature of the wine.

There’s a moment of sober contemplation towards the end of the show that threatens to drag the jovial vibe down a bit, but Armstrong pops out of it with a fantastically upbeat, yet acidic and punchy, song that delights (though maybe shocking the older sections of the audience). And that left me with an overwhelmingly positive memory of The Show Must Goon: equal parts laid-back and feisty, innocent and rebellious, its blend of quirky songs and hilarious monologue really hit the spot.

The free booze was handy, too.

[2015026] Chris Knight is The Difference Between Women And Airline Food

[2015026] Chris Knight is The Difference Between Women And Airline Food

Chris Knight @ E for Ethel

6:00pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

I met and chatted with Chris Knight (distracting him from the script in his hand, which he wound up referencing several times during the performance) under the vine-sheltered area outside E for Ethel; cute shop and café by day, it’s a new (for me) comedy venue for this year’s Fringe, and – despite the fact that it’s a very narrow space – it has a very friendly vibe… just as well, really, since the audience assembled for Chris Knight’s latest show is a little… well, intimate.

The Difference Between Women And Airline Food has the “HA! Chris Knights” (HACK) deconstruction of comedy as a spine: each letter corresponding to one of the four elements of comedy, introduced with one (or more) bizarre haiku. Making copious use of a magnetic whiteboard, Knight leverages his eloquent wordsmithing to drive the show along, with his articulate language leading us down many dead ends (and surprise reveals).

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a big fan of Knight’s softly-delivered quirky surrealism – but The Difference Between Women And Airline Food was a bit more structured and accessible (and somewhat less bizarre) than previous shows. I think I prefer the more obtuse form of his comedy, but any Chris Knight is good Chris Knight, as far as I’m concerned… and certainly one of the more cheerily oddball acts that one could see in a given Fringe.

[2015025] Golden Phung Go To Hell

[2015025] Golden Phung Go To Hell

The Golden Phung @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

4:00pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

A mad dash out to North Adelaide (not the best idea on a stupidly hot – and increasingly muggy – day) saw me join a solid audience in the Channel 9 Studios. There was an infectious bubbliness to the crowd, which eased my nerves somewhat: I’d seen The Golden Phung a few times in the past, but never really clicked with them in the way that much of the audience had.

Go To Hell aims to create a meta-comedic through line to its sketches: The ‘Phung purported to be exploring the nine layers of sketch comedy hell (presumably as a result of a sketch dying onstage). The resultant pieces were an odd lot – the Equal Opportunity Pope was a highlight, as was the extended sketch featuring Tony Abbott as a boxer, Bill Shorten as a luchadore, and the surprise late arrival of Penny Wong.

If there’s one thing to be said about Goes To Hell, it’s that The ‘Phung’s production values set a high bar for other sketch comedy groups: the set is effective (with “heaven” and “hell” embedded in the background with LEDs), and the sound design – in particular, the impact of sound effects and musical stings in the sketches – is really well done.

But the bulk of The Golden Phung’s material doesn’t really work for me – but that may be just me, because the rest of the crowd was loving it (even the hoedown at the end of the show, which I found painful). Sure, it’s (mostly) quite topical, and there’s an understanding and confidence between the members of the ‘Phung; they’re obviously a well-honed group that bring a lot of people joy. But… yeah. After giving them a couple of shows, I just don’t think that Golden Phung are for me: we’re a little bit out-of-sync.

[2015024] Zephyr Quartet presents Cult Classics

[2015024] Zephyr Quartet presents Cult Classics

Zephyr Quartet @ Royal Croquet Club – The Menagerie

2:30pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

So: I’ve professed my love for Zephyr Quartet on many occasions, and I was utterly thrilled to see them performing one of their “Cult Classics” shows – their renditions of well-known songs, arranged and tweaked for a string quartet. As a result, this was the very first ticket I bought for this Fringe… but when I turned up a good half-hour before the allotted start time, I was delighted/dismayed to discover that the queue to get into The Menagerie was long and winding underneath the blazing sun.

Once the venue had been filled to capacity, Zephyr appeared (to applause that matched the warmth of the day) and plunged straight into an immediately recognisable Bohemian Rhapsody, and then took us on a tour of the Quartet’s favourite songs from the contemporary playlist – from Wuthering Heights to Enter Sandman via Africa.

The one thing all their selections had in common was – quite frankly – brilliant composition. Sure, some of their adaptations derived a lot of their delight from the sheer quirkiness of hearing a stringified rendition (like Why Can’t This Be Love and Livin’ On A Prayer), but all of the adaptations could stand on their own as examples of dynamic quartet arrangements. And under Zephyr’s arrangement, The Church’s Under The Milky Way transformed into one of the most beautiful, tear-inducing pieces of music I’ve heard in years… a truly awesome highlight.

Look – Zephyr have never done anything that hasn’t brought me joy. I still remain absolutely smitten with their arrangements and musicianship, and – even when I’m not a fan of the source material – there was plenty to appreciate: the Sia encore (complete with a quartet of platinum blonde wigs) was delivered with a cheeky grin, and the stage banter regarding rock crushes – Emily introducing Queens Of The Stone Age via Josh Homme, Belinda introducing Madonna (“…awkward!”) – was a delight.

Would I prefer to have seen their take on something like ELO’s 10538 Overture? Well, sure – but (besides the incredibly niche material) that arrangement may have been too easy to be truly satisfying… because it’s the gorgeous string structuring behind familiar songs that really made Cult Classics soar.

(I’d tell you to go buy Zephyr’s Cult Classics CD – their rendition of Golden Brown is wonderful – except it’s not listed on their store anymore. A shame – but their other CDs are all awesome, too, so go buy them instead!)

[2015023] The Big Giggle

[2015023] The Big Giggle

Bamboozled Productions @ Royal Croquet Club – Ukiyo

12:30pm, Sun 15 Feb 2015

It’s bloody hot, and the crew were struggling to keep the Ukiyo cool: giant noisy fans that were being used to move air through the venue were only shut down at the very last moment, and restarted after one parent complained about the stifling conditions. So it was a bit of a surprise when the small crowd of around twenty people (including one family I’d seen at my previous show) entered the tent to discover that Peter Baecker was super-enthusiastically dancing behind his little mixing desk to the tune of I Wanna Dance With Somebody… his antics seemed impossibly exuberant given the conditions (and his costume!).

Only Stacey from OzStar Airlines was present (Tracey, she told us, was busy on another flight), so she MC-ed this family-oriented variety show solo. Stacey’s got a friendly demeanour, easily engaging both children and adults in the audience. After a little banter (how hard it must be to warm up such a small crowd, spread so wide across the venue!), she introduced Crystal (from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus) who performed a gentle hoop routine; Stacey then coerced members of the audience into a hula-hoop competition.

Dandyman then came out and put on a wonderful show, juggling and miming and interacting with the children in the audience with great success (and was certainly much more at ease with his act than the last time I saw him). Crystal then returned for a ribbon/tape routine… again, solid without being spectacular (to this jaded observer of circus acrobatics).

And then, surprisingly (but, because of the sweltering venue, thankfully), the show was done: Baecker, who had remained in the background onstage pretty much throughout the show (and quite clearly had the perspiration to prove it) rounded out The Big Giggle by getting everyone in the audience up to dance; we all tried to humour his intent for awhile, but dear lord that venue was hot. I went outside into the baking sun slightly disappointed: while there’s no doubting that The Big Giggle succeeded in family-friendly variety, I couldn’t help but think it was a little light on content.

[2015022] Frank’s Survival Guide

[2015022] Frank’s Survival Guide

Makee Makee theatre @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Studio 7

11:00am, Sun 15 Feb 2015

Occasionally, I come across a show which feels so underdone that I marvel at the fact that it wasn’t cancelled. And whilst I’m perfectly aware of the almost hackneyed standup schtick of having written the show the week before of the Fringe, you don’t really expect the same of a children’s show… especially one that’s charging $20 per (inevitable) adult/parent ticket.

But Frank’s Survival Guide reeked of having been thrown together at the last minute… although I know damn well that it must have had a longer gestation than that.

Frank is a chicken, and his Survival Guide is an allegory about discovering inner bravery and overcoming overwhelming odds, as he tries to save Little Eggie (his son) from the clutches of an escaped lion. There’s a remote control that changes objects in a random manner, some chase sequences to amp up the tension, and…

…look, it’s a show for kids. A coherent story was not evident, but probably not necessary, either.

The show is a mix of hand-puppetry, with Frank appearing on solo performer Hamish Fletcher’s arm, and static cardboard stick puppets, which feature different images on their reverse sides to facilitate some interesting “animation”. These 2D puppets are typically used over the top of a video projection, which attempts to present Frank’s world in 3D… but the models used to create this 3D landscape are crude (at best), with animations and camera movements that border on the amateurish.

Sure, there’s the occasional bit of clever direction – the live puppets following the lighting on the pre-recorded projections is kinda nice – but this performance of Frank’s Survival Guide really, really felt like its first outing. That it took place in a sweltering venue didn’t help, leaving both parents and children (and myself) desperate for other distractions.

[2015021] Sex Idiot

[2015021] Sex Idiot

Bryony Kimmings @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Le Cascadeur

11:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

Without rambling too much – hey, I’ve got 147 shows to write about in less than three months, and I’m well aware of my ability to procrastinate – I’ve got a lot of friends whose opinions on art (and feminism, and feminist art) I trust. And they all, without exception, told me that Bryony Kimmings’ work must be seen. Schedule, pen, Sex Idiot was inked in.

It was only as I ticket-jumped the massive lineup for entry into a throbbing Garden that I actually comprehended what I had done: I had slotted this show in for a Saturday night. A Valentine’s Day Saturday night. And the queue, as I approached Le Cascadeur, was what I should have expected for a show called “Sex Idiot“, had I thought about it a little more: Clumps of drunk men. Fidgety sober couples. Couples where one person was obviously way more inebriated than the other, with a dark cloud of resentment forming over them. And, most ominously, a merry teenage hen’s night… and the girls barely looked old enough to drink.

But at least there was a crowd, right?

Le Cascadeur is uncomfortably full by the time everyone packs in – oh the joys of drunkards who forget there’s no backs to Le Casca’s benches – and there’s excited chatter around the crowd. What’s the show about? mused many, with some sloppy grins verbally hoping it was going to be a lewd form of standup. My brain momentarily flipped into misanthropic disgust mode, until I realised that I didn’t have a clue about the content of the show, either. I was here on the prompting of friends; I knew nothing about what kind of work Bryony Kimmings produced.

Performance art. Kimmings does performance art.

After being informed (as a result of her first test) that she had a relatively common STI, she decided to contact her previous sexual partners… both as common courtesy, and also to – maybe – figure out where the disease had come from. Using that as a narrative backbone, Sex Idiot was a linked series of performance pieces based on the responses she received (after Kimmings had pointedly stated that not everyone had responded). And these pieces were incredibly varied in nature: some focused only on the physical side of their relationship, others on the emotional. Some pieces were more about the formative aspects of their relationship, others on the destructive.

Inasmuch as the performance pieces were varied in content, so too was their delivery: there were songs, poetry, Dylan-esque delivery of vaginal pseudonyms, and even contemporary dance. And there was audience participation, too…

Oh, god. The audience.

The barely-legal hen’s party had managed to situate themselves in the second row, and were obviously of the mind that they were actually the stars of the show. Phones were constantly recording both Kimmings’ performance, as well as their own reactions, and their discussions as to the performance’s progression were more-than-audible. And this didn’t seem to faze the drunken majority of the audience; it was deemed to be part of the experience.

Initially, Kimmings seemed willing to tolerate their behaviour – one of her pieces (alluding to an older man who spoke loudly and authoritatively on any subject) was followed up with a pointed “See, girls, the takeaway from this was that you shouldn’t get married”… and the cold venom in the subsequent overly fake laughter that Kimmings directed at them was brutal.

But the girls – the audience – didn’t really care. When Kimmings asked for audience pubic hair donations (for the construction of her infamous pube-stache), there was a sobering moment where she discussed the diseases that can be passed by pubic hair contact… but most of the audience missed it, busy with their back-slapping self-congratulatory chatter as they bragged about their clippings.

And that, to me, is the sad part about this performance of Sex Idiot: so much of the performance was wasted on a bunch of people who weren’t really there to see that show. They didn’t care about the awesome tear-inducing vignette, they remained unaware of the social commentary, satire sailed over their heads, and they missed the nuance of the ceremony of the performance. But they sure caught every sex-related joke that Kimmings trotted out (and found humour when there wasn’t any intended).

And that made it really hard for me to enjoy the show… but I still managed to do so. But I wish I’d elected to see Sex Idiot on a night more conducive to a… less self-involved audience; I wish I was able to let the full impact of the work hit me. Because I’m not sure that I got to see the show at its potent best.

(Oh – many thanks to Jane for pointing these tweets out to me; it would appear that Kimmings herself was not particularly pleased with the audience at this performance…)

[2015020] STOP START

[2015020] STOP START

Dawson Nichols @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

9:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

It was great to see Dawson Nichols return to Adelaide again this year… clearly, his return to Adelaide after fourteen years had proven to be a success (or at least self-sufficient), and may have been responsible for the return of TJ Dawe, too.

So that’s nice.

And, once again, the house is pretty full for this performance. And, once again, it appears to be a typical Dawson Nichols production: One man. One chair. Intensely lyrical monologue that twists and turns as multiple threads snake around each other. Occasional subtle lighting variations.

But there’s a relative lack of characters in STOP START. In fact, this performance only really relies on two (with a third – I think – making a relatively short-but-significant appearance).

Which, if you’ve seen Nichols’ previous plays, is a bit of a departure from the dozens he usually presents to the audience.

The fact that the two characters are quite different – and that one is currently being embalmed – creates an intriguing bedrock for the play. Harmond appears to be the more intellectual of the two, musing deeply about the mythical origins of coffee, interspersed with marketing spiels, childhood memories, and unanswered queries to the unseen doctor embalming him. The physicality of Harmond is divine: the nervous looks to the embalmer, the insertions of needles into his arms to drain his fluids, the lolling as he recounts Buddhist and Aztec myths.

Harmond’s brother, Chaz, is a less refined character. A nervous collection of poor choices, he waits and watches over Harmond’s transition from flesh-and-blood to just-flesh. The two characters don’t talk, as such, but between them (and their transitions) they tell a story of common characters – belle Nancy, son/nephew Orion – that weaves into the traditional lore that Harmond recounts. The contrast is engaging: refined spirit myths versus human destructive excesses.

Nichols’ transitions between characters, forever a hallmark of his performances, are more drawn-out and elaborate here, as compared to his usual flitting of personae: more a function of lyricism in the writing than physical nudges in the delivery (though they provide ample support). And the play itself is a gorgeous tome of text, with a denouement that is both unexpected and garishly neat; the script is a joy to read.

Whilst STOP START may lack some of the immediate wow-factors of Dawson Nichols’ other performances, it proved to be a compelling piece of theatre. The script is absolutely worth buying, if only to revel in its nuances after-the-fact, but Nichols’ performance (and stark direction) still make this a theatrical experience not to be missed.

[2015019] Medicine

[2015019] Medicine

TJ Dawe @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

7:30pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

I was suitably impressed by TJ Dawe when he was last in Adelaide (all the way back in 2000!); both Tired Cliches and Labrador were wonderful pieces of storytelling, with Dawe’s likeable personality dominating the performances. Hence, Medicine was inked into The Schedule nice’n’early.

As with both the aforementioned shows, Dawe presents this monologue standing in the centre of an empty stage; there’s no fancy sets or trickery, just a man in a single spotlight. He launches into his story – a deeply descriptive account of his ayahuasca experience, expertly intertwined with (apparent) non sequiturs regarding the humble keyboard – in a manner which is instantly familiar from previous encounters… one might even suggest that his delivery style is one-note. But that rapid-fire delivery, combined with personal (yet approachable) writing, makes the performance utterly compelling.

When talking about his ayahuasca retreat – with all its colourful characters and mysticism – there’s a lot on insecurity and nervousness on display, and this helps make Dawe immediately engaging; but it also forms a wonderful contrast to the drier, more technical fact-deliveries surrounding the keyboard. And the performance is mostly played for laughs early on… but when we get to Dawe’s admissions about his visions, the audience falls silent in disbelief and anticipation: you could have heard a pin drop.

I seem to have come across a spate of ayahuasca-related media in the last few years – last year’s The Boat Goes Over The Mountain certainly sticks out in my mind – but the raw honesty on display here makes it stand out. I loved Medicine… but, then again, I love everything I’ve seen TJ Dawe present. His ability to present a compelling monologue, whilst dancing the line between the genres of pure theatre and standup comedy, is almost beyond compare; I only hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for his return.

[2015018] Trygve Wakenshaw’s NAUTILUS – a work in progress

[2015018] Trygve Wakenshaw’s NAUTILUS – a work in progress

Trygve Wakenshaw @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

After seeing the evolution of Trygve Wakenshaw’s Squidboy from 2012 to 2013, I resolved to check out his latest work – NAUTILUS – over the course of a single season. As a result, some of the first tickets I bought for the 2015 Fringe were those for the first and last performances of this self-described work in progress.

5:15pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

I’m assuming that the small audience in attendance at this opening performance were well aware of what they were in for… but there was still a hint of nervous trepidation in the air as we filed into the Perske.

After a (surprisingly) ordinary entrance, Wakenshaw started… well, experimenting. It became clear very early on that NAUTILUS was not scripted in the slightest: sure, Trygve may have brought some ideas into the room with him, but the expression of those ideas felt unrehearsed. His imagination – and, to a large extent, our imagination – was being put to the test.

But it totally worked.

Over the space of ninety-odd minutes (words chosen carefully, there), Trygve showered with paint, wrapped an audience member in a quilt cover and drew a treasure map on her face (along with a slightly more problematic “I love cock”), mimed a chicken-crossing-the-road joke, and involved everyone in a game of Duck, Duck, Goose (which resulted in some extremely competitive behaviour). The shower scene, in particular, was a messy moment of genius, due to Wakenshaw’s almost ridiculous feigned ignorance of the colour smeared across his face.

There was no real start, and no real end, to the performance… just a series of explorative vignettes, where the audience could genuinely feel the artistic endeavour taking place. Sure, not every idea worked – there were certainly moments where Wakenshaw would try to express an idea through mime, or pick up an object from the front of the stage, ruminate, then drop it whilst shaking his head and quietly muttering – but watching that creative process take place in front of me was immensely satisfying.

5:15pm, Sun 15 Mar 2015

So, a month had passed since I first saw NAUTILUS, and so – on the last day of the Fringe – I returned to see how it had developed… which ideas had stuck, which had developed, which had been jettisoned.

And whilst a few scenes were common to both performances – the chicken crossing the road, the audience participation of Duck, Duck, Goose – there were a slew of new (to me) ideas on display: a lascivious wall sex sequence. An excessively eccentric orchestra conductor. A bizarre extended saloon sequence featuring a bird, a cat, a horse, a sheep knitting a sweater, a racist, and Fukushima(!).

But whilst the bulk of the content of the performance had changed, one thing remained constant: Wakenshaw’s imagination. His rampant creativity. And the edge-of-your-seat anticipation that you could be present at the birth of something completely original.

And that, alone, is worth the price of admission.

[2015017] Anna Log – The Saboteur

[2015017] Anna Log – The Saboteur

Anna Log @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

4:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

It’s dead quiet as I approach the Red Room, and I assume that I’m the first to arrive. “How many pre-sales?” I ask at the door, and I’m surprised to hear “thirteen”; I open the door, and not only is the Red Room cool(!) but it’s half full of people. Very, very quiet people. Which doesn’t really bode well for a comedy show.

I had seen Anna Log perform all the way back in 2011, and remembered some great material… but also some massive gaps of between those good bits. And I was delighted to re-encounter those memorable highlights – Jim’s Abortions, Jesus Came In Me – but I was equally disappointed that there didn’t appear to be any new jokes that matched them.

In fact, most of Anna’s songs and standup material seemed familiar (apart from a few flat jokes around the thought processes of dogs in dog parks). I was called upon (of course I was the audience mark) to read a series of questions aloud for Anna to react to… but the responses were barely worth the audience embarrassment.

I still enjoyed Anna’s delivery and style… but I was really disappointed that most of her jokes seem to bail before they really go anywhere, leading to a feeling that the material is lightweight. And is it too much to expect that, after four years, that there would be a substantial chunk of new material?

[2015016] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger… Again!

[2015016] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger… Again!

Philip Burgers & Stuart Bowden @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Le Cascadeur

2:30pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

The last time I saw Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger was a bit of an adventure: I was well versed in Dr Brown’s clowning skills, but his very… adult nature had me curious as to how he could adapt his style for children. The end result was a bit of a revelation: Dr Brown’s rubbery antics (and incredibly endearing looks of surprise) translated incredibly well to a younger audience.

The 2015 version of the show – with Dr Brown accompanied by Stuart Bowden’s softly-spoken, ukulele-touting Tiger – bore a strong resemblance to my previous encounter with Brown: Philip Burgers begins by running in circles around the tight Le Cascadeur space, collecting shoes and money and food(!) from the audience, and performing magic tricks to conjure a larger suitcase. His physical antics whip the younger members of the audience into a high-pitched tizzy, but the biggest laughs are reserved for the audience member who is convinced to act like a ball.

Bowden’s Tiger gently cajoles the audience while Brown remains largely mute, his seemingly simple questions eliciting some glorious responses (“Why is Dr Brown looking for a donkey?” results in the astute “Because he’s bonkers!”). There’s familiar eye-rolling by the adults in the room as he creates a repetitive “But WHY?” prod that gets all the children yelling out in an incoherent rabble, before he wraps things up with an ending monologue that engaged the children in some (surprisingly) existential musings.

Having seen Dr Brown the previous evening, I can now categorically state that back-to-back Brown is barely enough. The addition of Bowden’s paradoxically cheery & melancholic Tiger remains a wonderful contrast, and this show remains a comedic clowning must-see for all ages.

[2015015] Dr Brown & Sam Simmons – Ceremony

[2015015] Dr Brown & Sam Simmons – Ceremony

Philip Burgers & Sam Simmons @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Factory

11:15pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

As I ambled towards The Factory at the top of the Garden, a mere 20 minutes before the allotted starting time of Ceremony, I saw Dr Brown scurrying towards the venue. He saw me, quickly waved hello, then disappeared back into his thoughts, a look of comical worry and deep thought blended upon his face.

This did not phase me at all. If anything, it caused my optimism to inflate.

Chris Taylor parks himself behind me in the queue. We chat up a storm – he was in town filming Plonk (with old acquaintance Josh Tyler) – and (eventually) we wound up sitting in the front row, musing what type of show it would be: Sam Simmons surreality, or Dr Brown WTF-ness.

What was that? Front row at a Brown (or Simmons, for that matter) show? We’ll come back to that.

The starting time comes and goes; The Factory is full and humming with nervous expectation, but it’s apparent that most of the audience was there because of Simmons. Finally, the lights dimmed, the intro music swelled… then Simmons stormed in (to exultant cheers), protesting “we’re not ready!” to the tech, before climbing to the tech desk to kill the lights and music himself.

More waiting. Taylor and I discussed whether Simmons’ bluster was part of the show or not.

Finally, our two heroes entered. Brown looked like a clownish shaman (with a bulbous lampshade on his head), and Simmons looked like… well, Simmons. With a bad wig. Simmons.

The two men began chanting together. The chant develops a physicality, eventually morphing into a chase as they ran laps around the stage; a latecomer enters The Factory and is dragged, confused, into the chase. He escaped by running up the stairs at the end of a lap; in doing so, he tripped and fell with a thud, and at that point I knew exactly what kind of show this is going to be.

Dangerous. And full of excitement. And potential lawsuits. And fun.

As Simmons lifted an eyebrow in recognition, my neighbour was dragged into the chase game; when it subsided, they stand him on a chair and present him with a medal. The chair buckles as he alights, broken… and I subconsciously started counting the number of potential OH&S hazards we’d encountered.

They disappear for several minutes, returning with fresh beers – they’d just wandered to the bar.

Name tags were handed out – everyone was David, except for a solitary “Cregg”. And (slowly) the Ceremony seemed to develop a central premise: the death and celebration of Cregg. Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches were brought out for Cregg’s wake, and a food fight quickly developed, catching much of the audience in the crossfire… my arms were sticky with jam as Brown & Simmons eschewed the battle with each other in favour of pegging sandwiches directly into the crowd. They dragged up another volunteer, June, and get her to make more sandwiches (cue another food fight, with Simmons surprising Taylor with a baguette to the face) before an almost lewd sandwich tasting incident involving Simmons, Brown, and poor June.

I’m dragged up onstage and sent out to get a Fanta. As soon as I left the venue, Simmons pulled me aside and told me to wait at least 30 seconds – “it’ll be funnier”. I talked to the tech (who provided me a Fanta), waited a while, and heard uproarious laughter within the venue – and wondered whether I was going to find a sandwich inside my bag when I got home (I did not). I ran back in with the Fanta to applause, but couldn’t help think that maybe I’d missed the joke… or was about to bear the brunt of it.

Brown teased Simmons with the Fanta in a deeply erotic manner; it’s Brown doing what he does best, conjuring pornographic thoughts in the audience from the slightest movements. An open mouth with trembling lips, chin lifting, eyes widening. It’s practiced and polished and supremely effective.

There were more hijinks as Simmons’ persistent cough worsens and he “dies” – Taylor was dragged up to help resuscitate him, beating him soundly in the chest in lieu of CPR (“that fucking hurt,” Simmons later complained). Taylor was then sent outside for some reason, and returned with another glass of wine, which Brown dispatched over his shoulder. Brown then expertly controlled the lighting cues to dive into Simmons’ pants with a Fanta-laden sponge as the lights hit black.

So they were my memories from a show which was clearly an embryonic exploration into what the combined imaginations of these two comic geniuses could conjure. I’ve never seen Philip Burgers do a bad show as Dr Brown, and his clowning skills are beyond compare; and whilst Simmons can run hot or cold for me (not least because of his audiences), some of his more dubious exercises in surreality seemed to be obviated in favour of Brown’s more grounded insanity.

And, despite the danger posed to the audience, it worked… it really did. Sure, there were times when it was hard to determine whether the show was just ninety minutes of don’t-give-a-fuck-edness or improvised genius, but it was pretty much exactly what I’d hoped for. And, hopefully, the Simmons fans in the audience may have had their eyes opened to the genius that is Dr Brown.

[2015014] Yana Alana – Between the Cracks

[2015014] Yana Alana – Between the Cracks

Yana Alana @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Deluxe

9:45pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

I had no idea who Yana Alana was before I entered the Deluxe this evening; several cabaret aficionados had raved to me about her work, but – aside from the “cabaret” genre – little else was known.

But as soon as a spotlight plucked Yana at the back of the room, starting the show with a record-scratching suddenness, I knew this was going to be… well, special.

Not least of all because of Yana’s appearance. Beneath the ebullient platinum-and-blue wig everything was blue. Here costume consisted of a blue merkin and a lot of blue body paint. She was… well, striking. And a little bit challenging, to be honest. I felt genuinely fearful for any potential audience interactions.

The second thing that hit me about Yana is her presence – she owns the stage and her audience, and her mighty voice doesn’t disappoint. Along with pianist Jo Abbott, Yana belts out some great tunes (including my second instance of Cohen’s Anthem for the evening) that are laced with comedy; at one stage, Yana produces an ab toning belt which – when applied – added an amusing (and fascinating) vibrato tinge to her voice.

But the main thread of the show revolved around the constant phone calls to accompanist Abbott from her manager, leading to Yana sacking her mid-show. Then came the worrisome audience interaction: a lucky audience member – dubbed Bert Bacharach – was plucked from the crowd to provide Alana’s backing. The resultant uneducated hand mashing was, of course, horribly discordant, leading to Alana using “Bacharach” to act as a mediator between herself and Jo.

The character of Yana Alana is wonderfully realised by Sarah Ward, with Abbott’s plain & deadpan nature creating a wonderful contrast to Yana’s brash blueness. Great sounds, bold sights, and an indomitable stage presence made Between the Cracks an absolute delight.