[20060068] Rich Hall

Rich Hall

Rich Hall @ Nova 2

7:30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

This’ll be short and sweet: Rich Hall is great. He’s much better doing straight stand-up (as opposed to his character-driven stuff, like Otis Lee Crenshaw)… maybe that’s why he cancelled his other show, Levelland. And so this was a standard Rich Hall show – you already know what that’s like. Apart from the ill-informed Bill Gates rant, the only other thing of note was that the serenade didn’t go entirely to plan.

See, Hall likes to grab a couple from the front row and write a sweet (funny) little (funny) ode to them; this time, however, he asked his female mark her name:

“Okie.”

Hall’s disbelief was palpable. He persevered, though, enquiring as to her boyfriend’s name:

“Ernie.”

To his credit, Hall didn’t double over in comedic pain at this point. He asked for Ernie’s occupation:

“I’m a… uh… comedian.” (Yes, it’s Ernie from Elbowskin)

Needless to say, the serenade didn’t go that well. Still bloody funny, though.

It only struck me during this performance that Hall is like an American version of Billy Connolly – same sorts of insights, and (more noticeably) the same style of using “fuck” non-sexually, as punctuation. And believe me, that’s in no way intended to be a derogatory comment – just an observation.

[20060067] Rod Quantock’s Australia!

Rod Quantock’s Australia!

Rod Quantock @ Nova 1

6:00pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

A surreal start to the evening – the ticket guy at the door we rushed towards (we were running late) asked “You seein’ Rod Cointreau?” Ironic, really, given one of Rod’s new requirements for immigrants be that they can speak properly.

This was a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek performance by Quantock; our favourite lefty comedian has decided it’s time to get the point across by mocking the “majority”, rather than taking the softly-softly approach. And this he does by taking things to their logical extremes; Muslims, the media, and the Bradman sycophants (in other words – The Usual Suspects) come in for some Quantock lovin’. Or rather, not.

I’ve seen Quantock every Fringe since 1998, and whilst nothing will eclipse the wonderful (drunken) memory of my first encounter with the man, this show marks a return to the Quantock of old after a few lean outings. Cheers, Rod – may you grumpily continue.

[20060066] Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

NTS Media @ The Goodwood Institute

2:30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006

The second play by Tom Stoppard this Fringe (the first being After Magritte), this is certainly the more cerebral of the two. It relies on the audience’s knowledge of Hamlet to provide the back-story; it’s essentially the flip-side of The Bard’s work, promoting bit players Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to leading characters, whilst relegating the principals – Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, et al – to the background.

The opening of the piece created high expectations; as the audience seat themselves, the backing screen on-stage features video Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ambling down a pathway, gradually creeping towards the audience. As the screen avatars reach the camera’s eye, the characters step through the screen onto the stage – simple, and effective.

We’re then treated to the rapid-fire wordplay and punnery seen in After Magritte, and it almost seems as if Shakespeare’s work is facilitating a battle of wits between the actors and the audience. There’s a constant challenges in the offing – the derivation of the “stark raving sane” Hamlet is a twisting conundrum – but the best lines are often left to The Players (who, they explain, are nothing without an audience): “Is that what people want?” asked Guildenstern; “It’s what we do” responded The Player.

The production certainly has some nice touches – the pre-recorded video projected onto the backing screen is well done (again, the opening was ace – and the cast bow was pretty well done, too), though occasionally the associated sound was a little muddled. Acting is enthusiastic at worst, and Ron Hughes’ Guildenstern & The Player of Natalie Playford are spot-on. Sets were sparsed, but adequate – the biffo scene on the boat to England was staged with some creativity and a lot of wackiness.

In short, this was an enjoyable production for a humid Sunday afternoon. A completely different reading to Stoppard’s own movie adaptation, but none-the-worse for it.

[20060065] You Asked For It!

You Asked For It!

Miz Ima Starr @ The Chandelier Room (Freemasons)

11:15pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Miz Ima Starr (aka Charles Bracewell) takes to the stage, dress in black with a shock of pink hair. Opening with a dragtastic version of “Waterloo”, she proceeds to take requests from the set of 40 songs provided to the audience in a handy playbill. With tattoos visible through her costume, she belts through the songs with a glint in his eye and a smile in her heart.

Tonight’s set-list:

  • Waterloo

  • Moon River
  • The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun (she wasn’t super happy about doing this, but pulled it off with great aplomb… the definite highlight)
  • Diamond’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend
  • I Will Survive
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
  • It Must Be Him
  • Ghost Riders In The Sky
  • Que Sera Sera

Lounging on the table as she dedicated songs to their selectors, Miz Ima Starr brought a fantastic sense of fun to the evening. Bravo… or is that Brava?

[20060064] The Umbilical Brothers – The Rehearsal

The Umbilical Brothers – The Rehearsal

The Umbilical Brothers @ Union Hall

9:30pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Having seen them on TV a few times, I’ve always been keen to see The Umbilical Brothers live… however, their seasons at previous Fringes have always been short and/or sold out. Finally, I managed to squeeze in their latest show, which encapsulates the idea that they’re rehearsing for a big performance at Football Park.

And, having just typed that sentence, I realise how utterly ludicrous and fragmented a show it really was.

The Football Park bits – a spotlight representing the park, the Umbies walking onto the ground as finger-avatars – were absolute shit. Echoey vocals ensured that any entertainment in these bits remained elusive. Other recurring bits throughout the evening – the monster at the front door, for one – died pretty quickly; the Audience Plant jokes were flat the first time, and recurrences of the Plant were diabolically bad, and had me trying to calculate their cost on the off-chance that a refund was in order.

In fact, the highlight of the show – made all the more spectacular by the dross that surrounded it – involved a video camera and some hand puppets, with seemingly nothing to do with the “rehearsal” premise. Using the depth-of-field of the camera to their advantage, the Umbies performed some brilliant perspective tricks to show them interacting with the puppets and each other… a bit of biffo, chase scenes, it was all fantastic.

But the fact that there were huge flat patches around this 10-minute patch of brilliance leads me to believe that that was the only “content” of the show. So could I have the other 50 minutes back, please? I don’t mind paying $3-per-minute for such great content – but don’t waste my time with shit.

[20060063] White Men With Weapons

White Men With Weapons

Greig Coetzee @ Union Hall

7:50pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Set around the time that apartheid was abolished in South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, White Men With Weapons is Greig Coetzee’s one-man-show that manages to cover just about every character in the South African army.

After a profane start – Coetzee’s new recruit roaming the stage, swearing constantly to himself about all the trivialities the army expects of him, berating the impractical uniforms (“when in doubt, add another piece of string”), he launches into a plethora of stereotypes – the suicidal soldier. The shouting perfunctory saluting lessons. The violent, racist rapist who doesn’t understand the evil he’s perpetuating. The isolated gay soldier. The racist corporal, whose life has been spent following orders, now being told that the enemy is now a friend. The staff-sergeant, life ruined by the army, drinking away the pain, memories of Justice the Tracker, memories of the Old South Africa – “just droughts and kaffirs”.

To be sure, some characters are off the mark – the chaplain was a bit flat, and the accents of some of the characters rendered them nearly incomprehensible. But the net effect is an overview of the army at this tumultuous time in South African history.

Despite this being yet another one-man, multi-character play in this year’s Fringe, this really was a standout. All the more special, really, that this was the 10th anniversary of the first performance of the show… and Coetzee’s birthday. Hurrah!

[20060062] Here Lies Love – A Song Cycle

Here Lies Love – A Song Cycle

@ Ridley Centre (Royal Adelaide Showgrounds)

5:00pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Of all my picks for the 2006 Festival, this was the one I was most dubious about; a musical inspired by the “phenomenon” of Imelda Marcos, with the names “David Byrne” and “Fatboy Slim” attached. But, walking into the Ridley Centre, I thought the opulent promises of the Festival Guide may be valid – it was like walking into a huge club. Yes, there was seating down the back (bugger, I only had a GA ticket), but otherwise this really looked the part: bars down either side, huge raised stage, disco glitterballs a-plenty, a huge dance-floor that wound up being populated by people lying down.

Oh, and a two-hour-fifteen-minute running time. Which differed a bit from the 90 minutes advertised.

Umm… warning bells.

The performance starts with the band walking onstage. This is so obviously Byrne’s baby, although slightly to the right, he’s very much center stage. He issues a short statement about Imelda’s early life, then we’re into the first song. It’s pleasant. At the end of the song, Byrne had another little talk, reveals another snippet. Then another song.

Song, talk, song, talk, song, talk.

There’s no stage performance to speak of, save for Dana Diaz-Tutaan and Ganda Suthivarakom (singing for Imelda and Estrella, respectively) dancing a little. Just song, talk, song, talk. Occasionally, the screen behind the stage would change from its lush colour backing and display some stock footage of the Marcos’, overlaid (or interspersed) with bold text messages. These were nicely synchronised with the songs, but other than that… this was a concert.

Not a theatrical performance, not a musical – a concert.

A David Byrne concert.

Being utterly fair, some of the songs (and all of the band & singers) were great: in amongst the overall latin influence, there’s plenty of lush synth fills and highlights and flourishes (“11 Days”, in particular, stands out); there’s a great ominosity to “Order 1081”; and title track (especially in it’s closing reprise) was pure disco.

But there’s these huge talking gaps between songs. And were the sordid details of Ferdinand’s affair necessary? Was the “Americans” song (which was of more current political intent than appropriate to the piece) necessary? In fact, when the most popular knowledge of Imelda was her shoe collection, one has to wonder – what is this “phenomenon” that Byrne speaks of?

By the end of Here Lies Love, only two things interested me – that Ganda Suthivarakom was singing the roles of Estrella (she’d previously done work with one of my favourite bands, Cibo Matto), and the desire to get to my next show on time (thanks for adding 45 minutes to the performance, guys. Did Mr Byrne write another couple of songs in the meantime?)

The program for Here Lies Love indicates that this “is the first sketch of this project.” That’s certainly what it felt like; though polished in the extreme, this performance felt hollow and lacking.

[20060061] 52 Pick Up

52 Pick Up

theater simple @ Little Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

I love 52 Pick Up, I really do. Ever since I first saw this show in 2002, I’ve come back again. And again. And again. A few times. Twice in 2002, twice just prior to this years’ Fringe (benefit gigs for Urban Myth), and this performance marks the fifth occasion I’ve had the good fortune to see this randomised relationship unfold before me.

For the uninitiated, a deck of 52 playing cards is shuffled and thrown into the air at the start of the performance. Each card contains a scene from The Relationship; the random order in which they’re picked up can affect the mood of the piece. For example, too many of the “heavy” (or sad) cards at the top of the performance can send the audience on a thoughtful trip; start frivolous, and it becomes a comedic performance.

Andrew and Llysa never fail to put in great performances, and it’s a secret gift having seen this piece many times – you start to see all the little flourishes, all the little segues between scenes that they improvise, depending on the fall of the cards. And today’s cards fell in a pleasing manner – a nice mix of up’n’down, some great sequences (especially leading into “Penny For Your Thoughts”), with the only bummer being the rather morose final card.

Still, it’s almost impossible to leave the theatre after having seen 52 Pick Up and not feel utterly invigorated by the experience. Utterly worth seeing… again and again and again.

And I did see it again, at 4:30pm, Wed 15 Mar 2006. Wooh! Six times!

[20060060] Chaplin’s Eye

Chaplin’s Eye

@ Queens Theatre

11:30am, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Initially, this looks a bit lame – a skinny red clown ponces about with a suitcase. She’s joined by a lardy green clown and another suitcase. Ponce ponce ponce, yawn. At least Green was enthusiastically bouncy.

The third clown – a nervous orange – joins them, and I’m taking notice. Orange is great, her ticks and twitches causing her to stagger around the stage in a most amusing manner. A fourth clown – this one sky blue – seems much more restrained and expressive – a nice contrast, since Red’s gone all flamenco on us. Then Chaplin himself rolls up – he, too, is ace. The four clowns, Chaplin, and a plethora of suitcases all… um… clown about for a bit, before the show is over.

The bow was great – all came back on-stage in character. Orange is awesome.

I stay and have a quick chat with a profusely sweating (hot days and Queens Theatre don’t mix) Chaplin – Ira Seidenstein, who also directed Anatomy of Discourse. I ask him how the season’s been; he nods earnestly, says “it’s been OK”, and then admits that he was thinking of cancelling the rest of the season; they weren’t getting enough people in to cover the cost of the Theatre (which, from what I’ve heard, is more than a touch pricey for the performers).

I look around – there was less than a dozen people at this performance. At 11:30am on a hot Saturday.

This show was one fully deserving of that Homer Simpson quote from “Lisa the Vegetarian”: it was good, but not great. And $30 for a “not great” clowning show that even kids would get bored in (the start, I mean – the latter parts are good, or at least better) is taking the piss a bit. Especially when most of their season was at night.

It was indeed their last show.

[20060059] Michele A’Court – 40 Odd Years

Michele A’Court – 40 Odd Years

Michele A’Court @ The Chandelier Room (Freemasons)

9:45pm, Fri 10 Mar 2006

After a great pre-recorded introduction – in stereo! – Michele A’Court takes to the stage. There’s all of 11 people in the audience, and the Kiwi thing to do (yes, she’s another New Zealander in the Kiwi… uh, Chandelier Room) seems to be audience introductions. So – once, twice around the room, and we all know each other’s names. Fabulous.

And so to her act… and it’s pretty basic chick-humour – the difference between men & women, childbirth, the usual suspects. She also delves into the other hot comedic topic this Fringe, muslims. And she’s got some creative things to say there – such as the liberation she’d feel if she could wear a muslim headdress.

But that’s about it. A few giggles to be had on the way, but hardly memorable comedy.

And the name of the show – “40 Odd Years”. She’s 45. Truth in comedy, and all that.

[20060058] Anatomy of Discourse

Anatomy of Discourse

Robin Davidson @ UniSA City West (HH3-08)

7:30pm, Fri 10 Mar 2006

This production delivers the final lecture of a university professor, made redundant due to funding cutbacks and the resultant department closures. Of course, this has the effect of also taking aim at government funding rationale, the bureaucracy inherent within the higher education system, and the increasingly career-oriented degrees that universities are finding it necessary to focus on.

Robin Davidson delivers the lecture in a manner more akin to stand-up comedy; he trips from one topic to another, milking the laughs when he can, before doubling back to close off a topic. His character is clearly melancholic on this, his last day of an anonymous career; his dialogue full of regret as he recounts his sexual exploits – first as, then with, students. Now, though, he is alone – and mortality is in the air. In between swigs from his hip-flask, memories of the lasagna and merlot his once-respectable job afforded him, there’s plenty of digs at the world of academia – and a level of unrealised misogyny that leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

There was also a tiny bit of audience participation – which the audience mark took as indication that interruptions throughout the performance were OK. Davidson handled the unwanted “suggestions” well, but they (amusingly) irked the living shit out of the kids sitting in front of me… heh. I could see the Me of a few years ago in their shaken heads and furious glares.

Let’s look again at the flyer: “A witty, obscene, absurd, political and poignant glimpse of academia”, eh? Check, nup, nup, check, check. That’s somewhere on the road to Good Enough.

[20060057] Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson

Daniel Kitson @ Nova 1

9:45pm, Thu 9 Mar 2006

I saw Daniel Kitson in 2004 on the recommendation of some UK friends; they were spot on the money, he was simply brilliant. And so, on my birthday – traditionally a day of dubious shows for me – I figured he’d be a lock for a good show. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest; he was in fine, thought-provoking form.

“Thought-provoking?” I hear you cry, the words sounding almost offensive when you associate them with a comedian. Well, yes – as well as poke fun at the stupid things in our world (as per pretty much every other comedian), Kitson also challenges us to question why it’s actually funny, and whether it’d be a good idea to change our collective behaviour so that there’s no longer anything to laugh at.

At least, that’s what I think.

Aside from a snide dig at his performing neighbour Akmal, the obvious targets are there – meat-head male magazines, reality TV shows, The Advertiser Fringe reviews – but the diatribe that connected most with me involved Bands That You Love. In re-telling his experiences at Ben Folds and Lemonheads gigs, Kitson struck a chord that anyone who resents their love becoming populist fodder.

Ace.

[20060056] Angry Young Man

Angry Young Man

MahWaff Theatre Company @ The Studio (Holden Street)

8:00pm, Thu 9 Mar 2006

“Yuri – a brilliant Eastern European surgeon – arrives in London in search of a new life,” reads the flyer for Angry Young Man. Knowing nothing of the country he has entered, he quickly renders himself destitute, before falling in with the wrong crowd, falling for the wrong woman, and an adventure that takes in the English countryside, political intrigue, and the usual suspects in lust/laughter/violence. Not to mention a few digs at English immigration policy.

The entire play is performed – from Yuri’s point-of-view – by four actors, all (but one) switching between the lead and supporting roles (or indeed, scenery) as the scene requires. The four players are as synchronised (and pretty) as any boy band; they consort brilliantly to provide wit, visual puns, and drama.

The obvious laugh at the end for “the quiet guy” of the four is well deserved, for he is Ben Woolf, the writer of this clever bit of work. As usual, the great pity is that it will remain largely unknown by the public, such is the relative anonymity of the Holden Street Theatres. A shame, because Angry Young Man deserves a much larger audience.

[20060055] Bizzurk

Bizzurk

Troupe dart @ The Arch (Holden Street)

6:15pm, Thu 9 Mar 2006

Quoting verbatim from the director’s notes:

Commedia dell’Arte is a form of theatre that dates from the early 1500’s in Italy, and subsequently spread across Europe, remaining popular for more than two hundred years.

Commedia uses leather masks, improvisation, stock characters, physical exaggeration, slapsticks, falls and acrobatic moves, music, verbal wit, obscenity and absurdity.

Bizzurk, he goes on to say, leverages the traditions of southern Italian Commedia, revolving around the exploits of layabout Pulcinella and his wife, Donna Zeza. Our performance also included the evil (and gorgeous) Octavia Pantalone and her daughter Elektra, her husband, her lover, and… Death. It’s all very silly, it’s not always obvious which bits are improv and which are stock, and it’s not un-entertaining.

Look – the only word you need to know is “improvisation”; that means that anything I write about my particular show could be completely different for the one you go to. All I can say is this: the actors are all capable, there’s huge potential to be had for a giggle, and Octavia is a babe. Easy, really.

[20060054] Edge

Edge

Angelica Torn @ The Bosco Theatre

3:00pm, Thu 9 Mar 2006

My prior knowledge of Sylvia Plath’s work was limited to the fact that she’d written a short story called “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”, the title of which inspired one of the more brilliant stars in Tears For Fears’ catalogue. For that reason, and that reason alone, her name has always piqued my curiosity; and usually my judgment’s pretty good on such trivial connections. So when I spied the précis for Edge – her own story, told on the day she committed suicide – I marked it down as a must-see.

Written from the perspective of Plath on the day of her suicide (but with knowledge of future events), Edge is essentially a tale of the men in her life: her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and her father, who died when she was eight. Her disapproving mother and the trials of her own mental anguish also feature highly, but the first time that Ted is mentioned you can sense the bitterness and hatred and longing that Plath still holds.

Emotionally battered after the death of her domineering and emotionally distant father, Plath’s seemingly unflappable exterior masked an internal demolition job. Her inability to deal with failure in her search for perfection led to self-mutilation, suicide attempts and, eventually, psychiatric hospitalisation – the scenes describing two of her psychiatrists (including “Doctor Horror”) are alternatively painful and humorous. Once she meets Ted Hughes, the emotional replacement for her father, the tale becomes even more (if that seems possible) twisted and bitter; their animalistic relationship, the physical abuse, Ted’s jealousy of her (Plath was a better poet than Hughes… and both of them knew it), Ted’s mother’s (!) jealousy of Plath… it’s a veritable bucket of nastiness.

Moving to England at Ted’s request, despite disliking the land and its people intensely (“why do they allow teeth to rot in their mouths?”), she bore two children by Ted – only to see Ted leave her for the comic relief of the performance, Assia. The venom spat forth in the name of “the Cow” seems never-ending; in the end, with Ted and Assia urging Plath to kill herself, it seems completely justified, especially given her persistent longing for Ted, even after feeling so utterly betrayed.

The first thing you sense about Angelica Torn as she takes to the stage as Sylvia is that she’s good. Damn good. Sure, you know she’s won Best Actress awards for this piece, but her cheeky laugh and forthright nature wins you over immediately. The explosion at her father’s grave is startling; the loss of her microphone midway into the second act didn’t phase her at all. And she’s either performed for two hours suffering from the flu, or has produced the finest theatrical rendition of pneumonia I’ve ever seen – either way, a huge accomplishment.

The only fault that can be levelled at this production is in its location – the Bosco Theatre. Wedged in the corner of the Garden of Unearthly Delights, it contains the most uncomfortable seating known to man – not good for two-hour performances – and is surrounded by walls that are good for only two things: letting external sound and heat in. Thus, the choice had to be made between seeing Edge (a) in the middle of the day, with street noise and sun overhead; or (2) in the evening, with lessened (but still stagnant) heat and carnival noises permeating the tale of a tortured poet. It’s a real cleft stick; I believe the afternoon was the better option (but then we wound up with mike problems. Ho, hum).

Still, this was a superb production, let down only by the old adage “location, location, location”. Put this in the Little Theatre and tickets would – quite rightly – go like wildfire.