[20060074] sixatsix

sixatsix

Unhinged Incorporated @ The Pillar Room (Freemasons)

6:00pm, Tue 14 Mar 2006

I had great reservations heading into this; for starters, I couldn’t remember quite why I’d booked tickets to the show. All fears were dispelled, however, with the first of the six short plays (played by members of Wollongong’s Unhinged Incorporated collective) on offer.

  • A Hole sees a seedy politician after a bit of action in his discrete hotel room. Samuel Booth is the ultimate sleaze, but Katrina Rautenberg is superb as his date for the evening… with a twist.

  • Freedom Pigeon is a twisted vision of the future, and wryly funny too.
  • I…(Door) is a thought-provoking, overtly existential piece.
  • Fruit Tingles was, for me, the flat spot in the performance; though others loved this fruity tale.
  • Tramp introduces the awesome character of Scott Godot (IIRC) who we’re sure to see more of… an incredible street beat poet, swearing like a trooper. Fan-fucking-tastic.
  • Last Resort rounds out the collection with the invention of The Last Resort… your own little suicide machine. Fast, fun, furious, fabulous – with a brilliant ending.

Throughout all six pieces, there seems to be a political bent; subtle in some (2), more overt in others (the seedy politicians in the first, the Liberal Party jingle being responsible for suicides in the last). But pigeons come in for a lot of abuse too, so there’s no need to read too much into it. And nothing can deny the quality and sheer enjoyability of the hour of theatre on offer.

[20060073] 160 Characters

160 Characters

Vanilla Productions @ The Umbrella Revolution

8:30pm, Mon 13 Mar 2006

As the audience is seated – we’re cheekily reminded to keep our phones on – a mobile number is presented; we’re asked to forward SMS messages from our Inboxes to the number. It’s explicitly stated that we’re not to write new messages, just share messages we’ve been sent or have written.

The mobile phone attached to the provided number starts beeping like a very rapidly beepy thing. Its Inbox fills up… and we’re off.

The six people in Vanilla Productions take turns selecting interesting messages from the phone, using them as inspiration for a spot of improvisational comedic theatre. They’re all competent at improv, some of the twists they subject each other too were brilliantly off the wall, and it was a pleasant old laugh – especially when the team tried their hand at Kiwi accents.

This turned out a little different to what I was expecting; I guess the idea I’d created was that the action would be interactively controlled by the audience. Alas, things were a little more static than that; essentially, this just boiled down to a bit of TheatreSports with a hook to bring in the audience.

Not a shitty show but, having experienced it, not one I’d rush off to again.

[20060072] LaLaLuna

LaLaLuna

Negus Productions @ The Umbrella Revolution

7:00pm, Mon 13 Mar 2006

It should be known, up front, that I’m not a fan of Cirque du Soleil; I find their brand of loosely-referential acrobatics and trickery, drowned in a sticky syrup of whimsy, quite sickening. A little like Balfour’s Frog Cakes, really – looks pretty, and is lovely – until you’ve eaten one whole, whence you’re sick to your stomach with ickiness.

Which is a shame for the LaLaLuna show – because it’s like a one-man, budget Cirque du Soleil production. Sure, there’s some great tricks in there – like the balloon stunt, in which a giant balloon is inflated, and is then climbed inside – but it’s enveloped in this sweet, smug bubblewrap that had me reaching for the vomit bag.

There’s obviously a bit more money than your average Fringe production behind this – it’s certainly not your average one-chair-prop gig – but it’s delivered a generally dull product.

[20060071] Up In Smoke

Up In Smoke

CirKidz @ Sideshow Paradiso

5:00pm, Mon 13 Mar 2006

First up – not the greatest circus act I’ve ever seen. Not even close.

That’s because we’re talking about Adelaide’s own CirKidz here – essentially, young performers in training… emphasis on the young. So there’s none of the death-defying stuff that we (I) am becoming a bit blasé about, because let’s face it – who wants to see a kid hurt themselves?

So this ragged collection of children go through their selection of tumbling, balancing, trapeze and hoop-work. Yes, their presentation skills aren’t up to scratch. Yes, they bugger up the odd trick or four. Yes, the theatrical components are often over-acted to the point of absurdity.

But you know what?

You can just sense that, in two years time, rather than unfurling themselves for three rolls on the tissue, one of these little buggers will be rolling down from the roof. Of a very large tent. And bringing the audience to their feet with applause.

However – with the exception of the eldest boy in the group (who was quite insanely flexible) – it’d be hard to argue this was worth it, in entertainment terms. And the “ticketing” was poorly handled, to say the least.

[20060070] OzStar Airlines

OzStar Airlines

@ The Gaiety Grande

2:00pm, Mon 13 Mar 2006

The two stewardesses for OzStar airline sure are a versatile pair; not only do they hula-hoop and juggle, they also manage to keep a stack of kids quiet for an entire flight. Now, whilst OzStar might not offer much new – although the juggling act that ended with a fried egg (!) certainly was original – they certainly bring enthusiasm to the table.

The girls maintain the stewardess motif for as long as possible before discarding their (nice) uniforms for something a little more delectable (for the men in the audience, anyway). Thereafter there’s more hoop tricks, leading to a pretty impressive finale, with one standing on top of the other whilst hula-hooping away!

Being utterly honest – and I’m pretty sure that the stewardesses will agree with me here – I’m not completely sure that the girls were in complete control during the latter stages of the performance. There’s every opportunity of a lawsuit in The Gaiety Grand at some stage; telling the kids in the audience “kids, if you see Tracey getting really big, just act small and fluffy and soft” probably doesn’t help much. But, as I said before, the staff behind OzStar are certainly enthusiastic – and we all know that enthusiasm is infectious.

[20060069] Die Roten Punkte

Die Roten Punkte

@ The Gaiety Grande

12:00pm, Mon 13 Mar 2006

Ha ha haaaaa, ahaaa ha haaaa.

Fantastic, just fantastic.

Yes, it’s a short show, weighing in at a tiny 40 minutes. Yes, they only really had five songs (what with the first three songs being… um… identical). But, dear God, they were fantastic.

“Die Roten Punkte” is German, of course, for “The Red Dots”. They are (or rather, claim to be) a brother/sister duo – Otto Rot on guitar, Astrid Rot on drums. And for siblings, they certainly do appear to be… ummm… close.

Hmmmm. That couldn’t be a piss-take of The White Stripes, could it?

Naaaaaaaaaaaah.

Anyhoo, their songs – The First/Second/Third Song, “Die Roten Punkte”, The Explanation Song (and a delightful cover of The Carpenters’ “Close To You”) – are performed with all the subtlety of the aforementioned Stripes, but there’s a wonderful changeup in Otto’s industrial-tinged german electro-pop.

“Close To You” is, of course, used as a dedication to an audience member – and for this performance, the target of the dedication was none other than Pluck’s Jon Regan. Pluck, in general, really seemed appreciative of Die Roten Punkte. Me? I loved it. Loved it. More music references than you can poke a stick at, more gut-laughs than you can imagine.

The set-list:

  • Song 1

  • Song 2
  • Song 3
  • Dedication
  • Song 4
  • Song 5
  • Song 6

Yes, really.

And, for the record, I went back and watched their 3:00pm show, too. Brilliant.

[20060068] Rich Hall

Rich Hall

Rich Hall @ Nova 2

7:30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

This’ll be short and sweet: Rich Hall is great. He’s much better doing straight stand-up (as opposed to his character-driven stuff, like Otis Lee Crenshaw)… maybe that’s why he cancelled his other show, Levelland. And so this was a standard Rich Hall show – you already know what that’s like. Apart from the ill-informed Bill Gates rant, the only other thing of note was that the serenade didn’t go entirely to plan.

See, Hall likes to grab a couple from the front row and write a sweet (funny) little (funny) ode to them; this time, however, he asked his female mark her name:

“Okie.”

Hall’s disbelief was palpable. He persevered, though, enquiring as to her boyfriend’s name:

“Ernie.”

To his credit, Hall didn’t double over in comedic pain at this point. He asked for Ernie’s occupation:

“I’m a… uh… comedian.” (Yes, it’s Ernie from Elbowskin)

Needless to say, the serenade didn’t go that well. Still bloody funny, though.

It only struck me during this performance that Hall is like an American version of Billy Connolly – same sorts of insights, and (more noticeably) the same style of using “fuck” non-sexually, as punctuation. And believe me, that’s in no way intended to be a derogatory comment – just an observation.

[20060067] Rod Quantock’s Australia!

Rod Quantock’s Australia!

Rod Quantock @ Nova 1

6:00pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

A surreal start to the evening – the ticket guy at the door we rushed towards (we were running late) asked “You seein’ Rod Cointreau?” Ironic, really, given one of Rod’s new requirements for immigrants be that they can speak properly.

This was a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek performance by Quantock; our favourite lefty comedian has decided it’s time to get the point across by mocking the “majority”, rather than taking the softly-softly approach. And this he does by taking things to their logical extremes; Muslims, the media, and the Bradman sycophants (in other words – The Usual Suspects) come in for some Quantock lovin’. Or rather, not.

I’ve seen Quantock every Fringe since 1998, and whilst nothing will eclipse the wonderful (drunken) memory of my first encounter with the man, this show marks a return to the Quantock of old after a few lean outings. Cheers, Rod – may you grumpily continue.

[20060066] Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

NTS Media @ The Goodwood Institute

2:30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

The second play by Tom Stoppard this Fringe (the first being After Magritte), this is certainly the more cerebral of the two. It relies on the audience’s knowledge of Hamlet to provide the back-story; it’s essentially the flip-side of The Bard’s work, promoting bit players Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to leading characters, whilst relegating the principals – Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, et al – to the background.

The opening of the piece created high expectations; as the audience seat themselves, the backing screen on-stage features video Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ambling down a pathway, gradually creeping towards the audience. As the screen avatars reach the camera’s eye, the characters step through the screen onto the stage – simple, and effective.

We’re then treated to the rapid-fire wordplay and punnery seen in After Magritte, and it almost seems as if Shakespeare’s work is facilitating a battle of wits between the actors and the audience. There’s a constant challenges in the offing – the derivation of the “stark raving sane” Hamlet is a twisting conundrum – but the best lines are often left to The Players (who, they explain, are nothing without an audience): “Is that what people want?” asked Guildenstern; “It’s what we do” responded The Player.

The production certainly has some nice touches – the pre-recorded video projected onto the backing screen is well done (again, the opening was ace – and the cast bow was pretty well done, too), though occasionally the associated sound was a little muddled. Acting is enthusiastic at worst, and Ron Hughes’ Guildenstern & The Player of Natalie Playford are spot-on. Sets were sparsed, but adequate – the biffo scene on the boat to England was staged with some creativity and a lot of wackiness.

In short, this was an enjoyable production for a humid Sunday afternoon. A completely different reading to Stoppard’s own movie adaptation, but none-the-worse for it.

[20060065] You Asked For It!

You Asked For It!

Miz Ima Starr @ The Chandelier Room (Freemasons)

11:15pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Miz Ima Starr (aka Charles Bracewell) takes to the stage, dress in black with a shock of pink hair. Opening with a dragtastic version of “Waterloo”, she proceeds to take requests from the set of 40 songs provided to the audience in a handy playbill. With tattoos visible through her costume, she belts through the songs with a glint in his eye and a smile in her heart.

Tonight’s set-list:

  • Waterloo

  • Moon River
  • The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun (she wasn’t super happy about doing this, but pulled it off with great aplomb… the definite highlight)
  • Diamond’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend
  • I Will Survive
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
  • It Must Be Him
  • Ghost Riders In The Sky
  • Que Sera Sera

Lounging on the table as she dedicated songs to their selectors, Miz Ima Starr brought a fantastic sense of fun to the evening. Bravo… or is that Brava?

[20060064] The Umbilical Brothers – The Rehearsal

The Umbilical Brothers – The Rehearsal

The Umbilical Brothers @ Union Hall

9:30pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Having seen them on TV a few times, I’ve always been keen to see The Umbilical Brothers live… however, their seasons at previous Fringes have always been short and/or sold out. Finally, I managed to squeeze in their latest show, which encapsulates the idea that they’re rehearsing for a big performance at Football Park.

And, having just typed that sentence, I realise how utterly ludicrous and fragmented a show it really was.

The Football Park bits – a spotlight representing the park, the Umbies walking onto the ground as finger-avatars – were absolute shit. Echoey vocals ensured that any entertainment in these bits remained elusive. Other recurring bits throughout the evening – the monster at the front door, for one – died pretty quickly; the Audience Plant jokes were flat the first time, and recurrences of the Plant were diabolically bad, and had me trying to calculate their cost on the off-chance that a refund was in order.

In fact, the highlight of the show – made all the more spectacular by the dross that surrounded it – involved a video camera and some hand puppets, with seemingly nothing to do with the “rehearsal” premise. Using the depth-of-field of the camera to their advantage, the Umbies performed some brilliant perspective tricks to show them interacting with the puppets and each other… a bit of biffo, chase scenes, it was all fantastic.

But the fact that there were huge flat patches around this 10-minute patch of brilliance leads me to believe that that was the only “content” of the show. So could I have the other 50 minutes back, please? I don’t mind paying $3-per-minute for such great content – but don’t waste my time with shit.

[20060063] White Men With Weapons

White Men With Weapons

Greig Coetzee @ Union Hall

7:50pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Set around the time that apartheid was abolished in South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, White Men With Weapons is Greig Coetzee’s one-man-show that manages to cover just about every character in the South African army.

After a profane start – Coetzee’s new recruit roaming the stage, swearing constantly to himself about all the trivialities the army expects of him, berating the impractical uniforms (“when in doubt, add another piece of string”), he launches into a plethora of stereotypes – the suicidal soldier. The shouting perfunctory saluting lessons. The violent, racist rapist who doesn’t understand the evil he’s perpetuating. The isolated gay soldier. The racist corporal, whose life has been spent following orders, now being told that the enemy is now a friend. The staff-sergeant, life ruined by the army, drinking away the pain, memories of Justice the Tracker, memories of the Old South Africa – “just droughts and kaffirs”.

To be sure, some characters are off the mark – the chaplain was a bit flat, and the accents of some of the characters rendered them nearly incomprehensible. But the net effect is an overview of the army at this tumultuous time in South African history.

Despite this being yet another one-man, multi-character play in this year’s Fringe, this really was a standout. All the more special, really, that this was the 10th anniversary of the first performance of the show… and Coetzee’s birthday. Hurrah!

[20060061] 52 Pick Up

52 Pick Up

theater simple @ Little Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

I love 52 Pick Up, I really do. Ever since I first saw this show in 2002, I’ve come back again. And again. And again. A few times. Twice in 2002, twice just prior to this years’ Fringe (benefit gigs for Urban Myth), and this performance marks the fifth occasion I’ve had the good fortune to see this randomised relationship unfold before me.

For the uninitiated, a deck of 52 playing cards is shuffled and thrown into the air at the start of the performance. Each card contains a scene from The Relationship; the random order in which they’re picked up can affect the mood of the piece. For example, too many of the “heavy” (or sad) cards at the top of the performance can send the audience on a thoughtful trip; start frivolous, and it becomes a comedic performance.

Andrew and Llysa never fail to put in great performances, and it’s a secret gift having seen this piece many times – you start to see all the little flourishes, all the little segues between scenes that they improvise, depending on the fall of the cards. And today’s cards fell in a pleasing manner – a nice mix of up’n’down, some great sequences (especially leading into “Penny For Your Thoughts”), with the only bummer being the rather morose final card.

Still, it’s almost impossible to leave the theatre after having seen 52 Pick Up and not feel utterly invigorated by the experience. Utterly worth seeing… again and again and again.

And I did see it again, at 4:30pm, Wed 15 Mar 2006. Wooh! Six times!

[20060060] Chaplin’s Eye

Chaplin’s Eye

@ Queens Theatre

11:30am, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Initially, this looks a bit lame – a skinny red clown ponces about with a suitcase. She’s joined by a lardy green clown and another suitcase. Ponce ponce ponce, yawn. At least Green was enthusiastically bouncy.

The third clown – a nervous orange – joins them, and I’m taking notice. Orange is great, her ticks and twitches causing her to stagger around the stage in a most amusing manner. A fourth clown – this one sky blue – seems much more restrained and expressive – a nice contrast, since Red’s gone all flamenco on us. Then Chaplin himself rolls up – he, too, is ace. The four clowns, Chaplin, and a plethora of suitcases all… um… clown about for a bit, before the show is over.

The bow was great – all came back on-stage in character. Orange is awesome.

I stay and have a quick chat with a profusely sweating (hot days and Queens Theatre don’t mix) Chaplin – Ira Seidenstein, who also directed Anatomy of Discourse. I ask him how the season’s been; he nods earnestly, says “it’s been OK”, and then admits that he was thinking of cancelling the rest of the season; they weren’t getting enough people in to cover the cost of the Theatre (which, from what I’ve heard, is more than a touch pricey for the performers).

I look around – there was less than a dozen people at this performance. At 11:30am on a hot Saturday.

This show was one fully deserving of that Homer Simpson quote from “Lisa the Vegetarian”: it was good, but not great. And $30 for a “not great” clowning show that even kids would get bored in (the start, I mean – the latter parts are good, or at least better) is taking the piss a bit. Especially when most of their season was at night.

It was indeed their last show.

[20060059] Michele A’Court – 40 Odd Years

Michele A’Court – 40 Odd Years

Michele A’Court @ The Chandelier Room (Freemasons)

9:45pm, Fri 10 Mar 2006

After a great pre-recorded introduction – in stereo! – Michele A’Court takes to the stage. There’s all of 11 people in the audience, and the Kiwi thing to do (yes, she’s another New Zealander in the Kiwi… uh, Chandelier Room) seems to be audience introductions. So – once, twice around the room, and we all know each other’s names. Fabulous.

And so to her act… and it’s pretty basic chick-humour – the difference between men & women, childbirth, the usual suspects. She also delves into the other hot comedic topic this Fringe, muslims. And she’s got some creative things to say there – such as the liberation she’d feel if she could wear a muslim headdress.

But that’s about it. A few giggles to be had on the way, but hardly memorable comedy.

And the name of the show – “40 Odd Years”. She’s 45. Truth in comedy, and all that.