[2015013] WOMANz

[2015013] WOMANz

Tessa Waters @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Campanile

8:15pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

Tight planning bites me in the arse as I dash up to the Campanile from my previous show only to find access blocked by an over-zealous Gardener. “We don’t let in latecomers,” she said to me and another couple of people who turned up at the same time; “since when?” I protested, adding an unnecessarily snide remark regarding Garden shows actually starting on-time on opening night. “We’re pretty good at starting on time,” she balked… the statement left me mute with incredulity.

We were eventually allowed in after the opening musical number finished, and were greeted by a super-enthusiastic, heavily accented, and lycra-clad Tessa Waters, who declares herself to be “WOMANz”, a goddess of female sexuality. The accent is thick and hispanic(?), her dialogue sharp, and her control of the audience is superb: she quickly managed to coax the entire crowd up onto their feet to dance. I’ve talked before about my reluctance to dance, but WOMANz had me practicing the Running Man (amongst many, many others) with everyone else.

WOMANz has, at its heart, a strong feeling of empowerment. Behind the laughably bold and colourful presentation is a message of self-acceptance; however, the subtlety of this message may have been lost on the group of pissed women in the second row (seriously – who walks into an 8pm show with two bottles of wine?). But, as mentioned before, Waters keeps the crowd in check with her charm… even the recurring interstitial cries of “what’s happening?” keep their laughs going, and the “Art… In Your Face!” bit was sheer joy. Besides the crowd dancing, there’s a few other bits of interaction – Trudy in the front row allowed her breasts to be squeezed by an initially timid (then animalistically overjoyed) WOMANz, and a few other patrons served as good-natured marks throughout the show.

It’s a show that, in retrospect, feels light on content… but heavy on intent. And Tess’ exuberance and comic clowning abilities were superb, and she kept everyone in the crowd (which was a pleasing mix of young and old) entertained throughout. Sure, I felt uncomfortable (at times) – the dancing was terrifying before we got into it, and there’s always something a little scary about being a bloke on your own in a show so clearly targeted at women (though, it must be said, WOMANz contained something for everyone). But there were a lot of very happy punters leaving the Campanile after this show, and – hopefully – everyone felt just a little better about themselves.

[2015012] Camille O’Sullivan: Changeling

[2015012] Camille O’Sullivan: Changeling

Camille O’Sullivan @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Aurora Spiegeltent

7:00pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

I’d elected to do some ballsy scheduling on this, the opening night of The Garden: fifteen minute gaps between shows is not something I’d normally try to do, but I figured that the proximity of Garden venues would facilitate the tight changeover. Still, the planning decision weighed on my mind as I settled into the Aurora, so I took a seat towards the back on the aisle, with an eye to making a quick escape.

I’m in deep conversation with my neighbour – a Tasmanian artist here for a non-Fringe show – when i see her eyes dart upwards and behind me; suddenly I felt a hand lightly stroke the back of my neck as Camille O’Sullivan – soft white skin, flowing black hair, and enrobed in black – slowly walked down the aisle to the stage.

If there’s a better way to get my attention, I don’t know what it is.

Despite light and sound problems – her hands were almost constantly signalling her intentions to the techs – this was a truly captivating performance by O’Sullivan and her trio of keys/guitar/drums accompanists. Her voice – so husky, so deep, so strong – is like audible velvet, and she knows how to visually work a cabaret stage, too: her outfit morphed throughout the show, removing a layer here, adding a new accessory there between songs.

And the song choices were pretty damn good. In These Shoes is played for slinky laughs, and the richness of O’Sullivan’s voice seemed to make her penultimate song, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, her own: her insistence that there’s “a crack in everything” was almost heartbreaking, and – with one eye on my watch, beginning to question my poor planning decision – I figured it would have made a great closer.

Instead, Camille coaxed the crowd into the softest, most beautiful rendition of Nick Cave’s The Ship Song that I’ve ever heard… leading to me both singing and applauding as I scooted for the exit of the Aurora, trying not to be late for my next show. I hate being late for shows, but Camille O’Sullivan’s Changeling was worth it.

(And, as fate would dictate, I wound up seeing O’Sullivan absolutely smash it again a month later as part of a David Lynch musical retrospective.)

[2015011] Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

[2015011] Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

Offending Shadows Productions @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:00pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

So: it’s the official Fringe opening night, and – as to be expected at this time of year – it’s bloody hot. The Bally, a by-now familiar domed tent in the heart of Gluttony, has some new food stalls as neighbours, the (lovely) smells of which drift into the humid tent as we wait for Eleanor’s Story to begin. The perfunctory systems of ducting and fans are trying their best to cool the interior of The Bally down, but they’re barely effective… and pretty noisy.

It’s fair to say that conditions did not bode well for a contemplative and deeply personal piece of theatre.

Ingrid Garner’s initial appearance was tentative, timid, and maybe a little unconvincing, as her character Eleanor cowered from the sounds of explosions that almost drowned out the air conditioning; any attempts at lighting effects were rendered moot by the daylight seeping in. But with her small suitcase and fearful eyes, she really sells the sense of danger surrounding Eleanor.

But there’s an initially disconcerting sideways step as we are brought back to Ingrid’s American accent, to Stafford Connecticut, and the backstory that leads to a young Eleanor and her family moving back to Germany from America via ship. The Second World War breaks out while they’re in transit, dropping the previously comfortable family into a country committed to violence… nine-year old Eleanor’s initial complaints about the change of surroundings are almost playful at first, but as the War intensifies her experiences become more harrowing.

The narrative flips back and forth from a wartime city under siege to Connecticut, creating moments of levity and contrast. Those moments are most certainly required: there’s moments when young Eleanor encounters her first dead body, or when Russian soldiers are ransacking homes (and women), that the content risks being almost unbearable. It’s only at the end of the show that Garner back-announces the show as being based on the autobiographical writings of her grandmother, the titular Eleanor Ramrath Garner, as she opens up to thank the audience for coming; it’s then that the emotional weight of the performance hits me.

Whilst Eleanor’s Story appeared to be a relatively straightforward (but weighty) tale told without much theatrical fanfare, it was delivered with enough personality and conviction to move the audience. I turned to leave The Bally feeling theatrically sated, but on my way out I observed the crowd: clusters of Media badge wearers hanging towards the back. A quick head-count lead to the conclusion that Garner probably had only half-a-dozen paying punters in that show, and I had one of those broken-hearted moments where I felt utterly gutted for the performer: that they had booked this venue, in this timeslot, in these conditions. That this may be their best chance for a decent crowd. The Fringe can be cruel.

But then I saw a couple sitting across the aisle from the media contingent: an older woman weeping, being consoled by her partner. And I figured that their response would have more-than-justified Garner’s efforts.

[2015010] Blood at The Root

[2015010] Blood at The Root

Penn State Centre Stage @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

9:00pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

Martha Lott’s Holden Street Theatres has managed to bring some hard-hitting theatre to Adelaide over the years (think Bitch Boxer, Fleeto, or Bound), and 2015 was no exception; the pre-season buzz around Blood at The Root gave the impression that this would be one of the gutsier productions this season.

And, in an era where systemic racism in America is becoming more widely recognised, Blood at The Root certainly delivers a topical punch: a high-school fight leads to six black teenagers being charged with attempted murder of a white student, with escalating tensions in the school (and the home of one of the accused) forming the basis of the performance. The cast of six really deliver the goods: Stori Ayers dominates the stage as sister of one of the accused, Kenzie Ross grounds the play in the south, Brandon Carter has an memorably explosive moment as editor of the school newspaper, and Christian Thompson straddles righteous guilt with aplomb.

Though largely predictable in its narrative (with the concession that I follow a lot of politically-progressive reporting from the US), Blood at The Root rattles along at a fair pace, rarely getting bogged down or failing to engage. But there’s two moments that are particularly memorable, when the ensemble forms a mob and sweeps the audience up in their emotions: the “we will not be moved” segment, and the “Free the Cedar Six” chant. These two scenes evoked that bitter why-is-society-fucked? response in me… not necessarily a joyous response, but certainly one that is respected.

Blood at The Root proved to be solid, emotional theatre, and a worthy winner of Holden Street’s Edinburgh Award. Strong performances, polished direction, and potent themes made this an easy recommendation to the theatrically – and politically – astute.

[2015009] King in Exile

[2015009] King in Exile

Nice Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

I’m always amazed by the artists who decide to throw their hat into the ring and perform at the Adelaide Fringe, especially those who don’t do comedy; I’ve often felt that staging a theatre piece must be an incredibly ambitious undertaking, requiring a level of blind optimism that the crowds will come to cover your costs. Sure, some venues (such as Holden Street) do tend to get a more theatre-savvy audience, but there’s something to be said for the cahones of those who – with very little backing – decide to book a long run for their show.

The respect (or concession to insanity) goes up a notch when you throw the word “abstract” into the mix.

It all starts so plainly for this Victorian company: King comes from another galaxy and attempts to settle in Australia. He’s a fish out of water, but attempts to use his intellect to determine the cultural patterns that seem to want to crush the spirit out of society. There’s also King’s Antagonist, the struggling playwright trying to make sense of his own meta-play, a fierce S&M couple, three witches… and a lot of nods to Shakespeare, with a series of contemporary themes (racism & immigration, sexuality, tall-poppy syndrome).

Sounds like a decent potpourri for an abstract play, right?

Unfortunately, the elements seemed to fight each other, resulting in a real mess of a production. Whilst the conflict between King and Antagonist had some decent verbal exchanges, and the Playwright’s inner demons provoked compassionate interest, interstitial scenes were far less compelling… and even downright infuriating. Any momentum built by other characters was dispelled the instant the needlessly shrill witches came onstage… and the over-the-top relationship of the ridiculously submissive Rob & overly domineering Jacqueline seemed completely out of place.

To be fair, the denouement of this muddle seemed really interesting… but then it just kept going and going, butchering any positivity it brought with it. The small opening-night audience – myself included – seemed to be more bemused than entertained – their applause had died out before the cast had even left the stage.

And, after I’d left the theatre and had a chance to sit down and reflect, all I could do is muse that this company had another week in this large space.

[2015008] Kinski and I

[2015008] Kinski and I

CJ Johnson @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

So… I knew precious little about the professional output of Klaus Kinski prior to this performance, but I was aware of his daughter… and of his legend. Of the ruckus that his unflinching lack-of-compromise seemed to create. Fertile matter, then, for a show that purported to lift the lid on Kinski’s life via his own memoirs… and, with a strapline promising “the banned writings of the world’s most depraved movie star”, expectations were high.

Expectations were not met.

Dressed in plain clothes – jeans, t-shirt, jacket – CJ Johnson did little more than read his script from an iPad propped in front of him; there was very little physical presentation to his performance. The script was little more than edited highlights of Kinski’s autobiography, All I Need Is Love, with occasional asides where Johnson drops back to his own fanboyish personae, espousing his joy at Kinski’s work. But the selection of Kinski’s text to be included was dubious, at best: it felt like a series of snippets selected purely for the shock of the sex they contained – and, let’s be frank, it’s pretty explicit.

And maybe that’s the point: Kinski’s own words conjure up the image of the man as a barely-controlled monster, unable to control his own sexual urges and unwilling to accept the impact of his actions. But when scene after scene devolves into clinical descriptions of his sex life, it all gets a little samey. One-note-ish. Bland.

The short interludes where Johnson drops out of his stern Kinski-esque accent into (presumably) his true self help break up the tedium somewhat; there’s certainly more variation of delivery in these moments, as he leaves the iPad and roams the stage, enthusing at the audience. There’s much discussion of the meta-narrative around Kinski’s autobiography – how the first edition, translated into English by Kinski himself, was pulped upon release – and he proudly displayed his own copy, after regaling us with details of its discovery. But the readings themselves were largely flat in tone, and the one occasion when Johnson attempted to try something different – an exclamation of disbelief from the tech as Kinski relayed the time he forced himself on a young teenager – felt like a wasted opportunity… I wish they’d done more with that.

Upon reflection, I found Kinski and I to be dull beyond belief, and – perhaps worse – a painful waste of my time. It was barely theatre, with an oppressive and single-minded intent to assault the audience with cold tales of occasionally unbelievable sexual conquest until all shock is subsumed by numbness. Maybe these highlights of Kinski’s life were too much for my little mind to take… or maybe the manner of their delivery sucked all the titillating spectacle out of them.

[2015007] Elvis Hates Me

[2015007] Elvis Hates Me

McArts @ Producers Warehouse

9:45pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

So – it’s the last show of four-in-a-row at the same venue, and I’m a little bit tired. And when Elvis Hates Me kicks off with a plain staging, with a young female nurse slowly – and somewhat wistfully – flipping through a magazine, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open for the duration of the performance.

But then, almost as if I had dropped off to sleep, two wheelchair-bound Elvis impersonators wheel themselves onto the stage and start doing laps around the woman… they appear to be afflicted with some sort of disorder, and they leer unstably at the audience as they seem to drool in their chairs, and I feel like I’m some sort of a fever dream.

And I start thinking: hang on. Is this show using genuinely disabled people here? Are they being taken advantage of? (Or, put another way, being abused?)

But then one of the afflicted Elvises darts from a twitching, drooling mess into a perfectly weighted impersonation of the charismatic King… and I realise that this is going to be a strange trip. And as the opening setting morphs from a hospital, to a nursing home, to who-knows-what-else, the characters likewise change form: the Elvises become orderlies, the nurse becomes an inmate. And while the plot (as loose as it seems) appears to twist and turn upon itself, one thread remains constant: the (almost obscene) affordances offered by pop culture in pursuing our obsession with celebrity, as the nurse/inmate becomes Elvis’ belle and is hounded by paparazzi.

Philip Stokes’ script is a convulsing mess – but it’s also a compelling mess, which is to be expected coming from the same pen that brought us My Filthy Hunt and Heroin(e) for Breakfast. Indeed, the impressive Craig McArdle features in all three shows, playing the lead Elvis in this production (as well as directing): his range of characters, and his ability to convince you of each form with a moments’ notice is amazing. Aaron Broomhall lacks the same range, but still offers a regal charm with his Elvis (and associated celebrity cameos); Susan Cilento’s character(s?) swerves from loveably naïve to gleefully hateful, and she totally sells it.

Elvis Hates Me became my early must-see theatrical even during the Fringe: I loved its (potentially polarising) completely off-the-wall take on celebrity obsession. Tight direction, challenging dialogue (riddled with uncomfortable racial and sexual barbs), and a sparse-but-effective set created an utterly compelling production that made me happy that the Fringe exists.

[2015006] Geraldine Quinn – MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt

[2015006] Geraldine Quinn – MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt

Geraldine Quinn @ Producers Warehouse

8:30pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

It’s fair to say that I’m a pretty big fan of Geraldine Quinn: she has exactly the right blend of coarse ocker-isms, powerful vocals, and passion for wine. That she can create songs of such perverse comic intensity that are also musically adept is icing on the cake.

So… yeah. Love her work.

My big problem, of course, is that I turn into such a fucking fawning sycophant whenever I’m around Geri (dating back to an awkward bar incident at the Fringe Awards in 2010) that I wind up coming across as a super-creepy stalker… which is totally not me. Then again, maybe it is me, but I’m oblivious to the overt creepiness. Which is a bit more worrying.

Regardless, there was no way I was missing Geri’s latest rock-cabaret opus, Modern Day Maiden Aunt.

Whilst her previous shows have nearly always contained references – both heart-felt and irritated, but always comical – to her family, MDMA is an entire song cycle based around her child-free alcohol-laced singledom being a stark contrast to the lives of her siblings: breeders, every one of them, leading to Geri being an aunt many, many times over. Introduced with a rock-backed recording of her father bemoaning career choices, the show alternates songs with Geri’s wickedly acerbic musings on her siblings’ life choices, contrasting their familial decisions with her cabaret lifestyle.

The musical content is some of Geri’s best work yet: the show’s title track and The Great Invisible Woman seriously rawk, but there’s a lot of variety in the operatic overtones of The Kid Is Not That Cute, the AOR-love song of Don’t Call Me A MILF, and even some smooth beat poetry with The Cool Aunt. Lyrically, she’s also on-point: MILF features some blisteringly vicious putdowns in verse, the tail end of Remember You Can Talk To Me is sheer genius, and the closing reprise of the title track is beautifully touching… the recordings of her nieces’ impressions of Geri are also really quite beautiful.

Look – I just loved MDMA… I reckon it’s Geri’s best show to date, with a perfect mix of rock and comedy filtered through cabaret stylings. And, of course, at the end of the show I was anxious to tell Geri how much I loved it – but there was one rambling fan who just would not stop talking to her. After waiting a courteous minute or two, I eventually just leaned across to quickly offer my thanks – a little rudely, I suspect, but whatevs – and left her to deal with the fan (who, curiously, wasn’t even aware of her Sunglasses at Night shows). I kinda feel bad that I didn’t buy anything from her post-show, but I’d received my copy of MDMA (and some badges, and another copy of You’re the Voice) from Geri’s Pozible campaign literally the day before this performance.

Afterwards, Geri seemed somewhat satisfied with her performance… and – thankfully – pretty happy with my tweet. Which is nice :)

ff2015, Day 34

So… that’s the end of my 2015 Festivalian activities (with the exception of a handful of visual arts exhibits I plan to check out before they close). A quick snooze, then off to Melbourne for In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited. No rest for the wicked! Or, rather, the wicked will rest very well on Tuesday night (…and the rest of 2015).

  1. A Simple Space
  2. Fully Furnished
  3. Trygve Wakenshaw’s NAUTILUS – a work in progress
  4. Wizard Sandwiches – Lettuce Play

Some preliminary stats for ff2015:

  • 167 unique shows: 12 Festival, 155 Fringe.
  • 170 total shows (saw 3 Fringe shows twice).
  • 171 tickets bought (two shows were free, and there were three shows that I missed for various reasons).
  • 42 Fringe Visual Arts exhibitions seen (so far).
  • Total Fringe Guide Coverage: 18.8%

And now, to write up the 162 shows I’ve not written up yet…

ff2015, Day 33

I attended my last Festival event today, leaving me with a tidy dozen shows for the year – my least-attended Festival year since I started writing, but there were a few cracking shows in that dozen. Also finished my Blinc experience; I didn’t quite manage to see everything on offer (most notably the hour-plus loops in the Blinc Bar, and the Pinky Flat pieces left me really cold), but Ryoichi Kurokawa’s piece (projected onto Festival Theatre) was totally worth every second spent in the cold.

  1. Spring Alibi
  2. Trash Test Dummies
  3. The Cardinals
  4. I Liked You Better Online
  5. We may have to choose
  6. Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Catchy Show Title
  7. Shake

I returned to Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Catchy Show Title after the tense debacle my SO and I attended on Clipsal weekend; what a difference a great audience makes! So much fun.

ff2015, Day 32

Just got home from A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves 3. It had everything that one could have hoped for: drama, suspense, laughs, and bananas. And drunk “normies” that thought the whole point was to drop trou and show your cock onstage.

  1. #nofilter
  2. Sous Vide
  3. Bully
  4. Ro Campbell: Road Warrior

What’s that? 158 unique shows? Isn’t that a Personal Best, Pete?

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

ff2015, Day 31

Today was the last of the Fearful Days for me: seven shows, some potentially tricky transitions, and a whole lot of unknowns.

But it all worked out… and there were some genuine surprises in amongst those shows. Mr Stuart’s distant range, for all its faults and lecturing, was super-enjoyable, and Paul Currie was absolutely mental.

Oh, and Beckett Triptych was a bit special, too.

  1. Beckett Triptych
  2. Rip, Drag & Ruminate
  3. Luster
  4. Mr Stuart’s distant range
  5. LEFT
  6. Paul Currie: Release the Baboons
  7. Fancy Boy Variety Show

Cancellations permitting, I just purchased the last of my tickets for the year…

ff2015, Day 30

Great day, really – except for the massive turd of an experience in The Experiment. Did not like. But I did manage to sit in on the “pilot” recording of Marcel’s new podcast, which was fun.

  1. Professor Mounteforte D. Hamsalami in ‘Life Science! a Career Retrospective’
  2. Nick Nemeroff – You’re All Dumb Idiots
  3. The Experiment
  4. The New Cabal

So glad I caught The New Cabal – an almost blistering jazz set with some amazing musicianship.

ff2015, Day 29

A relatively lazy day was capped off by a wander down to Elder Park with the intention of sitting around and watching Blinc for a few hours. Alas – everything was shut down by midnight. Harrumph.

  1. Dave Bloustien: The Tinder Profile of Dorian Gray
  2. Sarah Bennetto’s Funeral
  3. RAW Comedy Winner 2007 Jonathan Schuster presents I Won RAW Comedy In 2007.
  4. Gary Portenza: Apologies in Advance

Jonathan Schuster, eh? He’s a bit good.

[2015005] Angus and Demi are: Best Good Show

[2015005] Angus and Demi are: Best Good Show

Angus Brown & Demi Lardner @ Producers Warehouse

7:15pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

So: I’ve always been a massive fan of Demi Lardner’s comedy (creepy fanboy alert: I once bought her an Andrew O’Neill t-shirt), but I’ve never actually seen her do a whole show… just five- or ten-minute spots in line-up events. Angus Brown, on the other hand, had never really made an impression one way or the other: his enthusiasm onstage is palpable, to be sure, but his material hasn’t quite hit the mark for me. But the opportunity to see Lardner and Brown together presented itself as part of the Producers’ opening night shenanigans, and was pretty hard to ignore; thus, I found my way into a decent-sized crowd that was bubbling with supportive positivity.

Best Good Show presents itself as sketch comedy, tenuously linked together with an absurd storyline: the two comedians have decided to go to a school for morticians, in a storyline that occasionally threatened to go into zombie territory (one of my pet hates), but instead just veered into semi-demonic happenstances that… kinda… sorta… went nowhere. And then wrapped up almost unexpectedly. Besides Angus and Demi themselves, there’s a few recurring characters (indicated by the slightest of changes – a cap, a limp, a strangled accent), and – my favourite – the duck non sequiturs, in which a duck would waddle onstage in-between sketches/scenes to unleash irrelevant “facts” before disappearing again, no explanation given.

And then, of course, there was a bit of audience participation… which is to say, Pete participation. On went a pigeon mask (onto which I attempted to apply my glasses, to almost-condescendingly polite laughter), and wings were applied to my arms… I can’t even remember the point of that sketch, but I’m not sure that’s a problem in a performance that’s as deliberately ramshackle as Best Good Show.

Lardner and Brown play everything for laughs – there’s (brilliantly) awful puns aplenty, and a wonderful physical contrast between Angus’ physique and Demi’s impossibly flexible dancing. And whilst there’s a feeling that Best Good Show might be a work-in-progress, I’m not sure that this was as unscripted as they would like us to believe; I’m not sure the intent is for this piece to evolve over time. But the enthusiasm and interplay of the two performers makes up for any shortcomings in the script, leaving a positive and likeable impression.