[2009074] Other People’s Problems

Other People’s Problems

Sarah Quinn @ The Tuxedo Cat

5:00pm, Sat 14 Mar 2009

There’s no point denying that I’ve got a thing for Sarah Quinn – that, alone, would be enough to get my money out for this show. Just prior to seeing her show, I chatted with Sarah and DeAnne Smith and, as soon as Sarah departed to prep for the show, DeAnne grabbed me by the shoulder and said “Are you that guy with the blog?” Yes indeed, I replied, and your girlfriend is still a delight to behold. We giggled.

Other People’s Problems is a collection of three short plays focussing on “Issues”, with Quinn performing all three solo. The Smith-penned opener, “Your Life Starts Tomorrow”, is a faux-seminar presentation, chock full of wide-eyed and nervous enthusiasm, the quivering forced smile a façade for the woman on the edge. Samuel Booth’s “Self Help” is a quieter, more measured and moody little piece, with an oppressive sting in the tail. Quinn’s “Good Authority” was definitely the standout for me, though – nervous eyes and flirtatious soul, with Quinn conjuring an accent that fair gave me the horn.

There’s little in common between the three pieces, but Quinn manages to remain completely convincing – even if we are privy to her metamorphosis between each character as she switches costumes in full sight. It’s a real treat to see such variety in action, and – even discounting my primal inclinations towards Sarah – remains highly recommended.

[2009073] Oleanna


Theatre Tours International @ Queens Theatre (The Big Room)

3:00pm, Sat 14 Mar 2009

I first learned about David Mamet’s Oleanna when David & Margaret reviewed the 1994 movie adaptation. On the strength of their précis, I chucked the movie on my “To See” list… a list that has only ever grown over time, despite my declining inclination towards modern cinematic fare.

So I was quite pleased to see that Guy Masterson – a chap for whom I’ve got the utmost respect – was helping stage a production of Oleanna this year… and a matinee, no less! Masterson, of course, plays the university professor John, the kind of friendly professor we all probably encountered, kind and well meaning. Joanne Hartstone is Carol, the young female student who initially consults John regarding concerns over her grading. The interactions between the two escalate, resulting in a much more acidic second act, where John attempts a reconciliation of sorts in response to Carol’s accusation of impropriety – his career hangs in the balance, nerves are frayed, and desperation dances with open hostility towards a brutally battering finale.

Mamet intended Oleanna to incite debate, and it’s deliberately divisive. I found it very interesting to read the effect of Carol’s casting on audience response; and, certainly, in this instance I found myself siding with John for most of the performance. In fact, my mostly illegible notes from this performance are punctuated with the clearly defined phrase “what a right fucking bitch!” However, I think that’s mostly down to the empathy I carried towards Guy walking into the theatre, coupled with the fact that John is played with noticeable restraint. The quiet power imparted in the role was so subtle I didn’t even notice it; I was genuinely shocked when Carol made her accusations, laying out her facts.

The problem is that I just couldn’t believe Joanne Hartstone as Carol. Despite the deeply liberal sensibilities espoused (“don’t call your wife ‘Baby’!”) that would normally endear me to a character, she was unable to convince me in her early, meek phase, and – even at her most focussed and fiery best – couldn’t fill the room with her rage. And that may have been a problem with the venue… even though the audience would’ve maybe been at two-thirds capacity, the room was simply too big – Carol was unable to project into the space.

And that’s a shame, really, because Mamet’s Oleanna is a great piece of writing. And, while Masterson performs one side of the bill with aplomb, his cohort was unable to match him.

[2009072] Washington


Washington @ The Spiegeltent

11:30pm, Fri 13 Mar 2009

I slotted Washington into The Schedule on her original date of February 26 because… well, just because I had room at that early stage of the Fringe. I had no idea who Megan Washington was, and a brief listen to a track on her MySpace page left me curious, but far from excited. When that show was cancelled I sighed a little, but when I saw that the revised date was still viable, I figured I might as well toddle along.

Now, let’s not muck around here anymore: I fucking loved this performance. LOVED IT.

There’s no doubt that Megan Washington is a delight to cast one’s eyes upon: slender, gorgeous short dress and librarian-sexy glasses, a coy grin and eye of glint as she stands at her electric piano, rocking her pelvis in such a way that I was convinced she was a pilates queen… well, her entire stage demeanour had me in lust. Which was awesome since, after striking up a friendly conversation with a couple opposite me in the Spiegeltent queue loop, they (having entered the ‘Tent much earlier than I) invited me to join them at their little table right in front of the stage. There were none more front-and-centre than I, and for that I feel blessed.

But that’s not to say the show was all about the physical nature of the performers onstage (and the blokes in her guitar/bass/drums backing band were certainly not poor specimens, either); no, that ran a poor second to the music. Oh god, the music – whether through Megan’s quieter solo pieces, or with the band kicking in for big blustering ROCK numbers – was incredible, and (despite claiming that “all [her] songs are about boys”) Washington’s lyrics songs sure covered a wide range of topics: love songs to gorillas, an ode to her sister. But, despite the topical gamut, they all had one thing in common: every single line of every single song was brilliant.

And I couldn’t help but contrast Washington with Abby Dobson from earlier in the evening: whilst her vocals weren’t as wide-ranging, Megan sure knew how to use them with sensitivity. Sure, there was no cello – but with a refined mix, the drum/bass/guitar combo more than made up for it. And the lyrics… the lyrics!

But the feeling from this show that will forever stay with me was the first song of her encore: a Rufus Wainwright track that ended with her mournfully repeating “I’ll take love” (or somesuch), pulling back away from mike – absolutely stunning. Just thinking about that now still makes me well up in tears – it was such a beautiful moment.

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve deliberately not bought any of Washington’s music after this gig, because I just know it’s got no hope of being able to live up to the memory of this show. Because it was, as you might have gathered, utterly amazing, and I don’t want to even risk sullying that memory.

[2009071] The Wet Spots

The Wet Spots

The Wet Spots @ The Spiegeltent

10:00pm, Fri 13 Mar 2009

Cass King and John Woods, a Canadian husband-and-wife team that sings about all things bawdy – threesomes, masturbation fantasies, and a variety of fetishes – sounds like it could be a cracker. Their performance owes more to vaudevillian flash than a straight music-and-comedy number; but that’s fine, that’s their adopted style. So when they stroll onstage, all glitter and smiles, and proclaim themselves the world’s most popular bisexual polyamorous act, curiosity is piqued.

Opening with the cheeky “Do You Take It?” (in the ass), the songs are cheerful enough – sure, there’s a predictable pattern of quiet guitar / ukelele strums underneath clean & coy lyrics before exploding into profane chorus, but they’re pleasant enough – and mildly amusing for the first half of each song. But by the time you’ve heard the third iteration of the chorus, the novelty’s worn off and you feel like The Wet Spots are just padding the show out… “Don’t Lick My Toes” most clearly demonstrates this, the punchline to the joke given away thirty seconds into a three minute song. Woods, unfortunately, is criminally underused as a vocalist; the emphasis seems to be on King spurring the crowd (“oh look, a woman talking about sex“), with quick asides to Woods for the odd bi-comment.

My main points of interest with The Wet Spots were, poetically, the dead spots when they turned to the audience. Whether this is typical Adelaidean “dance, monkey-boy” attitude, or whether it indicates that there’s still some embarrassment & taboo associated with sex, is up for debate; a bit of both, leaning on the latter, I reckon. Still, their audience mark for the night – Keith – was a bloody good sport during the spanking sequence, and the whole audience got into the spirit with a great masturbation singalong.

At the end of the day, The Wet Spots lack both the subtlety and punch of (say) Rich Hall‘s songs (especially in his Otis Lee Crenshaw role) – but they’re much more entertaining (and educational) than Mark Butler. Just don’t go expecting exemplary cabaret.

[2009070] Bonza and LJ

Bonza and LJ

Lindi-Jane and Bonza Mate @ Puppet Palace

9:00pm, Fri 13 Mar 2009

It doesn’t bode well that there was a long and drunken queue at the Puppet Palace, chock-full of Friday night pissheads looking for some puppetty adult laughs… perhaps they were thinking they were going to be getting something akin to Randy, or Puppetry of the Penis.

The human-sized dog Bonza is supposedly chock-full of attitude. The problem is that the performance was heavily reliant on video accompaniment to flesh out Bonza’s character – after all, there’s only so much a mute chap in a re-purposed Fat Cat suit can impart on the audience – and the video projector was on the blink, leading to eighty drunk audience members squinting to see the pre-recorded bits on a portable DVD player. Lindi-Jane was clearly hamstrung by this, opting to skip a lot of the video bits after seeing (and hearing) the audience’s dissatisfaction – but this, of course, hacked huge chunks out of the show, which started twenty minutes late… and finished five minutes early.

And the bits that remained were horribly, desperately, unfunny. Seriously, go back and watch bits of “The Late Show” (a great old D-Generation show, prior to Working Dog being formed)… Shirty the Slightly Aggressive Bear shits all over Bonza from a great height.

I’d like to give Lindi-Jane props for soldiering on, despite the technical difficulties… but I can’t. This was a shocker, plain and simple.

[2009069] Abby Dobson

Abby Dobson

Abby Dobson @ The Spiegeltent

7:00pm, Fri 13 Mar 2009

Like my Standard Dance Disclaimer, there’s something I wind up typing every year: I love the cello. Let me reiterate for effect: I love the cello. Sure, the viola’s nice (I once lived in a set of townhouses next to someone who played viola for a Chamber Orchestra; I used to sit on my stairs and listen to her practice through the walls, sipping my coffee in bliss), and the double-bass has some big fat notes, but neither really approach the glory of the cello for me.

And that’s just as well for Abby Dobson, because if it wasn’t for her cellist, Mal Pinkerton, I’d be hard pressed for any positives to take from this show.

There was an utterly unremarkable start to the show, with Dobson (and her acoustic guitar) and Pinkerton wandering onto the stage; a quick & quiet “hi” from Abby, and they sauntered into the first song. And it was really quite good; I held great hopes for the rest of the show. But the songs soon fell into a predictable gentle guitar / understated cello rhythm, which was listenable enough; but Dobson’s vocal contribution was pretty forgettable.

That’s not to say she can’t sing – she’s got a decent voice, pure in tone, which she only really lets soar and roar in the closer. The big problem is her lyrics – they really are ordinary, and that’s being generous. The chap next to me agreed, calling them “simplistic” – again, leaning on the side of courtesy there. Deathly dull enough to send me to sleep by the third song, even her political song – titled “Rise Up” – was an exercise in tepid poetry.

Now – it must be said that I knew nothing of Dobson’s work before buying tonight’s ticket… which, judging by the reactions to some songs, puts me in the minority. But at least the cello bits were absolutely ace, economically understated, and worth the price of admission.

Hang on – that ticket was $35. Shit, that’s expensive. Ummmmm.

[2009068] Midnight Jazz Sessions (featuring Butt School)

Midnight Jazz Sessions (featuring Butt School)

Butt School @ Cuckoo Bar

11:59pm, Thu 12 Mar 2009

I’ve never been to Cuckoo before – it’s fucking ace. Nice bar, tidy (though esoteric) selection of imbibements, and a great little area off to the side to accomodate lots of comfy seating and a performance space… and tonight, for Cuckoo’s Midnight Jazz Session, I’m being entertained by Butt School.

Butt School, I’m informed later (by one of the members for the evening, though he could have been fibbing – how would I know any different?) is a floating free jazz collective consisting of pretty much whoever wants to show up on the night. I learn that Adam Page has performed with Butt School on occasion; nice little co-inky-dink of the day there.

This evening the lineup is a mixture of youth and experience, and consisted of two chaps on sax, a trumpet, a double bass, and a tidy little drumkit. Facing each other in a loose circle, they start noodling – a couple of minutes is all it takes for the three girls at the bar to turn and glare distastefully before necking their drinks and leaving. They were half the audience. Apparently they weren’t into the relatively free-form stylings that Butt School were producing.

Now, the idea of free jazz has always fascinated me – but I hadn’t actually been to a gig such as this: a pure free jazz band in a tiny club in the midnight hours. And, aside from the lack of cool hep cats, this was pretty much exactly as I imagined it; a dark and heavy mood, candlelit shadows flickering across muted walls, and that translates to the music as well; it’s a traditional jazz jam, but with a slightly sinister and chaotic edge. Curiously, despite the completely improvised nature of the performance, there’s no fights between players for the lead; there’s a common understanding between them, a simple glance enough to change the direction.

Sure, some pieces sounded like an angry duck complaining, but this show remains a remarkably positive memory; provocative music, a feeling of rarified exclusivity, and a chat with the band in the set break. And, as previously mentioned, the opportunity to wander home through silent and secretive streets in the early hours.

[2009067] Adam Page Solo

Adam Page Solo

Adam Page @ Wheatsheaf Hotel (Tin Shed)

9:30pm, Thu 12 Mar 2009

This was the second of three times I’ve seen Adam Page now (the first being at The Promethean in 2008), and I’ve realised that they all pretty much turn out the same: he does a couple of multi-instrument (bass, guitar, sax, keys) looped tracks, he conjures a song out of a couple of audience members (again, through the power of sampling & looping), and he whittles something musical out of a vegetable.

So it was this night, too.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Page is incredibly entertaining, and a lovely affable bloke, but anyone expecting something new would have been disappointed. Except for the cow suit, that was new (and probably not to be repeated). But even the african thumb piano made a repeat appearance tonight, and a plethora of vegetably instruments (followed by the “fruit punching” incident) didn’t really separate this show from any other Adam Page gig.

By all means, go see Adam Page’s solo show. Go twice! But, on the basis of my experience, don’t expect to be as wowed on repeat visits.

[2009066] Basement Beats

Basement Beats

Supermarket & DJ TR!P @ Big Star (Basement)

7:30pm, Thu 12 Mar 2009

I love my big beats, I do – but not enough to have chased beat-oriented music during the heady days of house and jungle. I’m a band man, myself – going to see a bunch of peeps twiddling knobs for a couple of hours doesn’t really float my boat. But tonight Cate opted for the Basement Beats option (over, most likely, Orpheus), so down to the basement of Big Star we trotted, a few glasses of wine on the happy side.

Basement Beats was split into two halves; Supermarket opened with a full-on audio-visual set. They produced a decent bedrock of beats, but overused the supermarket-y samples that sat atop them, making the set feel overlong and repetitive. Their video backing included snippets which I assumed were supposed to be poignant, but which I found borderline racist; maybe others felt this, too, because there were uncomfortable moments in the breaks between tracks, with no applause or vocal support from the crowd of twenty who had squeezed into the Big Star basement.

After a short interval (and an impromptu – and impulsive – purchase of a Siouxsie & the Banshees best-of CD (finally I possess a copy of Peek-A-Boo, and scored an extended mix too)), it was back downstairs for DJ TR!P. Now, I’ve a massive affinity for chip tunes… my teens were spent listening to the best of 80s synth-pop, and comparing it to the tunes being pumped out of the SID chip in my beloved Commodore 64. Some of those tunes remain favourites even today; sure, anyone of the era will be able to rattle off Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway classics, but for me Steve Rowlands’ work is technically superior… dig up the Music Select 2 collection and tell me that the first piece doesn’t sound like it’s using six or seven channels, as opposed to the three it makes do with.

Ahem. Where was I?

Ah yes… chiptunes. Love ’em, I do. And so, when checking out a flyer for one of DJ TR!P’s other gigs, I was genuinely excited to see “8-bit” emblazoned across it; “classic game themes,” it promised! Awesome; this sounded right up my alley. And his set starts with some gloriously clipped crunchy noises; but they were punctuating rather morose underpinnings. But, about half-an-hour in, the big feisty chip tunes I was expecting kicked in – great multi-layered beats formed out of familiar 8-bit samples. This was exactly what I’d been waiting for! Unfortunately, after only two fabulous pieces, he appeared to revert to his original beat-over-melancholia mode, and we had to leave… it wasn’t shit, it’s just that we wanted to make sure we made it to the next show on-time.

So – would I see Supermarket again? Only incidentally. DJ TR!P, on the other hand, will be sought out to see if there’s any more 8-bit goodness to his set.

[2009065] The Anarchist Guild Social Committee

The Anarchist Guild Social Committee

The Anarchist Guild Social Committee @ Bosco Theater

11:00pm, Wed 11 Mar 2009

The Anarchist Guild Social Committee sees a fluid cast of Melbourne comics performing a series of sketches. Some skits are bloody funny, some are unintentionally mirthless, but they come thick and fast, with a plethora of running gags and reappearances stringing the pieces together.

I’ll be honest: I only picked this show because it was an opportunity to see Courteney Hocking (who, along with Leung & McClelland, once co-hosted the great Nonstopical podcast). And she, along with the rest of the cast that evening (Pacquola, The Hounds’ Higginbotham, two McKenzies, Bushell, and Caddaye) were uniformly decent.

There were some standout pieces – Drunk Girls Do The Craziest Things was an oft-reported fave, the Disney on Ice bit appropriately short and sweet, and the Women’s Insult Institute being, by far, the high-water mark. Genius comedy that was, and perfectly performed. Those highlights, though, were tempered by the regular smattering of zombie references… I just don’t get zombies. I really don’t understand people’s fascination with all things zombie-rific, so those zombie chase scenes and cameos were completely wasted on me. And there was the odd cliquey reference and faux-fluffed line that raised my ire.

In the end, though, The Anarchist Guild Social Committee was reasonably entertaining, with the brightest parts easily illuminating the darkest.


The real highlight of the show, for me, was meeting Michelle. Michelle’s one of those people I adore and envy in equal measure because she’s a Creative, ridiculously talented in all things arty and able to see the world in a way that I cannot. We sat and we drank and we chatted and we drank and I awkwardly pawed through her Moleskine (full of unbelievably detailed quick sketches that the wine dulled my immediate appreciation of) and we drank and she mocked my unmistakable engineer-iness and we chatted and we drank and we got thrown out of the Garden and we argued about how far it was to her hostel and we walked and she was right and I got home at stupid o’clock. Then fronted for work the next morning.

Good times :)

[2009064] The Paradoxical Adventures of Lawrence Leung & Andrew McClelland: Time Ninjas

The Paradoxical Adventures of Lawrence Leung & Andrew McClelland: Time Ninjas

Lawrence Leung & Andrew McClelland @ Bosco Theater

9:30pm, Wed 11 Mar 2009

I’m buggered if I know why I do this to myself.

I know exactly what I’m up for when I see a Leung / McClelland show; plenty of jolly, matey japes, lame jokes tied together with tenuous twine, a few PowerPoint decks and videos, a very feelgood effort without much bite. And that’s what Time Ninjas delivered in spades… but with an even more flimsy premise. And an audience plant. And singing. Bad singing (okay, okay – McClelland has a booming voice that can hold a tune, but Leung? Not so much).

So when this show opens with a cheery Time Ninjas song (“the comedy festival, the Adelaide Fringe-a / we’ll be there, we’re the Time Ninjas!”), I’m inwardly sighing. I’ve done it again. I’ve come along to another show, hoping that its performers have advanced their art, when in actual fact I should be rationalising and thinking that, by paying for previous shows, I’ve help cement the acceptance of their existing style.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I like McClelland / Leung’s style, and their time-travelling escapades (to help prevent Adolf Hitler’s birth by seducing his mum-to-be, and to help Lawrence become more confident with women by overcoming his 15-year-old rejection trauma) are entertaining enough; but not $21 entertaining. And, more importantly for me right now, not one hour entertaining. I almost wish they only did a half-hour slot, like Sheehan or Burr; that’d encourage a tightening of the script, a focusing of ideas, and the opportunity to get a little edgier.

No, I do know why I keep doing this to myself – it’s because I keep hoping they’ll get closer to my idea of what they could be. Then again, I want them to bring back their old podcast too, because that was ace.

[2009063] My Significant Other is a Mobile Phone

My Significant Other is a Mobile Phone

Felicity Arts @ La Boheme

7:30pm, Wed 11 Mar 2009

Despite La Boheme being just around the corner from my workplace, I managed to go to completely the wrong venue prior to this performance; realising I was supposed to be on Grote, rather than Gouger, lead to one of those dizzying moments of physical disorientation. As a result, I was one of the last punters to stroll into the packed room.

The venue’s clearly been oversold – there’s people left standing at the bar, the room is stifling, and I’m sharing a footstool with someone else in lieu of traditional seating. Luckily, her arse was a lot thinner (and prettier) than mine, lest we would’ve been in perilous seating trouble. As it was, the audience was labouring with the heat, the leaden atmosphere, and the crapulent sightlines; those at the back of the room (where all the comfy chairs were) had no chance of a decent view.

The characters played by Nikki Aitken and Sidonie Henbest meet inadvertently at a café, and it’s a classic case of opposites attract. They get on each others nerves, find some common ground – through their relationship issues, as relayed by their titular mobile phones – and wind up bestest of friends. There’s plenty of singing on the way (mostly showtunes, Cole Porter, and the odd original), and decent accompaniment by Adam Lutley on piano.

But it’s all so… unremarkable.

Yes, the girls’ singing is pretty good. But the story itself is equivalently lame and, though the programme makes lofty claims of insight into how we define ourselves in the digital age, it never really hits home; the phone just remains a link, a thematic excuse. Even the big girlie feelgood ending didn’t really raise this one out of the middle-of-the-road.

[2009062] Medico Manoeuvres II

Medico Manoeuvres II

Leigh Warren & Dancers @ Flinders Medical Centre

12:30pm, Wed 11 Mar 2009

It’s a warm day, and a sleepy bus ride out to Flinders Medical Centre. Lovely views of my beloved city, though – I’d forgotten what a lovely trek this can be.

And so now I sit in the Central Courtyard; there’s a well-organised sausage sizzle going on, patients and staff and building contractors replete in their fluoro yellow safety gear sitting in the leafy split-level environment that’s wodged in the centre of FMC. And it’s a sizeable crowd that’s building up, too; I like to imagine that some of the scowls I saw were those of regular Courtyard users angry at the johnny-com-latelys invading their space.

Heather Frahn wanders out to a spot remarkable for its sightlines. She’s playing a bağlama, a Middle Eastern plucked string instrument, and occasionally sings a few notes in very Persian tones, though the music seems almost modern classical. From out of the assembled throng emerge a half-dozen of the Leigh Warren dancers: lithe, good-looking youngsters who then roam the Courtyard environment, using the space and fixtures as part of their movement.

And initially, it feels quirky and joyous; their movement is airy and light, and the dance appears structured in such a way that there are tightly choreographed bits where the dancers congregate and work with each other, before scattering around the Courtyard for something a little more free-form, before coming together again.

But after a quarter-hour or so, I’m becoming bored. “Light and airy” is being replaced by “obnoxiously twee”, and I notice that they’re not really making the most of the afforded space – rarely venturing to the raised levels. Whether that’s because of an expectation of lower crowd numbers or not, I don’t know, but it seems a shame.

And, by the end of the piece, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like the choreography at all. It’s far from dull, but it just feels toothless.

The only other Leigh Warren-related piece of work I’ve seen was 2008’s Seven, which also left me largely unimpressed. That’s not to say there weren’t distinct highlights today: Frahn’s vocal and musical contributions were superb, the Courtyard itself was a great venue, and the weather was lovely. And the fact that LWD have a residency at FMC – tales of dancers cavorting through corridors and around settled patients abound – is a curiosity that brings a smile to my face… “Proudly presented by the Arts in Health program at Flinders Medical Centre, Medico Manoeuvres 2 continues the company’s exploration of dance as a catalyst for healing and well-being” is the company line.

It’s just a massive shame that I didn’t like the dance.

[2009061] The Dirty Brothers Sideshow – The Dark Party

The Dirty Brothers Sideshow – The Dark Party

The Dirty Brothers @ Le Cascadeur

10:15pm, Tue 10 Mar 2009

Falling in the “Circus” category of the Fringe Guide and using “surreal” in their little 50-word precis was enough to chance my arm with The Dirty Brothers. And as I sat waiting for the show to start, listening to Death In Vegas’ amazing Death Threat (thanks, Shazam!), there was a distinctly dirty feel in Le Cascadeur. Rough. Dark. But exciting.

The Dirty Brothers are morose fuckers – moping around in their grubby trench-coats with upside-down lampshades around their necks, there’s barely a flicker of anything unlike a frown that crosses their faces; all the while, they’re performing the sort of body-damaging hijinks that have become synonymous with late-night Garden shows. They eat razor blades, live grubs, and broken glass. They swallow swords (as seen earlier at Club Cascadeur). There’s the old drop-the-bowling-ball-on-the-stomach-while-lying-on-a-bed-of-nails routine (as seen at Scattered Tacks). Car battery shenanigans, tons of piercings, and a mopey frolic through a field of mousetraps.

The sole light-hearted moment comes about halfway through the performance; the Brothers had previously roamed the crowd, pressing ping-pong balls into patrons hands. We all held onto them, puzzled; minutes later, the three Brothers stood mid-stage, bowed slightly, and started gently rotating. Left to right to left. And it was then we realised what the inverted lampshades around their necks were for: we had our own live Laughing Clown sideshow on stage. Almost as one, the audience hurled their ping-pong balls towards the Brothers’ lampshades; the wave of floaty dots was unforgettable.

Yes, we’ve probably seen most of it before. But, for me, it’s the mood of the Brothers themselves that makes this show work; those perennial expressions of glumness, without descending into the lampoonery of Sad Clowns, somehow elevate these stunts to a new level. The atmosphere adds an element of danger, too, and – as I mentioned before – it’s all quite exciting.

[2009060] Six Minute Soul Mate

Six Minute Soul Mate

Brown Council @ Electric Light Hotel (Upstairs)

8:30pm, Tue 10 Mar 2009

I had such an underwhelming response to the last (and, according to a quick search, only) Vitalstatistix production I’d seen (Crazed, way back 2004) that I’d been avoiding anything with their name attached since. This surprised a lot of my Fringey friends, and several went out of their way to insist that I check out Six Minute Soul Mate.

Arriving at the Electric Light a little early, I partake of my usual “early” ritual: grab a drink, type up some notes, have a mull, type a bit more, grab another drink, oh wait that’s the end of the bottle, and before I know it I’ve knocked off the best part of three glasses of Rockford‘s splendidly refreshing Alicante Bouchet. Gulping the last mouthful down as I leap (too quickly) upstairs for the 8:30pm start, I’m confronted by a giant bear, the cute feminine face poking through the bear suit unnervingly cheerful and toothy. I’m walking into a dating service, and as soon as the name-tag is slapped on my chest and a glass of champers pressed into my hand, I’m out on the balcony with the other 19 members of the audience… errr, participants. Nervous introductions and giggles all round.

It’s a tiny audience because we’re being coaxed between three small rooms upstairs at the Electric Light, and the seating is snug. In the first room, we’re introduced to the three main characters – the nervous long-term single just returning to dating, the IT guy who thinks he’s a comedian, and the drunken lush. Over the course of three distinctly themed “sessions”, the four actresses in the production switch roles (including the role of The Bear who guides us from room to room, session to session), each displaying a different take on the character – whilst retaining much of the same monologue and clothes. The first session – where we meet each of the characters for the first time – is a hoot; Ms Nervous is a bubbly wreck, Mr IT is a comedic twat à la David Brent, and Ms Lush latches onto one of the male audience members like a leech. The second session ups the desperation somewhat – Ms Nervous’ head-bobbing becomes excessive, her descriptions of her previous boyfriend’s body-drawing habits more explicit. Mr IT opts for crude jokes targetting feminists as a differentiator, deforming the character into a misogynist pig. Ms Lush targets a female audience member (the wife of her first objet du désir, as luck would have it), who spurns her advances; she kills the lights, leaving us in the dark, while she waits for someone – anyone – to give her a kiss.

But the third session… oh my. Desperation is at the fore; Ms Nervous, becoming more dour and frumpy as the sessions wear on, performs a painfully reluctant, mopey semi-strip dance, exposing her drawing-covered body – we’ve been told that her boyfriend drew those markings four years ago. Obsession, depression, desperation. After revealing that his wife “turned feminist” and left him with nothing, Mr IT chooses me as his mark, grovelling at my feet and asking me to “rub it”. I enquire as to what needs rubbing; the sobbed reply of “anything” leaves me rubbing his shoulder, the safest option I could think of. After being told “I’m not a dog,” Mr IT begs me to suck his cock – I politely decline. He sullenly drags himself out of the room, to be replaced with the most strikingly attractive version of Ms Lush. She places a bucket of water on the floor, says nothing – and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” starts playing on the stereo. At the chorus, she plunges her head into the bucket, holding herself under for as long as possible, before exploding from the bucket, hoarse and gasping. And again, at the next chorus. And again, and again, no longer waiting for the aural cue. It’s almost wrenching to see her continue to do this. As the light drops, she plunges in one last time… we sit in the dark, knowing her head is in the bucket. An eternity passes, we hear the desperate gasp, and she gets up and leaves.

Holy fucking shit, that was moving.

In fact, that feeling of being in the dark, knowing that she had her head immersed in that bucket, the heavy atmosphere, the heat of the room… it all comes flooding back even now.

But, as I left the Electric Light that night and wandered to my next show, the feeling that clung to me was that of desperation. Each of these characters was tragic, hopelessly lost and alone, struggling for something that would give their life meaning… and the reason that Six Minute Soul Mate is so impactful, so memorable, is that there’s aspects of these characters that are utterly identifiable in yourself. Well, myself, anyway. And that, in turn, left me feeling that there’s hope for me yet – because I’m not that bad, I’m not that desperate.

It sometimes feels a little odd turning something so bleak into something positive, but that’s how I roll.