[2013142] Le Foulard

[2013142] Le Foulard

Lucy Hopkins @ The Tuxedo Cat – Red Room

8:30pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

“I am… an Artist,” declares the spotlit Lucy Hopkins at the start of Le Foulard (“Art Show”)… and a knowing chuckle emerges from some in the audience. Others in the audience raised eyebrows and looked around, trying to figure out the laugh cues, or laugh nervously at the absurdity of the gangly black-clad figure before them.

Hopkins’ pretentious Artist roams the stage with awkward-looking, angular movements, before – with a flourish of her scarf – switching to another character, a silent and confused hunched woman. Another flourish, another character… and she maintains the three distinct personae throughout, each with their own physical traits, facial expressions, and (in two cases) accents. But it’s somewhat demonstrative of the headspace that I was in that the most endearing character – the character that triggered the arty parts of my brain – was the silent one; her constant confusion was a source of sheer delight, and her use as punctuation to the other two characters did wonders for the pacing of the show.

Le Foulard‘s monologues all revolve around the construction and consumption of Art; as a result, it becomes an exercise in meta-theatre. And it’s quite intelligent stuff, with a few oddball diversions (most notably the overly theatrical and haughty version of I Will Survive) along the way. But, even though I hang around theatres and arty types as much as I can, I started thinking that some of Hopkin’s text was a little too… inside baseball. It’s not meant for people like me to understand; rather, it’s almost a self-parody of the artistic process.

Don’t get me wrong, though; Le Foulard is an extremely polished Fringe show, with some cutting insights and quirky humour. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a show by An Artist, for other Artists to appreciate… and if the general public came along for the ride, well, that’s almost accidental.

[2013141] Specimens of Her

[2013141] Specimens of Her

Jascha Boyce @ The Birdcage

7:15pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

I rave about Gravity & Other Myths at every opportunity, and I’ve vowed to follow that group of performers on whatever artistic path they choose to take. So when I see that Jascha Boyce – the nimble diminutive flyer of the group – had her own solo show, I was there in a heartbeat.

The stage was simple: a series of jars and vases, all different sizes, lined up in order of height. Behind them, to the right, a folding screen, backlit for seductive shadow-work. The performance, too, was short and to-the-point: a little juggling, a little tumbling, some hoop work, and a little bit of contortion work… all performed with the skill that is synonymous with GoM, though there were a few stumbles with her hoop routines (then again, Jascha’s recovery always included an apologetic smile to the audience that was so lovely that it almost made me hope for another mistake).

In between these short physical pieces, Jascha would take little scraps of paper from within (or on) the containers, reading the provocative snippets of text that they contain; the containers acted as a progress bar to the performance, and there was a bit of tension as she approached the jar that held a mousetrap, proffering it her tongue… a smile, a wink, and she avoids the confrontation. And, curiously, the manner in which she shrunk into the largest of the containers caused me to flash back to Bonsai Kitten (a very early internet meme).

I can’t recall a single woman in the small audience that assembled for this performance of Specimens of Her; I do recall wondering if that was a little… well, creepy, what with Ms Boyce being such an adorably cute young creature. But she totally owns the stage, and – whilst Specimens didn’t completely engage me for the entire performance – it contained enough quirks and nuances to convince me that there’s Something Different in the mind that created it… and that, as always, makes me feel happy.

[2013140] Alice in the Madhouse

[2013140] Alice in the Madhouse

Madhouse Circus @ The Birdcage

6:00pm, Thu 14 Mar 2013

Three years ago, Gravity & Other Myths proved that a young acrobatic act could still perform incredible feats, without the benefit of mature muscles and frames; they almost single-handedly encouraged me to keep attending circus performances put on by young troupes, always hoping that they could be the Next Big Thing.

And what Victoria-based Madhouse Circus lack in age, they make up for in vision: they present a series of acrobatic, dance, and physical performance pieces underpinned by the themes and characters of Alice in Wonderland. Their background music is superb, and a lot of the performances – balances, acrobatics, juggling – are quite polished in their delivery.


At times, the show feels almost hampered by the narrative that has been forced around it; the Tweedledum & Tweedledee big ring exercise being the most egregious example, though the justifications given for other character pieces verged on the insulting. There’s an audience interaction segment that dragged the momentum of the entire performance to a screeching halt – and the end result (when it finally happened) was most certainly not worth the effort. Then again, it was a pretty crap audience: clearly inexperienced in the usual applaud-at-the-end-of-a-trick customs, most of the show was performed in the crowd’s silence.

But that may have been because of the tightly packed nature of Madhouse’s show; there were none of the customary pauses for applause, as trick rolled into trick rolled into trick and then offstage whilst another performer comes on. And, if that was a directorial choice, that kind of subversion of the established give-and-take of the audience is a pretty bold thing for a young company to do… on the other hand, maybe they were just nervous and ploughed through their set.

So – some decent performances by a promising bunch of youngsters, held back by ruthless direction and a desperate need for narrative. Whilst it wasn’t the best show I’ve seen, it certainly wasn’t the worst… and hey, at least someone loved it.

[2013139] Symphony of Strange

[2013139] Symphony of Strange

Gareth Hart @ The Tuxedo Cat

10:00am, Thu 14 Mar 2013

It’s getting towards the tail-end of the season, and matinées are like gold dust – and I’d heard that Gareth Hart’s latest work, Symphony of Strange, had an 10:00am session. I hit FringeTIX too late: “sold out”, it tells me, and I am shattered: I loved Ellipsis, and the Schedule already has other shows that would block Symphony… so, after bumping into Hart at the Fringe Club one evening, I asked if I could sneak into that session. “For sure,” he replied, before issuing a warning: “you will be seing the show with 33 school kids!”

So my Event Buddy and I turned up at the appropriate (early) hour and, as expected, were surrounded by schoolgirls. Once corralled, we’re all led through the labyrinthine lesser-seen parts of the Tuxedo Cat complex, up multiple sets of stairs until we reach a wide open space… there, we’re offered chilli chocolate (yum!) and a washcloth for our hands… as with Ellipsis, it appears Hart is aiming for an all-encompassing sensual experience.

There’s a circle on the ground, hazily determined by leaves and twigs, and Hart dances within it, moves fluid and elongated. A light rotates, occasionally catching Hart with its glare, and I think about how much more spectacular that would have appeared in an evening show, rather than in the mid-morning buried-urban murkiness. A collection of five musicians rhythmically crush items underfoot as they wind their way to a stage littered with everyday objects; once there, they start playing a (mostly percussive) composition scored by Edward Willoughby using jars, drums, fire extinguishers, and kitchen utensils.

All the while, Hart is exploring the floor of this abandoned building, lightly flitting between predetermined spaces defined by tea candles. I was immediately compelled to follow him as he begins to roam, but felt held back by the pack of schoolgirls; eventually I overcame the social pressure (“social pressure”? I’m over twice their age!) and pushed through, doing what I love to do in situations like this: finding the space. Framing the shot with my own eyes. Adding my visual filter to someone else’s presentation.

Flames become a common theme; the tea candles are everywhere, and there’s a sequence where Hart is “throwing” lit matches. But, with the dissipating shyness of the schoolgirls leading to their scattering around the space, he also takes the opportunity to duck back and dance amongst the crowd… nearby people freeze, looks of concern covering their faces, as they worry that they may inadvertently ruin the performance.

Suddenly, it’s over: there’s no real sense of climax in either the movement or the music (indeed, the latter softly peters out), it just stops. And I’m left with a sense of awe for the space that Hart has so fluidly skipped through, light as air… this empty space, hidden above the streets in my city. This empty space that so wonderfully filled with the noise of found instruments – the score was gorgeous. And I feel lucky to have managed to engage in this performance: hot weather be damned, I left TuxCat still nursing the taste of chilli chocolate in my mouth, and curious scrapes and rings in my ears, and flickering flames in my eyes, and I’m happy.

[2013138] Jacques Barrett is The Contrarian

[2013138] Jacques Barrett is The Contrarian

Jacques Barrett @ Rhino Room – Beer Garden

10:15pm, Wed 13 Mar 2013

Look – let’s not fuck around here. Prior to this show, Jacques Barrett was my favourite Australian comedian of the past few years; after the show, nothing had changed. In fact, my respect for his work may have actually gone up a notch.

And that’s not because he kept throwing jokes directly at me after he identified that I was the only paying punter in a half-full room of Artist Passes and freebie winners; it’s not just because of his world-wearied delivery of material that embodies disappointment, self-righteousness, and lazy anger. No – it’s his material.

Sure, some of it was familiar: the dolphin girls made an appearance. A dig at religion, using Westboro Baptist Church’s “Fags Cause Floods” campaign, leads to the idea of holding a Mardi Gras in drought areas. His recollection of an unintentional backhander threat at a violence-against-women benefit gig. It’s all still solid gold.

But then come the new jokes. Barrett compares a relationship breakup to quitting a job. There’s a circuitous Home Alone / pizza delivery story that takes an unexpected turn into pedophile territory, making it incredibly wrong… yet oh-so-right. And then there is one of the funniest bits I’ve heard in years – in tackling the poor image that Australian travellers have around the world, his blueberry-muffin-seeking mock-American had me weeping with laughter.

Despite the wealth of quality material, there’s still a tangible sense of self-doubt in Barrett’s presentation: he described his act as “hit and miss,” and then – recognising the number of fellow comedians in the room – started discussing the placement and effectiveness of his callback reveals (CBRs). But the crowd loved him regardless: he received a rousing cheer at the end of the show, and then tried to ad lib a bit more material… after he’d dug himself a deep hole, the audience clapped him out of it anyway!

And it warms my black little heart to see other people enjoying Jacques’ work, because he is one of the most insightful and clever wordsmiths out there… the way he structures a joke just totally works for me. But sweet jesus I want the man to have an audience… a massive, paying audience. Because he absolutely deserves it.

[2013137] Gravity Boots

[2013137] Gravity Boots

Gravity Boots @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

8:00pm, Wed 13 Mar 2013

Ever since I first caught sight of Gravity Boots, I’ve been a massive fan of their work – I really believe they are the Kings of Surrealist Sketch Comedy, which may sound like a niche market, but it really shouldn’t be. They’re also one of the few acts that I will shift my après-Fringe life around for… I’ve seen them many times during non-Mad-March, which is all-the-easier now that they’re producing a new hour of material every month.

But this show represents their first Fringe show under the direction of the utterly bizarre Paul Foot – and I’m insanely curious to see how his input has shaped the ‘Boots that I know and love. And I’m shattered when I check how many pre-paids there are for this show: “about five,” I’m told, and my heart sinks.

But the crowd gets into double figures, and there’s plenty of friendly faces and cheer in the audience, so there’s a genuine sense of anticipation when Austin Harrison-Bray hops onto the stage barefoot and starts strumming his guitar in ambient support. And when the ‘Boots take to the stage, it’s a fantastic selection of the best sketches they’d worked on in the months prior: the Antarctic expedition. The SoCal mermen playing tennis between their tanks. It’s exactly what I’d expect from The Boys, but better: surrealism has a way of invigorating expectations, doesn’t it?

As for Foot’s influence… well, the Antarctic expedition felt much tighter and focussed than in the preview show the previous November; and the sketch featuring panthers had some fierce writing that wasn’t completely typical of their work that I’d seen in the past. But other facets of the Gravity Boots persona – the recurrent long-johns, the weird collection of voices, and the absolutely world-class sense of storytelling – are still present, and they alone ensure that Gravity Boots remain the best (and most bizarre) sketch comedians at the Fringe.

[2013136] Breaker

[2013136] Breaker

Sodid Svid Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

6:30pm, Wed 13 Mar 2013

I don’t usually mention accents much when I write, because they typically don’t matter to me: hey, I’ve just spent a fortnight in South Korea (with a mere two native phrases under my belt) going to K-pop concerts where I understood absolutely nothing that was said (though I learnt that if someone says “감사합니다” in your general direction with a smile on their face, it’s usually a good thing). What I’m trying to explain is that I’m somewhat experienced in being a little lost in language.

But Breaker took me to a whole other level of confusion, because I knew that actors Hannah Donaldson and Finn den Hertog were speaking English… it’s just that the thick Scottish filter that the dialogue was pushed through left me straining for familiar hooks and cadences, struggling to identify with the content. Once I found my aural Rosetta Stone, all became (somewhat) clear… but up until that point, the accents were a real problem.

Back to Breaker‘s plot: Hertog plays Daniel, a young man visiting a remote island where his grandmother was raised, hoping to find a connection to her earlier life; whilst taking shelter from a storm, he encounters local teacher Sunna (Donaldson). After initial conflict, the two wind through an exploration of the issues unique to the island: children are, lemming-like, lured from the cliffs to the waters beneath by the Dark Lady of the Sea. It’s a bleak topic, but it somehow – almost unexpectedly – becomes a desperate tussle for human contact, for affection, for validation… for Daniel, for Sunna, for the remaining population of the island.

The set is simple – a large wooden box in the centre of the stage that Hertog and Donaldson constantly circle as they mentally pick at each other. Likewise, lighting is a simple affair… but the sound design is deeply unsettling, low tones and rumbles keeping me on edge. But the highlight for me was Donaldson’s performance: her appearance onstage was like a lightning bolt – bright, brilliant, and immediately engaging, I could not take my eyes off her. And her character of Sunna was sublime: desperate and intelligent, her psychoanalysis of newcomer Daniel, the picker of the scabs of her wounded community, was vicious.

Once past the language barrier, Breaker became an absolute gem… but not a gleaming gem. Not a gem that you show off. No – this is the dark, cloudy, secretive stone that shakes your foundations and leaves you nervous about putting one foot in front of the other. And I absolutely love the fact that a piece of theatre can give me that feeling.

[2013135] The Kreutzer Sonata

[2013135] The Kreutzer Sonata

State Theatre Company of South Australia @ State Theatre Workshop

11:00am, Wed 13 Mar 2013

It had been widely reported that Barry Otto – originally engaged to perform Kreutzer – pulled out of the production (on doctor’s advice) after two performances. His replacement, Renato Musolino, is a well-known (and well-regarded) local actor… and also taught me the Stanislavski Method during a couple of terms of introductory adult acting. So, walking into this performance, there was a maelstrom of expectations: Of a troubled production rebooted mid-season. Of the teacher who I looked up to. Of a flagship piece of theatre in the Festival’s programme.

First impressions are of awe: Geoff Cobham’s set is gorgeous, a multi-level industrial construction with catwalks and static spaces aplenty. To the side, a caged area that later contained the piano and violin accompanists; at the base of the construction, a pool of dyed water that reminds me of 20:50, a piece I once saw in the Saatchi Gallery (but without the olfactory texture of the oil). Cobham’s lighting design also allows subtle images to be projected onto the background, and the ambient murkiness – combined with spot lighting – generates a lovely atmosphere.

When Musolino appears – atop an elevated platform – he is immediately convincing; his Pozdnyshev is a violent misogynist, bewildered by his wife’s carnal wanderings, and rage and confusion can be found in almost all his actions. It was a fantastic performance: he completely owns the work, and it’s almost impossible – in retrospect – to imagine Otto in the role. And that final – desperate, whispered – line: “Forgive me”… wow. I still get chills from the memory of it. Fucking brilliant.

The permanent presence of the script in Renato’s grasp was completely unremarkable – after all, Pozdnyshev essentially narrates the events that have led him here. Walking away from the performance, I almost couldn’t imagine it being any other way. In fact, The Kreutzer Sonata comes across as an incredibly polished production… it really is hard to believe that it came from such adversity.

There’s other notes around this rendition of Kreutzer that warrant a mention: Renato’s reflection on acquiring the role is a surprising read, for example. And the MKA team were in attendance for this largely grey-haired matinée – Tobias saw me on the way in, high-fiving me as he walked past (to the annoyance of my vexed octogenarian neighbour), and the Q&A session at the end of the performance offered the opportunity for MKA to challenge the feminism – or lack thereof – in Sue Smith’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s original novella.

But none of that can distract from the triumph of this production; in terms of theatre, Kreutzer was only challenged by Brink’s Thursday in the Festival lineup.

[2013134] Kamp

[2013134] Kamp

Hotel Modern @ Space Theatre

8:30pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

During the Festival Launch, Kamp piqued my interest, and it implanted itself into my memory. Tiny puppets, a reproduction of Auschwitz, promise of emotional battering… opening night tickets were a must.

My Event Buddy and I scored unbelievable seats: front row, nearly centre. In front of us lay (what we assumed was) a scale layout of Auschwitz, and – lifeless in its pre-performance state – it manages to convey a sense of coldness. Of desolation. Of hopelessness. Rows of little buildings and guard towers. Fences of barbed wire spanning the set. But it’s all so small… I start wondering how a performance will arise from this miniature set. I start wondering how much will be left to the imagination; how much is assumed knowledge. How much are we expected to fill in for ourselves.

The house lights drop; a screen behind the miniature camp lights up with the projection of a camera, as the performers of Hotel Modern scuttle around the set. Some control pinhole cameras, tracing them along paths for a first-person perspective on proceedings; others meticulously place figurines (single people, or boards of hundreds) into the camp. And then, accompanied by a soundtrack that tracks the time, they show us a Day in Auschwitz.

Morning: trains arrive. Thin rows of bedraggled and scared inmates leave the trains for the holding yards; the guards loom over them with derision. Existing prisoners are put to work in other parts of the camp whilst the new inmates are marched to their huts; one mis-performs his menial task and is shot dead. The day progresses, and there’s a cold and distant brutality on display; as night falls, this is contrasted with the forced joviality in the officers’ hut as the uniformed characters drink the terror away.

But there’s one scene that sticks with me more than all others. Not the cowering person beaten to death by the guards; not the camera tour through the gas chambers, crammed with lifeless fallen bodies. No – the scene which had the camera moving amongst a cluster of terrified, quivering beings in the shower blocks, looking up just in time to see a hatch open and gas canisters drop in… and the screen instantly cutting to black.

That left me stunned. Properly broken. I didn’t even notice my Event Buddy quietly weeping beside me; but my own tears wouldn’t flow. They were too shocked to leave my body.

That feeling – that hopelessness in the face of such barbarism – is not something that can be enjoyed. There’s no way that anyone could ever say that they “enjoyed” Kamp. And, when the house lights came up, it felt absolutely wrong to even consider applauding the performance… but the performers from Hotel Modern understand that.

My father hit his teens in the final years of World War II. In his pre-teens, he – as a German schoolchild – was subjected to the Nazi propaganda used to shape support for Hitler’s dictatorship… and yes, he was in Hitler Youth. It’s difficult to talk to him about those years, because he still harbours a deep shame for not seeing through the propaganda; he still feels ashamed and mournful for the actions of his country during that time. And I mention this because, even with this man in my life, desperate to correct the terrible sins of the past, I’d still forgotten how truly horrifying these events in our history were… and I think that, above all else, legitimises – if not necessitates – the existence of Kamp.

[2013133] Karl Woodberry – How Shit is Shit!

[2013133] Karl Woodberry – How Shit is Shit!

Karl Woodberry @ Format

7:00pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

When my Event Buddy suggested that we check out the low-brow – but cheeky – sounding How Shit is Shit! prior to other events we had Scheduled, I was a little dubious: I’m all for contrast in performances, but I was sceptical as to whether the emotional leap from base-level comedy to the high-art emotional brutality of Kamp would be doable. Still, it was a plan… and, with no other ideas doable in the available timeslot, we managed the dash from TuxCat to Format with minutes to spare.

When we arrived, there’s three people sitting in the Format foyer: one scruffy chap (who looked like the stereotypical hippie trekker) and an older couple. Once we arrived to a friendly “hi!”, the scruffy chap – Karl Woodberry – clapped his hands gently and invited us downstairs. Grabbing a drink on the way, my Buddy and I sat in the front row to the right; the other couple sat about four rows back on the opposite side of the room. We tried to coax them forward, since it looked like it would just be the cozy four of us in the audience, but they were having none of it.

Woodberry himself seemed ambivalent about the split audience, and proceeded to amble into his material. His set was quite well structured and paced, and if there’s two things that he clearly derives his material from, it’s hitch-hiking and drugs… and often the two themes are combined. Clearly, a lot of his material was relatively new – there were tales of his hitch-hiking trip to Adelaide for the Fringe, and he gleefully joked about sleeping in the venue (“No, seriously!” he exclaimed, lifting a curtain at the back of the stage to reveal a sleeping bag and ragged collection of belongings) – and it’s all delivered with an weird sense of experienced naïvety… Woodberry genuinely finds the things that happen around him to be surprising, and he’s happy to find the humour in it.

The pièce de résistance is the re-telling of a holiday he took with an ex-girlfriend’s family; despite his abject poverty, the girlfriend’s family (obviously quite flushed with cash) paid for him to go on a thirty thousand dollar cruise with them. Incredible, it’s true, but the subsequent interactions between himself and his girlfriend (not to mention the other family members) made this story an absolute treat.

After a relatively low-key set (Woodberry is most certainly not a loud, brash storyteller), we thanked him and proceeded to leave for our next show; as we climbed the stairs, I could see the older couple (who had only rarely giggled throughout) accost Karl. “That was really good… though we didn’t like all the drug references. Let me tell you all about the seedy side of Hindley Street…”

[2013132] Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride

[2013132] Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride

Belinda Locke @ The Tuxedo Cat – Green Room

6:00pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride – from her collection of short pieces The Bloody Chamber – is a surprisingly meaty work; weighty and chock full of metaphor, it’s a gorgeously subversive feminist piece. At least, that’s my take on it.

But let’s be honest, here: I’d never heard of it prior to scheduling Belinda Locke’s solo adaptation into my Fringe activities. And that, in turn, only occurred because of the intriguing précis in the Theatre section of the Guide.

On a sleepy and humid Tuesday, the opening scenes to The Tiger’s Bride were… well, less than enthralling: sure, there’s some interest in the text as Locke announces “My father lost me to The Beast at cards,” but in terms of physical engagement there’s little of interest: stage movement is kept to an absolute minimum. There’s almost a meditative quality about the piece, and it almost feels like Locke has directed her own movements based on aiding recollection of the narrator’s prose, rather than providing a visual embellishment.

As the piece escalates, however, both visual and aural theatricality of the production picks up: I gained a genuine sense of tension and exhilaration during the riding scene (where the narrator – and titular Bride – exposes herself to The Beast for the first time), but then the denouement devolves into a drawn out meditative metaphor as she sheds her skin.

As I hopefully indicated above, The Tiger’s Bride is a really enjoyable tale, capable of being read on many different levels. This production of it, however, was very inconsistent: there were some scenes that were dull to the point of doziness, whilst other scenes forced me to the edge of my seat. Some scenes seemed to be based around a single idea of visual presentation; too many scenes saw Locke facing the back of the stage, pushing the emotion out of her voice in order to compensate for the reduced projection. And, at the end of the show, I left feeling frustrated: the patchiness of the production detracted from the text, and that – I feel – is a great loss.

[2013131] A Game of You

[2013131] A Game of You

Ontroerend Goed @ State Theatre Company Rehearsal Room

2:00pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013

After the incredible experiences of the previous Ontroerend Goed productions (The Smile Off Your Face and Internal), I again resolved to approach this production with absolutely no knowledge of its content. And that seems to be the approach of all the other punters in my session; as they gathered in the Playhouse foyer, we all start excitedly discussing the encounters of the previous sessions (lots of smiles and knowledgable nods when I explained my Internal experience), but everyone veered away from any kind of speculation about A Game Of You.

Slowly, one by one, we’re led downstairs to the Rehearsal Room. When I get down there, I note the reconfiguration of the space; it now feels very tight, and I’m led through curtained corridors and paths and deposited on a seat in a small room. There’s a mirror in front of me, some trinkets on a shelf beneath the mirror, an empty seat to my right. I hate mirrors – I try to not watch myself. Instead, I pick up a notebook off the shelf, flick through the pages; two-thirds of the way through the book, I feel compelled to write a message. I have no idea what I wrote: something pithy, I suspect.

Someone comes and sits next to me. One of the Ontroerend Goed actors, I guess. We chat – nervously at first, then I warm up and the conversation is lively. Eventually, a klaxon sounds, and he leads me out of the small room into another curtained corridor; he leaves, I wait a moment, and I’m soon joined by another performer.

Again, we start talking – frosty, then friendly – and, as he guides me through the maze of corridors and rooms, a new element is introduced: we’re looking at another audience member. Through one-way mirrors, or cameras and video screens, we see another Goed-ian and the person behind me in the queue. And I see her being asked the same questions I’d been asked in conversation, and I realised that the stilted starts of those conversations were me acclimatising to the framework of the performance…

…it’s a set-up. We are the performers; Ontroerend Goed are the stage managers.

But there’s something deliciously… well, gossipy about the conversation that I’m having with my Guide now. He starts asking me about the woman I see before me: Who is she? What’s her name? What does she do? Is she in a relationship? The questions gradually get a little more pointed, a little more awkward…

And I engage in that conversation freely; I enjoy the conjecture. And it never occurs to me that some other person in the “audience” is going to be judging me in the same way: the conversation just feels natural.

Another bell sounds: my Guide waits for me to finish my rambling answer, then points me in the direction of another room. I enter it, and there – behind a wall of monitors showing footage from every room that I’d just walked through – sat Aurélie, my “date” from Internal. She quietly beckons me to sit next to her, and then returns to watching the screens intently; I see other people guided through the experience. It’s a heady mix of voyeurism and intrigue – I felt like I’d analysed one person, and now I wanted to analyse them all. Suddenly Aurélie hands me a CD, and I’m led out of the room and upstairs to the foyer. The Game is over, and I’m left feeling… well, a little curious. A little bewildered. And, surprisingly, a little narcissistic… but I didn’t know why.

It only dawned on me, as I walked home, that there was probably someone else in the “audience” that had been asked all the same questions about me; I started wondering what they’d said. How they had imagined my life. Insecurity set in.

And then I started wondering what was on the CD.

Suddenly, I couldn’t get home quick enough. I dropped the CD in my computer: a single file. Audio.

It was someone else’s reading of me. [77.6MB]

And, despite the fact that a lot of what was postulated about me was way off the mark, I grinned from ear to ear whilst listening to it… multiple times.

I thought to myself “wow – this show just keeps on giving.” Even thirty minutes, an hour, two hours after the event, I’m still in those red rooms, watching and being watched; naked, prone, exposed, and loving it. And that’s a pretty amazing take-away from a performance.

[2013130] Darkness and Light

[2013130] Darkness and Light

A grand total of eight comedians, assembled by Cath Styles @ The Tuxedo Cat – Yellow Room

You know what I like about performers? That they perform – they’re prepared to get up on a stage and Do Stuff for the amusement and/or edification of others. That’s a trait that I deeply envy in them and, whenever possible, I like to chat with them about their process: I like to try and find out what’s in their head that needs to get out on that stage… where the creative spark comes from.

But recently, there’s been the odd little show popping up now-and-again that is intended to allow performers a bit of a free-pass for their stage time; like an all-access open mic night at a comedy club, there’s the opportunity to try out new material, or maybe just get something off your chest. The ever-so-quirky Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla acted as a release valve for comedians; Darkness and Light, an ensemble show run by the lovely Cath Styles, offers an avenue for performers to talk about the darker times in their lives… and to maybe find the light within those moments.

11:00pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

There’s maybe only a subdued dozen-or-so punters in for this, the second performance of Darkness and Light; Richard McKenzie emceed, separating acts with discussion of his ailing Dad’s obsessions and the shocking (no pun intended) tale of being assaulted with a taser (and subsequently robbed). McKenzie really worked the small crowd well, and I loved his storytelling style; a nice discovery there, then.

I’m pretty familiar with Bart Freebairn by now, however, and – whilst he is impressively ripped at the moment – I’ve never really been big on his style; his stories about being hit on by presumptive guys were amusing, though. David Smiedt started heading down a grim race-related path when talking about South Africa (which I found pretty intriguing), but then popped in a piece about an anti-camel-toe device at the end of his slot… it felt like a cheap and incongruous joke that ran counter to the spirit of the rest of the show.

Nikki Britton closed out the show, and I initially thought that she’d be just repeating material from her show; and whilst she did head down the same path when talking about her job working with children suffering from cancer, the story veered into more emotional, heartstring-tugging territory… and Britton was still able to conjure a somewhat inspiring denouement. All-in-all, a pretty entertaining show – though the use of the word “entertaining” is dubious when there’s such pain, death, and violence on display.

11:00pm, Sat 16 Mar 2013

Jon Bennett emceed this evening in front of a small crowd – maybe only half-a-dozen paying customers this evening, but the headcount was upped by the addition of artist passes. Whilst Bennett re-used a bit of content from his TuxCat show, he went into a bit more detail about his brother’s meth dealings and subsequent cancer; he also told a long, twisted, and entertaining tale that resulted in him shitting his own pants in South America.

Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall trotted out a not-especially-dark-or-funny recollection of engaging in a threesome within a foreign consulate; the relatively light tone of his piece stood out in stark contrast to Cath Styles’ discussion about her Mum’s cancer, which one feels might have been the impetus behind the Darkness and Light show.

Abigoliah Schamaun provided another broad shift as she kicked off with a cheery description of an all-girl threesome, before spiralling into darkness with the story surrounding her dad’s death. And her spot served as a perfect microcosm of this evening’s Darkness and Light: tonal shifts galore made this a less satisfying show than the earlier episode. But the concept is still strong, and I’ll be squeezing in further visits to this ensemble show as The Schedule permits.

[2013129] Abandoman – The Life and Rhymes of Abandoman

[2013129] Abandoman – The Life and Rhymes of Abandoman

Rob Broderick @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Cupola

9:30pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

Abandoman got some massive buzz during the 2012 Fringe, but by the time my sozzled brain had heard the plaudits it was nigh-on impossible to fit his show into The Schedule. This year, however, I stayed a little less sozzled, a little more flexible, and – after witnessing the man’s work for the first time during Sketch The Rhyme – I finally bought a ticket.

And so did a squillion other people, because the line leading into The Cupola stretched way back. By the time I got inside, there’s only a few seats still free; with a deep breath, I sat in the front row, my ears ringing with tales from friends who were dragged up to be part of the act… and I was not in a performing mood. But when Rob Broderick – a.k.a. Abandoman – jumps onstage, whips up some fervent applause from an obviously Abandoman-literate crowd, and starts rolling through some patter about Lego drugs and nightclubs, I began to think that the crowd-interaction stories no longer applied.

But then, to demonstrate his unique melding of hip-hop and improvised comedy, Broderick starts plying the audience for random material. He asks everyone to dig up a random, obscure object from their pockets or bags, and then created a flourishing rap linking all the objects together; whilst I was disappointed that he didn’t take my binoculars as a “weird object”, he did later roll my suggestion of heli-bungee-jumping for a Buck’s Night into account for another lyrical tirade, so that was nice.

And, after rounding the show out with a (gloriously) silly bit of rapping with Auto-Tune, I was left to reflect on how right everyone had been about Abandoman. Not only is he funny and absurdly quick-witted, but his on-the-fly MCing and rapping is astonishing; the manner in which he can create not only rhymes, but funny rhymes, from out of thin air is simple beyond compare.

[2013128] Ben Darsow in 30 Minutes

[2013128] Ben Darsow in 30 Minutes

Ben Darsow @ Gluttony – The Pig Pen

8:15pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

I’ve often lamented that some comedians have performed miracles in an ensemble setting – they’ve got a perfect five- or ten-minute chunk of material that matches the mood of the evening – yet fail spectacularly in a setting where they’ve got a crowd to themselves for the best part of an hour. So I’m secretly a little pleased when I see comedy shows peg themselves under the hour that seems de rigueur… and, having seen Ben Darsow perform at a few ensemble shows in the past, I figured it’d be pretty hard for a thirty-minute show of his to go wrong.

And, given Darsow’s rapid-fire delivery of one- or two-liners, the shortened length of the show feels perfect. From the moment he hits the stage, there’s a freneticism about Darsow’s delivery – he’s got a ton of jokes to get through, so there’s no time for dilly-dallying around. Even the audience interactions are brief and focussed: throwing a fast “HelloWhatDoYouDo” to an audience member (tonight we had a scientist, an image processor, and a dog catcher) either results in an immediate joke or an expedient retraction… there’s no painful attempts to find the funny in the person.

In fact, there’s no need to find the funny in the audience at all, because Darsow brings it all with him. Whether it’s tales of speeding, or N-jokes with his Sudanese housemate, or swapping washing powder with cocaine, the jokes come thick and fast; the near-full room barely has time to catch their breath before it’s over.

And when the show is over, you’re left with the feeling that there was very, very little filler material in those thirty minutes. And, whilst the content may have been familiar to anyone who’s seen Darsow perform around the traps before, it’s all solid material – and the enthusiasm with which it’s performed, along with the breakneck pace, make this a very compelling show.