[2014120] La Leçon

[2014120] La Leçon

Jean-François Gavanon, Lisa Harper Campbell, Daniele Allen @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2014

Out of all the Fringe shows I’ve ever seen, La Leçon is the only the second show that I can immediately remember that featured subtitles. They were very much required, since this incarnation of Ionesco‘s The Lesson was performed entirely in French… and my three years of language study were sufficiently long ago that I’m not much use beyond bonjour, ça va?

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen The Lesson, of course; I’d caught an excellent (English-speaking) version on my fortieth birthday which proved to be a real highlight of that Fringe. And it really is a cracking play, with a seemingly normal opening descending through absurdism to take on almost farcical qualities, before turning back upon itself to tie things up in a nice, cyclical bow.

Jean-François Gavanon plays the pivotal Professor role, bringing with it a convincing ascension of anger. Lisa Harper Campbell’s Pupil started off saccharine sweet, though her protestations as The Lesson progressed felt rushed and forced; Daniele Allen’s Maid was brusque, eschewing the doting care of the Professor in favour of a more perfunctory relationship. Gavanon, who also directed the performance, was clearly at home reciting Ionesco in French: his speech was lush and vibrant, with beautiful pacing. The two women were a little less convincing, though; the dialogue didn’t to roll as smoothly from their tongues, and lacked warmth as a result… luckily, that didn’t really affect the comic impact of the piece.

As an hour of entertainment, La Leçon hits the mark: Ionesco’s absurdity is easily relatable with or without the subtitles, which were thankfully legible and well placed. As a reminder of how much French I’ve forgotten, it was also successful, and it was fun to follow the subtitles and marry them to the dialogue. But it’s impossible for me not to compare this performance to the stunning production I saw in 2011; and, whilst Gavanon whipped Ionesco’s original French text around in a manner which befits the beauty of Molière’s language, he lacked the conviction and physical presence that Guy O’Grady brought to the Professor… likewise for the other two roles. Unfortunately, that 2011 cast was almost beyond reproach, and – try as they might – Gavanon, Harper Campbell, and Allen weren’t able to match up to them.

But still: laughs were had, entertainment was enjoyed, and an interest in French was re-kindled.

[2014119] A Nightmare On Love Street

[2014119] A Nightmare On Love Street

left hand productions @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

10:30pm, Wed 12 Mar 2014

It sounds like a great premise: two charismatic performers with ten horror scenes under their belts, coagulating a story from five of those scenes at the audience’s request. Throw in a deliberately B-grade movie aesthetic, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a rollicking good time.


Alas, no. Whilst performers Kurt Phelan and Branden Christine – playing the love-torn characters Freddy and Carrie – certainly don’t lack enthusiasm, the relentless pace and raucous delivery got a little tiresome after a while, with the cacophony of noise and colour feeling a little too one-note-ish. Of course, I’d felt immediately disenfranchised during the voting process: with ten movie posters on display to the audience, we were asked to applaud for each one to determine the scenes to be used for the performance; sure, Poltergeist, The Shining, and Evil Dead received healthy support from the rest of the audience, but so did Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th… and when it came time to support Twin Peaks, I was the only member of the audience to hoot and holler. The rest of the crowd turned and looked at me, quizzically; “Oh, come on, you fuckers!” was the only way I could express my disappointment.

Freddy and Carrie lusted after each other through the five disconnected scenes, interleaved with lascivious lounging: the safety word “Pineapple” was used a few times to jolt the next scene into action. But, for me, there was very little to connect with here, and – with the Evil Dead tree rape scene being the notable exception – there was little empathy for the snippets of material on show.

And that’s a shame, really, because I do like a good bit of schlock horror… it’s just that I never really had a reason to engage with A Nightmare On Love Street. It felt like it was targeting people for whom Scream was a credible horror movie… and I found that incredibly difficult to reconcile.

[2014118] Rime of the Ancient Mariner

[2014118] Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Tiger Lillies @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

8:30pm, Wed 12 Mar 2014

Once upon a time – say, way back in 2000 – I would write about shows I’d seen within eighteen hours of actually having seen them. Crazy, hey? I’d get home at about 1am – no Fringe Club shenanigans in those days – and sit down, brain-dump out some words, then go to bed with no lingering self-imposed pressure hanging over me.

Ah, those were the days.

Of course, it meant that I was doing a bunch of writing (and I was much shitter at the words n’stuff back then) whilst a bit dozy and wrong-headed… which is the only reason I can think of for the words blurted out for The Tiger Lillies’ visit to the 2000 Festival, Shock Headed Peter. See, despite those words indicating that I liked the show quite a bit, the lingering memory was that it was a classic instance of style-over-substance; at the 2014 Festival launch last year, their presence was very low on the list of priorities.

But, as the hubbub around this year’s Festival grew, a lot of people I spoke to mentioned Rime of the Ancient Mariner as one of the shows they were looking forward to the most… and I got well-and-truly sucked in by their enthusiasm. A trade-off against one of the Zorn performances was required, but I committed to the date and got a great seat and… later… wondered why I’d bothered.

But initial impressions were wondrous: trapped between two projection surfaces, The Tiger Lillies almost swim in ethereal light, as Mark Holthusen’s multi-layered visuals wrap around them. The projected images provide the set around which the trio play, and their aural signature – Martyn Jacques’ alternating growls and falsetto atop a rich musical backing – remains undiluted, as they churn through a nineteen-song set inspired by Coleridge‘s titular poem.

But a couple of songs in, I started feeling a little… well, removed. The scrim at the front of the stage being used as a projection surface was thin, but it still obscured the trio behind; it added a mottled, hazy quality to their presence. Worse, my brain started convincing me that the scrim was more like a barrier between the performers and myself; I was starting to feel emotionally disconnected from the show.

Then came the song Land of Ice – and the lyrics were… well, bad. Banal, even. The type of awfulness that made me yearn for Van Dyke Parks‘ murderous “put on your sailin’ shoes,” from a show I swore I’d never speak of again. And suddenly any spell that had been cast over me had been broken: suddenly, all I could see before me were a trio of men with a pleasing aural aesthetic singing bad songs whilst half-hidden by imagery whose magic was fading fast.

I really didn’t get into Rime of the Ancient Mariner. At all. And it wasn’t like I was afforded the entertainment of anger, either; more a sense of clock-watching ennui, which is far, far worse. But some of the people around me… oh. They loved it. Standing-ovation loved it. And that encouraged me to start chewing my mental cud: what had those people seen in this performance that I had not?

Or did I get that question the wrong way around? What had I seen that they had not? And had I seen it in this piece, or one of hundreds of other pieces?

Regardless: as the house lights came up, I felt mightily disappointed in what I’d seen. It had been a quality production, for sure, with a sumptuous presentation that almost coaxed some emotion from me… but in the end it felt overblown, like the production had collapsed under its own weight. And, as some people tried to exit Her Majesty’s during the curtain call (much to the raised-eyebrow chagrin of the standing-o-meisters), The Tiger Lillies bid them adieu by flicking Vs at their turned backs.

And all I thought was: way to go, boys. Way to endear yourselves to the audience.

And then I left, still disappointed… but now, also, annoyed.

[2014117] HolePunch

[2014117] HolePunch

Violet & Veruca @ Tandanya – Firefly

6:30pm, Wed 12 Mar 2014

I was all fired up to see Gaga v Assange this evening and, as I arrived at Arcade Lane for the performance, I thought I’d just check that the ninety minute running time was still on-the-mark (since I had an 8:30pm must-see show). The door team weren’t convincing: “Ninety minutes? Sure… closer to two hours, though.”

What? Erm… what time did last night’s show finish?

“A little after half-past-eight,” they responded.

Fuck. “Oh – sorry, I can’t see it now. Cross my name off the list, thanks.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you’re running half-an-hour longer than expected. I’ve got another show to see.”

Door peeps seemed unconcerned: “I’m sure FringeTIX will refund your ticket…”

[No, they won’t.]

“…and there’s plenty of other shows on nearby – why not try the Tuxedo Cat?”

[Because they’re closed on Wednesdays.]

So I’ve walked away from Arcade Lane very, very annoyed. Out came the phone, cross-referenced with The Shortlist… and it’s a quick dash down to Tandanya, arriving with seconds to spare before the lights drop for HolePunch. And, as I took my seat, it suddenly struck me that – aside from the fact that it was on The Shortlist – I knew nothing about HolePunch. I didn’t even know what genre it was proposing.

A simple set – a few desks and a prominent photocopier – creates an office setting, populated by an all-female cast of four: Michelle, the officious and clueless boss; Nige, the larrikin “bloke” with a penchant for Cheezels; Ben from IT, with his accompanying sound effects and poses; and Tash the intern, ditzy in the extreme. Together they tackle the broken photocopier, with various scenes filling in the backstory of intra-office lust, Nige’s forgotten birthday, and typical power struggles.

All of this is described – of course – through song, dance, (constrained) acrobatics, and even a little bit of strip-tease. It’s all incredibly silly stuff that also happens to be spot-on, entertainment-wise: the cast are universally superb throughout, with tongues planted firmly in cheeks as they milk the laughs from the script. And Tash the intern’s sexy glue dance? Oh my… oh my. That, alone, was worth the price of admission.

Retrospectively, I’m super glad that Gaga v Assange ran long… because HolePunch turned out to be a very pleasing mix of cabaret, circus, comedy, and burlesque… and, even better, it was perfectly sized and paced. There wasn’t a single second of wasted effort in the show… and that is something that the Violet & Veruca crew could teach some of their more senior cabaret cousins.

[2014116] The Luck Child

[2014116] The Luck Child

David Collins @ Royalty Theatre

10:00am, Wed 12 Mar 2014

I was always a fan of the Umbilical Brothers back-in-the-day, but – having seen them perform live in 2006 – I’d given them a wide berth since. But eight years have passed since that incredibly uneven show, so I figured that I’d give them another shot… and when I realised that half the ‘Brothers were also presenting a kid-friendly show, in a kid-(and Freak-)friendly timeslot, I snaffled a ticket pretty smartly.

But it was only after I grabbed a flyer on the way in to the Royalty Theatre that I saw a few words that were obviously meant for parental reassurance, but resulted in my nervousness: “Ages 4-10”. Even from mental maturity perspective, that’s well below my age… and I started to wonder whether I’d just dragged myself out of bed early to see something that was going to offer nothing to me.

There wasn’t a massive audience for this performance – maybe thirty people all up, half of which were children in the target age range – and that certainly had me questioning the viability of using the Royalty. Regardless, there was joyous applause and yelling as David Collins took to the stage, introduced himself with a few vocal effects, and went straight into the story of The Luck Child – a seventh son of a seventh son, banished by a power-hungry Evil King. Collins plays all the characters in his twisting tale, rubbery features and nimble voice adapting with little apparent effort.

In the centre of the stage was the only prop of the show, a three-metre-tall cardboard tower seemingly built out of boxes, which Collins rotates throughout the show to provide different backdrops to the story. It’s a clever construction, and clearly captured the imagination of the youngsters present; far moreso than the slow start, with a wizard exploring his alchemy to great sound effects (but little audience response). Once Collins won the kids over, however (and it only took a few brain-freeze shenanigans), he was set; the rest of the show allowed him the freedom to tinker with the audience’s imagination in the most absurd ways possible. And the Q&A session that followed the performance was a hoot: there were a bunch of questions (mostly from kids) about the cardboard set (that Collins answered with constructive detail), a lot of “Where’s Shane?” queries (“Mantra, Room 111b,” Collins replied, quipping “all the Mums can write that one down”), and probing about specific episodes of their TV show (which I hadn’t even been aware of up until that point).

The Luck Child was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an Umbilical Brothers show targeted at children: clever noises, bold (and clever) over-acting, and sheer absurdity. But it also proved to be pretty entertaining to the adults (or, more specifically, this adult) present too, and whilst it could hardly be deemed a must-see theatrical event, it was most certainly worth waking up for… if only to see David Collins’ ridiculously assured stage presence.

[2014115] Pat Burtscher’s Overwhelmed

[2014115] Pat Burtscher’s Overwhelmed

Pat Burtscher @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 3

9:45pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014

Even though Pat Burtscher has been a regular face (and stalwart) around Tuxedo Cat in the last few years, and he’s always been a great guy to talk to, I’d never actually seen him perform (save a short spot at a Rhino Room Late Show)… mainly because I was somewhat scared off by a friend’s reaction to his Patopotamoose show a few years back. But that same friend stumbled into this year’s Overwhelmed by mistake, and reported an enjoyable experience: a gap in the Schedule saw me in Raj’s Room 3, along with a handful of familiar TuxCat faces… and around half-a-dozen other people who seemed very unsure as to the reason for their presence.

There’s a complete lack of fanfare as Burtscher wanders in and starts trotting out material. It’s relatively low-key stuff – recollections of events from his past, thoughts inspired by others – and it encourages a gentle bubbling of mirth in the audience. There’s a couple of choice tales – a drug-fuelled rave odyssey is good value – and Burtscher also shows a very left-leaning political bent when he starts calling out society’s ills… and that’s just fine by me.

The rambling, unstructured nature of the show – if, indeed, there is any structure – is evident by the complete lack of any kind of central thread; Burtscher appears to mentally lurch from one short tale to another, with some tales just petering out into discomfort. And whilst this lack of a central thread could work, the material needs to be either stronger in content or laughs to be able to support the show… and I don’t really think that’s the case here.

At the end of an hour of Pat Burtscher’s standup, I felt like I’d just engaged in a one-sided chat with him: the show had that kind of conversational flow to it. But, in just the same way that you never trot out all your A-grade stuff when you’re down the pub with a mate, I never felt like Burtscher was really giving us his best material. And whilst the grins and chuckles that I did have were pleasant, I usually prefer heartier laughs from my comedy.

[2014114] RUN GIRL RUN

[2014114] RUN GIRL RUN

Grit Theatre @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 5

8:30pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014

I think back to January 2014: I’m (belatedly) scanning the Fringe Guide, and I come across the entry for RUN GIRL RUN. I read “performed entirely on treadmills” at the beginning of the third line. I circle the show without a second thought.

Because the little voice inside my head said “Dude” – the voice remembers me as the blonde surfie I never was – “you have to respect performance art”… and there was no way that a show that took place entirely on treadmills could be anything other than performance art. So, with a thirsty and curious mind relishing the unknown into which it was walking, we set up camp in the front row.

Which was a dumb idea, since the three treadmills onstage put the performers up at an uncomfortable viewing height.

Anyway – two women and one man, dressed in unremarkable gym gear, take a moment to quite deliberately apply socks and boots to their outfits before alighting the treadmills; with the pace set to a slow walk, they start talking as friends. How are you going? What’d you get up to last night?

At intervals, the trio reach forward in unison and bump the pace up a little; conversations shift gear with the pace… but, while still at walking pace, they’re clearly all still friends. There’s moments where the group all reach into the console of the treadmill, digging up a beer can; pop it, neck it, throw the can away (though there were some real struggles with the third can). There’s minor costume additions: singlets and shorts that would make any bricklayer proud are applied, as is makeup – leading to some splendid lipstick scars on all three performers.

And never, ever, do they stop walking… or, later, running.

While the tempo is slow, RUN GIRL RUN feels like a glimpse at the lives of young adults today: the dialogue is occasionally funny, but often inane and annoying. But as the pace picks up – as the constant thudding of feet on the treadmills takes on an almost hypnotic rhythm, as the sweat starts freely flowing from the performers – the dialogue becomes more clipped: snatches of text, barks of encouragement, growls of derision. There’s a tangible sense of tension as the show starts stumbling upon itself and you feel like the performers are struggling to keep up the pace and christ I didn’t realise they were wearing high heels now and oooh shit one just stumbled and surely this is getting a bit dangerous and…

…then it just sorta ends.

And I’m not really sure what to think about all that.

I’m not really sure what RUN GIRL RUN was all about. It didn’t really seem to be making any broad statements about gender differences, or pointing any accusatory fingers at anyone… but it most certainly was uncomfortable in parts. And there’s no denying the impact of those tense closing minutes… I wouldn’t really call it excitement, but it most certainly was edge-of-your-seat stuff.

But I’m not sure that I walked away from RUN GIRL RUN satisfied… then again, it’s not like I had any real expectations going in. I think the slow opening put me off to such a degree that the taut ending failed to completely win me back… but I certainly remember those tense moments.

(A few months later, Jane saw Maximum as part of the Next Wave festival; as a (nominal) dance piece, though sounding similar in execution to RUN GIRL RUN, I wish I’d been able to catch that too.)

[2014113] Glenn Wool

[2014113] Glenn Wool

Glenn Wool @ Rhino Room – Upstairs

7:15pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014

I can’t remember who had recommended Glenn Wool to me; I suspect it was the same comedian who had recommended Gareth Berliner (and hit on me), but it’s largely irrelevant. The important thing is this: as soon as I saw Wool’s name in the Fringe Guide, I circled it many times and threw in a few asterisks for emphasis. I was not missing this show.

The only problem was that Wool had a relatively short run which coincided with the second week of the Big Festival (or, as I internally referred to it, “Zorn Week”). And that meant that options were limited; other (regrettably lamentable… but more on that later) Festival shows further forced my hand, leaving me running from TuxCat to Rhino to see Wool’s opening night. But within seconds of him taking the stage, I knew I’d made the right decision.

If there was a central thread to Wool’s show this evening, it was the nature of (as Henry Rollins once put it) The Boxed Life. Of Canadian origin, but a comic troubadour by profession, Wool has spent much of his life travelling the world, and from those experiences come a wide array of gags, all effortlessly strung together by someone who is clearly both wonderfully skilled and well practised. There’s tales from his family, from his time living in the UK, and – of course – plenty of anti-American humour. But there’s also a lovely little hint of subversion in a lot of his work; whilst proclaiming an openness to all things, a seemingly dry statement – accompanied by a sideways wink – belies his true beliefs. His water-into-wine twist during the happy co-existence of Christianity and Islam was comic genius.

In terms of style, he’s immensely appealing: the gruff nature – and variations in intensity – of Wool’s vocals can evoke fond memories of Bobcat Goldthwait, and he’ll conjure a hilarious accent with ease. And the playful faces he pulls – hangdog despair, coy grins – at the audience to punctuate particularly wry jokes? Adorable.

Glenn Wool was fucking magnificent: I laughed my arse off during this entire show, and the only thing that could have possibly improved the experience would have been a bigger crowd… it really was a disappointing turnout for such a seasoned comedy legend. Of course, hindsight also tells me that I should have seen John Zorn’s four-hour Masada Marathon this evening instead… but even with hindsight, the quality of Glenn Wool would’ve made that a a bloody difficult decision.

[2014112] Xavier Toby – ‘Mining’ My Own Business

[2014112] Xavier Toby – ‘Mining’ My Own Business

Xavier Toby @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2

6:00pm, Tue 11 Mar 2014

So: it may come as a bit of a surprise to some people (or not) that I’ve got a degree in engineering. Not any fancy engineering that really matters, mind you, just Computer Systems Engineering. But I also work in an engineering-based field, and we currently do a lot of work for the larger Australian mining companies. And, a few years back, I spent a few months travelling back-and-forth to a mining camp just outside of Karratha whilst commissioning a system at a shipping terminal.

So when I saw the précis for Xavier Toby’s new show, it went straight on The Shortlist; I’d quite enjoyed my introduction to Toby, and I was curious to hear of other people’s experiences living the FIFO life. And, judging by the number of men waiting for this show who appeared to be replicas of the FIFO workers that I’d encountered (towering muscular megalith men), I figured I wasn’t alone.

And yet, at the top of the show, when Toby asked if there were any FIFO workers in the room, I was the only one that raised my hand… and I was, I assure you, the smallest (in height) man in the near-capacity room (and certainly the only one that would be regularly mistaken for a woman). That probably had more to do with this being 6pm on a weeknight in Adelaide, where crowd participation is all but outlawed… but I was still bloody surprised.

The reason Toby became a FIFO worker, he tells us, was a need to alleviate the debt he’d racked up going to Edinburgh the previous year (a common lament of performers, it seems); he managed to land an admin job (not a “real” job, as many other FIFO workers would point out) at a mining site, and from this short stint came a series of short stories that coalesced into a book… and this show.

There’s a distinct matter-of-fact-ness to Toby’s tales, and he covers the broad timeline of his experience: from the dedicated flights filled with burly blokes (ever sat between two Maori man-mountains on a 737? I have. No armrests!), to the hazing rituals and practical jokes, to the joys of living in a donga, to the diet of meat, meat, or meat with salad (the vegetarian option)… it’s all there, and it’s all super familiar to me.

And that was a good thing for both of us, since Toby would occasionally throw to me for support for the next topic he was tackling; and whilst we had a good bit of banter around the OH&S issues at our respective sites (pro tip: don’t joke about climbing into a bucketwheel whilst out on the stockyard), being the only (diminutive) foil for Toby felt a little cumbersome, and I wound up wishing there had been some others in the audience to share some of that banter.

The downside with the ability to identify with much of Toby’s material is that… well, the performance lost any incredulity that may have kept me on the edge of my seat. I get the feeling that the intention was to paint FIFO life as this half-dream, half-nightmare lifestyle populated by characters with ocker accents and two-short-syllable names, outlandish events and tedium rolled into one; and maybe, for some in the audience, that was how it came across. But FIFO life for me was… well, surprisingly OK. The food, though utilitarian, actually made me eat much healthier than when at home (though the fact that management wanted to appease the workers by providing booze at cost in the Wet Mess kinda negated the healthy eating part). My work, though hard and with long hours, was also behind a desk most of the time, and the people I was working with either really wanted me there, or genuinely didn’t care about my presence: there was no hazing in my experience. The fact that there was an enforced isolation (the only internet connection was via a shared satellite link which redefined “molasses”) was probably a bigger problem; if you didn’t venture outside the confines of your donga, there’s a real opportunity to get seriously depressed on-site – but that wouldn’t make for a good comedy show.

Then again, I’m not sure there were enough straight laughs in ‘Mining’ My Own Business as it was; it felt about ten minutes too long, and more like a spoken word piece (that happened to contain a few jokes) than a comedy piece with a story. Sure, I had some laughs, and some of his stories were amusing (and familiar)… but, if I had my time again, I’d probably prefer to read the book, to be honest.

[2014111] History of Autism

[2014111] History of Autism

Company @ and Tutti Inc @ The Opera Studio

11:00am, Tue 11 Mar 2014

I must admit: I went along to History of Autism ready to get riled up; I was totally prepared to be infuriated – if not offended – by what I thought would be presented.

See, I’m a bit of a scientist at heart, and lately a large number of “skeptical” podcasts have crept into my usual routine… and there had been a lot of coverage of anti-vaccination organisations that claimed, amongst other things, that certain vaccines were linked to the increased prevalence of autism. And, in that regard, the précis for History of Autism didn’t make it clear which side of the fence it would sit on in… and so, in my inherently pessimistic way, I feared for the worst.

Which is a bloody stupid way to walk into a show, especially when I always try to get into a “this could be the greatest show ever” mood before performances.

Luckily, History of Autism was enjoyable – and balanced – enough to get me back onside.

Company @ – billed as Australia’s only theatre company for people on the autism spectrum – presented a brief history of autism, starting with Leo Kanner‘s early work on child psychiatry through to Hans Asperger‘s more definitive research into the autism spectrum. Some of the (more than twenty) scenes in the production show day-to-day life for autistic children in households of different eras; occasionally, some of these would be almost difficult to watch, such was the treatment of such children at those times… and especially when I reflected that those actions could have affected some of the cast performing them.

But other scenes are heavily doused with humour (Kanner is referred to as “Our Father” in the programme), and there were a number of video clips (used to cover set changes) that gave another, more personal, view into those occupying different positions in the autism spectrum. And as we watched the seminal moments of autism research unfold, I felt as if the script was very carefully balanced, emotionally: not too sensationalistic, not too flippant. And yes, even the correlation of vaccines and autism rates was broached in an assured manner.

By and large, it was rarely apparent that the cast lived with (a wide variety of) autism; performances were physically strong. Occasionally, an actor’s inhibitions would get the better of them, and they would pull away from their mark; but such was the sense of camaraderie within the group, there would always be a guiding nudge to get them back into the groove of the piece. But where the piece did suffer, though, was from the lack of strong vocal projection in a room as big as The Opera Studio… but that’s a production issue. In a smaller space, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as noticeable.

Far from leaving History of Autism riled up, I actually felt genuinely uplifted. Here was a solid play with solid performances, presented by a company that showed a fantastic sense of faith and support in each other. The curtain call was a delightful sea of (sometimes awkward) happiness, and that left me grinning from ear to ear.

[2014110] I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe

[2014110] I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe

Dawson Nichols @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

9:00pm, Mon 10 Mar 2014

No matter how I tried to wrangle the numbers, there was no way for me to knock any more than three shows off The Shortlist on this public holiday Monday; as a result, it seemed like a prime night to tackle the largest of the (thus-far) unplanned “big” shows, Dawson Nichols’ I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe – one of two two-hour solo performances that Nichols was performing at this year’s Fringe.

The other show, of course, was the incredible Virtual Solitaire, which really stuck out in my memory… and, as I walked to the Bakehouse, I searched this very blog to find out that I’d seen Virtual Solitaire in 2000 – and, in somewhat of a surprise, I had actually seen I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe before, in 1998.

And that’s half the reason I write this blog – so I can “remember” (in some fashion) all the things I’ve seen.

Now – some might argue that the fact that I couldn’t immediately recall having seen this piece before must be testament to its failings, or somesuch – but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I just dug through the piles of spreadsheets on my hard-drives to find the records from my first Big Festival Year – a whopping sixty-one events in 1998! – and discovered that, along with my naïve scoring system (in which Poe had received five-out-of-five), I also had a “short review” column… which, in the case of this show, simply read “Incredible“.

So I guess I liked it then.

And – let’s cut to the chase – I love it now.

From the very opening of the show, which sees Nichols roaming the audience to dim his own house lights, before settling in the centre of a mostly empty stage with a lantern flickering shadows over the back walls, I was transfixed; his embodiment of Joseph – a man whose belief that he may be the legendary author of the macabre has left him institutionalised – is so wonderfully realised that I didn’t dare take my attention off him for a second.

Over the course of two hours, through two Acts, Nichols becomes a series of characters that intersect with Joseph: other inmates at his asylum, doctors, and – at the start of the second Act – a glorious professorial role that offsets the grim nature of some of Poe’s life with delicious lecture-theatre humour thrown into the dark. And the readings of Poe’s works? Mesmerising; the flickering shadows during Silence – A Fable, the torment of The Tell-Tale Heart, and a brilliantly paced rendition of The Raven are worth the ticket price alone.

But Nichols’ play built around these works offers much, much more than a couple of expert readings; it is a wonderful story in itself, full of compassion and humour and darkness. And the only thing better than the script (buy it!) is Nichols’ performance: his presence is so deft, so soft and natural, that every character is instantly recognisable and endearing.

And – most of all – it was super pleasing to see a near-capacity crowd turn up for this performance… even if it did mean I was wodged next to a rotund child whose constant jiggling throughout the show was easily attributed to the sugar he ingested throughout. But, whilst that sort of thing would normally irritate me no end, for this show I was unconcerned… because, whether he knew it or not, he was witness to one of the great solo performances of the year.

[2014109] EDGE!

[2014109] EDGE!

Isabel and Rachel @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2

7:15pm, Mon 10 Mar 2014

EDGE! had been solidly positioned on The Shortlist early, and interest only intensified when a Fringe Friend ranted that it was the only show she’d ever walked out of. That fact made me super-curious… what could possibly inspire such rage from an otherwise ebullient person?

Isabel Angus bounds onstage with all the unrestrained enthusiasm of an eleven-year-old girl… her character Stella is, as it turns out, a YouTube pop phenomenon, and her (or her mother’s) ambition for her burgeoning career knows no limits. And it’s a cringingly bright and brash opening to the show, with Stella’s exaggerated exuberance tempered only by the temper tantrums directed at her cousin Ashley (Rachel Davis), who mutely performs Stella’s stage and tech support whilst copping a verbal barrage.

Stella thanks the traditional owners of the land on which she performs with all the sensitivity and nous one would expect from an eleven-year-old, before demonstrating her pop-princess credentials (through her dance and song sizzle reel) and encyclopaedic pop knowledge. There’s a few awkward one-sided moments for the audience when Stella is talking to her mother/manager via Bluetooth headset, but for the first half of the show I was happily entertained; yes, the presentation felt garish, but that felt appropriate for the character. Plenty of fun, plenty of laughs.

Then, with her popularity on the downturn, Stella (or, rather, Stella’s mother/manager) decides to update her image… to get edgy. And that, of course, can only be achieved by making her image more adult… more raunchy. And so we have an eleven-year-old girl clumsily espousing the language of sex, with the images being flung at us being… well, repulsive. The laughter, for the most part, dries up; the few giggles that remain are nervous and uncertain… and there’s a distinct feeling that a line has been crossed.

It’s a challenging scene… an incredibly challenging scene.

And it totally pays off.

EDGE! turned out to be a wonderfully insightful look at the over-sexualisation of pop-culture, and it did that by taking us to some very dark places… we’re talking Taboo Territory. Isabel and Rachel let us stew in that darkness for awhile before popping out to an almost absurdly bright and innocent denouement: the “Clouds and Marshmallows” song at the end was distilled childhood exuberance. But it’s hard to forget the places we had to travel in order to get there…

Whilst Angus plays the over-enunciating Stella perfectly, Davis’ character, the dotingly apologetic Ashley, steals every scene she’s in – those wonderful eyes speak volumes about the admiration and fear she feels for her cousin. If I was to complain about anything, I’d say that there wasn’t a convincing emotional buildup prior to Stella flinging the earpiece connection to her mother/manager away; but that’s an incredibly minor niggle in what was an otherwise enthralling – and challenging – piece of theatre.

[2014108] True Story

[2014108] True Story

Ruth Wilkin @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Mon 10 Mar 2014

The fact that we were into the final week of the Fringe was evident by the number of shows that were cancelling performances – and by the poor audience numbers at the shows that did decide to front up. And this timeslot was a prime example of both these symptoms: my initial choice for a 6pm show on a public holiday Monday had cancelled, sending me scurrying across to La Bohème to join a… well, let’s just call them a select crowd. The lucky few, perhaps.

So: drink acquired, my eyes lit up at the almost-empty nook to stage left: it’s an appealing spot at LaB, but I’d never sat there before. There was a woman sitting alone at one of the cocktail tables in the nook, so I asked if she minded if I sat there; she smiled, assured me there were no problems with that, and then – about ninety seconds later – took to the stage.

I must be the easiest mark in the world :)

Without wanting to sound too dismissive, Ruth Wilkin’s show is a collection of the types of stories and memes that get bandied about on social media; weird tales that have their own entries on Snopes, silly stuff from Amazon, and end-to-end incredulity. Opening with a piece about Theatre Ninjas, humorous material is interleaved with some polished tunes (with piano accompaniment). Wilkin also uses projected PowerPoint slides liberally – and creatively – to tell some of her True Stories.

And whether it’s the story of the Polish dentist who removed all her ex’s teeth, or creepy ghost stories, or the smattering of “helpful” customer reviews (banana slicers and the infamous Three-Wolf Shirt being the best examples), Wilkin delivers both monologue and song with confidence and clear voice.

While True Story could be accused of being wholly unoriginal (a charge that could be levelled at most cabaret shows), it is Wilkin’s curation and linking of the source material that makes this show unique. There’s no real depth or meaning to the performance, but it is a lot of fun… and Wilkin’s ability to work with a small (and quiet) crowd was impressive. She’ll certainly remain on the radar for future performances.

[2014107] Crap Music Rave Party

[2014107] Crap Music Rave Party

Tomás Ford @ Royal Croquet Club – Shanty Town

11:15pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

I’m a massive fan of Tomás Ford, and as soon as I discovered that he was performing his only 2014 Adelaide Fringe show on my birthday… well, I was sold. And when the call went out for Crap Music suggestions, I sent in a flood of suggestions… All of which were K-Pop, as is my current predilection, and all of which were – in retrospect – amazingly inappropriate.

Why? Well, for some reason I had read “crap music”, and interpreted that to mean “music that others may not have listened to because they think it might be crap, but they should listen to it and be amazed”. Which kinda misses the point.

Especially since every track I sent him was actually pretty awesome

…and the Awesome K-Pop You’ve Never Heard Rave Party is held somewhere else.

(By the way: if anyone knows where the abovementioned party is held, please let me know: I’d be there in a heartbeat. And yes, I’m aware that a couple of those tracks are technically J-Pop.)


I’d dashed home between shows to grab a quick shot of life-supporting coffee, as well as pick up my surprise gift for Tomás Ford: for some reason, the f(x) song Kick had always reminded me of Ford’s cabaret stylings, so I thought I’d gift him a copy of the album. But as I left to head down to the Croquet Club, I got a text from a friend relaying the current state of the venue… and the word “horrible” was used. My heart sank a little.

By the time I got there – a mere five minutes before the nominal start time of the ‘Party, a queue of drunk youngsters snaked around the entrance; my ticket got me inside the Croquet Club without fuss, but the interior was bedlam. Dry and dusty, yet heavy with a haze of alcohol, the atmosphere was oppressive; a rampant stumbling drunkenness seemed to have infected about half the choc-a-bloc crowd, making the push to get to Shanty Town a dangerous ordeal in itself. But I got through the crowd, jumping another queue using the power of a ticket-in-hand, and made it through to the Rave venue… to find that they were still setting up. Fine – grab a drink, join the queue. And, as I waited, I was reminded at how uncomfortable it can be being amongst a group of people who are (a) social extroverts, and (2) far more drunk than you.

Eventually, a beat emerges from inside Shanty Town, and the early crowd – the shy crowd, including myself – drifted in. I immediately went to Ford, still tinkering with his laptop and mixing board, and presented him with his copy of Pink Tape

…for which he certainly appeared surprised and thankful. Which was lovely :)

(There’s a tip for you, artists: talk to me about music, and you’ll likely score free tunes ;)

As it turns out, Tomás Ford’s Crap Music Rave Party is exactly what it says in the title: Ford mans the laptop, occasionally taking to the mike to gee up the crowd, whilst deriding everyone for dancing to Crap Music. He also maintained a sheet of paper at the front of the venue, on which he encouraged the crowd to scrawl a list of songs for consideration; I’d occasionally peruse the list at various stages of the evening to check out other people’s suggestions, and was relieved to discover that many nominations were (as with my own suggestions) actually great tracks… but some were truly horrible.

How bad? Achy Breaky Heart. Extended remixes of Never Gonna Give You Up. Songs that were massive once upon a time, but which hindsight has declared that we should have known better. And Ford – whilst niggling the crowd for having the gumption to suggest such things – played them.

But then there’s genuine crowd-pleasers – Jesse’s Girl had everyone singing along, and Macarena caused a spontaneous outbreak of crowd synchronicity that prompted memories of Nutbush City Limits from my few clubbing nights in another life. Every song that Ford brought to the party caused a little cheer of recollection from somewhere in the crowd.

And whilst a lot of the music was indeed Crap (and from an era where I couldn’t even enjoy it ironically), I genuinely enjoyed the selection of music. But what I didn’t enjoy – if you hadn’t already guessed – was the crowd.

Now, I realise that I’m being an old man here (certainly older than a vast majority of the crowd), but I found it hard to justify the behaviour of a lot of the crowd. Sure, one expects such a show to be boozy… but not that boozy, surely? As people in the middle of the crowd finished their drinks, they’d just fling their (plastic) glasses towards the back of the venue… shy patrons (or those just taking a break) were showered with the detritus of others. Surely that’s not normal behaviour now?

I tried getting into the groove of things, I really did… but everyone else in the crowd seemed to be about half-a-dozen drinks in front of me, and – despite Strangely‘s friendly efforts – I didn’t really have a foil to work with. So I hung around as long as I could, enjoying the tunes and Ford’s exuberant antics… but ninety minutes was as much as I could stand.

But here’s the thing: I’ve often mentioned on this blog that I love watching dance, but have never quite understood why… I don’t understand the technical aspects of the art. But I’ve never really enjoyed dancing in public myself… and I’m way too self-conscious for that. But whilst I was in Korea on my K-Pop sojourn late in 2013, I discovered that I could actually find joy in dancing… surrounded by people I didn’t know and couldn’t communicate with, I felt free to arbitrarily move in the manner that my brain and body thought correlated to the music, and I thought I’d broken the shackles of ego and confidence. As a result, I had been really looking forward to this Crap Music Rave Party as an opportunity to shake my arse… but in the presence of other people – all comfortable in their drunkenness and experienced in the ways of western club dancing – it turned out that my new-found ability to abandon my self-consciousness evaporated. It turned out that I’m still actually pretty shy.

So I guess I’m still just a Private Dancer after all.

And if that’s not a great way to round out a post about a Crap Music Rave Party, I don’t know what is.

[2014106] Jack Druce – Adventure Peach

[2014106] Jack Druce – Adventure Peach

Jack Druce @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2

9:45pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

I must admit, Adventure Peach wasn’t high on my Shortlist; but an opportune timeslot, and some super-positive word-of-mouth, resulted in me chancing my arm with Jack Druce.

I kinda wished I hadn’t, really.

To be fair, Druce is a likeable enough chap: his style is approachable and open, his timing errs on the side of pregnant pauses (which I happen to enjoy), and his curious accent and pronunciation keeps interest up. But – unfortunately – his material is pretty thin… especially for a show pegged at an hour in length.

The core of the show relies on his unrequited love for a friend, and there are many little snippets from the time they hiked through Europe together: she was revelling in the experience, he spent the expedition trying to gather the courage to admit his feelings for her. And that should have been a decent theme, but there’s not enough actual stories (or, indeed, laughs) to justify it as a central premise.

And, y’know, it’s somewhat familiar ground for me. I know how that story goes.

Sure, Druce may have started his comedy career when he was astoundingly young… but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s managed to gather an hour of solid material here. Adventure Peach felt way too light on laughs, but there’s enough there in the delivery to encourage me to see Jack Druce in a lineup show… I reckon he could generate a tight five- or ten-minute spot that would be pretty golden.

(And, in a curious coincidence, the person who convinced me to see Druce went to see Chris Turner on my recommendation… and disliked that show so much that she left early. Weird, that taste thing, hey?)