[2011116] Tommy Dassalo – Buckwild

Tommy Dassalo – Buckwild

Tommy Dassalo @ Format – Jillian McKeague Space

9:30pm, Wed 9 Mar 2011

I’d inadvertently caught Tommy Dassalo last year and, whilst being relatively pleased with the show, I didn’t feel compelled to pencil him in again this year. But I was having such a good evening that when my company suggested zinging down to catch Dassalo’s show, I couldn’t say no. So we left CitySoul, grabbed a burrito at Gluttony, jumped in a cab and arrived at Format with plenty of time to spare.

Dassalo and venue-mate Bart Freebairn were working the upstairs of the venue, milling about with the youngsters that were hovering around the bar. After snaffling a couple of beers, we ducked into the performance space, parking ourselves on a couple of tyre/cushion seats to consume our burritos (delicious!). Eventually the crowd started filtering down and we all scootched into a corner of the space; it was almost like we were watching a show in someone’s living room, with Dassalo performing with his back to the TV.

A lot of Dassalo’s material was familiar to me from last year; he’s a young fella (comparatively), so there are a lot of just-moved-out-of-home stories, along with the expected stories of women, booze, and drugs. In fact, the only material that seemed fresh to me were his repeated references to “this crack den of a venue”… but, in my happy state of mind, I was fine with that. He’s got a very amiable style; there’s a hint of shyness in his delivery, but there was nothing there that got me offside.

Was it a stellar show? Most definitely not – but it was a pleasant enough experience, amiably shared with a clutch of people half my age. And, on this day in particular, that was very much appreciated ;)

[2011115] The Lesson

The Lesson

Accidental Productions @ CitySoul

7:30pm, Wed 9 Mar 2011

The Lesson was the source of all manner of buzz around the streets of Adelaide… so much so that FringeTIX had long since popped up the “sold out” sign for the last couple of performances. But hey – it’s my birthday, I really want to see the show, I know people, and there’s a guest list; I insist on paying at the door, though, as is my wont.

So it’s a chockers house at CitySoul that takes in the simple set – just a couple of chairs and an old laminated table, the walls adorned with faded posters of the Periodic Table and other sciencey stereotypes. The Maid answers the door to let in The Pupil, a bundle of nervous energy – very much the skipping schoolgirl. In chasing her Doctorate, she’s here for a private lesson with The Professor, but Ionesco’s play rapidly devolves into an absurdist tête-à-tête between the self-important teacher and the painfully inquisitive student.

Ionesco’s Professor was supposed to be a man in his fifties, so having Guy O’Grady play a much younger role was a bit of a risk for director Nescha Jelk; but O’Grady fills the role perfectly, making the self-righteous Professor a socially inept bully. Elizabeth Hay’s Pupil is a joy: initially bubbling with the thrill of the occasion, she exhibits a keen intelligence that, at times, is neutered – one moment she struggles to subtract one single-digit number from another, the next she is multiplying seven-digit numbers in her head. As The Lesson progresses, her effervescence disappears, replaced by a toothache that then spreads to the rest of her body. Chrissie Page’s Maid is both a tutting guardian and dutiful accomplice, and a convincing third pillar on the stage.

As the Pupil becomes more and more distracted by her pain, the Professor’s frustration with her increases – with the result being that he pushes her harder, straying from the initial mathematics into etymology and philology – and the absurdity really kicks off as he starts attempting to lecture her using preposterous non sequiturs. She further withdraws, afflicted by her escalating aches… and then the Professor, clearly resenting the loss of control over the deteriorating lesson, attempts to regain it – by controlling her. Physically.

And the room goes cold. The laughs disappear. It’s all got a little bit… well, evil, and it’s impossible to ignore the unrealised sexual tension onstage. The eventual stabbing murder of the Pupil is almost a relief, because it allows us to discount other improprieties. When the Maid hints that this is the fortieth (hey! lucky number!) student killed today, disposing of the knife in the same manner that we’d seen at the play’s start (establishing the cyclical nature of the play), we can laugh again… because that’s clearly absurd, right?

Full of great performances, a glorious script, some great laughs, and stone-cold brutal brainfuckery, The Lesson was an absolute blinder. All the street buzz was spot-on; one suspects that they could have extended the season for even more sold-out shows.

[2011114] The Disturbed Couples Hour!

The Disturbed Couples Hour!

Accidental Productions @ CitySoul

6:00pm, Wed 9 Mar 2011

Problem Number One: “disturbed” these couples may be, but there’s an identifiable normalcy in what is presented here.

Problem Number Two: “hour” is a real stretch. Forty minutes, tops.

Great Thing Number One: the two short plays within The Disturbed Couples Hour! are written by Alan Ball… he of American Beauty (yay!), Six Feet Under (double yay!), and True Blood (erm…) fame.

Problem Number Three: Mr Ball was not at the top of his game, here.

…oh dear. That all makes me sound very negative, doesn’t it? But, truth be told, The Disturbed Couples Hour! wasn’t such a bad experience… but I’ve got a feeling that was due to the company (and the bubbles!) than the production.

The first play, Made for a Woman, shows us both sides of gender narcissism; both Man and Woman – both already impressive physical specimens – sharply satirise the efforts that we are prepared to go to in order to make ourselves look (even more) “perfect”. Once appropriately preened, the couple aren’t even really together – they’re totally disconnected from each other, barely able to communicate.

The second piece, The M Word, has a pair of “potential life partners” negotiating a relationship out of sheer convenience; their lack of will to hunt out a “better” partner draws them together, and the dry and perfunctory nature of their bargaining hints at a dark cynicism towards marriage.

Carissa Lee and Rowan Elliott Hopkins play the participants of the two couples, and there’s a sense of focussed determination in their performance – especially during Made for a Woman. Unfortunately, Ball’s scripts are really quite… ordinary. Short. Lacking in the dynamism that I’ve come to expect from him. And that’s a bit of a shame, really, because that’s something that Carissa and Rowan can’t overcome, no matter how determined they are.

[2011113] The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope

State Theatre Company of South Australia @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

11:00am, Wed 9 Mar 2011

Not many people recognise the amount of effort required to Schedule a Fringe assault in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed; whilst 2011 proved to be my most ad hoc year ever, there was still a heap of show-shuffling that went on behind the scenes. And my most fundamental of scheduling techniques is the following one simple rule: if there’s a matinée, slot it in early.

And so it was with The Misanthrope: I spotted the weekday morning timeslot, thought “Morning! Bonus!”, and bought tickets.

And it was only after I’d picket up the tickets that I noticed the date: March the 9th. My birthday.

My fortieth birthday. That’s one of the Big Ones, I’d been led to believe.

Hmmmmm, I contemplated. Could this have been a bad move? But I countered straight away: no no no, 11am will be a doddle. It’s not like you’ll be having a big one the night before. And besides, the matinée is more important.

I remembered those words as I tumbled into bed at 4am that morning, after a teensy little celebratory session at the Fringe Club. I rued those words as I struggled from bed into the shower before dragging my aged bones down to Her Majesty’s.

Now, weekday matinées during Fringe-time usually mean two things: the grey-haired crowd roll up in greater numbers than for other shows, and school groups are there en masse. My Row R seat had me fearing that I would be peering at the stage over crowds of squirming Year 10 students; but by the time the play started, I was like an island in a sea of red seats. There were plenty of silver-tops in front of me, but no uniforms were present… which made me wonder why my FringeTIX issued ticket was so far back. Not that I was complaining; I spread out comfortably, necked my third espresso of the morning, and studied the set: a fractured stencil of Marilyn Monroe towers over a mauve lounge on the raked stage. Sparse, but stylish.

After a quiet start, we’re introduced to the titular misanthrope, Alceste – a writer by trade, he sneers at the culture that supports him whilst enjoying it’s privilege. But he’s resolute in his independence from the media tycoons who would be his boss; happy with his niche popularity, he feels obliged to criticise other artists (all the while stating “we critics are artists too”)… an act which angers a powerful(!) member of their polite society.

The character conflict comes in the form of Jennifer, a successful film star (of populist rubbish, Alceste notes) and celebrity, who has no qualms about manipulating any social group for her own gain. Alceste is most certainly smitten by her, but is rational enough to recognise her charms (“flattery destroys an individual’s critical faculty”), and loathes her socially slutty behaviour. Of course, the other males in the cast are attempting to woo Jennifer too… and she revels in their attentions.

The cast-wide Jennifer-lust reaches a crescendo with the transformation of the set into a gloriously garish, over-the-top ballroom. The characters return for a fancy-dress ball, their costumes matching the excesses of the set. There’s 80s metal hair galore, and Julian’s stupendously camp costume was perfect – and accompanied by Don’t Leave Me This Way, just to make sure you get the message. But in the tussle for Jennifer at the ball, Alceste’s advances are vainly rejected – and he commits himself to exile.

It should be noted that The Misanthrope was a 17th-century comedy of manners by Molière; Martin Crimp modernises Molière’s character names and their verse (which sees such rhyming devices as “fucked it… deconstruct it”), but leaves many of the themes in their original French aristocratic surrounds. It is very much a character-focused piece, but I can’t help but think that State Theatre have pushed the extremes of the characters a little too far; with the campy excesses of Julian and Alexander, and the brash bitchiness of Jennifer, Alceste – the supposed “misanthrope” – feels positively normal.

But that’s just a little bit of nit-picking, really. The Misanthrope was a loud, brash, and enjoyably sweary bit of theatre that just felt satisfying. There was barely a dud in the production, but Marco Chiappi was a standout as Alceste – he pitched the wit and snarl perfectly. Apart from a few minor blemishes (one particularly crap slap), it’s a remarkably polished production… as it should be, really. After all, it’s not really “Fringe”, is it? But I’m bound to say that, aren’t I… because, for a huge chunk of the year, I’m a little misanthropic too.

[2011112] Smiler


Richard Fry @ Higher Ground – Art Base

9:00pm, Tue 8 Mar 2011

After seeing Bully last year, and having a number of lovely chats with Richard Fry, I resolved that he would be one of the artists that I would unreservedly support in the future; thus, Smiler was inked into The Schedule early.

If anything, Smiler seems to be a more personal piece than last year’s effort. It deals with Fry’s eponymous best friend, a young man who was struck by a drunk driver and suffered severe head injuries. Restricted to a life of medication and intensive physiotherapy, Smiler’s family struggled with his round-the-clock care requirements… which is how Fry met him.

With some level of humbleness, Fry recounts (in rhyme, of course) how he reacted when first meeting Smiler – the discomfort associated with those early interactions is a source of shame now. But despite Smiler’s limited communication, he and Fry bonded – and there’s several absolutely joyful segments where we’re privy to the kind of larrikin antics that the two would engage in; becoming comfortable with Smiler’s limitations, whilst still wanting to satisfy his pre-accident preferences, is a common thread.

But for all the joy in the relationship that Fry opens up for us, there’s also proper heartbreak; I can safely say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But it’s far more than a tear-jerker; it speaks volumes (as does the programme) about what it means to care for a disabled person… how the abled benefits from the experience. And Fry leaves us in no doubt about the positive impact Smiler has had on his life.

Richard Fry’s delivery in Smiler is identical to that in Bully – a beautifully paced monologue which manages to dance around the irregularly balanced and occasionally awkward rhymes of his performance poetry. But this similarity in style is in no way a bad thing: I love Fry’s approachable manner, and he manages to pack such a wide range of convincing emotions into his hour that it can be almost overwhelming. And, above all else, it’s an intensely rewarding experience.

[2011111] Tape


Lost In Translation @ Directors Hotel

7:30pm, Tue 8 Mar 2011

We, the near full-house audience upstairs at the Directors, are looking at a dodgy hotel room.

Vince, big and bearded and sweaty, has just bumped into John, an old high-school friend from a decade ago. John is on the upward swing of success; a film-maker whose time to revel in the spotlight is just moments away, fêted by his peers. Vince has taken a different route through life; he’s now a drug dealer, constantly on edge with the violence of that scene. But they’re old friends, and – after some initial awkwardness – they lapse into a typically male catch-up banter.

But, early on, it’s easy to tell that there’s some friction in the relationship. John, initially, seems oblivious; Vince drops the odd snide comment, snarling at the disparity of their fortunes, and occasionally there’s an oblique comment on an incident in their past. After a couple of comments flitter by seemingly unnoticed, John cottons on and queries Vince’s intent…

…and it’s then that the gloves come off.

Thereafter, Tape is a bruising encounter, the men battering each other with ill-framed recollections and accusations, wrought through jealousy and struggles for power. Far from being the brainless lunk that we first imagine him to be, Vince goads John into owning up to his past sins… John’s not the clean-cut chap that he was initially painted as, either. The arrival of Amy (Jasmine Bates) only escalates the arguments, leading to a very heated finale.

Nick Fagan does sterling work, in both the director’s chair and in the role of Vince – he roams from the dullard bully to the pointed avenger with well managed anger. Arron McDonald is spot-on as John, coming across as a slightly smarmy silver-spooner early and, when realising the corner he’s backed into, fighting like a wildcat.

The latter parts of Tape get a little shouty, but that’s fine – it makes up for some of the unrealistically wordy earlier scenes. Elaborate dialogue aside, Stephen Belber’s script runs along at a good pace, resulting in a suitably compelling experience – and one that I’m certainly glad I got to check out.

[2011110] No Hello

No Hello

Adelaide Duende Collective @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Tue 8 Mar 2011

So – we’ve reached the end of the world, then. And, hunkered down in two separate bunkers, are two of the last people left on earth: Johnny and Anna. Faced with twelve months in isolation, they are only capable of communicating with each other via a single telephone line.

I like this setup. I like it a lot.

But some of the dialogue between them doesn’t feel right. For all their desperation, there’s a coolness to their banter – minutia blends into character-defining moments. Johnny’s struggling with the isolation, and hops from one theme to the next; Anna’s already faced her demons, and is waiting out her confinement. The appearance of two additional characters (played by the same actress) increases the sense of danger exuded by both characters, but by that time we already know what Anna’s capable of… so the focus falls on Johnny, as he slowly unravels.

Dee Easton’s direction is great, separating the two characters into their own little areas of desperation – with a bed crossing the divide between them; Johnny’s bunker is a mess of video tapes and papers, Anna’s is neat and orderly. Matt Crook is a joy to watch as Johnny: his mental disintegration is an uncomfortable joy to behold. Bianka Feo’s Anna is played a lot cooler, more distant, and it becomes a challenge to empathise with her.

As I mentioned above, I liked the setup to No Hello a lot… but the end result left me a bit perplexed. All the ingredients were there for me; in fact, the script seemed tailor made for me. Post-apocalyptic doom? Yep. Nutty guy slowly losing it? Check. Strong woman with physical scars over a brutalised conscience? Big tick. A script that contains eighties references and clever one-liners? Jackpot.

And yet I walked away not wanting to know more about these people. There was no real connection. And, whilst I remember alternating between contemplating and laughing in the theatre, I didn’t really take much of that out with me. Still, I’d hardly call it a blemish on Duende’s record…

[2011109] The Six-Sided Man

The Six-Sided Man

Gavin Robertson & Nicholas Collett @ Higher Ground – Main Theatre

9:45pm, Mon 7 Mar 2011

Now, this is an interesting post for me to write.

(Not that the others aren’t, mind you, but… you know what I mean.)

Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man is a significant book in my life; I first read it after seeing a throwaway reference to it in my beloved Zzap!64 gaming magazine in my youth. It, quite frankly, titillated and shocked and thrilled and abhorred me; I found it to be illuminating and offensive in equal measure. I’ve always held it dear in my “important books” pile, along with Brave New World, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, The Canterbury Tales, and my T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, and Calvin and Hobbes compendiums.

So when I spied a theatrical production inspired by the book, it was a lock. There was no way I was missing this show.

Gavin Robertson plays The Man, a guy who lives his life by the roll of the dice; if there’s a decision to be made, he’ll allow chance to make it for him (“If God can see a sparrow fall to the ground, surely he can see the dice fall to the table? Therefore by obeying the dice, we obey God. The Dice are God.”) Nicholas Collett’s Psychiatrist is attempting to keep an objective eye on The Man’s practices, but maintains a curious attraction to living by the die; there’s plenty of humour to be found in their banter as they semi-randomly move from one situation to the next, letting the dice dictate their actions. There’s also plenty of theoretical discussion, where the Psychiatrist probes the menacingly-pacing Man, questioning his actions and decisions (or lack thereof), and attempts to reconcile humanity with chance…

But unfortunately for me, the power of the book came from the challenges it made on the people who chose to live by the die; the strength of their convictions when faced with moral bankruptcy. The Six-Sided Man side-steps these quandaries in favour of this more academic discussion about the nature of chance and, as a result, removed the bits I loved the most. And whilst the core tenets of the book remain in this interpretation, that’s not enough to win me over… because I know what I’m missing.

I mentioned this to Robertson when I bumped into him at the Fringe Club one night; he (very politely) accepted my comments, talked of the evolution of the piece, and mentioned that Luke Rhinehart himself (well, that’s his nom de plume, but you know what I mean) himself thinks this is a great adaptation. I’d be hesitant to use that word myself, though, since it strays so far from what I consider core to the book; but it’s undoubtedly a quality theatrical experience, with both Robertson and Collett controlling the mood of the piece remarkably well (even if we do stay in the dark more than the light).

I’ve got a feeling, though, I’d have enjoyed it a whole lot more had I not actually read the book beforehand.

[2011108] Nuclear Family

Nuclear Family

Yael Gezentsvey @ Nexus Gallery

8:00pm, Mon 7 Mar 2011

Remember, about a decade ago, when every second solo theatrical performance seemed to be based on the premise that the actor would show us their chops by portraying a plethora of characters? The Entire Contents of the Refrigerator? Virtual Solitaire? Good times.

Nuclear Family resurrects that Fringe-favourite trait, but casts it in a much more personal light. Yael Gezentsvey plays eleven connected Jewish immigrant characters in New Zealand; sure, they appreciate the freedoms of their new country, but – with large chunks of their families back in the Soviet Union and Venezuela – there’s still a pining for their homelands.

There’s an element of soap-operatics about the interactions of the characters in Nuclear Family, with the blossoming and fragility of relationships being central threads; but there’s a fair bit of sensitivity in the script, too, with the strength in the rituals of family and religion playing a significant part.

I got the feeling that this was an almost autobiographical script, which would explain the believable characters and diamonologue. Yael Gezentsvey plays all eleven characters – all eleven accents, all eleven mannerisms – with complete confidence, painting convincing pictures of them all in the audience’s mind. Sure, with the speed at which Desiree Gezentsvey’s (Yael’s mum!) script moves, it can be tricky to pick up all the characters (and their relationships!) at first… but by halfway through the performance they’re all familiar enough that the act of Yael stooping just a little takes you into Babushka’s home.

In all, Nuclear Family is a great little script performed admirably. And, better still, it takes the multi-character performance trope and makes it personal.

[2011107] Being Winona Ryder

Being Winona Ryder

Mara B @ The Maid

6:45pm, Mon 7 Mar 2011

I’m at The Maid a bit early, and settle back to snicker at the ‘Tiser reviews over a beer. I’m feeling pretty good; into the final week of The Fringe, Dad’s on the mend, and I’m not feeling like a zombie. And I’m intrigued as to what Being Winona Ryder is going to be about; I’m attracted by Winona’s name and the short run of the show, but beyond that I know nothing about the show or it’s progenitor, Mara B.

I bump into Beth and we sit in the front row. She waxes lyrical about Mara B’s work, and how much effort she’s put into this show. My curiosity is further piqued.

A bad-quality voice comes over the speakers: “Members of the press, Miss Winona Ryder.” Mara B strolls out onto the stage and carefully takes a seat at the table that bears a Ryder nameplate. She hesitantly greets the press cordon… er, audience, and then launches into a series of short pieces loosely based around Winona’s little shoplifting incident.

And that’s an interesting premise, especially when Mara uses it to explore the pressure of the celebrity spotlight (and the role both the media and the public play in it); there’s plenty of opportunity to poke fun at pop culture’s relentless deifying of the celebrity. But it all falls apart because… well, Mara B just does not look prepared.

Constantly checking her lines off sheets of paper hidden behind the shabbily-concocted nameplate, there were pacing problems a-plenty; pauses where there should be none, run-ons when there should be a chance for the audience to reflect (and, too rarely, laugh). I honestly felt as if I was watching a reading of the material, rather than the show that should eventuate. The occasional voice-overs from her agent always seemed to be ill-timed… and Mara’s triggered response was often less-than-natural. And at thirty minutes, it’s a short show… but it still manages to feel like there’s too much filler (and the killer bits are very few and far between).

“A comedy about errors,” reads the Guide blurb. Quite.

[2011106] The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

Daniel Kitson @ Adelaide Town Hall – Auditorium

9:30pm, Sun 6 Mar 2011

Daniel Kitson is an incredibly easy comedian for me to love; he’s intelligent, he’s extremely articulate, and he doesn’t mind a good ol’ swear. I’ve been lucky enough to see his sterling stand-up sets three times now, but I’ve only caught one of his “story shows”: 2008’s The Ballad of Roger and Grace.

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, as it turns out, is somewhere in between those two modes of expression; where Roger and Grace had musical accompaniment, tonight Kitson stands alone onstage (in the wide and deep expanses of the Adelaide Town Hall) and tells a single story. There’s no props (other than a small stool), no pre-recorded material, no fancy lighting – just Kitson and his notebooks, which he refers to ever-so-occasionally.

The story, stemming from Kitson’s chance discovery of a box of letters in a house that he was looking at buying, focuses on Gregory Church, the previous owner of the house. Fuming at the ills of the world (and the people in it), Gregory had decided that he didn’t want to be any part of it: he was going to kill himself, right after he let the fifty-seven people with whom he had issues know what he thought of them. By writing them letters.

The letters took much longer to write than he anticipated; by the time they’d all been written, replies from the first posted had returned, warranting further reply. This cycle continues, stretching Gregory’s life out…

It is, as the Fringe Guide blurb so perfectly says, “the story of a death postponed by life.”

Look, I’ve probably already said too much about the plot – much of it probably wrong. But Kitson’s writing is, as usual, exemplary; his stutter almost absent over the hour-and-a-half show. And it really, truly, is a wonderful story; sure, he’s talking about a man contemplating taking his own life for much of the time, but he builds Gregory up as a sympathetic – albeit eccentric – character, and peppers the tale with hope and sadness and joy and curiosity – and a dash of pathos. It’s a wonderfully rich experience, and one that left me in a quandary; just how would I write a blog post about it?

[2011105] European Man 2

European Man 2

European Man @ Arcade Lane – Regent One

8:30pm, Sun 6 Mar 2011

So – we’d heard that Daniel Kitson really doesn’t like latecomers to his shows… and, despite the fact that we didn’t have far to travel, we were still going to be cutting it close getting to Kitson in a timely manner – if European Man 2 started on-time.

Which it didn’t. European Man shambled into the spotlight fifteen minutes late, actually. At which stage my hands were mentally thrown up in the air in a “whatever… shit happens” kinda way.

You know what, though? Even if we had missed out on Kitson’s act, it would have been worth it… because European Man 2 was one of the discoveries of the Fringe.

Not because the European Man – presented by “The Continent of Europe” – has some stellar jokes, though – shit no, his content is diabolically awful. But the complete lack of self-awareness in the character makes his performance completely compelling.

A step back, first: European Man is from Europe, afflicted with a strong nonpartisan accent, and wears jeans and a suit jacket… and long greasy black hair. And a beard. He makes it quite clear that English is not his primary language – and you get the feeling that his jokes have suffered a lot in translation.

For instance: the Man goes on a long trek explaining how there’s more vitamin C in lemons, convincing his housemate Sally Carmichael (just the act of referring to everyone in firstname-lastname format is enough to crack the audience up) that she should consume them, despite the bitterness… when she does so, he breaks out a big shit-eating grin and yells “while I’m enjoying eating my delicious orange!” Joke delivered, he walks the width of the stage, smiling and nodding at the bemused audience in triumph.

That, essentially, is European Man’s humour in a nutshell.

Yes, there’s a bit about dinosaur (specifically, T-Rex) comedians. Yes, there’s a long and winding description of Space Chips. And yes, he talks about his cat (James Pietersen) a lot. And all his jokes are cringingly bad, but the Man’s misguided self-confidence is so powerful that it works.

But the other really memorable bit of the show? Four people sitting in the front row, directly in front of us. A couple of minutes in, they started whispering to each other, a hint of concern in their hisses. Fifteen minutes in, the whispers get more frequent and animated. Eventually, the European Man asks: is there a problem?

“Well… nah,” one bloke replied, “It’s just… when is the burlesque going to start?”

European Man stood stunned for a moment; eventually, a voice came from the back of the room: “the burlesque show’s next door.” Which European Man followed up with “I can strip for you if you like,” and took off his jacket. Which cracked up the entire audience (except the four people in the front row, naturally).

Just in writing this post, I re-lived a lot of European Man 2 in my mind – and had an absolute ball doing so. The European Man is a fantastic comedic character, and – whilst I think a full hour of his awful comedy might be too much (and, after all, this show started late and finished early) – I’d love to see another set soon.

As an extra special bonus, here’s the text from the back of his flyer, full of the precise (but hopelessly missing-the-mark) English that pervades his show:

Imagine if a man from Europe moved to Australia. Well, one did. That man is European Man.

Now he lives in Melbourne with his cat and Sally Carmichael. European Man has a job and catches the train to work!

Last year he did a Festival show. This year he is going to do one.


[2011104] Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

The Lost Rung @ Arcade Lane – Regent One

7:00pm, Sun 6 Mar 2011

Having seen The Lost Rung’s physically acrobatic style of theatre when the performed in conjunction with Vital Organs Collective in 2009 and 2010, I was really looking forward to seeing more of Josh Mitchell and Adam Jackson’s high-energy feats of strength and balance.

But, disappointingly, that’s not really what Nice Work If You Can Get It was about.

What it is about is a look at the stereotypical office space through the lens of physical theatre. It explores the inherent hierarchies, the day-to-day tedium, the abstraction from the real world that office drudgery typifies. And Mitchell & Jackson’s movements are well-realised, working with the subject matter to create a genuine sense of purpose in their actions.

The problem is that, compared to their earlier works, it all happens so slooooooowly.

Normally I’d err on the side of charitably calling it “contemplative”, but in this case it was just slow. Treacle-ish. And I understand that, when it comes to acrobatic displays of strength and balance, a lack of speed demonstrates a higher level of competence, but it also makes for a pretty ordinary audience experience (coupled with the fact that, when the boys did start performing some of the tricks I’d been expecting, the audience had been lulled into a sense of theatre – thus leading to some almost comically shy attempts at the clapping which has become de rigueur for circus performances these days).

The premise for Nice Work If You Can Get It – and even the content – was interesting; it’s just that the pacing was way off. If this had been performed in twenty minutes, rather than sixty, it would’ve worked a treat.

[2011103] Subsidized Corn

Subsidized Corn

Subsidized Corn @ Gluttony (Carry On Theatre)

5:00pm, Sun 6 Mar 2011

Subsidized Corn are a collection of improv performers hailing from Washington DC; if my memory serves me correctly, they just happened to be in Australia around Fringe-time for one of the members’ (they like to call themselves “Kernels”) wedding, and decided a little side-trip to Adelaide for a few gigs was in order.

The Carry On was maybe only a quarter-full this sticky afternoon, and it was not a pleasant tent to hang about it. A plethora of electric fans helped the air-flow through the tent, but had the unwanted side-effect of drowning out some of the softer voices of the Subsidized Corn crew. Worse still, the crowd that did turn up were pretty lethargic and uninvolved; when the Kernels sprang onto the stage, bouncing around and trying to fill the place with energy, they tried to get the audience involved by asking for the name of an object.

Stony silence.

Anxious to help them out – to not see that energy fall flat – I yelled out the first thing that came to mind:


As soon as I said it, I regretted it. Potato? Seriously – I was well aware that my body was telling me a good carb-loading was required, but… what a fucking stupid thing to say.

But they ran with it. And sure, it wasn’t the funniest scene ever improvised, but there’s only so much you can do with crap source material… and it was certainly entertaining.

Luckily, later audience suggestions (yes, they did get involved eventually) proved to be better fodder – Julia Gillard and Bob Brown being thrown into a tryst – and the underlay for a lot of the scenes became inherently political… which is where I suspect Subsidized Corn are in their element.

An oddball “Pirates landing at Malibu” scene rounded out the performance, which seemed largely out-of-character with the rest of their work; they’d made a real effort to be locally relevant and topical, and that sketch just seemed to be a fallback to stuff they’d do back home. Still, it was performed with the same enthusiasm and quick-wittedness that was imbued in the rest of the show, leaving me in no doubt that Subsidized Corn are an enjoyable improv troupe.

After the show I bumped into a few of the Kernels outside on the Gluttony grass and, as I am wont to do, had a bit of a chat with Darnell Eaton (a lovely bloke). Despite my frothing raves about the bits that I’d really enjoyed, he admitted that they thought the gig wasn’t really up to snuff – not by their own (seemingly lofty) standards. The conversation ended soon after another woman came up to talk about the show… and wound up directing all her questions to me. Weird!

[2011102] Heroes


Melbourne Dance Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

2:30pm, Sun 6 Mar 2011

So: I’m a teensy bit hungover, and more-than-a-teensy bit tired… not usually the best condition to be in a darkened room when it’s hot outside watching some modern dance pieces set to imagery that danced a fine line between confrontational and melancholic. But, to the Melbourne Dance Theatre’s credit, they managed to present a piece that managed to be both sobering and exciting… try and figure that out.

Mind you, Heroes did not get off to a promising start. While a projector overlaid video of all-too-familiar memories of September 11 over The Studio, the MDT’s group of dancers appeared to group together on the left-hand side of the space, as if the stage was too narrow for the physical expression they’d rehearsed.

But once past that troubled opening, the dance itself was a beautiful exercise in restraint. Largely an ensemble piece, movements were generally slow and sweeping, with the choreography appearing to steer well clear of physical limits – but, in keeping the majority of the dance at a slower pace, a sense of poignancy is evoked.

That poignancy is supported by the overlaid video, which effectively controlled the tone of the performance; slow-motion footage of people stumbling away from Ground Zero covered in dust tugs at the heart-string, and the footage of the Twin Tower impacts clearly signals that the performance is coming to a close. Some may say that the use of such iconic – and emotive – footage is gauche; but within the context of this piece, it lends such a sense of power and significance to the physical movement that it doesn’t feel like a trivialisation in any way.

Heroes was a really beautiful performance: sensitive without being sappy, powerful without being overbearing. The physical aspect was well refined, the video well used, and the soundtrack… well, that was great. A lot of Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back was in there (My Body Is A Cage, Heroes, but I can’t remember(!) whether it was Gabriel’s version of The Power of the Heart or the Lou Reed original), but there was some incredible industrial stuff in there too – the bit that followed Cage was amazing. But it was most certainly a sobering experience, and the experience of walking back outside into the blinding sunlight was a jarring one…