[2010104] On Ego

On Ego

Michael Hill and TheimaGen @ Hartley Playhouse

1:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2010

After dashing through the unfamiliar Magill Campus to find the Hartley Playhouse, I arrive just as the house lights have been dropped and stumble my way to a seat. I realise, in the inky blackness of the theatre, that I have no idea what this show is about, other than I picked it because its title just screamed “pretentious”.

The set is… unique. The generic room in the centre of the stage is fronted by a thin screen; largely translucent to the audience, but capable of displaying a projection and creating an almost holographic effect. Other images and movies are shone onto the floor and walls of the room; this is very much a technology-assisted performance.

Initially, On Ego feels like a lecture; a man appears amidst a series of projections and talks about the premise of the self, of the ego. “This is Richard,” he announces, lifting a brain out of a bucket – then dropping it back in with a existential plop. One of the projections changes to a live video feed of the head of neurologist Alex (Michael Hill); we can see him through a window in the set, and there’s a slight delay in the video feed – it’s slightly unnerving as a result.

And so we are introduced to the “bundle” theory of consciousness, whereby the arrangement of neurons themselves constitute experience. Thus, the idea of teleportation poses no problem; the issue of reconstituting the “soul” becomes irrelevant. And, with that fascinating and relatively level-headed and passive view of scientific basis established, we move on to the more… theatrical part of the performance.

Alex and Derek are colleagues working in the field of neurology and teleportation; Alex is married to Alice, Derek’s daughter. Alice is, unfortunately, suffering from an inoperable brain tumour, which affects her memories – she will often forget words, or unknowingly substitute inappropriate words. Her condition worsens over the course of the play, to the point where she no longer recognises her husband…

…and there’s the twist. During one of their teleportation experiments, Derek fails to vapourise the “original” Alex, hence leading to a continuity problem – one consciousness now has two realities. Each of the Alexes believe they are the “real” one – after all, how can they tell themselves apart? – and Alice deteriorates to the point where she can no longer recognise Alex… but is that because it was the “wrong” Alex?

On Ego is certainly an intriguing proposition. With a clever approach to the idea of self, as well as its mix of perfunctory theory and emotional structure (the piece is regarded by the authors as a “theatre essay”), this should have been engaging from start to finish… indeed, when Alice starts disassociating items, some little emotional chord in me was struck – I’m terrified by that sort of stuff. The problem, for me, comes later in the performance; when Alice’s decline accelerates, and the dual-Alex near-farce is played out, the story somehow loses its intellectual and emotional impact. The final act is horrible, a real drain, and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Which is a shame, really, because the ideas initially expressed are really interesting, and the physical elements of the piece (set, projections, acting) are fantastic. It just loses its connection with me in the final third.

[2010103] 52 Pick Up

52 Pick Up

theater simple @ The Odeon Theatre

10:00am, Thu 11 Mar 2010

How many times have I seen 52 Pick Up now? Nine, maybe ten times? And how many duds have there been? None.

And, because I’m feeling a bit lazy, here’s a cut’n’paste from my 2006 musings

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.

This performance definitely fell on the light-hearted side of the fence; there were triplets (or quads!) of related cards in reverse chronological order – the sweater, the astrology – that created a genuine sense of mirth. The penultimate card was First Meeting; the last card was Sex.

Andrew and Llysa are still fantastic as the two strangers / friends / lovers / warriors, and all the little flourishes that make 52 Pick Up such a joy to (re-)watch are still there. If anything, Andrew’s performance was a reminder that we just don’t see him on stage enough anymore; he really is a great actor, with brilliant comedic timing. Unfortunately, it was only a small-ish crowd that turned up for this performance, but there were a lot of familiar faces in that crowd… it’s like a joyous little cult ;)

But apart from that, there’s really not much else to report. After all, I’ve seen it all before, but in a different order… and I’ll continue to see it again. In a different order.

[2010102] The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Danger Ensemble @ Arcade Lane – Regent Two

9:30pm,Wed 10 Mar 2010

The Hamlet Apocalypse was high on my list of things-to-see long before I discovered that Anniene was directing; after a brief chat with her about the style of the show, it was quickly slotted into The Schedule.

So we queue, and wait, and then ascend the stairs and are led into the gutted shell of one of the old Regent Theatres, raucous industrial music bouncing off the walls. We sit, and there’s bright spotlights in our faces. It’s hot, and hard to see.

Suddenly, the music stops and the lights shut off; in the silent darkness, all that can be seen are the red hangovers of the spotlights in my eyes. There’s a flicker, and a buzz, as some cold harsh fluoro lighting comes on, and we see the cast standing above the door we walked through… they’d been there all along, hidden behind the bright lights.

Cool. Massive props for a clever start.

“Ten” – the countdown starts in unison. The cast are playing out Hamlet in the knowledge that the world is coming to an end. It’s a heavily abridged version, of course, and as the apocalypse looms nearer – the countdown more frayed – the cast become edgy, dropping out of character to reflect on their own insignificance, to plead with each other, prior to their inevitable demise. Their personal distress feeds back into the play, as the cast – and their characters – turn on each other, devolving into a painful and desperate cross-pollenation of “real” and “imaginary”.

It’s loud, it’s angry, it’s confusing, it’s painful… and it’s beautiful.

There’s so much to like about this production; from a visual perspective, it’s almost like it was tailor-made to appeal to me. The sparse set and careful side lighting allow for massive sharp shadows to be projected on the rough side walls of the former cinema; if there’s one thing I love, it’s shadowplay, and The Hamlet Apocalypse delivers that in spades. And when the powder is dropped onto the ghost of Hamlet’s father… the harsh lighting picks up the powder, and the billowing around the stage is simply stunning.

It would be easy to say that The Hamlet Apocalypse fits in with this year’s apparent theme of meta-theatre… but, upon reflection, I think it’s more than that. It’s almost anti-theatre: a play-within-a-play, a space-with-a-found-space, taking the notion of all that’s obvious about the base material and forming something almost contrasting, rather than complementary, to the sources.

Blimey, that sounds like a load of wank. But you know what? I don’t care – The Hamlet Apocalypse was exciting theatre, genuinely fresh and bold. I loved it.

[2010101] Flight


Australian String Quartet @ Adelaide Town Hall

7:00pm,Wed 10 Mar 2010

Now – you know I love me some strings. Sure, I prefer the deeper, sadder tones of the cello and viola, but if I’m flipping through the Festival Guide and I see “String Quartet”, then I’m there.

The fact that the ASQ are – frankly – pretty hot doesn’t hurt, either.

But first, there was an opportunity for a pre-show talk with the composer of one of the pieces the ASQ was to play. Paul Stanhope (who, curiously, doesn’t actually play any string instruments) talked about his String Quartet no.1, a revised version of which formed the centrepiece of Flight. It certainly was interesting listening to the Australian composer speak of a piece of music that I hadn’t heard yet; written after the last Federal election, his intention was to demonstrate the conflict of rhetoric with the opening, before quickening the pace for a blues-infected optimistic ending… with a description like that, my appetite was well-and-truly whet.

There was a short break between the pre-gig talk and the ASQ’s arrival; the forty of us who turned up for the chat had to evacuate before returning to long queues. Annoying, but understandable. And as I took my allocated seat waaaaay back in Row P, it appeared that the only two empty seats I could see were either side of me… which was nice.

The first movement of the Haydn opening bracket was… well, delightful. Sweet and lush. The girls swayed as they played; a lovely sight. The rest of Haydn’s The Bird, unfortunately, was a snoozefest… literally. I drop off to sleep, waking up with one of those disorienting, dizzying nods. In fact, it may have been the mobile phone that rang at the end of the piece amidst the applause that woke me up – a bad start by the audience.

Moving onto Stanhope’s String Quartet no.1, however… well, this was The Bomb, as the kids used to say. I loved this. There’s lots of percussive plucking throughout, but particularly the first and last movements, and the word that springs to mind is “angular”. Sonata, at times, appeared to be an atonal mess, but the momentary confusion was paid off with ordered sequences rising out of the chaos to bring a smile to the face; the way those sequences appeared made it almost appear phasic in nature. Lullaby feels a little more “traditional” for a string quartet, slower paced with mellow tones. The punchy Dance rounds out the piece, and it’s fantastic – there’s periods of intense hacking, fits where the quartet are all plucking at the same time, and it’s just a full-blooded delight. I live for stuff like this – it’s distinctive and challenging and awesome, and they sign off Stanhope’s work with a flourish.

After an interval, the Quartet are joined by Lucinda Collins on piano for a bit of Brahms – Piano Quintet in f minor op.34 – which was lovely and all… but, being perfectly honest, after the surge to the end of Stanhope’s Dance I was spent. After that, the Brahms – perhaps undeservedly – felt like filler.

The sounds and visuals of live experience were fantastic; Anne Horton watching fellow violinist Sophie Rowell with laser-like intensity, with the great strings of Sally Boud and Rachel Johnston (on viola and cello, respectively) blissing me out as only the deeper strings can. But I somehow wish that I could have just experienced that first pre-interval slab by itself; that’s not to say that the Brahms piece was bad, it’s just that it was a let-down after the Stanhope’s glorious suite.

[2010100] Rhinoceros


Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

1:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2010

Now – regular readers (yeah, right – like I’ve got any of those) would have gathered that I’m not usually keen to see shows featuring young casts… but I’ll always give shows by Urban Myth a bash, because they’ve got a pretty good strike rate. And I reckon that’s because they focus on intelligent, established plays, and deliver them with production values that treat the audience with respect.

I’ve used that “respect” line a bit lately. It seems to be my new thing.

Anyway, as seems to be the norm with weekday matinees at Holden Street, this session was choc-a-bloc with a couple of school groups; incessant chatter and rustling and schlurping of Chupa Chups seemed to be the order of the day. Luckily, within twenty minutes the lollies have all been sucked or crunched into oblivion, so we were able to watch the bulk of Rhinoceros in peace.

Rhinoceros is, of course, an interpretation of Ionesco’s play; I say “of course” with my tongue planted firmly in cheek, because I knew nothing of the work… or of Ionesco. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Learning. And so, when the inhabitants of a provincial French Town start transforming into the titular creatures due to an outbreak of the seemingly infectious rhinoceritis, I was bemused.

Written in the late 50’s, Ionesco was commenting on the upsurge of Communism and Fascism prior to World War II; as such, it touches on the denial that precedes the conformity. As more and more of the townsfolk join the rhinoceritis movement, the arguments of the learned become twisted and skewed; in the end, the sole person clinging to humanity is Berenger (ably played by Poppy Mee), who is far from the heroic central figure we would expect.

The young cast does a pretty good job (albeit a bit blunt and shouty), though Patrick Zoerner’s Jean is a standout – his coughing and stamping as he transforms into a rhino is bloody brilliant. Corey McMahon’s direction feels a little blocky, but does the job; the pacing noticeably picks up over the duration of the play, which leads to an exciting conclusion (but makes me think that some of Ionesco’s content may have been hacked out towards the end).

Wikipedia reckons that Rhinoceros belongs to the The Theatre of the Absurd; and, having heard the word “rhinoceros” about three hundred times in an hour, I’m not going to argue with that. The word has since taken on an absurd life of its own in my mind.

[2010099] Bully


Richard Fry @ Higher Ground – Art Base

9:30pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

After rushing from This Is A Play to Weights to Scaramouche Jones, it was great to have a couple of minutes’ respite before the next show; a few birthday hugs and handshakes from some of the Higher Ground regulars, a nice glass of red, and it’s all smiles and happiness. I’m feeling – unsurprisingly – a little weary, a little spent, so I get an espresso shot from the bar; as soon as it was in my hand, the ticket call came for Bully. Backpack on my shoulder, glass of red in one hand, coffee in the other, Irene and I descend to the Art Base, giggling. We take our seats in the front row, a bit of juggled drink-holding allows me to drop the backpack; still giggling, with a drink in each hand, I look forward to sipping from each in the next few minutes.

The house lights drop; the stage lights come up. And we’re sitting there staring at Richard Fry: stocky, bearded, but – most hauntingly – prone and helpless. He’s weeping uncontrollably; the lights catch the tears as they roll down his cheek. And it’s dead silent at first – we dare not breathe – but soon the sound of strangulated sobbing seeps out. It’s painful to watch, but impossible to look away…

I can’t remember the transition, but Richard Fry somehow gets from that astonishing start into the bulk of his monologue. And it’s about twenty minutes in, amidst the gruff rhymes that form Fry’s delivery, that I remember the two drinks in my hand… because his (character’s) story of growing up in an abusive household, discovering his sexuality, and the violence (both social and domestic) that he encountered as a gay man was utterly engrossing.

Fry is absolutely fantastic: there’s something very rough and raw about his delivery, and it works perfectly with the irregular and occasionally awkward rhymes of his dialogue. His physical presence onstage is wonderful, too: one moment he can look timid and vulnerable, a doormat in his abusive relationship; the next, his rage is barely restrained, as the blunt responses befitting his upbringing clamber for release. The performance comes full circle, of course, leading us back to the reason for the tears, and as we madly applaud him at the end of the show (to the somewhat conflicted strains of Bucks Fizz), there was no denying the brutal power and simple honesty of the performance.

Irene and I managed to have a drink and chat with Fry later that evening; a nicer, more unassuming chap you’ll never meet. Of course, I had to ask if Bully was auto-biographical in any way; he laughed, pointed out he’d never been in prison, and slyly picked our brains for a critique of his performance. And I love meeting people like that; these gentle giants of theatre are fantastic to talk to, and I want nothing more for them to succeed at their craft.

Because when it comes off, as it did with Bully, the results are astounding.

[2010098] Scaramouche Jones

Scaramouche Jones

Justin Butcher @ Higher Ground – Theatre

7:45pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

Scaramouche Jones proved to be another massive word-of-mouth hit of the 2010 Fringe & Festival season; one of those shows that left almost everyone gushing, certain that they’d seen something of such magnificence that it was beyond compare.

Almost everyone, that is.

When we meet Scaramouche Jones, it’s an hour before midnight on Millennium Eve. Jones – a weary and aged clown of import, commanding great respect – meticulously removes his makeup whilst telling the chapters of his life. From his birth in Trinidad, through his childhood with his prostitute mother, onto a ship with a Somalian slave trader and snake charmer, running through Italy with gypsies, working in a concentration camp, to his revered clowning in London… one tale per chapter, one chapter per mask.

Now, let’s not mince words, here. Scaramouche Jones was superb theatre: a stunning solo performance of a superbly realised character, supported by a gorgeous set, perfect lighting, a wonderfully subtle backing soundtrack, and wonderful makeup. And it’s a deeply visual story too, as Justin Butcher paints vivid worlds with words as he unmasks, leaving us spellbound as he weaves the tale of Jones’ life.

So – why did I leave the theatre feeling like I had missed something?

See, I can recognise all of the above superlatives; I can rationally observe them. And I was expecting them to coalesce into a massive lump in my throat, or a quickening of my pulse, or something… but they didn’t. Instead, I noticed a distinct lack of emotional engagement, even as I marvelled at the technical accomplishment of the play.

Maybe my distance from the stage conferred an emotional detachment, too; my seat was far from optimal, given my late and rushed arrival. But it was good enough that I could certainly see that all the pieces were there… but I couldn’t make them work for me – emotionally.

What a spectacle; what a performance. And what a shame that it, ultimately, left me unmoved by the character.

[2010097] Weights


Lynn Manning @ Higher Ground – Art Base

6:30pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

After the excellent This Is A Play finished, there was a little bit of a drinky session at the Odeon; I’d like to say that it was in recognition of my birthday, but I suspect that theater simple‘s opening day at the venue might have had more to do with it. I had the best part of an hour to make it back into the city, to Higher Ground… what the hell, I thought, a quick glass of red can’t hurt.

A couple of glasses (and many handshakes and hugs) later, I was dashing down The Parade to the bus stop. It was one of those fancy electronic ones; “Minutes to next bus: 8” it proclaimed. I checked my watch; 6:02. This’ll work, I thought.

Shannon and Tess dawdled up, having also been at the post-show drinks, just as the sign changed its guesstimation from “2” to “12” – and I started panicking. We agreed to split the cab that I summoned; it arrived at 6:22, held up by the Clipsal-ified traffic snarls engulfing the inner-eastern suburbs. I attempt to goad the cabbie, offering him $25 if he got me to Higher Ground by 6:30; and I’ve no idea how he managed it, but the traffic parted like the Red Sea as he scooted into town. Then I discovered I only had a twenty; Tess provided an additional fiver (for which I feel eternally grateful and guilty), and the two girls yelled “Go!”

I dashed from the cab to Higher Ground, downstairs to the Art Base. Victoria was on the door with a big smile – “You just made it!”, she whispered in greeting – and the house lights were dropping as I stumbled for a chair; the moment my arse hit the vinyl of the seat, Lynn Manning strode onstage.

Now – I didn’t know that Lynn was blind. No idea. And, as this tall, strongly built, black man with dark glasses takes to the stage, he’s a powerful physical presence – which is immediately thrown into sharp relief as he delicately feels for the chair that he knows is stage-centre. And I’m left wondering… how did this man come to be here?

Luckily, that story is what Weights is all about.

Manning’s storytelling chops are superb, his script a combination of blunt fact and beautiful flourish. He tells us of his life leading up to the incident where he lost his sight; he doesn’t mince words, and he doesn’t try to paint himself as an angel. The daze of his hospitalisation, the realisation of his lost faculties, and the grieving associated with those grim times are utterly compelling. He breaks the story up with flashbacks to his childhood, and lightens the mood with the discoveries he makes as a blind man; Victoria later tells me she saw me grinning madly when Manning spoke of falling in love, and his first blind sexual encounter.

And I grinned with good cause: as well as the strong physical presence, Lynn has a powerful voice onstage… but there’s a deliberate delicacy and – occasionally – frustration there, as well. Direction is bare-bones; Manning only stands to use his body as an exclamation point, to ram the message home. The odd lighting cue accentuates things a little, with a flick to red when he recites an extract of his writing.

I loved Weights. I found it to be a deeply moving tale of a man’s life – a life that may have unravelled due to adversity, yet managed to be inspirational. The only downfall of the performance was that it ran long, which meant that I was walking backwards out of the room while applauding, as Victoria whisked me away and straight into my next show. I apologised to Lynn a few nights later for the early exit, as I love to hang around and give performers the applause they so richly deserve; he broke into a broad smile and chuckled, thanked me for the applause anyway, and admitted it had sounded a little odd on the night.

[2010096] This Is A Play

This Is A Play

theater simple @ The Odeon Theatre

5:00pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

Right, let’s get one thing straight – this show is one of the highlights of the year.

In a season of meta-theatre (what with King John, Red Bastard, The Walworth Farce, The Event, Vs Macbeth, and The Sound and the Fury), Daniel MacIvor‘s tight script manages to out-meta the rest… and still manages to be gut-bustingly funny in the process.

With barely a reference to the wider play itself (apart from the frequent mentions of the mysterious and presumably-symbolic Lettuce), the three actors vocalise their stage directions, their internal monologues, and their responses to each other. Ricky Coates, the buff Male Actor who performs everything with conviction, struggles to express the softer emotions and nuance; Pamala Mijatov, the beautiful and sensuous Female Actor, is tentative and delicate, enunciating in wide dance-like flourishes. Llysa Holland plays the Older Female Actor – experienced in the craft, and hence disenfranchised and bitter (perhaps because of the wig?)… yet still deemed matriarchal and credible.

As the three actors explain their way through The Play, there’s constant turmoil: the younger actors trying to upstage each other while the Older Female takes every opportunity for a drink or cigarette. Lines are held back to mess with the other actors. The relationships with the unseen (“dance background”) director are revealed. The playwright and composer’s every word and note are questioned. It’s a non-stop stream of wry theatrical observation and in-jokes.

But most importantly – it really is quite brilliant. Whilst coming in at a svelte forty-ish minutes, it packs in way more dialogue than most shows manage in an hour… and not a line of it is wasted, not a word is filler. MacIvor (also responsible for Never Swim Alone and House Humans) has produced a script that looks as fun for the cast as it is for the audience; and, as an indication to the wonderful nature of the performances, I reckon I liked This Is A Play even more when I saw it again three days later. And it even made Irene laugh out loud!

[2010095] Myth Understandings

Myth Understandings

theater simple @ The Odeon Theatre

1:00pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010

One of my most cherished Fringe memories was of spending (quite possibly way too much) time hanging around the theater simple clan when they were ensconced in a small North Adelaide cottage back in 2006. They were, as a group, going through a creative crunch, assembling Myth Understandings for the YEP program. I managed to sneak a look at the resulting show back then, and marvelled at the way Monique and Andrew managed to weave a spell around the young audience.

So I was more than happy to actually pay to see this performance, and to see how it had evolved in the four years since.

Myth Understandings sees two scientists testing their personal thinking machine, the “iHed”, which has the power to contain all the stories and myths that mankind has ever created. From there, they explore a number of myths and tales, culminating in a positive message of consideration and understanding.

As always, theater simple’s production is a delight – their frugal staging still invokes a sense of magic and wonder, and the physical nature – and subtle visual complexity – of Andrew’s Jack and the Beanstalk storytelling was superb, as was his seemingly plentiful cross-gender work. Monique is likewise brilliant as the straighter-edge of the two, with her face lighting up with wonder as the piece progresses; the tight lighting cues make the most of their staging. And the closing story of The King’s Child (collated from both written and oratory sources) was just beautiful.

After the performance, there was a brief Q&A session; when I saw this show in 2006, it was dominated by 8-year-old questions like “Is that a time-machine?”. This time, though, the few children were curiously reluctant; Edwin filled the silence and asked about the target audience. Andrew replied that it was aimed at kindergarten-to-Year-5, but with the added intention of not having the older audience “checking their watches”. And they’ve certainly succeeded in that regard; a lot of the dialogue seems quite mature, barely pandering to the younger audience at all, and the song in the middle was fantastic (and I think that including the word “scatological” indicates the respect shown to the audience… or is just silly good fun).

I found Myth Understandings to be ridiculously entertaining. Despite being labelled “kid-friendly”, there was never a dull moment, and it rarely devolved into anything approaching twee. Again, we see theater simple respecting the audience; and that is always a wonderful thing.

[2010094] The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen

theater simple @ The Odeon Theatre

10:00am, Tue 9 Mar 2010

So – March the 9th. My birthday! And theater simple just happened to be opening a trio of shows at the Odeon today. What a lovely present!

I have a nice chat with the lovely Fiona at the front-of-house, and then spot Ian (last seen at Ava’s Grá) and Canberran mate Peter, and chat with them and Greg about their arts-shopping expeditions around Adelaide (and even got a chance to introduce them to the ferociously talented local, Edwin Kemp Attrill). But as we sat in the Odeon, I grew concerned when three school groups piled in… I needn’t have worried, though because – even with a group of kids with developmental difficulties – this still managed to be one of the better-behaved school matinee audiences.

The Snow Queen is a rendition of the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale; theater simple also produced an outdoor, roaming version of the play (Gerda’s Journey, my first show this year… it seems so long ago!). Yana Kesala and Ian Lindsay reprise their wonderful roles as Gerda and Kai, but it’s the differences to Gerda’s that makes this really stand out – the rest of the cast (Llysa, Ricky, and Pamala) are constantly switching between characters, with more costume changes than a Kylie Minogue tour.

It’s a much more polished production as a result of the controlled environment; the singing is more pronounced, and absolutely lovely (though I did miss the sweet twitter of the sparrow). And, if anything, the (much) smaller cast force theater simple to be even more imaginative, spinning more of the tale within our own heads.

The Snow Queen was a fantastic example of what theater simple do best: produce fantastic theatre with quality acting and a minimum of fuss, and letting the audience create much of the experience for themselves. Sure, it’s a whimsically twee tale, but that doesn’t matter when it’s so satisfying to watch.

[2010093] Goat Town

Goat Town

Shiny Side @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

9:00pm, Mon 8 Mar 2010

The lights come up in The Studio, and the set is wonderfully textured: it’s like a section of the bush, sand and bark and leaves creating a believable campsite. And then come the characters – four friends taking the “cre-mains” of a departed compadre to the campsite they all used to frequent, seeking a special place to scatter His ashes.

Goat Town then shows itself to be a vehicle for a collection of vignettes, as each of the remaining friends describes what the death means to them through a tale from another camping trip while He was alive. The departed gets described as a brother, best friend, and lover; in the end, each reflection not only reveals the feelings they had for Him, but also each other.

For a script that sounds like it would be maudlin, there’s actually a fair chunk of humour, too; the group getting spooked out, resorting to leaving the ashes in a tent while they slept outside. And there were two instances where, during character soliloquies, the ashes were partially blown away – to be secretly replaced with dirt. In the end, after they painfully come to the decision of where to deposit the ashes, there’s probably nothing left of Him to leave.

Direction (again!) was fantastic: the scene where the group illuminated their faces with momentary torchlight as they reeled off staccato dialogue was wonderful… sharp, precise, and brilliantly delivered. And the performances of the four young actors were solid. And the script was interesting enough, travelling along at a decent clip, full of believable characters and interactions. But, thinking back on it now, it actually was pretty maudlin – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it was more of a considered piece of emotional introspection than a lot of the more brash pieces available at the Fringe.

Still – well worth it.

[2010092] Heroin(e) for Breakfast

Heroin(e) for Breakfast

Horizon Arts @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:45pm, Mon 8 Mar 2010

There were precious few shows this year that seemed to generate the same amount of buzz as Heroin(e); it certainly did well in the word-of-mouth stakes, and The Studio was packed for this performance.

The set is the interior of a squalid flat in Great Britain, its residents demoralised and apathetic, but not above pontification. As their day-to-day life descends into a hazy quagmire of drugs and debauchery, the Marilyn Monroe-esque Heroine (played by Hayley Shillito, who thoroughly deserves all the plaudits thrown her way) appears as an angelic, dream-like temptress to the protagonist, Tommy, leading him and his friends into a downward spiral of decay.

But, for all the seediness of the lives of Tommy and his flatmates, Chloe and Edie, their deepening despair is not the main thrust of the play; it is, instead, merely a thinly-veiled parallel to writer/director Philip Stokes’ view of modern England. Despite the sombre content, a lot of the dialogue is played for laughs, but Stokes’ humour seems to be derived from the British Alternative comedy scene of the early eighties; Craig McArdle’s Tommy can fill the room with his voice, and it all gets a little bit shouty… and, worse, a bit tiresome.

But the writing and direction really is bloody great; there’s plenty of fourth-wall breaking with both Tommy and Heroine directly addressing the audience, and the audience-directed screams of Chloe and Edie as Heroine leads them away to die were sobering. And any show with girl-girl kissing (you could hear the squelching lips as Heroine seduced Chloe) gets a big tick in my book.

Let’s get one thing clear – Heroin(e) for Breakfast contains some fucking amazing stuff. The direction is stunning, and the production contains some amazing flourishes that are utterly mesmerising and there are times where you feel like you’re watching something of Great Importance. But, unfortunately, there were also times where I felt like I was being lectured to by a high school play; Heroine’s constant references to Tommy as a hero felt heavy-handed and overused (and, in one case, almost sent me to sleep), the parallels between their drug-fuelled destruction and modern Britain likewise.

Don’t get me wrong, this was pretty bloody impressive stuff – bits just rubbed me the wrong way.

[2010091] Single Admissions

Single Admissions

Lazy Young and Talented with The Good Room @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:30pm, Mon 8 Mar 2010

So – it’d been a pretty warm day, and The Studio was a little sticky. I’d managed to get in early, and was suckling on my nice cold bottle of water while reading the programme (Daniel Evans – of Holy Guacamole fame – was involved in this… hurrah!), when a bloke sitting in the row in front turned around and addressed me: “You’re that guy, aren’t you? How many have you seen now?”

I was a bit startled by this. I looked at him – he was utterly unfamiliar to me – and said, “well, I’m a guy… I’m sorry, I’ve got a shocking memory for faces – have we met before?”

It turns out that he and his wife – both lovely people, I should note – has seen How to be a Lady the prior evening and had heard Tahli and myself chatting about oodles of shows. They were both heavy Fringe-goers themselves, so we swapped notes and raves and rants. I love that sort of interaction – it’s very human and very connected, and it’s what the Fringe should be about – reviewer “stars” be damned.


It’s a sparse set for Single Admissions – just a couple of mobile clothes racks in the middle of the empty blackness of The Studio. The lights drop, and three actresses appear – three girls, three different body shapes, three different attitudes to singledom. It’s a show that’s about friendship, about forging new relationships, about the expectations in the singles scene, about casual sex, about one-night-stands…

…and it’s also bloody good fun.

Wandering into the city for a night of clubbing, we see the girls prep for the evening, fending off their mortal enemies (the “Pencil Sisters” – brilliantly performed by the multi-character actors) as they make their way to their destination. Once inside, the expected nauseous flirting and bad pick-up lines are ridiculed, and the tactical assault planning within the bathroom was absolutely fantastic. Some girls picked up, leading to a frank discussion of casual sex, the morning-after pill, and the delicate problem of how to escape and make it home. Others did not; they made it safely home via the kebab shop (glorious innuendo ahoy!) and a free ride on the “slut bus”.

Throughout, Tammy Weller was amazing. Natalie Trent and Amy Ingram were great, too, with Ingram’s “too far?” asides to the audience being hilarious. The direction is divine – the girls use every square centimetre of the stage, swinging the mobile clothes racks around to create space as required; in fact, just about the only criticism that could be levelled at the play is that the closing dance number is a bit long… even then, it’s still funny – and wonderfully performed.

This world of singledom, as they portray it – cheap sex, boisterous clubbing and loss of control, coupled with the constant judgements from (and of) others – makes me glad I’m not female; these girls live in a world I don’t want to face. But I’ve come to the realisation that it kinda is a world that I face – Tammy wrote this as a twenty-something, but here I am in my late thirties in a similar position: single, not wanting kids but not sure about the future, and deathly afraid of loneliness. Sure, the resolution in Single Admissions is very much a “I’ve still got my friends” denouement, but most of my friends are married… they’ve all got what I haven’t.

But hey, no room for Mr MiseryGuts here – I’m actually reasonably happy with my lot.

In short, Single Admissions is a funny, warm-hearted, and occasionally abrasive look at the world of twenty-something singledom; whilst it appears to be heavily targeted at the twenty-something female crowd, this thirty-something bloke loved it. And, judging by the way the three actresses carry out their work onstage, I’m pretty sure they’re enjoying themselves, too.

(As an aside, I’d like to point out that, the night I saw this show, I predicted I’d actually write this post in September. Good one, me; only four months late ;)

[2010090] The Mad Max Remix

The Mad Max Remix

Rhubarb Rhubarb @ The Hive

10:45pm, Sun 7 Mar 2010

Let’s get one thing straight – I’m not a massive fan of the Mad Max series of films. I saw them all in my formative years, but hold no special attachment to them – there’s no reverence for their post-apocalyptic depictions.

I am, however, a massive fan of overdubbed productions: The Late Show‘s old Bargearse or The Olden Days series spring to mind as clear favourites, there. So when the opportunity to see a dubbed mix of Mad Max presented itself… well, I was there with bells on.

And so were a squillion other people – The Hive was packed. Pretty impressive for a late Sunday night show!

The hour-long performance was a medley of snippets from all three Mad Max series, wodged together and presented on a big screen, with the Rhubarb Rhubarb team sitting in full view of the crowd, checking their script, reading their lines, and performing backing music and sound effects. And it turned out to be pretty funny stuff; sure it was very much a dick-joke tour de force, but there were constant references to Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon movies, and the Tina Turner and Master Blaster bits were bloody brilliant.

Yes, The Mad Max Remix proved to be pretty simple, turn-your-brain-off humour… but sometimes that’s all that’s required. Enjoyable.