[2012126] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown – The Kids’ Show

[2012126] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown – The Kids’ Show

Philip Burgers & Stuart Bowden @ Le Cascadeur

5:00pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

It’s gorgeous afternoon to be awake, and I’m not even mildly annoyed when I arrive at Le Cascadeur to discover a queue already snaking around the building. I bask and chat with Bryan and DeAnne and Scout as we wait for the doors to open; I spot one of the guys from The Lost Rung and quite obviously rave a little too enthusiastically. And I watch the spruikers.

Now, I normally feel bad (or, occasionally, anger) for the Garden spruikers – today, however, I wanted to be one, because the opportunities were almost too good to pass up. Indeed, the main spruiker for Le Cascadeur this afternoon just walked around in front of the venue yelling “brown” repeatedly into a megaphone every three or four seconds… and it worked. The line grew and – even better – started chirping “brown” to itself over and over and over again, which created a really silly atmosphere before the show even started.

Le Casca is packed; I end up sitting at the very edge of a row with a great view that was only occasionally interrupted by the excitable child behind me hitting me in the shoulder or head as he “cheered” (or, more accurately, flailed his limbs around in appreciation). And as we all settled, all we could see was Stuart Bowden in his tiger suit, sitting onstage, gently strumming a ukelele; there’s also a large activity map hanging at the back of the stage, and a large shopping bag.

As soon as the doors close and the house lights drop, the bag starts twitching: slowly, Dr Brown undoes the zip and clambers from the bag. Instantly, he’s won the children over with his wacky demeanour and rubbery expressions; then he’s playing with them, getting them involved in the performance with no tangible effort. Dr Brown turns to the activity board, and the children spot the bright icons and start screaming out suggestions straight away: bike! golf! baby! tennis! song!

“Breakfast” is a hit, as a collection of edibles are mixed into something inedible… then eaten; the sports are all suitably madcap, with the Singing Tiger or members of the audience roped in for play; “Baby” sees Brown produce baby doll, which then squirts all over himself and the crowd; and then there’s “Song”.

Dr Brown produces a microphone, taps it a few times to make sure it’s on, and then – in a move familiar to fans of his “regular” shows – bops himself in the forehead with it. It’s a silly physical gag, but it gets the audience pealing laughter as he repeats the move again and again, modulating the timing of impact for maximum comic effect. Eventually he tires of the self abuse; he summons a man from the audience and offers him the microphone to sing… whereupon the man proceeds to bop Brown in the forehead with the mike.

The audience cracks up. Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger crack up far harder, tears of surprise and laughter running down Brown’s face as he mock-throttles the man.

Eventually, after riding a tiny BMX bike off into wings of the venue, Dr Brown waves us goodbye; the kid behind me whacks me a few more times out of joy, and screams in my (good) ear for good measure. The audience – young and old alike – leave Le Cascadeur absolutely bubbling.

I’ve always said that Philip Burgers is an exceptional clown, but I was amazed at how effortlessly he manipulated the audience: there’s something innately engaging about his mere presence that managed to get all the children on-side. Bowden’s Singing Tiger, only occasionally a minor enabler in these proceedings, is still a wonderful character, and his musical accompaniment is gentle and, surreally, bordering on melancholic… but it still feels perfect for the performance, gelling with the amazing character that Burgers has created. Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown was a masterful, but supremely silly demonstration of how utterly enjoyable simple buffoonery can be.

[2012125] Huggers – The Family Friendly Comedy Show

[2012125] Huggers – The Family Friendly Comedy Show

Nik Coppin, Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, Paddy McCulloch, Mike “Dr Blue” McKeon, Craig Ricci Shaynak @ Austral Hotel – The Bunka

3:15pm, Mon 12 Mar 2012

Ever since my first Shaggers show, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Nik Coppin’s ensemble productions… but, with its kiddie focus (and, more significantly, its resultant lack of sexually-derived content), I was curious to see how a child-specific implementation of the Shaggers formula would pan out.

The answer – on this bright Monday afternoon, at least – was that it pans out pretty bloody well.

Coppin, as per usual, emceed the show, and had the job of warming up a packed room of parents and kids (who were in the age range of three to thirteen). Nik’s a lovely, affable bloke, and the adults are quickly on-side; the kids take a bit more work, though, but nothing a little bribery can’t fix, as he flings packets of lollies into the audience (and promises more such prizes to come).

The first of Coppin’s guests were the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre – and, as previously noted, he/they are silly good fun. I’m not sure a lot of the kids could actually follow the high-pitched Scottish accent, but the older crowd were definitely having a great laugh… and the ridiculous puppetry proved to be a suitable distraction for younger eyes.

Mike “Dr Blue” McKeon – a surprisingly soft-spoken guitarist – engaged the younger patrons with lots of audience interaction, some great songs, and a little music lesson thrown in for free. Then Craig Ricci Shaynak (from I Am Google) explained how to write the perfect movie trailer; this material was aimed at the older kids in the crowd, but his constant repetition of the opening line of his trailer – a dramatically deep “in a world….” – certainly caused a fair bit of mirth… except for a few of the younger ones down the front, who were terrified (which, in itself, provided much amusement to the other adults present).

Finally came Paddy McCulloch and his magic tricks. And, I must admit, I originally though he was going to be lame… but he really brought the magic to the party with a ridiculously fast-paced routine that covered rope tricks, scary(!) balloon swallowing, and a fantastic cups and balls routine that escalated to potatoes and coconuts. It was a seriously impressive spot, and certainly inspired me to see more of McCulloch’s sleight-of-handiwork in the future.

I can’t imagine any man, woman, or child would’ve left The Bunka dissatisfied with that lot. A great bunch of laughs, some edumacation, some tunes, and some blistering magic… what’s not to love?

[2012124] Eurowision Adelaide 2012

[2012124] Eurowision Adelaide 2012

CarCon @ Gluttony – Excess Theatre

11:55pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

I love the Eurovision Song Contest, and only somewhat ironically; for all the giggles to be found via Eurovision drinking games, what with bloc-politic voting and terrible costumes and awkward hosts and whatever crap England decides is a sure-fire winner, there’s also a genuine interest in the production aspects of the programme… and the music. There’s been some cracking songs entered in the decade or so that I’ve been an ESC-aholic – from Lena’s winner (and gorgeously brooding follow-up) to Turkey’s only winner to Sopho’s amazing Visionary Dream, not a year goes by when I can’t pluck a bit of pop goodness out of the seemingly cheesy Eurovision lineup that I genuinely enjoy.

But mostly, Eurovision is all about the cheese.

So a late-night comedy show taking the piss out of Eurovision? I mentally bought tickets way before they were on sale.

Our two hosts (Golden Phung-ers?) were perfect in their roles, completely nailing the awkward banter of “real” Eurovision hosts whilst looking the euro-ethnic part. Their written parts were often deplorably bad – which is, of course, spot-on – with clumsy jokes and innuendo between the Eurowision acts.

Opening up the performances was one of the chaps from Comicus Erectus, representing Greece; strutting onstage with glitzy guitar, he only managed to play a few chords of Play That Funky Music [Greek Boy], before the audience fell apart in laughter. Jenny Wynter came out with a bilingual version of Down Under for Germany, with The Golden Phung representing Croatia.

Even though I’m not a massive fan of his standup, James McCann did a brilliant job representing France; Dave Callan and his Burlesque Beauties danced up a storm for England (which would easily have been their best entry in years… a pity that Callan is Irish, then). Svetlanka Seczskittenya cracked whips for Serbia, Jason Chong represented Russia (of course!) with a mighty mime of Trololo, and Poland (as defined by the Axis of Awesome) wrapped the Contest up with the fun Surprise Sex.

But the highlight of the show – as with any Eurovision event, of course – were the Postcards: little video interstitials used to introduce each country in the contest, using glowing footage from the hosting nation as a backdrop. Eurowision‘s Postcards were performed by Mark Trenwith, all-but-naked in his black bodysuit, via the medium of interpretive modern dance; they were universally silly beyond belief as he flounced with rubber limbs around the stage, punctuating every performance with a contrasting gruff announcement of the country. Brilliant!

Eurowision was good, solid, silly fun. I’d been expecting a slightly cruel exposé poking fun at Eurovision, but what I saw was more a celebration of its silliest aspects… and that turned out to be bang-on the money.

[2012123] Instructions For An Imaginary Man

[2012123] Instructions For An Imaginary Man

Various People @ Old Adelaide Gaol

9:30pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

There’s a decent-sized group of people milling around the pockets of light surrounding the Adelaide Gaol by the time I wander out there; walking towards the focal point of the crowd, I talked to a few black-and-nametag-wearing staff on the way – is there a programme, I ask? One woman looked flustered: “we’ve run out,” she said, “but you might want to check with her.” She threw her arm in a somewhat ambiguous direction.

I head further towards the door, and politely asked the same of another woman who had one booklet in her hand. She smiled at me, and her eyes sparkled a little, but before she could answer she was tapped on the shoulder by a larger woman, wielding a cane. “Did you find any more?” she snarled.

The staff member turned to face her, and I could see her frame balk. “I could only find one…”

“Well that’s just not good enough,” screeched the woman. “How can it possibly be that difficult? You know how many people are coming; how hard can it be to run off a few more photocopies? It’s not like they’re that detailed anyway; anyone can do that!”

In the middle of the woman’s tirade, I feel a prodding in my chest. The staff member had slipped her sole programme under her arm and poked me with it; I started to say something to her, but she just waved it at me. I took it, whispered “thank you, and good luck” in her ear, and acknowledged her nod and smile with a squeeze of her shoulder. As I walked away, I could still hear the woman with the cane chastising my new friend, making the wrong statements to the wrong person… and, predictably, getting the wrong result. For her, not me.

I hang around the doors to the venue and note the crowd – it’s a very un-Festival-like mix of people, and it almost feels like a bunch of tired hippie stragglers have wandered over from WOMAD, picking up some Writer’s Week aficionados on the way, and hooked up with a hipster crowd. While we wait, a big deal is made of the “found space” in the Gaol; when the doors open, we’re firmly told that the seating was used by actual prisoners, and to not use the benches on the sides of the walls unless we’re physically frail… which meant that the hipster component of the crowd filled those benches first and foremost.

I wind up sitting on an old, thin once-was-mattress on the floor in the second row; as soon as I drop to the ground, I know that it’s going to be a long performance. It’s hard and lumpy and, I suspect, only marginally more comfortable than the concrete floor beneath it; the full house ensures that we’re crammed together such that there’s no easy way to stretch our legs during the performance.

But, given this is a performance attempting to tackle the humanity (or lack thereof) of incarceration, maybe that was a deliberate strategy; to get the audience to, in some small way, feel a level of discomfort and captivity.

That idea is given further weight by the almost interminable opening to the performance; shot after shot of the sole actor, Graeme Rose, holding a pose within his “cell” before the light faded to black. The first couple of instances defined the really clever set design; spanning the width of the cell block hall in which we were seated were two thin meshes, which were appropriately lit to create an impermeable wall, a projection surface, or a transparent screen. Rose’s cell lay between the two meshes, and beyond lay a string quartet, a piano, clarinet, baritone Nigel Cliffe, and mezzo soprano Cheryl Pickering (who also doubles up as the creative producer for the project).

After the solitary pose sequence, the performance becomes almost operatic in nature – the singers perform a series of poems written by prisoners of conscience from around the world, with the musical accompaniment providing staid backing (apart from the final piece, which yielded a stunning piano adventure). Unfortunately, the performance of the poems – and Rose’s mute prisoner enactments – all feel pretty one-note-ish… there’s not a lot of variety in the presentation. It’s almost as if the production team found a sombre tone they liked early on and applied it everywhere.

And, to make matters worse, the combination of Cliffe’s baritone, the violins, and the clarinet echoed off the hard, bright walls of the cell block to wreak havoc with my tinnitus – something I was not expecting, given the superlative acoustics that Chants Des Catacombes managed to eke out of the same building.

Between my ringing ears, numb buttocks, and insufficiently stimulated brain, I couldn’t wait to stand up and move around at the conclusion of Instructions For An Imaginary Man. Whilst some of the poems read were nice, I reckon this would’ve been a far more potent performance if it had been trimmed to a mere… oooh, twenty minutes. But bouquets to Bec Francis for the sterling set design; brickbats to the hipsters who spent half the performance reading the libretto by mobile-phone-light – this prison is too nice for the likes of you.

[2012122] Just outside of me

[2012122] Just outside of me

Vital Organs Collective @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Stables

8:00pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

I’ve really enjoyed the various shows that have appeared in the Fringe under the Vital Organs Collective banner (in 2009 and 2010) and, whilst I was less enamoured with frequent collaborators The Lost Rung last year, Just outside of me was scheduled nice and early.

This edition of the ‘Collective comprises four dancers – Emma Vaiano and Kathleen Skipp, and the two Lost Rung boys: Adam Jackson and Josh Mitchell. And, from the very first of seven or eight dance pieces that comprise the performance, it’s clear that the Vitals’ production values have gone up a notch. Screens in the background are the recipient of a dream-like space scene, with eyeballs taking the place of planets; though the opening dance is slow and contemplative, the use of light and shadow is really quite fetching. The second piece ups the tempo with a lounge bar scene, some strong physical movement, and some classical styles on display by the women. The choreography of the dancers was eye-catching, with limbs being flung about in sync; bloody lovely stuff.

The Lost Rung boys did one of their now-familiar strength pieces against a wall; again, great use of side lighting. A looped snippet of Do You Know The Way To San Jose provides the backdrop for another physical piece that starts with some gentle rolling before evolving into a stronger, physically active piece; and then a return to more tight choreography and some really attractive diagonal lines – albeit with a sudden and curious end to the piece. The final segment sees a return to the Space Eyes along with more great diagonal lines, synced to a distinct clock tick. More wall-work and a wall run(!) close out the performance.

I really enjoyed Just outside of me. Whilst there didn’t really seem to be a tangible narrative throughout the individual dance pieces – nearly all of which had a distinct visual style – they were all strong enough to stand on their own, with Kathleen Skipp’s lead on the choreography producing some exciting movement from the small cast, and Josh Mitchell’s audio work (with Norm Skipp) creating some great backdrops for the dance. Once again, the Vital Organs Collective delivered the physical dance goods.

[2012121] William

[2012121] William

The Flanagan Collective @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre

5:30pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

Pitched as a family-friendly show that relies on the imagination of the audience, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see there’s only three families waiting outside the Carry On at the prescribed start time. The Flanagan Collective’s Veronica Hare greets us at the door with a generous and gentle smile, and encourages us to sit up the front in the beanbags; in the end there’s seven kids and adults apiece, and the children happily collapse into the beanbags. I grab a ‘bag far on the left – I’m very conscious that I’m the lone adult who is not there on account of a child, and I’m desperate to not appear to be Uncle Pervy. Sadly, the other adults stay in the safety of the plastic chairs, creating a very split audience.

Veronica comes and sits with us, and a semi-circle develops around her. She’s got a lovely, approachable quality as she asks “Who has been on an adventure?”… silence. She presses a bit; one girl admits to discovering a pile of Lego. More silence. I try to help out, and say that I’d been to England on an adventure for a month; another girl, maybe a quarter my age, leaps in and immediately one-ups me by saying she spent six weeks adventuring around Europe.

We’re asked to write down an adventure that we’d like to have on a piece of paper; I say “I’d like to go skiing on a glacier,” and draw a crappy stick-figure skier to elaborate. But I’m quite proud of the diagram and, as we drop our papers ceremonially into a suitcase for safekeeping, immediately regret not taking a photo of it. We’re also given paper stars, on which we sketch our fond memories of adventure: mine was a completely unrecognisable ascent to Arthur’s Seat.

Veronica then settles back and starts telling a story: there’s a Special Town in a forrest where make-believe things live. A Man and a Woman… well, that’s not important, really. The Man disappears one day, without explanation; the Woman, dismayed at her loneliness, writes all her sadness onto pieces of paper.

And I begin to get a little… uncomfortable. Isn’t this is a bit dark for youngsters?

But Veronica wraps that tale up and moves onto another – that of the eponymous William. William loves books, and accidentally discovers a mystical bookstore whose owner (somehow) contacts him later at home. William wishes himself back to the bookstore, and finds the book that has been haunting him since his first visit to the bookstore… the book written by the Woman. But, strangely, William doesn’t read it; he puts it away, and time passes; William grows up.

And it all gets a bit… fantastic from here.

Older, William finds and attempts to read the book – it disintegrates. On a whim, he returns to the bookstore, and meets Polly… who was sleeping in the biggest book in the store. William and Polly travel to the Special Town (from the first story) to save the world; they fail, but then create a new world… one in which stories thrive, because everyone loves them.

It’s a lovely ending to a lovely story – whilst the fantasy content occasionally distanced me from the production, Veronica’s gorgeous storytelling kept everyone engaged; not only does she present the tale in a very inclusive manner, but she also conjures ideas from the audience: what did the bookstore owner look like? How did William get to the village? (The adults helped out with that one; apparently, the journey involved going to egypt, underground to a crypt, thence on a boat, through a magic portal back to the bookshop, via a cab to South Africa.)

William, like The Flanagan Collective’s other show The Fastest Train To Anywhere, is chock full of whimsy, and you get the feeling that there’s more than a little leeway with the tale that’s told. And much of the joy is in the telling – Veronica is ace, and her constant callbacks to the various forms of wish-making (closing eyes, or dancing, or simply believing – then casting the wish with “fairy dust”, or ripped up paper that must be a nightmare to clean up at the end of a show) are a delight… but, in retrospect, I wonder whether I could have made it easier for her by sitting in a more central position.

Those of us children in the beanbags warmly applauded Veronica at the end of the story, then left holding our fond-memory stars… which, looking back on it, is a lovely touch.

[2012120] False Messiah

[2012120] False Messiah

Aerial Manx @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre

4:15pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

It was a small audience of only a dozen or so who wander into the Carry On, which was humid and sweltering after basking in the afternoon sun. I could feel the moment the Carry On’s entrance was closed – the temperature started rising immediately – and, after a moment or two of inactivity, I turned around to see if anything was happening. What I saw was Aerial Manx sitting cross-legged on the matting just inside the entrance to the tent, eyes closed, hands on his knees, meditating; after a second or two he sprang to his feet in one smooth movement and took to the stage.

Manx introduces himself, and explains that his act is more about mind-over-matter than spectacle; he’s relatively quiet and moderate in his diction, and there’s something calm and serene about him as he absentmindedly roams the stage whilst contact juggling a crystal ball. The way his body seems to orbit the ball is mesmerising and, with the gentle tone of his voice, I wonder if Manx isn’t trying to sneak the entire audience into a hypnotic state.

Manx then engages in some propane-assisted fire eating, a little self-hypnosis, and follows that up by swallowing a sword and then lifting thirty kilograms with the exposed handle. And that’s pretty, well, amazing. There’s more contact juggling, a Baoding ball demonstration, and some incredible flexibility on show via a little hardcore yoga.

But then comes the pièce de résistance: Manx swallows a sword (whose blade length would have placed the sword tip around his navel) and then performs backflips with the sword in place. And that resulted in one of those wonderful, all-too-rare moments of disbelief, where – despite my physical proximity to the spectacle – I simply could not correlate what I was seeing.

Without wanting to downplay Aerial Manx’s efforts, False Messiah was fucking staggering. As sideshow spectacle of undeniable quality, mixed with a heartfelt (but not overbearing) new-age mysticism, I reckon it’d be nigh-on impossible for anyone to leave that performance with anything other than an wide-eyed, incredulous smile on their face.

[2012119] Scott Mangnoson presents: This is what I do

[2012119] Scott Mangnoson presents: This is what I do

Scott Mangnoson @ Gluttony – Funny Pork

2:00pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

After the previous magic show, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another magic performance straight away… but a ticket in the hand is worth honouring, so into the smaller Funny Pork I went, telling myself that things could only get better.

Not only was the venue smaller, but the audience makeup was very different, too – not a child to be seen, just a bubbling collection of adults content to counteract Funny Pork’s humidity with cheery beverages, leading to a very easy-going and agreeable crowd. And it didn’t take long for magician Scott Mangnoson to get them (and me) onside: his opening trick, with ping-pong balls multiplying in his hands whilst he waved them in front of our faces, was performed with a pace and polish that banished any memory of the previous show.

But the initial rousing cheer that the audience gave him did not satisfy; Mangnoson spent some time grooming us in the style of applause that he wanted, and the lessons were accepted with good humour. Then he rattled through some great card transfers, a bit of fork bending, and starts a self-deprecating piece where he flubs about “reading people’s minds” to determine (i.e. guess) various audience member’s favourite ball-sports, animals, and words; it’s all rather cheesy and lame as he justifies his mistakes, until he reveals the contents of an envelope that’s been in plain sight the entire performance, the contents of which were the audience’s original selections. Impressive!

In fact, it’s only the last trick – where he claims to be able to walk through a paper wall without breaking it – that fails to impress; it’s an odd anti-climax to the performance, but Mangnoson shows enough earnestness and personality to sell the finale. And I leave the Funny Pork very happy at having caught his act – it was a perfect selection of tricks for the close-in audience, and Mangnoson was able to sell it with style.

[2012118] The Comedy Magic Show

[2012118] The Comedy Magic Show

Luke Hocking & Alex de la Rambelje @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre

12:00pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012

It must be hard being a stage magician, performing to an audience of grumpy parents and antsy kids at lunchtime on a sticky Sunday in a full and rapidly warming tent. And the websites for Luke Hocking and Alex de la Rambelje certainly give the impression that they’re accomplished magicians.

But up on that stage today, they looked nervous and uncomfortable… and unpolished.

They open with some strong and convincing sleight-of-hand magic tricks that confounded the younger members of the audience, and bemused the more senior spectators; but “confound” is a kinda quiet verb, which meant that the audience reaction to their opening brace of tricks was… well, silence. Or rather, silence plus ambient noise from the rest of Gluttony.

And that must have felt unbelievably bad to the guys on stage; they must have felt like they were tanking.

As the heat inside the tent rose, Alex and Luke began looking more and more uncomfortable in their suit/vest attire; beads of sweat became distinctly visible, and their smiles were noticeably forced. Some of their tricks looked really cheesy, and kids in the crowd started yelling out the “answer” as a result – it started feeling adversarial. The familiar sliding die box had the kids yelling at the stage, with tangible tension in their voices… but there was no applause when the “real” trick was revealed, more seething resentment that they’d been fooled.

The magicians tried to use some audience interaction to win the crowd over, but this backfired when one kid has a really adverse reaction to one of their jokes and storms off the stage. But that moment somehow proved to be less uncomfortable than when Luke and Alex spent a few minutes spruiking their magic kit – a collection of cards & a book – to parents: “instructions for one hundred tricks, great for self-confidence and self-esteem.”

Despite some neat card transference tricks, and a decent rings finale, The Comedy Magic Show felt like a very lacklustre affair. I know they tried hard, and that the audience was, at best, unreceptive, but despite their best efforts I left the Carry On actively disliking Alex and Luke… and that’s not something I would expect to take away from a either a comedy show or a magic show.

[2012117] SKIP

[2012117] SKIP

One Point 618 @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Stables

10:30am, Sun 11 Mar 2012

I’m still feeling a little bitter and withdrawn after the awfulness of last night’s show, so an early morning start that saw me waiting outside the Stables – surrounded by children running around laughing and giggling – was both annoying and delightful: sometimes I feel like wallowing in my own hateful spite, when what I really need is a little reminder that there’s joy to be had in the world. Luckily, Jane and her Mum also turn up and manage to drag me further out of my funk with animated discussions of the good (and bad) of the Festival period.

When we enter the wide expanses of the Stables, the thing that really hit me was the colour; bold swatches of primary colours adorn the simple backdrops, not a subtle hue amongst them. And then there’s the shoes: dozens of pairs of shoes arranged on the dance space, all brightly painted to match the set.

Dancers Rebecca Bainger and Emma Stokes take to the stage – they, too, are boldly coloured, and their wide, exaggerated movements somehow equal the colours in some synaesthetic interpretation of volume. With sweeping limbs, elaborate twists, overacted expressions, and loads of vocalisations, they create a sense of exploration and fun that had the children in the audience (who were most certainly in the majority) focussed and interested from the get-go.

The dancers explore the shoes, discovering that each pair had its own personality, influencing their wearer to dance in a uniquely identifiable way. Yelps and shouts guide them from one pair of shoes to the next, each short dance piece distinctly different from the last; then they discover clusters of shoes strung together via their shoelaces, and there’s a great piece where a shoe-rope is flung around.

Eventually, the dancers have made a real mess of the shoes on the stage; the shoes need cleaning up, and their own shoes need removing. “Who can help us?” one of the dancers asks the audience. “I can!” responds a small girl in the crowd, and a torrent of youngsters spills onto the stage to bounce around, looking back towards their parents for signs of approval.

SKIP is not a dance performance of precision, but of infectious exuberance; its aim seems to be to engage the audience, to get their feet and minds moving. And it’s only after SKIP is over that I notice the disclaimer “Suitable for ages 4-12” on their flyers – bollocks to that, I say. SKIP provided me with the colour and uplifting, unmitigated joy that I needed, and for that I was extremely grateful.

(As usual, Jane says it so much better.)

[2012116] Hard To Be A God

[2012116] Hard To Be A God

(Dir: Kornél Mundruczó) @ Old Clipsal Site

9:00pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

I’ve seen some pretty ordinary Festival shows in my time… I’ve even seen some that I’ve downright hated. But never have I left a performance so… angry? disappointed? no – disrespected as I did with Hard To Be A God.

And I had every right to feel disappointed – I’d really built this show up in my mind as being capable of providing the most confrontational and challenging work in this year’s Festival. But, such is the distaste that has been left behind, I can’t even re-read the Festival Guide to try and figure out why I’d thought that… the words are poisoned in my mind now.

In the middle of the former Clipsal site at Bowden stood a shed, lit up like a beacon. It was a surprisingly cool evening, and patrons – it was a full house, I’d heard – shuffled around outside, hands in pockets, waiting for admittance; when the doors creaked open (ominously, in retrospect), they scurried in to grab an optimal position on the slightly raked seating platform. And there was the first issue – with two sides of the audience each bordered by a semi-trailer, it was obvious early on the there may be sightline issues.

Not that it really mattered.

A short movie is shown on each of two video screens – abstract, a man in a boat. A man scurries in, checking back over his shoulder; he draws aside the curtain that forms one of the walls of the forward semi-trailer. Inside is a sewing sweatshop, some bunks; it’s filthy, and it’s inhabited.

Three young women work away under the watchful eye of Mammy Blue; she also prostitutes them, sells them for use in pornography, and deigns to mother them… but only after subjecting them to rustic abortions. Mammy Blue is the interest of the grizzled truck driver who has brought them here (nominally “Adelaide”); there’s a poorly conceived side-plot which implicates a fictitious South Australian politician in the porn industry, and when a “doctor” arrives to hire some of the girls for a porn shoot, it rapidly descends into a snuff movie.

And that’s about the first thirty minutes. The hour or so after that was just purely desensitised violence and debauchery, ending with a utterly pointless bloodbath. Torture, rape, home abortions, murder… and an ill-fated attempt to lighten things up with a musical number. An even iller-fated attempt to give the plot some legitimacy by tacking on a time-travel twist in the tail.

Hard To Be A God was bleak to the point of soullessness. Once inside that shed, absolutely nothing about the production appealed to me; even the potential shock value of the (first) torture scene was given a cold, detached aesthetic, separated from the audience by forcing the performance onto video screens. The pragmatic lambs-to-the-slaughter of the girls was almost trite, with little reason given to the audience to give a shit about these women.

And, not content with being merely viciously misogynistic, Hard To Be A God seems to go out of its way to hateful to everyone… especially the audience.

I’d love to use the word “clumsy” to describe Hard To Be A God… but it just felt too calculated in its callousness. I’d like to say that it felt like a Fringe show on a Festival budget… but Fringe shows typically have infinitely better everything. I wish I had an excuse to say that this work had a misguided power behind it… but there was no power, just detached debasement. I’d love to be able to say that the production was contentious… but it was merely shit.

I hated it. Hated it. And I wasn’t alone: people in the front row had no problems walking out in the middle of a scene. Only about a quarter of the audience that made it to the end of the performance clapped… and even then, there was a distinct reluctance, and most of the applause stopped almost before the actors returned upright from their first bow – it was purely perfunctory politeness, not appreciation, and the second bow was barely feasible. As we exited the shed – ever-so-quietly, as if the hive-mind was telling us to just shut up and keep our head down and we’ll make it out unscathed – I noticed programmes scattered everywhere – there were very few people who wanted their momentos.

I left as quickly as I could, wandering back towards the Entertainment Centre to catch a tram back into the city. On the tram, I saw a group of four people sitting there, looking sullen; they had a Hard To Be A God programme (one of the few that left the premises) poking out from under a jacket. One chap saw me looking at them, and glanced to see my own programme; we looked at each other a second before we both slowly shook our heads before looking away. Even though I desperately wanted to talk to someone about it, to try and figure out Why?, I recognised that sometimes, it’s best to just let the dust settle.

…seriously, though: Why?

[2012115] Angels’ Eyes

[2012115] Angels’ Eyes

Melbourne Dance Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

I scooted from The Arch into The Studio, sneaking in as the last admitted punter – I’d warned the wonderful Holden Street staff that I had a very quick changeover from Squidboy, and received a nod, a smile, and a “we weren’t starting without you” as I scooted to my seat. Settling in, I grinned inwardly for the second time today, feeling like I’d managed to squeeze in another show that common sense dictated wouldn’t be possible.

Melbourne Dance Theatre have brought a fair contingent of dancers over for this performance – eleven, according to the programme – and the opening piece of Angels’ Eyes is certainly impressive: waves of dancers in tight lines push forward, angled towards the audience. There’s a hint of congestion in the dance on the left-hand side of the stage – just like MDT’s Heroes last year – that suggests a wider space may have been preferable, but it’s still an exciting start.

But then comes a few spots of circus antics, and I’m a bit… well, confused. One dancer starts running around making pew-pew-pew noises, and I’m perplexed. I take a moment to check the programme for the intent of the piece, and manage to learn that Angels’ Eyes consists of thirteen pieces, intended to convey a view of the world through the eyes of children with autism… okay, that all sorta makes sense then. A little context is a marvellous thing sometimes.

There’s pieces where “parents” appear to be dancing together, with their movements giving off a tangible sense of lament. There’s extended periods of giggling girls. There’s a bizarre swimming sequence. And it’s all really well performed, and most of the dance is really quite lively and bouncy, with lots of action; most of the thirteen pieces are quite enjoyable.

But there didn’t really feel like there was a narrative thread – or, indeed, any connection at all (save the performers) – between the pieces. And, whilst Two Points of Reality (the dance piece I’d seen in the same venue earlier in the day) had pieces that communicated the emotions of the characters, Angels’ Eyes (with the exception of the aforementioned “parents’ dance”) just seemed to take fragments of ideas and use them as a basis for the choreography.

And, as I mentioned before, the dancing itself is enjoyable – but I felt like I was being held at a distance from the source material, and that left me feeling that the experience was a little hollow, certainly compared to Heroes last year. That’s a bit of a shame, but not enough to turn me off MDT; they’ll still be getting my custom in the future.

[2012114] Squidboy

[2012114] Squidboy

Theatre Beating @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

6:30pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

After the amazingly bizarre Constantinople, I was dead set on catching one of the responsible parties, Trygve Wakenshaw, in his solo piece, Squidboy. In fact, this performance (coupled with Hard To Be A God, formed the basis of planning for this whole day… and that combination is itself odd.

But not as odd as the creative flotsam that myst be floating around Wakenshaw’s head… because Squidboy is, once again, quite eccentric.

Squidboy – Wakenshaw with a ludicrous hat – opens proceedings with a few squid factoids, then asks the audience to imagine him in a room. In comes an imaginary bird, a cow, a sheep… no, wait, that’s another bird in disguise. Wakenshaw narrates, thinks aloud, and makes noises for all the inhabitants of the room… and in comes Pooch the dog. Bark bark!

Ink!” Trygve yells, and the lights drop to blackout.

The lights come back up, and Squidboy disposes of the imaginary creatures in his imaginary room. The scene shifts; suddenly Squidboy is swimming with his mortal enemy, The Whale, before he is inadvertently caught by a fisherman. A minor costume change as the fisherman becomes the narrator; he spins a tale in which a boy finds a giant squid apparently dead on a beach. Dashing to tell everyone in his village, they all return to see the creature, only to discover that the squid had merely been sleeping… and had thence gone for ice cream.

…and right about now, the Bizarre-o-meter in my brain just switched off. To protect itself from overloaded damage.

Squidboy finds himself in an elevator, and creates an imaginary girlfriend: the Emergency Elevator Voice (which is actually another squid called Susan). After Susan moves to Mexico, Squidboy and Pooch decide to drive over to see her, and up being chased by bagpipe-wielding Scots on chariots.


With a flurry of limbs and crashing sounds, Squidboy destroys all this imaginary stuff he’s created. His manner changes; it’s Trygve now, and he explains that he’s really just an actor with some bits of fleecy fabric for a costume. It threatens to get a bit meta, but then – with the assistance of some audience suggestions – he creates an imaginary lounge room on stage. And destroys that too.

Suddenly, with a confetti-dropping flourish (“a gift of love and imagination”), the show is over.

And you know what? I actually felt a little bit sad when it was over, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. It was like there was some strange subversive poignancy niggling my heart-strings while my brain was being assaulted by the imagination of a madman.

But Trygve Wakenshaw is an extremely talented madman. As a comical actor, he is superb: long, gangly limbs make his physical theatrics (and occasional interpretive dance) incredibly easy to smile at, and his sense of comic timing is superb. And there’s no doubting his sense of imagination and fun, though I’m struggling to figure out who his ideal audience would be: kids would love the noisy over-acting and nutty nature, but it would take an adult’s mind to really appreciate the full extent of the wackiness on offer.

Look – is this the tightest performance I’ll ever see? Hell no – I’m not even convinced there’s much of a script, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Squidboy was just a couple of checkpoints and a sixty-minute finish-line. But when you can see someone get on stage and be so bizarrely creative… well, that just makes me feel that everything’s right with the world. But the fact that Squidboy was witnessed by only a mere handful of people this evening breaks my heart… I can ride a real emotional rollercoaster sometimes.

[2012113] Butterscotch

[2012113] Butterscotch

Emma Clair Ford @ La Bohème

4:30pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

After remembering her name from nominations for Best Cabaret in 2011’s Fringe Awards, a cheeky matinée guaranteed that Emma Clair Ford saw me squeezing into La Bohème this Saturday arvo. Of course, matinées and La Bohème kinda feel like strangers – they’re almost at odds with each other, and it’s as if the venue doesn’t really know what to do with sunlight. But it’s a nearly full house, the weather’s moderated enough to afford a glass of red, and I’m looking forward to see what Ms Ford has to offer.

What she brings to the table is a largely autobiographical tale in which she recounts the significant events of her (relatively) short life so far. The early years are really endearing, as Ford paints a beautiful picture of the forest in which her family spent her younger years, and of the learning experience from releasing her beloved pet rabbit back into the wild – rather than make its quick death a dubious and potentially tasteless episode, she finds a way to craft a bittersweet narrative through that chapter of her life.

Growing up, there’s all the blossoming and heartbreak that’s associated with young womanhood, then the travel and having her eyes opened by The World. Throughout, Ford is constantly second-guessing herself, and struggling to figure out what makes her special; how she will make her mark.

But, having seen her perform, it’s pretty easy to see what makes Emma Clair Ford special: she’s a wonderful stage presence, at once open and giving and mysterious and cheeky. Despite the somewhat familiar life-until-now core of the show, the manner in which she weaves the narrative through the verses and choruses of her songs (in particular, Six Months in a Leaky Boat and The Boy in the Bubble) is a real delight.

And her singing… gorgeous. Clear, unfettered tones sweep you away, and her storytelling manner is spot-on. Pacing, volume variation, everything. Ford also had lovely piano accompaniment, consciously softening when she drops into narration; but I reckon I missed the best that her lighting would’ve conveyed. In the dark of night, I think the right lighting cues could’ve added a bit to the theatre of her production, but as La Bohème battled with the afternoon sun some of the effects were lost.

But that’s totally my fault for trying to squeeze in the matinée. And it most certainly didn’t take anything away from the performance: Ford is, most definitely, an incredibly talented cabaret artist, and I’m pretty bloody certain I’ll be grabbing a night-time session next time she’s in town… I reckon her combination of story and song will be magical on an inky evening.

[2012112] Outland

[2012112] Outland

Belt Up Theatre @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Tiny Lounge

2:00pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

A quick glance at my watch after Two Points of Reality saw me ringing for a cab and scooting back to AC Arts with minutes to spare before the start of Outland, Belt Up Theatre’s other production this Fringe. A frantic dash to locate the impromptu ticket office ensued, and – as I sank into an armchair in the Tiny Lounge – I was gloating a little, thinking that I’d just managed to sneak in an extra show that I’d have initially thought unlikely.

Whilst the layout of the Tiny Lounge was familiar from The Boy James, and the cast from that show are all physically recognisable, Outland is a very different beast. Using the life and work of Lewis Carroll as a basis, Outland seems to blend the “real” world of Carroll with that of the Outland (as found in his Sylvie & Bruno fictional universe).

I think.

Because, let’s face it, Outland is confusing as fuck.

Here’s what I can figure: Charles (Dodgson… “Lewis Carroll” was a nom de plume) exists in a “real” world, with his associates Arthur and Murial (who are also characters in one of the Sylvie & Bruno stories… look, I’m barely hanging on, here). However, Charles’ epilepsy drops him from the “real” world to a “dream” world that contains the Outland, Wonderland, and Elfland. In this dream world, Arthur and Murial become the childlike sprites Bruno and Sylvie… and also play double-duty as the Sub-Warden and his Wife, as parts of the Conspiracy in Outland are played out. A magical cape also appears at some point, possibly transporting characters into their opposing worlds…

I think.

Of course, I could (or, rather, do) have that synopsis completely arse-about: dream could be real, or both could be wrong, or something else… following the logical threads (if, indeed, there are any) isn’t something that is required to enjoy Outland. It’s possible to just revel in the spectacle of the production – the visually lush Tiny Lounge is used to full effect, with fantastic direction ensuring that everyone in the audience got a great view of proceedings as they were presented in the round. The performances are all thoroughly wonderful, with all three actors flitting between their multiple characters convincingly, and there’s some minor audience interaction – punters are plucked from the audience to play (embarrassment-free) ancillary roles; at one stage, Charles grabbed my feet and examined my shoes in detail, proclaiming them to be “special horizontal weather boots”.

For all the confusion that Outland projects upon the audience, it also offers a lot in exchange – not least of which are some of Carroll’s ideals. Worlds are gifts from God, he suggests, encouraging us… no, daring us to daydream as adults, to create spectacular worlds in our minds. And that’s a pretty special gift… and one that’s gratefully received.