[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.

[2012126] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown – The Kids’ Show

[2012126] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown – The Kids’ Show

Philip Burgers & Stuart Bowden @ Le Cascadeur

5:00pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

It’s gorgeous afternoon to be awake, and I’m not even mildly annoyed when I arrive at Le Cascadeur to discover a queue already snaking around the building. I bask and chat with Bryan and DeAnne and Scout as we wait for the doors to open; I spot one of the guys from The Lost Rung and quite obviously rave a little too enthusiastically. And I watch the spruikers.

Now, I normally feel bad (or, occasionally, anger) for the Garden spruikers – today, however, I wanted to be one, because the opportunities were almost too good to pass up. Indeed, the main spruiker for Le Cascadeur this afternoon just walked around in front of the venue yelling “brown” repeatedly into a megaphone every three or four seconds… and it worked. The line grew and – even better – started chirping “brown” to itself over and over and over again, which created a really silly atmosphere before the show even started.

Le Casca is packed; I end up sitting at the very edge of a row with a great view that was only occasionally interrupted by the excitable child behind me hitting me in the shoulder or head as he “cheered” (or, more accurately, flailed his limbs around in appreciation). And as we all settled, all we could see was Stuart Bowden in his tiger suit, sitting onstage, gently strumming a ukelele; there’s also a large activity map hanging at the back of the stage, and a large shopping bag.

As soon as the doors close and the house lights drop, the bag starts twitching: slowly, Dr Brown undoes the zip and clambers from the bag. Instantly, he’s won the children over with his wacky demeanour and rubbery expressions; then he’s playing with them, getting them involved in the performance with no tangible effort. Dr Brown turns to the activity board, and the children spot the bright icons and start screaming out suggestions straight away: bike! golf! baby! tennis! song!

“Breakfast” is a hit, as a collection of edibles are mixed into something inedible… then eaten; the sports are all suitably madcap, with the Singing Tiger or members of the audience roped in for play; “Baby” sees Brown produce baby doll, which then squirts all over himself and the crowd; and then there’s “Song”.

Dr Brown produces a microphone, taps it a few times to make sure it’s on, and then – in a move familiar to fans of his “regular” shows – bops himself in the forehead with it. It’s a silly physical gag, but it gets the audience pealing laughter as he repeats the move again and again, modulating the timing of impact for maximum comic effect. Eventually he tires of the self abuse; he summons a man from the audience and offers him the microphone to sing… whereupon the man proceeds to bop Brown in the forehead with the mike.

The audience cracks up. Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger crack up far harder, tears of surprise and laughter running down Brown’s face as he mock-throttles the man.

Eventually, after riding a tiny BMX bike off into wings of the venue, Dr Brown waves us goodbye; the kid behind me whacks me a few more times out of joy, and screams in my (good) ear for good measure. The audience – young and old alike – leave Le Cascadeur absolutely bubbling.

I’ve always said that Philip Burgers is an exceptional clown, but I was amazed at how effortlessly he manipulated the audience: there’s something innately engaging about his mere presence that managed to get all the children on-side. Bowden’s Singing Tiger, only occasionally a minor enabler in these proceedings, is still a wonderful character, and his musical accompaniment is gentle and, surreally, bordering on melancholic… but it still feels perfect for the performance, gelling with the amazing character that Burgers has created. Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown was a masterful, but supremely silly demonstration of how utterly enjoyable simple buffoonery can be.

[2012125] Huggers – The Family Friendly Comedy Show

[2012125] Huggers – The Family Friendly Comedy Show

Nik Coppin, Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, Paddy McCulloch, Mike “Dr Blue” McKeon, Craig Ricci Shaynak @ Austral Hotel – The Bunka

3:15pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

Ever since my first Shaggers show, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Nik Coppin’s ensemble productions… but, with its kiddie focus (and, more significantly, its resultant lack of sexually-derived content), I was curious to see how a child-specific implementation of the Shaggers formula would pan out.

The answer – on this bright Monday afternoon, at least – was that it pans out pretty bloody well.

Coppin, as per usual, emceed the show, and had the job of warming up a packed room of parents and kids (who were in the age range of three to thirteen). Nik’s a lovely, affable bloke, and the adults are quickly on-side; the kids take a bit more work, though, but nothing a little bribery can’t fix, as he flings packets of lollies into the audience (and promises more such prizes to come).

The first of Coppin’s guests were the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre – and, as previously noted, he/they are silly good fun. I’m not sure a lot of the kids could actually follow the high-pitched Scottish accent, but the older crowd were definitely having a great laugh… and the ridiculous puppetry proved to be a suitable distraction for younger eyes.

Mike “Dr Blue” McKeon – a surprisingly soft-spoken guitarist – engaged the younger patrons with lots of audience interaction, some great songs, and a little music lesson thrown in for free. Then Craig Ricci Shaynak (from I Am Google) explained how to write the perfect movie trailer; this material was aimed at the older kids in the crowd, but his constant repetition of the opening line of his trailer – a dramatically deep “in a world….” – certainly caused a fair bit of mirth… except for a few of the younger ones down the front, who were terrified (which, in itself, provided much amusement to the other adults present).

Finally came Paddy McCulloch and his magic tricks. And, I must admit, I originally though he was going to be lame… but he really brought the magic to the party with a ridiculously fast-paced routine that covered rope tricks, scary(!) balloon swallowing, and a fantastic cups and balls routine that escalated to potatoes and coconuts. It was a seriously impressive spot, and certainly inspired me to see more of McCulloch’s sleight-of-handiwork in the future.

I can’t imagine any man, woman, or child would’ve left The Bunka dissatisfied with that lot. A great bunch of laughs, some edumacation, some tunes, and some blistering magic… what’s not to love?

[2012124] Eurowision Adelaide 2012

[2012124] Eurowision Adelaide 2012

CarCon @ Gluttony – Excess Theatre

11:55pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

I love the Eurovision Song Contest, and only somewhat ironically; for all the giggles to be found via Eurovision drinking games, what with bloc-politic voting and terrible costumes and awkward hosts and whatever crap England decides is a sure-fire winner, there’s also a genuine interest in the production aspects of the programme… and the music. There’s been some cracking songs entered in the decade or so that I’ve been an ESC-aholic – from Lena’s winner (and gorgeously brooding follow-up) to Turkey’s only winner to Sopho’s amazing Visionary Dream, not a year goes by when I can’t pluck a bit of pop goodness out of the seemingly cheesy Eurovision lineup that I genuinely enjoy.

But mostly, Eurovision is all about the cheese.

So a late-night comedy show taking the piss out of Eurovision? I mentally bought tickets way before they were on sale.

Our two hosts (Golden Phung-ers?) were perfect in their roles, completely nailing the awkward banter of “real” Eurovision hosts whilst looking the euro-ethnic part. Their written parts were often deplorably bad – which is, of course, spot-on – with clumsy jokes and innuendo between the Eurowision acts.

Opening up the performances was one of the chaps from Comicus Erectus, representing Greece; strutting onstage with glitzy guitar, he only managed to play a few chords of Play That Funky Music [Greek Boy], before the audience fell apart in laughter. Jenny Wynter came out with a bilingual version of Down Under for Germany, with The Golden Phung representing Croatia.

Even though I’m not a massive fan of his standup, James McCann did a brilliant job representing France; Dave Callan and his Burlesque Beauties danced up a storm for England (which would easily have been their best entry in years… a pity that Callan is Irish, then). Svetlanka Seczskittenya cracked whips for Serbia, Jason Chong represented Russia (of course!) with a mighty mime of Trololo, and Poland (as defined by the Axis of Awesome) wrapped the Contest up with the fun Surprise Sex.

But the highlight of the show – as with any Eurovision event, of course – were the Postcards: little video interstitials used to introduce each country in the contest, using glowing footage from the hosting nation as a backdrop. Eurowision‘s Postcards were performed by Mark Trenwith, all-but-naked in his black bodysuit, via the medium of interpretive modern dance; they were universally silly beyond belief as he flounced with rubber limbs around the stage, punctuating every performance with a contrasting gruff announcement of the country. Brilliant!

Eurowision was good, solid, silly fun. I’d been expecting a slightly cruel exposé poking fun at Eurovision, but what I saw was more a celebration of its silliest aspects… and that turned out to be bang-on the money.

[2012122] Just outside of me

[2012122] Just outside of me

Vital Organs Collective @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Stables

8:00pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

I’ve really enjoyed the various shows that have appeared in the Fringe under the Vital Organs Collective banner (in 2009 and 2010) and, whilst I was less enamoured with frequent collaborators The Lost Rung last year, Just outside of me was scheduled nice and early.

This edition of the ‘Collective comprises four dancers – Emma Vaiano and Kathleen Skipp, and the two Lost Rung boys: Adam Jackson and Josh Mitchell. And, from the very first of seven or eight dance pieces that comprise the performance, it’s clear that the Vitals’ production values have gone up a notch. Screens in the background are the recipient of a dream-like space scene, with eyeballs taking the place of planets; though the opening dance is slow and contemplative, the use of light and shadow is really quite fetching. The second piece ups the tempo with a lounge bar scene, some strong physical movement, and some classical styles on display by the women. The choreography of the dancers was eye-catching, with limbs being flung about in sync; bloody lovely stuff.

The Lost Rung boys did one of their now-familiar strength pieces against a wall; again, great use of side lighting. A looped snippet of Do You Know The Way To San Jose provides the backdrop for another physical piece that starts with some gentle rolling before evolving into a stronger, physically active piece; and then a return to more tight choreography and some really attractive diagonal lines – albeit with a sudden and curious end to the piece. The final segment sees a return to the Space Eyes along with more great diagonal lines, synced to a distinct clock tick. More wall-work and a wall run(!) close out the performance.

I really enjoyed Just outside of me. Whilst there didn’t really seem to be a tangible narrative throughout the individual dance pieces – nearly all of which had a distinct visual style – they were all strong enough to stand on their own, with Kathleen Skipp’s lead on the choreography producing some exciting movement from the small cast, and Josh Mitchell’s audio work (with Norm Skipp) creating some great backdrops for the dance. Once again, the Vital Organs Collective delivered the physical dance goods.

[2012121] William

[2012121] William

The Flanagan Collective @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre

5:30pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

Pitched as a family-friendly show that relies on the imagination of the audience, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see there’s only three families waiting outside the Carry On at the prescribed start time. The Flanagan Collective’s Veronica Hare greets us at the door with a generous and gentle smile, and encourages us to sit up the front in the beanbags; in the end there’s seven kids and adults apiece, and the children happily collapse into the beanbags. I grab a ‘bag far on the left – I’m very conscious that I’m the lone adult who is not there on account of a child, and I’m desperate to not appear to be Uncle Pervy. Sadly, the other adults stay in the safety of the plastic chairs, creating a very split audience.

Veronica comes and sits with us, and a semi-circle develops around her. She’s got a lovely, approachable quality as she asks “Who has been on an adventure?”… silence. She presses a bit; one girl admits to discovering a pile of Lego. More silence. I try to help out, and say that I’d been to England on an adventure for a month; another girl, maybe a quarter my age, leaps in and immediately one-ups me by saying she spent six weeks adventuring around Europe.

We’re asked to write down an adventure that we’d like to have on a piece of paper; I say “I’d like to go skiing on a glacier,” and draw a crappy stick-figure skier to elaborate. But I’m quite proud of the diagram and, as we drop our papers ceremonially into a suitcase for safekeeping, immediately regret not taking a photo of it. We’re also given paper stars, on which we sketch our fond memories of adventure: mine was a completely unrecognisable ascent to Arthur’s Seat.

Veronica then settles back and starts telling a story: there’s a Special Town in a forrest where make-believe things live. A Man and a Woman… well, that’s not important, really. The Man disappears one day, without explanation; the Woman, dismayed at her loneliness, writes all her sadness onto pieces of paper.

And I begin to get a little… uncomfortable. Isn’t this is a bit dark for youngsters?

But Veronica wraps that tale up and moves onto another – that of the eponymous William. William loves books, and accidentally discovers a mystical bookstore whose owner (somehow) contacts him later at home. William wishes himself back to the bookstore, and finds the book that has been haunting him since his first visit to the bookstore… the book written by the Woman. But, strangely, William doesn’t read it; he puts it away, and time passes; William grows up.

And it all gets a bit… fantastic from here.

Older, William finds and attempts to read the book – it disintegrates. On a whim, he returns to the bookstore, and meets Polly… who was sleeping in the biggest book in the store. William and Polly travel to the Special Town (from the first story) to save the world; they fail, but then create a new world… one in which stories thrive, because everyone loves them.

It’s a lovely ending to a lovely story – whilst the fantasy content occasionally distanced me from the production, Veronica’s gorgeous storytelling kept everyone engaged; not only does she present the tale in a very inclusive manner, but she also conjures ideas from the audience: what did the bookstore owner look like? How did William get to the village? (The adults helped out with that one; apparently, the journey involved going to egypt, underground to a crypt, thence on a boat, through a magic portal back to the bookshop, via a cab to South Africa.)

William, like The Flanagan Collective’s other show The Fastest Train To Anywhere, is chock full of whimsy, and you get the feeling that there’s more than a little leeway with the tale that’s told. And much of the joy is in the telling – Veronica is ace, and her constant callbacks to the various forms of wish-making (closing eyes, or dancing, or simply believing – then casting the wish with “fairy dust”, or ripped up paper that must be a nightmare to clean up at the end of a show) are a delight… but, in retrospect, I wonder whether I could have made it easier for her by sitting in a more central position.

Those of us children in the beanbags warmly applauded Veronica at the end of the story, then left holding our fond-memory stars… which, looking back on it, is a lovely touch.

[2012120] False Messiah

[2012120] False Messiah

Aerial Manx @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre

4:15pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

It was a small audience of only a dozen or so who wander into the Carry On, which was humid and sweltering after basking in the afternoon sun. I could feel the moment the Carry On’s entrance was closed – the temperature started rising immediately – and, after a moment or two of inactivity, I turned around to see if anything was happening. What I saw was Aerial Manx sitting cross-legged on the matting just inside the entrance to the tent, eyes closed, hands on his knees, meditating; after a second or two he sprang to his feet in one smooth movement and took to the stage.

Manx introduces himself, and explains that his act is more about mind-over-matter than spectacle; he’s relatively quiet and moderate in his diction, and there’s something calm and serene about him as he absentmindedly roams the stage whilst contact juggling a crystal ball. The way his body seems to orbit the ball is mesmerising and, with the gentle tone of his voice, I wonder if Manx isn’t trying to sneak the entire audience into a hypnotic state.

Manx then engages in some propane-assisted fire eating, a little self-hypnosis, and follows that up by swallowing a sword and then lifting thirty kilograms with the exposed handle. And that’s pretty, well, amazing. There’s more contact juggling, a Baoding ball demonstration, and some incredible flexibility on show via a little hardcore yoga.

But then comes the pièce de résistance: Manx swallows a sword (whose blade length would have placed the sword tip around his navel) and then performs backflips with the sword in place. And that resulted in one of those wonderful, all-too-rare moments of disbelief, where – despite my physical proximity to the spectacle – I simply could not correlate what I was seeing.

Without wanting to downplay Aerial Manx’s efforts, False Messiah was fucking staggering. As sideshow spectacle of undeniable quality, mixed with a heartfelt (but not overbearing) new-age mysticism, I reckon it’d be nigh-on impossible for anyone to leave that performance with anything other than an wide-eyed, incredulous smile on their face.

[2012119] Scott Mangnoson presents: This is what I do

[2012119] Scott Mangnoson presents: This is what I do

Scott Mangnoson @ Gluttony – Funny Pork

2:00pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

After the previous magic show, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another magic performance straight away… but a ticket in the hand is worth honouring, so into the smaller Funny Pork I went, telling myself that things could only get better.

Not only was the venue smaller, but the audience makeup was very different, too – not a child to be seen, just a bubbling collection of adults content to counteract Funny Pork’s humidity with cheery beverages, leading to a very easy-going and agreeable crowd. And it didn’t take long for magician Scott Mangnoson to get them (and me) onside: his opening trick, with ping-pong balls multiplying in his hands whilst he waved them in front of our faces, was performed with a pace and polish that banished any memory of the previous show.

But the initial rousing cheer that the audience gave him did not satisfy; Mangnoson spent some time grooming us in the style of applause that he wanted, and the lessons were accepted with good humour. Then he rattled through some great card transfers, a bit of fork bending, and starts a self-deprecating piece where he flubs about “reading people’s minds” to determine (i.e. guess) various audience member’s favourite ball-sports, animals, and words; it’s all rather cheesy and lame as he justifies his mistakes, until he reveals the contents of an envelope that’s been in plain sight the entire performance, the contents of which were the audience’s original selections. Impressive!

In fact, it’s only the last trick – where he claims to be able to walk through a paper wall without breaking it – that fails to impress; it’s an odd anti-climax to the performance, but Mangnoson shows enough earnestness and personality to sell the finale. And I leave the Funny Pork very happy at having caught his act – it was a perfect selection of tricks for the close-in audience, and Mangnoson was able to sell it with style.