[20040080] First Night

First Night

Forced Entertainment @ Royalty Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Brutal

Brutal. There’s no other word for this piece from UK-based Forced Entertainment. A lot of the audience around me tended to use words such as “boring” and “shit”, but I’ve never experienced anything so confronting, so harsh… so brutal.

Initially, it seemed like First Night may be a comedy – eight characters appear onstage with forced grins and heavy makeup, bidding welcome. Slowly, the grins wear off, only to return suddenly. A breast appears. Characters drift offstage, returning wearing blindfolds. They start trying to read the audience’s minds.

And this is where it gets nasty, where the true confrontational nature of the performance is shown. The performers start pointing at various people in the audience and telling them how they’ll die. Initial prognostications have an amusing quality about them, the audience giggling; then one of the characters points at a woman and says, quietly, “a lump in your breast”. The room goes cold; she continues, pointing to other members in the stalls: “cancer… of the bowel. A car accident. Drowning.” Every so often, there’s a nervous (or stress-relieving) titter from a pocket of the crowd – but it is soon muted.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. 15 minutes of introspection. Tough.

Later pieces continue to focus on the morbid, whilst the characters demand that we do not think about it. “Don’t think about war, don’t think about death, don’t think about the death of your parents, don’t think about the death of your children.” Most of the performance is going on inside your own head; Forced Entertainment are just directing.

Indeed, the lightest moment of the performance was the performance of the Balloon Bimbo (inexplicably joined onstage by a blindfolded man with a saw) – her seedy languidity seemed both surreal and superior. But, for the most part, this performance felt like the cast were pointing their finger at you and laughing. Sad, pitiful laughter perhaps, but the joke was on you – you were the performer. Occasionally, the performers would have some fun at each other’s expense – the various levels of boredom during the “mystery?/illusion” sketch were quite amusing – but all the while, the dialog is still depressingly morbid.

Of course, not everyone likes to have the words “You’re shit, and you know you are” sung to them for a couple of minutes, and so this performance may not appeal to everyone. Or anyone. Except me. Challenging? – hell yes.

[20040079] Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down

Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down

Aquarius Productions @ Uni Cinema

5:30pm, Wed 10 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Lacking consistent power

Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down tells the story of three women in a small town. Essentially three solo pieces (the characters don’t meet until the final few minutes of the play), the characters of Jodie, Lynette and Ruby share the stage, the “inactive” characters mute whilst the active character addresses the audience. The only commonality between the women: the brutal, misogynistic, overbearing bully, Royce. Murderer, husband, lover to the women, his actions eventually draw the three together.

The first act sees 10-year-old Jodie witnessing her boyfriend die due to Royce’s bullying. Four years her senior, Lynette recounts how her father was responsible for a similar act. 18-year-old Ruby is pregnant with Royce’s child. Act two, set eight years later, sees situations change: Lynette has stumbled into marriage with Royce, Ruby has a string of broken relationships and a 7-year-old child, and Jodie has blocked the death of her boyfriend from her mind. Slowly, through Lynette, Royce’s brutality becomes more apparent – and the play tumbles towards a somewhat predictable climax.

Jodie is played with a sheer youthful exuberance, and the frail Lynette is played to perfection. But the show didn’t gel into something decent for me until the final fade-out – the furtive, scared glances between the three women speaks greater volumes than the previous hour.

[20040078] Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson @ Nova 2

9:45pm, Tue 9 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: A kindred spirit

Kitson comes onstage with no fanfare. Whatsoever. The crowd hasn’t been worked into a frenzy, so the opening is a bit flat. With delusions of melancholy, he improvises himself into a corner – behind the side screens, anyway. And then he reappears, utters the immortal words “this room’s shit, and you’re a bunch of cunts” – and he means it. And he’s won a friend for life in me.

Let it not be said that Kitson doesn’t have a dislike of popular society. His aim of whittling down his audience to a core group of twelve would be a lot easier, however, if he weren’t so bloody funny. Recounting a tale of his worst-ever radio interview, he described his comedy as “a fat dog raping a cake” – and he’s right. Picture that, and you’ve got Daniel Kitson.

Hell, anyone who takes the piss out of The Advertiser’s reviews is fine by me. Kitson’s abrasive take on modern life is something that’s been sorely missed since the sad loss of Bill Hicks; a style that many comedians have tried to emulate, but failed to succeed. Kitson makes this style his own, and does it bloody well.

“Clumsy, but valid”: oh yes. “All filler, and not an ounce of killer”? I think not.

[20040077] Blood on the Floor

Blood on the Floor

Absolute Ensemble / Adelaide Symphony Orchestra @ Adelaide Town Hall

8:00pm, Tue 9 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Punchy

It’s easy to tell the members of the ASO and the Absolute Ensemble apart – the former turn up to work in their standard black presentation garb, the latter wear whatever they feel like… which creates an interesting dress aesthetic onstage.

Not that it detracts from the music, oh no. Blood on the Floor is a moody, punchy piece of music – the Prologue was a particularly brutal, stabbing introduction, Shout was exploded into an aggressive piece, and Sweet & Decay was everything it claimed to be. The closing piece, Dispelling the Fears, was ominous; and throughout, Absolute’s Kristjan Jarvi conducted with aplomb.

The problem I had with Blood on the Floor is that the string section was inactive for about half the performance – indeed, Needles seemed to be more oriented towards a jazz/funk fusion band than an orchestra. ASO equals strings to me, so this was a bit of a bummer. Still, the oomph provided by the decorative ends to each piece were compensation enough.

[20040076] Craig Egan’s Summer of Rock Tour

Craig Egan’s Summer of Rock Tour

Craig Egan @ Rhino Room

6:00pm, Tue 9 Mar 2004

Score: 5

Short Review: AOR

Craig Egan’s show is named after the month he spent indulging in three Big Day Outs, two Pearl Jam concerts, as well as seeing his idol Dave Grohl with the Foo Fighters. 6 gigs in a month, eh? Lightweight ;)

Egan started well, given the audience of 13; he managed to get 100% audience participation in the “let’s ROCK!” chant at the top of the show, and the what-makes-a-rock-star slide show was well prepped. There were a few dead spots later on, however, when he could have benefited from having a larger quantity of material to draw from. Egan did make one very valid point, however – great rock heroes (and great rock moments) are everywhere.

His theories on Quentin were ace, however, as was his admission of his love for the aforementioned Mr Grohl. And the story about the heckler he gave the mike to – for 75 minutes – was a good closer. But would you take lessons in rock from a man whose biggest rock moment is the only time he crowd-surfed?

[20040075] Absolute Zappa

Absolute Zappa

Absolute Ensemble @ Adelaide Town Hall

9:00pm, Mon 8 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Blusteringly gutsy

The Absolute Ensemble, based in New York City and led by Kristjan Jarvi, presented two hours of interpretations of Frank Zappa tunes. The audience was an eclectic mix – classic Arts patrons, old-school Zappa deadheads, and Zappa aficionados.

Jarvi conducts like an excitable loon – he grins manically at his ensemble, drifts off to chat with them during solos, and is the personification of the mad young conductor stereotype. The wonderful thing was watching the musicians get into the music – there was almost more head-bobbing Zappa-digging onstage than there was in the audience. Most of the songs covered were arranged by Charles Coleman and the Ensemble’s Gene Pritsker, who wielded a guitar onstage.

If anything, the problem with this show is that it started too well – “Filthy Habits” was an astonishingly good opener, thumping the audience right in the third eye, and was almost impossible to better. “G-Spot Tornado” challenged it, with a surging, dynamic orchestration; likewise, “Packard Goose” had a stupendous crescendo; “Teenage Prostitute” raced along brilliantly; and “Muffin Man” was a great closer. Bowing to audience demand, Absolute encored “Dirty Love”, complete with a rap by Pritsker.

The only other issue was that the string section of the ensemble sounded a little overwhelmed early on; still, the arrangements of the chosen songs were fantastic: closing your eyes and trying to disassemble the collusion in your mind was magical. A truly unique experience.

[20040074] Pluck


Pluck @ Holden Street Theatres

9:30pm, Sun 7 Mar 2004

Score: 10

Short Review: Pure genius. Really.

Sweet mother of goat, what a fabulous show. Words cannot do it justice, but if I were forced to select a collection of words, they’d include witty, inventive, expressive, brilliant, and fun. Twice each.

A collection of classically trained musicians, Pluck – Adrian Garrat on violin, Jon Regan on viola, and the smokily beautiful Sian Kadifachi on cello – perform what can only be described as a musical-theatrical-comedy show that delivers on all counts. The music – apart from that when Garrat played a “dead” violin – was superb; the comedy wickedly funny; and the trio’s acting was simply sublime – the eyes were everything.

So much good stuff – the violin funeral (was that Monica?). The romancing duel. Adrian’s collection of music artifacts. The audience participation (brilliantly managed by Regan). The constant upstaging of each other. The eyes… the eyes!

Look, I could rant on and on and on and on about how wonderful, how mirthalicious, how sweet Pluck were. And I should, because they deserve it. But, as I said before, my hacky words cannot possibly do them justice – so I’ll cop-out by saying this is simply a must-see show.

[20040073] …but I won’t do that!

…but I won’t do that!

Swamp Fairy @ East End Exchange (The Swamp)

7:00pm, Sun 7 Mar 2004

Score: 4

Short Review: Nice idea, but…

A cabaret show based on the output of rock-song-opera king Jim Steinman sounded like a great idea when I was reading the Fringe Guide. And, scanning the programme when I arrived at The Swamp, it looked like it would be a cracking show: “I’ll do anything for love…”, “Holding out for a hero”, “Paradise by the dashboard light”, “Total eclipse of the heart”, and “Bat out of hell” were all there (13 tracks all up, including 2 spoken word tracks).

Simple premise, really – in a biker-goth fantasy world, Johnny woos Jenny before being killed by Jimbo. A bit of lamenting in heaven/hell and earth, then Jenny lops herself and the lovebirds are re-united. All set to Steinman lyrics. So, does it work?

Erm… nup. The music (bass, keyboards & pre-records) was a little thin and, though Darren Mullan did a great Meatloaf impersonation and Jamie Jewell’s Jimbo was great, Oriana Forte managed to completely thrash her vocals – dunno whether that was the mixing or the room, though. The plot… well, it’s cabaret, so let’s play fair and not say anything nasty.

A final point – The Swamp is a long, thin venue. Great for a pub, crap for viewing shows. ‘Nuff said.

[20040072] Trio Relikt

Trio Relikt

VIP-Concert @ Scott Theatre

5:00pm, Sun 7 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Hilarious! …for all the wrong reasons ;)

I have no idea what attracted me to this musical show featuring three Russian vocalists, but I’m so glad I was present at this performance. Accompanied by the same gruff translator that Valeri and Gleb used, Trio Relikt wandered through some nice traditional Russian songs that had the predominantly (probably 90% – you could tell by the amount of laughter during the “humourous” songs) Russian-speaking audience clapping wildly.

The Trio’s own onstage fun factor seemed inversely proportional to their guitar proficiency – the only member of the Trio who didn’t strum strings had a great time, wandering all over the stage and flirting with the audience like a shy schoolboy.

Now, I’m no stranger to not knowing what the hell is being sung – I grew up listening to Dad’s German beer drinking songs every Sunday morning, and have recently developed a passion for J-Pop. But the use of the translator, who sprung into action after the Trio introduced songs, was inspired… but for all the wrong reasons…

In between songs, someone from the audience walked up to the stage and handed a request on a piece of paper to one of the Relikts. He, in turned, looked at the request, chuckled to himself, then rambled off about a minute of Russian to the audience, who laughed appreciably. A pause; the Trio looked offstage to the translator, who then uttered the immortal words in his own thick accent: “I don’t understand what he said.”

The non-Russian-speakers in the audience, myself included, pissed themselves laughing. Much applause, too. Applause and laughter and idiotic grins. Thereafter, Trio Relikt had much fun at the translators expense – dragging him onstage for bows, getting him to translate long strings of text to “many Russian words” and “two popular songs without comment”. So funny… so funny.

As for the music? Well, they’re not as tight as Tripod, let me tell you. But they did a wacky accented cover of “Yesterday”, and an uptempo “Besame Mucho”. And a bunch of Russian songs.

But, truth be told, I won’t be remembering any music from this show. Take a bow, Mr Translator :)

[20040071] The Big, Big Top Show

The Big, Big Top Show

Circus Oz @ Rundle Park

12:00pm, Sun 7 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Spectacular!

A fiery opening introduces Circus Oz to the crowd, and it’s immediately apparent just how polished this performance is. From the RoofWalk, to the juggling, to the presentation of something as simple as the contortion act – it all oozes class, the kind of polish that requires oodles of training in a professional company.

And Circus Oz are true to their name – not only do they perform the classic stunts that we’ve come to expect of a circus company, but they insert an element of Australiana in there too – witness the cockatoo trapeze act. The elements of balance (especially on the bikes) and clownery were there too, all wonderfully performed with the same care as the rest of the show.

Sure, there were slip-ups; there was the odd lull in proceedings; some of the acts may have superior renditions elsewhere in the Fringe; and the Humanitarian Cannon act, whilst noble, may be a trifle too political for a circus. But as a whole, Circus Oz provided a spectacular, family-friendly show.

[20040070] Tripod


Tripod @ Union Hall

11:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Cabaret – the best way to see Tripod

After the appalling Tosswinkle episode that Tripod brought to Adelaide for ff2002, I vowed to never again subject myself to one of their “themed” shows. However, the prospect of “old-style” Tripod in cabaret-mode was too tempting to pass up.

And the boys were in fine form – using the crowd as guinea pigs for testing out new songs, constantly making fun on Gatesy’s lack of a sex-life, and just generally doing what they do best – being funny. Most of the new songs were great, two that still stick in my mind being the anti-shorts song, and the photo-developing ditty.

The undeniable highlight, however, was their cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”. This piece demonstrated just what good performers the boys are; the harmonies, the timing, the humour were all top-notch.

I can now forgive them for ff2002.

[20040069] Uber Alice

Uber Alice – the elaborate adventures of a New Zealand manicurist…

EpicWorlds @ North-South Dining Room

9:15pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Ridiculously fun

A one-man show presented by Jonno Katz, Uber Alice describes the rise of New Zealand’s greatest deity, Alice Winkins, a manicurist fated to rule the universe. Erm… yes. And the joyous thing? That’s about the least absurd aspect of the show.

With a biblical-like opening, we are introduced to God and the premise for the play. Then Jonno appears, accompanied by a hideously amusing Kiwi accent, and proceeds to tell the story of Alice. Her escape from her mum, like much of the rest of the show, was brilliantly played out, as Katz swaps simply between the two characters in a brilliantly funny bit of theatre. Likewise, the audience-assisted sex-scene is cunningly done – after which Jonno re-appears clad in a dressing gown, accompanied by a bag of cookies he shares with the audience in a hospitable interval.

At one stage, after Katz had sneezed unexpectedly, he told the audience (through his thick accent) “That wasn’t in the script, that bit.” My response was one of disbelief: “There’s a SCRIPT?!” Actually, that’s a little unfair. This was a unique bit of comedy – original in both content and presentation, the laughs often came from the ridiculous nature of Jonno’s ramblings – the flashback to a tale of “heartbreak, treachery and abuse” was pants-wettingly good.

Not bad, not bad at all.

[20040068] I Spied – True Confessions Of An Ex-ASIO Spy

I Spied – True Confessions Of An Ex-ASIO Spy

David Callan @ Uni Cinema

7:10pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Classified!

David Callan used to work in ASIO – and this show was designed to give the audience the inside story of what happens inside the Organisation. He takes us through training, his many jobs over the years, all the way up until the time he left, all the while providing humorous and sobering snippets in equal measures.

His stories about the anti-terrorist training excercise he was a volunteer victim for was stunning, his running gags – “what’s your mother’s maiden name?” – well timed, and the bomb disposal squad incident was… well, just piss funny. All the while, his delivery was excellent – and the script has obviously been lovingly cared for, such is the wonderful pacing of the show.

Yep, the raves are well deserved – a wonderful bit of enlightened comedy.

[20040067] I Was Here

I Was Here

Your Mama Productions @ Weimar Room

6:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Intriguing…

I Was Here is essentially just an arrangement of comments made on the doors and walls of women’s toilets around the globe. This may sound like a piss-poor premise for a bit of theatre, but it actually came across rather well.

Using three actors to repeat the same text over and over, with different delivery each time, was really quite an intriguing idea. There’s only a total of about 5 minutes of dialogue in the whole piece, but each iteration makes it sound fresh. The only exception was the statement “I made Ian kill himself. I am so sorry”; this was always poignant, as were the supportive followup statements.

All the while, the three girls roamed the black stage with paint pens, spreading graffiti as they went. And the statements used were rarely crude (as is the case of 98% of graffiti in male toilets), but often inquisitive, informative (“grammar’s not just a party trick”), or supportive. A real eye-opening thinker of a show; masterfully done.

[20040066] 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men

Guy Masterton / Assembly Theatre @ Scott Theatre

3:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Compelling theatre

It appeared to be an open-and-shut case: a 16 year old boy on trial for the murder of his father. One eyewitness caught him in the act; another places him at the scene. Psychologists taint the boy as “the murdering type”. An easy day at the office for the jury, surely.

Yet Juror 08 – wonderfully played by Owen O’Neill – is unconvinced by the evidence, though not exactly sure why. To the protestations of the other jurors, he refuses to commit to a guilty verdict – he just wants to discuss the case a little more before effectively sentencing a boy to death. So begins the to-ing and fro-ing of this jury room battle, as evidence is called into question, egos are inflamed, and twelve men – each with their own perceptions and prejudices – struggle to converge to a consensus.

This was a masterfully portrayed piece of theatre; even with nowt but a table, twelve chairs, and a water cooler for props, the script crackles along at an electric pace. The timing of the twelve men is impeccable, the tense dialogue occassionally punctuated by spots of humour, as the twelve men form alliances, battle preconceived notions, and generally… get very angry.

Except for Juror 08, of course – the “weakling” who stood alone at the beginning. Strangely enough, it’s the biggest bully of the jury – Stephen Frost’s Juror 03 – who stands alone at the end. A morality tale, perhaps? Who cares, it was grand theatre, even if the direction of the plot was usually telegraphed well in advance. In fact, the only negative of the performance from my point of view was Ian Coppinger’s overly Rick Moranis-like Juror 02. But that’s just me being a big fusspot – this is well worth seeing, and certainly another big tick for the Festival.