[20040064] Throw Down

Throw Down

Throw Down @ The Umbrella Revolution

1:00pm, Sat 6 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Stunts with attitude!

Victorian circus troupe Throw Down should be applauded for bringing this act to town. In doing do, they have filled a gap that has been noticeable from ff2002’s circus program – the trapeze and suspended acts have been (sadly) notable by their absence thus far. Not any more; Throw Down’s trapeze act was quite the breath-taker, and their suspended acts were as imaginative as they were powerful.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves a little. The opening act, involving some deft handling of glass balls highlighted by torchlight, would look even more spectacular in a pitch-dark tent, but didn’t detract from the level of control exhibited. Acts of strength, balance and control are at the forefront of Throw Down’s performance – the less svelte of the troupe’s women showed astounding poise in her chair-balancing act.

After the initially sombre and aloof attitude of the opening acts, their was a little comic relief as the sound guy took to the stage for more balancing tricks. A mysterious legged bag also inexplicably scuttled across the stage occasionally, lightening the mood.

Some (handcuffed) juggling, the trapeze work, some spectacular hula-hooping, and the troupe performing all manner of leaps and bounds whilst skipping rope(!) rounded out this tasty show. Well recommended.

[20040063] Half-Arsed Expectations

Half-Arsed Expectations

Half-Arsed Productions @ Promethean Theatre

9:30pm, Fri 5 Mar 2004

Score: 4

Short Review: Underdeveloped

It sounds like a great idea – combine the backstage and onstage banter at a comedy club into one piece, showing the audience what goes on behind the curtain. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work as well as one would have hoped.

Joey D has “accidentally” got himself engaged, and the ball-and-chain-to-be has him on a tight leash. He’s contemplating giving up comedy, much to the chagrin of his cohorts. Between scenes backstage, where Joey and the team contemplate their profession, we have four stand-up routines from the troupe. And, honestly, only Joey D and Pepe (with a great redneck routine) provided any real laughs here – although it was probably played that way.

The whole show had an unfinished, underdeveloped feel to it; the character of Stella, in particular, was used both minimally and poorly. Still, there was the odd laugh or two to be had here (especially the bitches about other Fringe comedians)… but hardly essential viewing.

To be fair, though, the artist description on the Fringe site is bloody funny :)

[20040062] Songs for the Deaf

Songs for the Deaf

Fresh Track Productions @ North-South Dining Room

7:15pm, Fri 5 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Disturbingly entertaining

Songs for the Deaf comprises three short plays by Caleb Lewis. Essentially, each play is a tragedy, but each is also spiced with humour.

Bunny opens with the absurd image of actors in bunny and bear suits. Both Romy Loor and Andrew Brackman display suitably numbed characters, revealing more about their lives than they’d probably care to. This was a nice, solid piece.

The Half Windsor is a cracker. Dealing with prejudices and perception, Caleb Lewis shows that he can act (as a feisty bum) as well as write. The final piece, Rocket Baby, features Roberta Tyrrell playing a corrupted 10-year-old schoolgirl. Gutsy acting, but an incoherent and unbelievable script.

In short, this was a solid and entertaining bit of theatre. It was freaky how easy it was to identify with the characters portrayed, and there’s certainly some stuff in there to think about. This is, by far, the better of Fresh Track’s productions this Fringe.

[20040061] Making of Snow

Making of Snow

Snow Machine @ Weimar Room

6:00pm, Fri 5 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Pretty, but…

Snow Machine are a three-piece band from Sydney. Relying heavily on electronic backing, but with live keys/guitar/vox over the top, they generally seemed to produce a lush instrumentation with little-girl-lost vocals dripped over the top. This isn’t unpleasant, but not earth-shattering, either.

The lead singer’s voice is quite attractive, really, and when you get a simple beat/guitar backing (such as the second track of the evening), the result doesn’t sound unlike Garbage. But Snow Machine sound their best when they’re harmonising, and putting some depth into the vocals. The songs were also accompanied by some projected visuals, but they were somewhat lost on me, as I spent most of the show watching the singer’s nipples (highlighted as they were by the lighting and her white top). Truth in reporting.

I bolted at the end of the set – had to run to catch the next show – and I suspect that I missed an encore. Oh well. My scorecard shows 7 ticks from 13 songs, so I guess that puts this gig a little above average.

Incidentally, this show marked the first time this Fringe that I’ve seen an artist use a laptop other than a Mac. Them wacky creative types, eh?

[20040060] Espress Yourself! A Comedy About… Coffee

Espress Yourself! A Comedy About… Coffee

Final Draught @ Weimar Room

4:00pm, Fri 5 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Undergraduate

Melbourne theatre group Final Draught present this rather simplistic play, intertwining stories of love, greed, and life in general around coffee. The only really interesting thread of the story involved deadshits Pete and Joe in their get-rich-quick schemes.

The humour is very undergraduate, but that didn’t perturb the crowd of mostly schoolkids. There are, however, some very funny soliloquies that various characters occasionally launch into – Cat’s Joe Scully rant was one such mirthful encounter, as was the corporatisation bluster. The odd Star Wars reference, and the “real gun” discussion, round out the highlights.

There was soooooo much about this show that I wanted to hate – the overacting, the wooden acting, the non-acting, the tacky dialog, the bad double entendres, the crap sight gags, the shitty stage management – but Espress Yourself! stumbles to a climax that is so ridiculously stupid, I found myself grinning like a loon. I dunno whether that’s much of a recommendation, but there you go.

[20040059] Dark Paths

Dark Paths

Budgie Lung Theatre Company @ Fowler’s Live

12:00pm, Fri 5 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Abrasive… in a good way

After being impressed by Budgie Lung’s ff2002 performance, Swallow This!, I thought I’d give this a go too. A collection of three stories, this was confronting stuff.

The first piece, Nil, saw Rachel Paterson play Karen, the “other woman” in an affair. Carrying both a shattered heart and a shattered mind, she turned in a performance very much like Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction – but without the bunny-killing. Equal parts love, hate, joy, sadness, superiority, venom, Karen convincingly flipped between her bi-polar states on her way to total annihilation. An impressive start.

Then Cat (Michael Finney) appears for a raw, explosive and profane burst. Whilst I approve heartily of his mandate of cat-hate, his abrasive monologue – addressing the perpetrator of a heinous act – is unrelenting in its aggressive derision of the recipient, homogeneity, and cats.

The final act, Buried, is a belter, with Nick (Finney) helping Candy (Paterson) bury her child. A portrayal of manipulation and weakness (“You know your problem? You’re weak and pissy”), this act gathered steam to a wonderfully climactic finish.

Heather Frahn provided (frankly) sensational music throughout all three performances – creating a sinister backdrop, uneasy tension, or impact effects as required. Her singing voice was also striking, whilst providing a distraction between the second and third acts. As with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Casey Van Sebille’s set design was both functional and elegant – and the lighting was superb throughout, casting ominous shadows upon the back wall at Fowler’s at emotionally appropriate moments.

Briefly – well worth seeing. Another success story for Budgie Lung, and long may they continue.

Pluck On!

For those of you who were keen to see Pluck, but are disturbed by all the “SOLD OUT” notices you see everywhere, there’s a couple of lesser known shows around the place:

  • Parks Community Centre (ph 8243 5555): 6:30pm, Wed 10 Mar, $5
  • Port Dock Brewery (ph 8240 0187): 2:00pm, Sat 14 Mar, Gold Coin Donation

You’re welcome :)

[20040058] Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne @ The Arts Theatre

10:30pm, Thu 4 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Bloody funny scrawny bugger :)

Oh yes, thoroughly good stand-up.

Ed Byrne has a fabulous style, a not-unintelligible accent, is really quick on his feet, and tells some bloody great jokes.

What more do you want? He jokes about travelling, Australian-isms, and sex. And he’s really funny.

I don’t really know what else to write. Ed Byrne is bloody good VFM.

[20040057] Suburban Motel – Criminal Genius

Suburban Motel – Criminal Genius

Bakehouse Theatre Company @ Bakehouse Theatre

8:30pm, Thu 4 Mar 2004

Score: 5

Short Review: Flat

Criminal Genius is the second of the two Suburban Motel plays by George Walker that Bakehouse is presenting this Fringe. Sadly, this paled somewhat next to Problem Child to me because of the less polished performances.

Rolly and Stevie are a bottom-of-the-barrel father-and-son team of petty criminals who “don’t do violence”. When they botch a job requested of them by their boss Shirley, committing a kidnap instead of arson, a twisted tale of multiple revenges ensues.

In general, the acting in this play was only adequate – Roger Newcombe’s Rolly was earnest, and once again Patrick Frost stole the show as he reprised Phillie. Anna Linarello appeared to be tripping all over her lines, and Emily Hunt was less convincing in her role as the rebelling Amanda than in Problem Child. On the whole, a flat and slightly disappointing piece of theatre.

[20040056] Suburban Motel – Problem Child

Suburban Motel – Problem Child

Bakehouse Theatre Company @ Bakehouse Theatre

7:00pm, Thu 4 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Disturbingly familiar…

Problem Child is the first of the two Suburban Motel plays by George Walker that Bakehouse is presenting this Fringe. And, for me, it’s the better of the two, due to the almost farcical script and solid character portrayals.

Denise and RJ are trapped in a small-town motel room – Denise yearns for her child (kept from her care by social worker Helen), and RJ is addicted to daytime talk-shows. Phillie, the motel manager, provides comic relief.

The performances were solid all round – Emily Hunt was great as a manic mother, and Nathaniel Davison played RJ with a small-town familiarity that I could identify with. The standout, though, was Patrick Frost’s Phillie – a well-weighted and funny delivery. This solid piece of theatre can hardly be considered essential Fringe viewing, but doesn’t detract from Bakehouse’s growing reputation.

[20040054] A Dog’s Breakfast

A Dog’s Breakfast starring Joanne Brookfield

Joanne Brookfield @ Margaret Murray Room

6:45pm, Wed 3 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Disappointing… but the potential is there

After having a lovely chat with Joanne (about life, the universe, and fringing) out on the Barr Smith lawns by FringeTIX, I decided to catch her show. And whilst she’s a lovely person in real life, “A Dog’s Breakfast” isn’t really her best side.

Initial impressions were good – as the audience rolled in, Brookfield lay on the stage floor, constantly cracking jokes about “stand-up” comedy. Unfortunately, when she did stand up, the laughs were a little thinner on the ground. It’s not that she can’t be funny – her delivery is great, and let’s face it, she’s as cute as a bug’s ear (even with the knickers her gran bought her) – but it’s the material that lets her down. I mean, when throwaway dead-spot lines like “I might as well just slap Pal on my vag” fail to get a decent audience response, you might have to tweak the show a bit.

To be fair, there was some good stuff though – her avid Googling raised a few good chuckles, and the image of Joanne accosting “serious” Festival-goers gave me warm tinglies. And it’s always great to see some creative swearing from a cutie. But, at the end of the day, there’s better comedy around at the moment.

[20040053] The Overcoat

The Overcoat

CanStage @ Festival Theatre

7:30pm, Tue 2 Mar 2004

Score: 10

Short Review: (almost) Flawless

Wow. It’s rare that I can see such a large-scale, lavish production, and get totally immersed in the experience. The Overcoat, however, sucked me in from the outset.

Simple story, really – a downtrodden draftsman snaffles himself a nice new overcoat, and his life changes as a result. But the manner in which the story is told – no dialogue, constant musical score, wonderfully staged crowd scenes, creative direction – make this a true aural and visual delight.

The attention to detail in this production is staggering – when the stage lights are all forward, characters still create a hubub behind the screens at the back of the stage… even the final cast-call is superbly done. Costumes are spectacular, the sets are both simple and clever… and the acting… the acting! Peter Anderson puts in a sublime performance as The Man, every facial expression adding to the story.

In fact, if I had to draw fault with The Overcoat in any way, it would be that the ending is quite sudden, and doesn’t really create a sense of closure. But that’s just a minor nit-pick – I left the theatre absolutely elated after this production. This is, without doubt, the best Festival flagship production for many a year.

[20040052] Morphia Series

Morphia Series

Helen Herbertson & Ben Cobham @ Secret Location(!)

6:30pm, Tue 2 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Exquisitely subtle

The description in the Fringe Guide was sooooooooo attractive: “You are taken to a secret location, eat and drink a small exotic treat, enter pitch black, silence, as light grows you see a figure moving in the distance.” How could I not attend this event?

After jumping in a mini-bus (driven by lighting designer extraordinaire Ben Cobham), we were taken well outside the CBD to a shed in suburbia. Inside, after letting our eyes adjust to the absolute, inky blackness, we were guided to a small seating area. A bite-sized piece of polenta & mango, a snifter of Brooks Brothers muscat, and the actual performance began.

As with Herbertson & Cobham’s production in ff2002, Delirium, the lighting is really the star of the show. Every aspect of the performance (both lighting and movement) was exquisitely paced, with an utterly unique mood being generated over the three acts of the piece. And a real surprise in store for the ending, too :)

Back out of the darkness for the mini-bus ride home, and the experience is complete. No aspect of this event was “sharp” – but everything about it was carefully calculated, allowing to subtleties of each element to collect into a single, wonderful experience. I’m so glad I took a chance on this one :)