[2012141] Water Stains on the Wall

[2012141] Water Stains on the Wall

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Thu 15 Mar 2012

The very first year I ever put some effort into getting out-and-about during these Festival things, I kept a rudimentary spreadsheet of stuff that I saw that year because… well, that’s how my head works. Just a list of dates, times, shows, and a one-or-two word summary of my impressions.

I went digging through my digital archives to find that spreadsheet, and it lists sixty-one shows that I saw that year… which surprised me somewhat (I thought it was half-a-dozen lower). But that’s beside the point; the whole reason I went searching is because, on March 6 1998, I saw a performance called Songs of the Wanderers – and my one-word recollection of that piece was “Incredible”.

(March 6 1998 turned out to be a pretty bloody good day of Festivalling: Salamandrar, Every Night a Wedding, Songs of the Wanderers, and The Waste Land were Great, Inspiring, Incredible, and Fucking incredible, respectively.)

And that little back-story is relevant now because the company that delivered Songs of the Wanderers – Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – is behind this ethereally-advertised production of Water Stains on the Wall.

When the curtain lifts we are presented with a very heavily raked white stage floor, upon which stand seventeen of the Cloud Gate dancers – ten women, seven men, all wearing the same white, flowing, cloud-like leggings; the men are bare-chested, the women wear skin-coloured leotards. They hold their initial formation and start moving almost imperceptibly forward; a slight sway develops in the group as a whole, and it’s like we’re watching waves lapping at the beach; the movement is so light and gentle and mesmerising.

Suddenly one man starts swaying in the opposite direction to the rest of the group; his movement seems to affect others nearby, and soon the counter-movement grows, capturing more dancers in its wake. The group soon dissolves into an organically chaotic display, wherein individuals or pairs or larger groups would flow across the stage, whilst others would spiral outwards… it’s intoxicating to watch, though the fact that the dancers don’t recognise each other at all – not even a knowing glance – is a little disconcerting.

Throughout the performance, the stage has images of black, drifting clouds projected upon it; the white floor catches these images beautifully, but it’s the way that the dancers’ leggings drift in and out of the projection that really catches the eye. When the clouds are replaced with water marks, the dance shifts subtly, but maintains its organic feel.

Oh yes, Water Stains on the Wall was an incredible performance, and would have been an almost enveloping experience… were it not for the audience. Like the woman in the front row whose phone rang as soon as the lights dropped. I could see her fumble with the phone, her face bathed in light, as she rejected the call… but rather than put the phone on silent or – heaven forbid – turn it off, she let it ring again as the curtain was raised, and again when she had a troupe of dancers (heroically) holding their pose three metres in front of her.

And at that moment, I felt ashamed – because this woman represented this audience; she represented me.

She was eventually escorted out – by Festival Centre staff or saviour punter, I don’t know – but I couldn’t believe the fact that was was let back in a couple of minutes later. In her absence, the rest of the audience managed to follow her sterling lead and produced a cacophony of coughing… it was like a minute-of-silence at an unruly high school.

But… happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

Cloud Gate dancers? Amazing. Lin Hwai-Min’s choreography? Breathtaking.

[2012140] The Thursday Show 2: Thursday Harder

[2012140] The Thursday Show 2: Thursday Harder

Edward Kuhne & Kel Balnaves @ The Ed Castle Hotel

7:00pm, Thu 15 Mar 2012

The Thursday Show was a wonderful surprise in 2011; making good on my promise to Ed & Kel, I’d pencilled in Thursday Harder nice and early… and even provided the opportunity for the show to be correct in its nomenclature. Ironically enough, the notes for this show which I hurriedly thumbed into my phone on my way to the following event were under the auto-corrected title of “Friday”… well done, iPhone. Well done.

Thankfully, the boys have seen little reason to change the formula of The Thursday Show: the familiar duo-Kel-duo-Ed delivery is still in place, with each segment separated by radio-esque voice-overs (“The Thursday Show. Brought to you by… pissing!”) or mock advertisements (the Cat-Rid ads were particularly amusing). And, once again, the banter between the boys is a joy to watch; they’re clearly very comfortable with each other on stage: their timing is impeccable, and their over-the-top acting somehow manages to be comedic gold.

My only complaint – and it’s only a teensy weensy complaint – is that, while Ed’s solo material was great, a lot of Kel’s solo spots were familiar… then again, I’d seen Kel perform a fair few spots at various venues around Adelaide in the year since the last Thursday Show. But then there’s some material like Ant News that comes along and covers over those little cracks…

I loved The Thursday Show, I loved Thursday Harder, and my only regret was that I left just before the end of the show… to go on a Fool’s Errand, no less.

[2012139] Wyrd… with grace

[2012139] Wyrd… with grace

Alexandra Knox @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Thu 15 Mar 2012

The first thing I ask at the ticket office: how is the show’s title pronounced? Apparently, it’s “wired”… but there was enough hesitation before the answer that I suspect maybe that hasn’t been communicated to staff with authority. It was certainly a point of discussion for the handful of us in the queue, anyway.

Into the familiar Studio we go, and the first things of note are the three lanterns hanging from the roof… and the collection (large collection) of lighting gear around the set, along with the odd patterns being projected on the wall. On the floor, in a white dress, lay dancer/choreographer Alexandra Knox; over her body danced a collection of green grid lines projected from above, which immediately brought Glow to mind – though it was hard to tell whether the projected grid was reacting to her movements. I suspect that it didn’t, but – regardless – her predominantly floor-level (and I do mean floor-level… it was mostly elegant stretches and rolling) interactions with the light was far more engaging for me than anything in Proximity.

A change into a red dress for the second piece, which is much more dynamic, yet maintained a sense of flow in Knox’s movements. There’s some gorgeous side lighting creating long, sharp shadows… it’s like Knox (and lighting designer Rodney Bates) know exactly how to win me over. The third piece (this time in baggy mauve top, with some ace black lace pants) has a much more biotic feel – there’s lush projections and contemplative dances around – and with – the lanterns. The piece culminates with Knox curling around a lantern in the centre of an organic image; it’s a really wonderful ending that generates a lovely holistic optimism.

I really enjoyed Wyrd… with grace. Upon reading the programme afterwards, I discovered references to three dreams: dreams of Grace, Strength, and Wisdom. I’m assuming these referred to the three dances within the Wyrd, because they are perfect descriptions of the movements performed within; and they also gel well with the positivity that I carried with me as I left Holden Street (for the last time this festival season). Bravo, Alexandra – you’re on my “must-see” list now.

[2012138] A Streetcar

[2012138] A Streetcar

Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 14 Mar 2012

Ever since my mistake earlier in the year, I’ve been doing the Right Thing and turning my phone off during performances. As I’m leaving the previous show, I turn the phone back on to receive a flurry of increasingly agitated messages from my Buddy for A Streetcar. My plans for a comfortable migration to the Festival Theatre get dismissed; I grab the first cab I can. When we meet, it’s an emotional mauling; she elects to stay for the performance, but we’re both pretty frayed and fragile as the house lights drop.

It’s a challenging opening as the much-vaunted Isabella Huppert is spotlit and pulls faces, weeps, and splutters her lines in what feels like a full-frontal assault… but it’s hard to tell, because there’s clearly opening-night problems with the surtitles. They’re already a bit awkward for us down the front to see, but they’re clearly out of sync (with a mouse pointer evident on one side of the screen), poorly paced (two full lines of text flitting by in half-a-second), and – worst of all – very poorly contrasted.

My Buddy whispers in my ear: “I can’t read anything. This isn’t working.” She leaves, and the fractures open up a little wider.

I hold my ground.

What I subsequently sat through was allegedly based on A Streetcar Named Desire; my vague recollection of the play suggests that the plot is loosely followed, but a lot of the subtle tone was lost. Where class disparity was significant before, the modern setting makes that far less significant; whilst Stanley’s physical and emotional abuse of Stella is still present, it’s lost amidst the almost frigid delivery of those moments.

In retrospect, that was particularly odd: most other pivotal scenes seemed to receive special treatment by director Krzysztof Warlikowski – some unique staging, or some camera setup and projection – to give the scenes some added significance, some pop; but, as a result, character progression is given almost laid-back and lazy treatment. And there are the absolutely inexplicable production decisions: that song kicking in, volume and tone well in excess of anything else in the production. And that scrolling wall of incongruous text that covered the entire stage for five fucking minutes while a shit song was played…

In all fairness, there’s some really strong high-points in A Streetcar: the staging is fantastic, with huge chunks of the set travelling back and forth between scenes, with cameras and translucent screens forming spaces and abstractions that are really quite ingenious. Huppert deserves all the plaudits that preceded her performance; after the foreshadowing opener, Blanche’s mental decline is wonderfully mapped out. But the odd treatment of the source material, in conjunction with the cold detached delivery and surtitle issues, had me walking away from the Festival Theatre very… well, empty. Disappointed.

And I’m pretty sure my malaise wasn’t entirely due to the emotional fracas beforehand; this was billed as a flagship show, but it failed to deliver a coherent experience.

[2012137] The Big Bite-Size Soirée (Menu 3)

[2012137] The Big Bite-Size Soirée (Menu 3)

White Room Theatre @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Wed 14 Mar 2012

This was the day the weather turned nasty, and the thunder was rumbling as the drizzle got progressively heavier while I scooted the short distance to the Bakehouse. Just after I entered the foyer, the thunderstorms hit; it was nigh-on impossible to hold a conversation at the bar (behind which staff were scurrying to try and find containers to catch newly-found leaks), such was the noise from the rain hitting the roof. Thankfully, though, the storm had eased up a little by the time Menu 3 started.

Presented by the same cast in an identical manner to the previous Soirée, Nice People kicked off proceedings with an interesting premise: She is performing a robbery and, in doing so, meets Him. That results in a really nice dynamic between the characters; there’s a great reveal, but a bit of a limp ending. Thin Air presents a sees an interesting bit of philosophical discussion between trapeze artists in the middle of their act; the dialogue is compelling, but the presentation suffers from the difficulty in creating a reasonable abstraction of the trapeze act onstage.

All manner of stereotypes are assembled in Thespian, with a Brooklyn boy heading off for an audition. Whilst it feels a little contrived, there’s some genuinely funny attempts to bend the thick accent into various well-known – but ill-suited – roles. The Bar, sadly, was instantly forgettable – less than thirty minutes later, I couldn’t remember a single thing about it. Finally, Perfect Stillness has the audience watching the painful process of writing a eulogy – luckily, the eulogisee is able to provide assistance with her somewhat biassed input.

Overall, this Menu was perhaps a bit more balanced than my first Soirée; but, whilst there were no short plays in this Soirée that offended in the way that The Key to the Mystic Halls of Time did, there were no real standouts, either… and one very forgettable Bite. But the cast are uniformly strong, and there’s still some clever writing in evidence; bring on the last Menu, I reckon.

[2012136] The Ham Funeral

[2012136] The Ham Funeral

State Theatre Company of South Australia @ Odeon Theatre

11:00am, Wed 14 Mar 2012

There’s nothing like dragging your arse out of bed at (comparatively) silly o’clock in the morning and wandering down The Parade having a progressive breakfast as you go: OJ at one place, heart-starter espresso at another, something more substantial around the corner from The Odeon. By the time I get there for this (retrospectively) ill-advised matinée, I’m vaguely awake; when I take my seat, I’m surrounded by schoolies, and looking down over a sea of silver-tops.

The first thing that strikes you about The Ham Funeral is the set: it’s pretty bloody special, with two viciously raked levels making you feel like the set was coming towards you. It’s also doused in monochromatic styling, right down to the teacups and bread; despite the lack of colour, the effect is really quite striking. And while Luke Clayson’s Young Man impresses with his early soliloquy, when the Landlord and Landlady (Jonathon Mill and an incredible Amanda Muggleton) are on the stage, he is blown off it.

The Ham Funeral has loneliness (and its distractor, love) at its core, and the Landlord and -lady cover the extremes… until he dies, whereupon the Landlady becomes almost bipolar with grief-stricken loneliness and lust. The Young Man – a poet – tries to stay at arm’s length from companionship, but his alter-ego – the gorgeously angelic Lizzy Falkland – teases him from across the hall in his lodgings. The scenes where they interact reveal some of the best moments of stagecraft in the production: the snippet where the light catches Falkland’s outstretched hand is just sublime.

The second Act opens with the funeral of the Landlord; and with the wake comes the family, hidden behind garish clown makeup, who proceed to torture his former wife for taking him away from his former circus life. The set is accented with black balloons, but colour is injected via the titular ham. The Landlady, bereft from her husband’s absence, starts flirting outrageously with the Young Man, conflating him with her departed lover (Muggleton revelling in the physical scenes); his rejection emphasises the absence, and when the Young Man realises that his alter-ego no longer inhabits the room across from his, he decides it’s time to leave.

Despite being written by Australian writer Patrick White (the only Aussie to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature!), The Ham Funeral is rarely performed; in fact, the Q&A session that followed this performance emphasised the fact that the world premiere of the play was in Adelaide in 1961. And this rendition of the play is certainly high on production values: as mentioned before, the set is amazing, and is very nearly matched in quality by the costumes… the monochromatic aesthetic is all-encompassing. The text of the play, too, is really enjoyable – I loved the little bits of wordplay in a twisty-turny script.

In all, I found it a really worthwhile trek out to Norwood for this performance, and didn’t even mind the soaking rain on the way home. And, perched as I was down the back of the Odeon, I had the opportunity to scribble down notes to myself during The Ham Funeral – something that’s all too rare these days, since the last thing I want to do is give anyone anywhere ever the impression that I’m “reviewing”. And it’s a good thing, too, since anyone glancing over my notes would have discovered that they were little more than gushing over Lizzy Falkland. A few comments about the set, to be sure, but mostly Lizzy.

[2012135] Weepie

[2012135] Weepie

Urban Myth Senior Ensemble @ Queen’s Theatre 2

10:30pm, Tue 13 Mar 2012

I often write about how much I love watching dance, yet make no claims about understanding dance.

This evening, watching Weepie, I quite unexpectedly got that feeling from a theatrical production; walking out of the theatre that night I was left floundering, but was gobsmacked by what I’d just seen… and also by the people who performed it.

But I had no idea what story – or stories – had just been told. I’d walked into Weepie completely blind: on reading the ‘Guide, I’d seen “Urban Myth” and a late timeslot, and just circled and scheduled. That was it; that’s all I knew.

So when Chris Goode’s play (as I discovered through later reading) flipped between two young men training to brazenly kill, and a 12th century weeping mystic being interviewed about her prophetic visions… well, it’s a challenging proposal for an un-enlightened audience (i.e. me).

But it’s a tough ask on the actors, too – the two killers-in-training Petral (a somewhat compassionate, thoughtful character) and Edsel (whose thoughts and behaviours would immediately classify him as fucking psychopathic) alternate between – and sometimes intermix – dense verbal battles and bouts of violent wrestling. It’s almost a relief to switch back to the 12th century, where the pace is more sedate; but the weight of the dialogue doesn’t relent in the slightest.

Patrick Zoerner and Felix Alpers-Kneebone are exceptional in their roles (as Edsel and Petral, respectively), with Zoerner bringing an astonishingly bloody minded self-destruction to his character. Alpers-Kneebone’s character, despite being more measured his approach, still had to straddle a fine line where there was a believability to his need for violence, amidst a broader understanding of the world at large; Felix carries the role with aplomb.

And, despite the lack of set and sparse props, the look and feel of Weepie – as directed by first-timer Poppy Mee – was incredible; bold, vibrant, and assured.

As mentioned at the top of the post, I left this performance in a daze. I immediately bumped into a beaming Glenn Hayden (Artistic Director for Urban Myth); he was radiant. “What’d you think?” he asked, in the manner of someone showing you their newborn baby. “Mate… I don’t know what the fuck I just saw, but I know it was pretty fucking amazing.” Glenn’s smile widened even further. We talk more, interrupted by other people congratulating him; Poppy Mee drifts by, Glenn introduces her to me, and I immediately scare her by stumbling in a mouth-foaming manner through a description of how great her work was.

And then Glenn collars Felix Alpers-Kneebone. I congratulate him on his incredible effort, and Glenn casually says to him “oh… happy birthday, by the way.” He glances over at me to explain “Felix just turned eighteen.” And I immediately feel that familiar sense of admiration and jealous loathing – dear lord we have some incredible young talent in this state.

[2012134] PRESS-PLAY! (Week 2)

[2012134] PRESS-PLAY! (Week 2)

Adelaide Duende Collective @ Bakehouse Theatre – Studio

9:00pm, Tue 13 Mar 2012

Whilst I found the first PRESS-PLAY! instalment a touch disappointing, I have such faith in Duende’s collective talents that I committed to the second part of the programme in a heartbeat. And that’s a Good Thing, because this pair of short plays is absolutely cracking theatre.

The first play, German Diary, sees the mundane Q surrounded by extraordinary people: the brilliantly deadpan Ivan with his obsessive hobbies and raw food activism, and unrequited love interest Sammi, whose life appears chock full of excitement and adventure. But when Q finds an appointment diary, he starts digging through its events with interest, translating them from their native German. When he decides to attend one of the appointments, it becomes evident that the diary is directing him to prior events in his life… leading to time-travelling hijinks, and the opportunity to mull on the idea of changing events in your life, if one was presented the opportunity.

Core Duendist Kieran McNamara is great as Q, imbuing the character with a hint of hopelessness early, followed by excitement and trepidation; Elliot Howard’s Ivan, though, is a scene-stealer, drawing attention to his deadpan (non-)antics whenever he’s onstage. How he didn’t brain himself as a result of the final roller-skating fall is beyond me. Dee Easton’s direction is spot-on, making German Diary an absolute delight.

The second piece in this week’s line-up, Truth Teller, is both a simpler affair and infinitely more complex. The simplicity comes from the staging: essentially, three women sitting on a couch talking. Sure, they’re talking about heady stuff: drugs, Monsanto, and a fantastic argument centred on Nikola Tesla, but suddenly – seemingly from nowhere – it all takes a turn for the bizarre. Truly bizarre. The lights drop, and it feels like every word takes on great metaphysical importance; it’s immensely thought-provoking and confusing and glorious to behold.

Both plays demonstrate writer Alan Grace’s exceptional talents – Truth Teller, in particular, is a wonderfully lyrical piece, with dense and evocative dialogue between the three women. And, as with the previous PRESS-PLAY! effort, there’s no concessions to stretch the plays out, to make them bigger than they should be: they’re both perfectly formed, exceptionally entertaining pieces of theatre. That they are both on the same ticket is an absolute bargain.

[2012133] Eric – The One-Man Sketch Comedy Show

[2012133] Eric – The One-Man Sketch Comedy Show

Scott Gooding @ Queen’s Theatre 3

7:30pm, Tue 13 Mar 2012

So – if I was taking the title literally, I’d have expected to see a sketch comedy show performed by one man… namely Eric.

And it turns out that that’s a pretty accurate summation of the performance… except for the “Eric” part, because the One Man is Scott Gooding.

Gooding’s sketches – written for him by a collection of playwrights – range wildly in tone; from straight-out comedy and physical humour, through to social commentary and dark absurdism. His most memorable pieces feature the characters that make repeat appearances: there’s a chap who repeatedly pitches incredibly bad TV show ideas, a Bond villain who suffers interminable frustration due to his crapulent minions, and a terrible radio host.

But the highlight for me was the lucha libre wrestler who performed introductory Spanish lessons; there was something utterly bizarre about the incongruences of a masked luchador reciting such basic phrases, and Gooding’s body language behind his mask just totally cracked me up.

In fact, Gooding’s performance was stellar across all his sketches. Director Scott Brennan keeps things moving, with really quick transitions between scenes, and I found the world of Eric to be quite enjoyable. The only problem? Queen’s Theatre 3 is a wide space, and tonight there was a grand total of eight people in. And it’s hard to laugh out loud – you know, showing appreciation for the performance taking place in front of you – in a room that size without the laugh sounding a little like an insult. And that makes me sad.

[2012132] Mr & Mrs

[2012132] Mr & Mrs

Liz Stephens & Aaron Counter @ Bakehouse Theatre – Studio

6:00pm, Tue 13 Mar 2012

“Marriage… It’s a funny thing,” promises the flyer.

Well, at least comedians Liz Stephens and Aaron Counter share a marriage… so they’ve got that part covered.

The other bit, though…

There’s very little surprising content in Mr & Mrs; whilst the tested-and-true humorous nuggets of gender contrast are trotted out, their funniest material comes from their relationship as comedians. Their marriage, they maintain, is only important because it provides much of their material (though Stephens, in a contrived pre-recorded session with their “marriage counsellor”, also concedes that the union is also underpinned by Counter’s “huge cock”).

But the thing is… you never feel as if these two ever have any real conflict. You feel that their marriage is as safe as houses. And their theatrical presence onstage can’t convince you otherwise.

The delivery is very much he said / she said, interrupted occasionally by some pre-recorded video. The videos suffer from dodgy sound, and the transitions between segments are generally awkward and poorly timed; sometimes entire jokes are lost because they’re delivered whilst the audience is chuckling. And whilst Stephens gives the impression that she’s quite comfortable onstage, Counter’s presence is stiff and ungainly.

I really didn’t enjoy Mr & Mrs; even Liz’s poise and delivery couldn’t cover the fact that their material was limp. Their marriage may indeed be a funny thing, but they didn’t show it on stage.

[2012131] Sepia

[2012131] Sepia

Team Sepia: Emily Steel, Nescha Jelk, Matthew Gregan, Holly Myers, Rory Walker @ The Science Exchange – Thinking Space

11:00am, Tue 13 Mar 2012

So I’m sitting in TuxCat one afternoon, leeching their Wi-Fi (ostensibly to post some show reports, but more likely to check e-mail and Facebook), when I see Jane roll up. We’d only talked a few times before, but I wave hello and she sits down and we have a chat about happenings around town. She mentions that she’s Production Manager for Sepia; I say that it was on the Shortlist, but I was afraid that it had been inadvertently blocked out by other bookings. “Oh,” she offers, “we have a few school-group matinées.”


So I roll up to RiAus and talk my way into this morning session of Sepia, and wind up sitting amidst a school group of around twenty kids. We’re introduced to a Whyalla-based family of three: Neil, who owns and operates the day-to-day of the struggling caravan park, as well as running diving tours for those interested in the local sea-life. His wife, Emma, works for the mining company whose proposed expansion threatens that sea-life; their son Matt, meanwhile, works in the local steelworks.

Neil’s obsession with the environmental threat of the mining expansion – and, in particular, the impact on the local sepia apama cuttlefish population that gives the play its name – threatens to pull the family apart. The ecological impact would effectively cripple the tourism that keeps the caravan park alive; on the other hand, the lack of expansion could result in the loss of both Emma and Matt’s jobs. The opening scene revels in this conflict, and of the personal tensions between the characters: Neil is absolutely focussed on the environment, and blinkered to everything else, Emma is weary from the arguments, and Matt just wants his autonomy.

But, at the height of the conflict, the scene changes – suddenly we’re in the same physical space, a few years earlier. The caravan park is providing a good living; Emma is moving up the ranks in the company. Gaps in the family history are filled in. Another scene change, and it’s earlier still: Emma and Neil are inspecting the caravan park for the first time, with an intention to buy – there’s a sense of optimism in the air.

And then, on a high note that is tempered by the knowledge of what follows (hindsight in foresight, if you will), Sepia ends.

It must first be said that Sepia is wonderfully performed. Rory Walker has yet to disappoint in anything he’s ever done, and his portrayal of Neil is brilliant – almost crazed by obsession in one scene, wide-eyed and enthusiastic in another. Matthew Gregan’s Matt is quite wonderfully understated; though his impact is limited to the first two scenes, the manner in which he drives emotions is quite brilliantly done, and the age difference between is really well managed. Holly Myers, though, is the real gem: her first-act Emma is hardened, worn-down, weary; the contrast to third-act Emma is remarkable, as she skips through the caravan park office as light as a feather, easily conveying the sense of a barely-controlled impulsive young woman. Just gorgeous!

But, whilst Sepia is a warm multi-levelled story (props to Emily Steel, responsible for last year’s Rocket Town), well told (props to Nescha Jelk), I’m not sure the reverse chronological storytelling over three acts worked for me. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful way of filling in the gaps, and is a marvellous example of respecting the audience’s ability to put things together themselves; but, on the other hand, it means that the “denouement” is really quite strange – bittersweet, even – and anticlimactic.

Still, I’m really thankful that I got to see Sepia – thanks again, Jane :)

[2012130] Mangina

[2012130] Mangina

Amanda Monroe @ The Spare Room

11:00pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

With the suggestive title and presence in the “Comedy” section and flashy advertising and references to Drags Aloud, you’d expect Mangina to be a somewhat seedy comical pisstake of life as a drag queen.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst there certainly is an occasional humorous snippet in Mangina, the bulk of the performance takes place in Amanda Monroe’s former life – that of a largely unhappy, and definitely troubled, man. Starting from her earliest memories – as a three-year-old boy, wanting to play with his sister’s white dress – through childhood, where her desire was to be the sporty academic that her parents desired, there’s obvious lines of conflict in Amanda’s upbringing; and when she speaks frankly about her parents being worried about her sexuality (back in the less liberal fifties & sixties), there’s a real sense of… well, maybe not menace, but certainly pointed concern… and of a projected wrongness.

Escaping from small-town Australia into Sydney, she encountered the scene surrounding Les Girls… and then she discovered that drugs clouded that part of her psyche that still wanted her sister’s white dress, making things easier to deal with. Cue a descent from dope to LSD to heroin, and thence to an overdose; recovery, taking stock, relapse, another overdose.

After nearly dying for the second time, Amanda tells us, the feeling of cheating death was palpable; she decides that her male façade actually has died and is reborn… as the woman she always wanted to be (and which some of her drag friends had always recognised in her). As soon as she starts dressing as a woman, the emotional weight lifts.

To this point, Amanda’s performance had been… well, very raw, with no-holds-barred descriptions of the trials and tribulations of the male part of her life; there’s the odd humorous aside, but there’s no doubting that these were not happy memories. But once her story reaches the stage of her physical transformation, her tales have a richer vein of comedy in them: despite the pain in the procedures, the manner in which she details her facial and breast surgeries is almost joyous. Hearing Amanda describe how getting face-work done (first Botox, and then losing the “Louis Vuittons” – the bags under her eyes) made her feel real in the mirror… well, that was just uplifting stuff.

Whilst Monroe’s narrative could do with some tweaking – there’s a few threads that don’t really go anywhere, and the pacing can be a little uneven – it’s a wonderfully compelling story of a person finding their way in the world. It’s just a shame that the surprise of such a universally positive message is hidden behind the lurid suggestions of the advertising; I’d hate to think what a boozy Friday night crowd would have done within the tight confines of The Spare Room.

[2012129] I Am Google

[2012129] I Am Google

Craig Ricci Shaynak @ Austral Hotel – The Bunka

9:30pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

I met Craig Ricci Shaynak through Nik Coppin as a result of a late-night San Giorgio feast; at a drunken 3am, he was a friendly and easy-going chap, and I’d promised that I’d see his show sometime (whilst admitting that it hadn’t made my Shortlist). So, with Trevor Crook Plus One leaving us in the right physical location at the right time, we made the snap decision to see I Am Google.

Craig himself was managing the ticketing outside the entrance to The Bunka; he recognised us from that late-night pizza jaunt, and ushered us in gratis. I explained that I had issues with that, and a mild argument ensued when he steadfastly refused to take my money; we finally agreed on payment in the form of beers and discussion about the show… which I had every intention of making good on, but sadly never delivered. And for that, I feel shame – I really do!

We take our packets of cheap Oreo knock-offs from Craig as we walked in (“cookies… otherwise your browser won’t work”) and take our usual position, front-and-centre. After finishing his door duties, Craig strolls onstage, hangs a sign that boldly pronounces “GOOGLE” around his neck, sits at a table and starts answering silent phone calls. “Hello, this is Google… what? Yeah, Paris is the capital of France. Yeah, I’m sure… Bye. Hello, this is Google… Did you mean something else? Look, I’m right ninety percent of the time. Hello, this is Google…”

After a few such calls, his attention is drawn to the audience, and he starts describing what he – as Google – does; he demonstrates the failures of voice search, engages the audience (and some balloons) to create a rendition of Google Maps (including zooming!), and discusses the hidden perils of GMail – “you do know we read all this, right?” His demonstration of Google Translate, though, was fantastic: taking suggested phrases and languages from the audience, his ludicrously over-the-top “accents” always seemed to have humorous hooks in the half-words he slips into the “translation”. I was, quite rightly, mocked for my request for an Esperanto translation of “do a barrel roll”; my Fringe Buddy requested a Braille translation, resulting in Craig Google lightly squeezing her head with his hands before translating “you’re so pretty… please don’t sue me.”

There’s a brilliant lyrical battle with a CAPTCHA, and Craig happily swaps the sign around his neck to anthropomorphise other Internet players, too: Bing is a creepy Bond villain, Yahoo is a wannabe cool guy desperately conscious of his fading popularity, and Twitter is suffering from a bitter breakup with Google.

It’s handy that I’ve got half-a-clue what – and how – Google (and the rest of our Internet Overlords) operates, because there’s obviously loads of Google-centric jokes, most of which are really quite intelligent and respectful – nothing feels too dumbed down, and there were no real groan-worthy moments (other than the odd terrible pun). But my Fringe Buddy was not the most Internet-centric of people, and she still had a good laugh – and that, I think, speaks strongly of the quality of Craig Ricci Shaynak’s writing and performance.

[2012128] Trevor Crook Plus One

[2012128] Trevor Crook Plus One

Trevor Crook @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

8:30pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

Trevor Crook’s standup is wonderfully dry and laconic – as experienced at a Rhino Room Late Show last year – but I was curious about whether he could hold an entire show. And maybe Trevor himself was wary of carrying the burden alone – the “Plus One” in his show’s title was there in honour of the “special guest” planned for each show.

But I’m only the fourth person to find my way upstairs to the Red Room this evening – Trevor waits for a fifth to arrive (two more bustle in later) before starting the show with an apology: things haven’t been going great. There’s no “plus one”, and no sound tech, so there’s no microphone. Still, he muses, what do you expect for five dollars? At least we had a fan.

Trevor’s style is fantastic, and totally suits the small room: he’ll mumble his jokes (seemingly to himself) and watch his own shuffling feet as he searches for his next vein of material. It’s a remarkably unassuming and raw delivery, and – despite the occasionally awkward feeling that you’re just watching a man talk to himself – it somehow makes him much more engaging than a loud comedian yelling into a microphone.

It doesn’t hurt that his material is fantastic, either; it’s dry as a bone, with lots of jokes at the expense of his spouses. His first wife, a Chinese immigrant seeking a quick visa, provided some bizarre slipper-related jokes and simmering resentment; not as much was said about his second wife, though – “she actually likes me.” Trevor also channelled stories from his dole-bludging days, with exploitation of sickness benefits providing more money; that also lead to the concept of days off being called “healthies.”

Yes, there was a bit of familiar material – but his wonderfully silly story about tunnelling from his house and inadvertently coming up in a mosque is worth hearing a dozen times. And suddenly, after another prolonged stare at his feet, Trevor announces he’s done for the night – and that’s a little sad, but it’s been a great show. Well written jokes, endearingly performed… you can’t ask for much more than that.

[2012127] Love Hate Life Death

[2012127] Love Hate Life Death

Markus Birdman @ The Tuxedo Cat – Yellow Room

7:15pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d almost forgotten to schedule Markus Birdman’s new show in; it wasn’t until I bumped into him and Jen Brister walking home one night that I remembered what lovely people they both were. So I wrangled a gap in the schedule, and dashed off to TuxCat to squeeze the show in.

Unfortunately, not many other people have decided to give Markus a go this evening. As a result, there’s a mere five of us in the room (plus the sound guy); I encourage everyone to sit in the front row, assuring them that Birdman doesn’t bite, but their compromise was the second row.

When Markus starts, he acknowledges the intimate audience, and begins his easy banter by asking each and every one of us our ages; the pair of blokes in the middle claimed to be thirty, the two girls on the right were twenty-three and -five, and then there was me – forty-one. “Oh!” says Markus, “the same age as me.”

Birdman uses age as a set-up for the shock at the centre of his show: that, at age forty, he had a stroke.

Shortly after having some new tattoo work done, he tells us, he woke up partially blind. Being a “typical bloke”, he did nothing about his blindness for three days… before he went to see an optician, who – upon determining that a quarter of his vision had been lost – told Birdman ”I don’t want to alarm you, but you should probably go to hospital… right now.”

Straight off to hospital he goes. Being relatively young, the diagnosed stroke makes him a medical curiosity… which meant he was subjected to lots of tests, some of which he recounted to humorous effect.

But once his tale leaves hospital, the real feel-good elements of his show kick in; Birdman starts talking about how his stroke has dragged the rest of his life into perspective, and encouraged him to do more. It’s not just the common mantra of “live every day as if it were your last,” he tells us; it’s more directed than that. Do things you love with people you love.

And that’s a beautiful sentiment. “Every day is a gift,” he re-iterates at the end of the show.

There’s some familiar material in Love Hate Life Death – plenty of innocent stories involving Birdman’s daughter, and some even-handed jokes about religion – but the overwhelming feeling from Markus’ act is one of compassionate warmth and good-natured fun. Yes, he does drop the C-bomb a lot, but never in a misogynistic manner – Markus Birdman is a friend to all people. And, in tackling the subject of death (that is still often taboo in the Western world, he notes), Birdman demonstrates what an engagingly likeable guy he is; far from being a bleak downer of a show, he makes it positive and rewarding and uplifting.