[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.)

[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.

[2012111] Two Points of Reality

[2012111] Two Points of Reality

Move Through Life Dance Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

1:00pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012

It’s a sticky afternoon, and there’s only a relatively small crowd that’s gathered out at Holden Street for Two Points of Reality; that’s kind of understandable, though, when you consider that (a) it’s a dance piece with a matinée, and (2) its précis indicates that it tackles the subject of dementia. On the subject of the former: hey, I love matinées, and I love dance; on the subject of the latter… well, let’s just assume that I’m facing my fears or somesuch.

Before the dance begins, some Fight Dementia ads are projected onto a screen; they’re chock full of great production values and scary statistics, causing the girls sitting in front of me to vocalise – and discuss – their surprise… so one could consider that move an illuminating success.

Once the dance begins, we’re shown the physical deterioration of a woman as she dances with her own fading memories; sweeping movements create a sense of peaceful beauty before the body contracts, becoming a reluctantly guarded husk. The woman’s daughter appears – her actions are full of frustration, lament, and – later – an almost shy carefulness. When those two performers are together, there’s a genuine sense of narrative… and it’s a story that I recognise. When the woman pulls away from the daughter in indignant anger, someone was really tugging on my heartstrings.

But there’s another player in this performance, too – the nurse. Treated with indignant indifference by the daughter, her interactions with the woman start as a struggle, hint at dependence, before a symbiosis develops. And, with her high energy solo, the choreography (which remains excellent throughout) seems to paint the nurse as noble; heroic.

My memory will probably relate Two Points of Reality and My Unseen Disappearing World as companion pieces purely because of the core subject matter; however, they’re clearly very different performances. And the wonderful thing about both is that they tackle the subject matter with dignity; that Two Points of Reality also manages to create a credible narrative thread through an attractive and engaging physical dance piece is commendable.

[2012110] Gareth Berliner : An INCH of Integrity

[2012110] Gareth Berliner : An INCH of Integrity

Gareth Berliner @ Gluttony – Funny Pork

10:00pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

During the 2011 Feast Festival, I spent a bit of time with my Fringe Buddy down at the Feast Hub catching comedy and cabaret shows alike. After one show, we wound up boozing on with the comedian we’d just seen; as soon as my Buddy was out of earshot (on her way to the ladies), the comedian had turned to me and said – with an endearing earnestness – “I’ve got a massive cock.”

“That’s just great for you,” I told him, “but I have no interest in it whatsoever.”

That’s a mildly amusing story in my memory. But its relevance to this blog post (besides the publishing of the memory for posterity) is that this comedian – who had himself provided some solid laughter earlier on that evening – had raved about Gareth Berliner. Raved. His favourite-comedian-ever kind of rave… so much raving, in fact, that I’d drunkenly stabbed at my phone’s virtual keyboard to enter Berliner’s name for future reference.

And so it was that I came to be sitting in the Funny Pork tent for the last show on my birthday. Now, I’d caught (half of) a Rhino Room late show on March 6 where Berliner had performed a spot, and he struck me as being pretty funny there – stories of being molested by a German lesbian and being dumped by an epileptic lass (moments after taking viagra) were told with a frankness and eye for comic detail that impressed. But when those same jokes appeared this evening… well, they (understandably) lacked the punch of unknown material, but they also felt longer, stretched out… softer.

Whilst I identified with Berliner’s nice-guy-getting-shat-upon persona, most of his stories didn’t really feel like they reached any particular climax. They’re all very nice stories, well constructed and told – meeting and living with his fiancé, travel and drug experiences, a frank discussion of his own diseases and hospitalisations – and they’re all sprinkled with humorous nuggets. But there doesn’t appear to be any thread joining these stories together, and they lack the comedic punch on their own to result in uproarious laughter – a fact that alienated the row of girls sitting in front of me, who spent most of the show looking at each other quizzically, trying to see if anyone in the group had figured “it” out.

But here’s the thing – Gareth Berliner is such a genuinely nice guy, and so earnest and honest in his approach, that it’s hard to remember this show in a negative light. It was just… nice. Sure, he may be more of a raconteur than a filthy laugh-merchant; but I guess the moral of this post is that you shouldn’t necessarily put someone on your Must-See Comedy List on the advice of a well-endowed gay comedian who’s hitting on you. And, having just typed it, that really should have been obvious at the time.

[2012109] PRESS-PLAY! (Week 1)

[2012109] PRESS-PLAY! (Week 1)

Adelaide Duende Collective @ Bakehouse Theatre – Studio

9:00pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

I leave Spoonface Steinberg and turn around, straight back into the Studio for the first of Duende’s shorts for this Fringe. I’ve become quite the fan of Duende’s work in the last couple of years, so it was easy to slot both episodes of PRESS-PLAY! into the schedule; that this managed to complete a Bakehouse treble was just cunning planning.

This evening’s PRESS-PLAY! was a thirty minute short, Six Dollar Solitude. It opens with Alex – newly married but suffering from an inexplicable malaise – being badgered in a bike shop; she purchases the bike and anthropomorphises it as the second principal character, Gus (who remains proudly on display for the entire performance) and, with a hint of hesitation, starts riding.

And, as she discovers a tranquility for which she had (unknowingly) been yearning, she keeps riding, leaving Adelaide and inadvertently heading towards Alice Springs.

As she rides, we’re privy to phone conversations with her husband, parents, and friends; there’s flashbacks to the party girls and hubby again, but – in the context of her unplanned adventure – these characters all seem distant. It’s not until Alex and Gus run into trouble in the outback that any other convincing characters come onto the scene; most of the time, we’re left with a girl who appears to be emulating the later parts of Forrest Gump… but without the historical impact or celebrity. Or nobility.

Despite being initially put-off by the heavy-handed sleazy salesman in the opening scene, Renee Gentle does a decent job flitting between the characters at her disposal – although having the spotlight constantly following her and blacking out as she switches characters has the effect of making character interactions seem slow and clumsy. And, unfortunately, I don’t think that John Doherty’s script really gives her a chance to shine: whilst there are some bright spots – the begrudging acceptance of Alex’s parents to her actions, and the subsequent tension between them – the bulk of the characters in the play feel underdeveloped – in fact, it’s only Martha, the kindly hotelier from Pimba, who feels “real”.

Whilst it’s entertaining enough – and bravely brief – Six Dollar Solitude was my least favourite Duende production to date. A shame, certainly, but not enough to scare me away from the second PRESS-PLAY! instalment…

[2012108] Spoonface Steinberg

[2012108] Spoonface Steinberg

Boo Dwyer @ Bakehouse Theatre – Studio

7:30pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

There’s usually a couple of shows every Fringe that capture the punters’ interest, that make such an impact that word-of-mouth almost feels mandatory; one Fringe-going couple that I encountered at several events (starting with The Boy James) had raved with such intensity about Spoonface Steinberg that, had it not already been on my Shortlist, I would’ve been convinced to include it. But, given the amount of buzz I have felt for this show, there’s a disappointing turnout for this Friday-night session: the small Studio would’ve only been a third full.

Spoonface is a young, autistic girl with terminal cancer… that doesn’t sound like a basis for an uplifting story, and for the most part the show remains in this slightly grim realm. Spoonface – clad in grubby pyjamas, thick socks, and the beanie that signifies the chemo-ridden child – tells the story of herself and those around her in short scenes, separated by blackout; these vignettes are contemplative to the point of slowness, due partly to Spoonface’s condition, but also due to her detailed observations of those that surround her – the guilty mother, philandering father, her doctor, and the housekeeper that gives her the affection and stimulation she needs. A fascination with opera and a recognition of her impending death colour all these scenes.

As the play progresses, Spoonface’s monologue focusses more on the spiritual – she sees her condition as a gift from God and, as death becomes inevitable, she starts wondering faith and philosophy… heady thoughts for a child. And the final few scenes are just beautiful, with the child using wonderfully evocative language, building upon the idea of a unified oneness in nothingness.

Boo Dwyer (also known as Mrs Mickey D) puts in an absolute blinder as Spoonface – there’s a measured sense of gravitas to her portrayal, with an immense amount of fine detail – the compulsive movements of her fingers were a great touch. As Spoonface’s condition deteriorates, her face seems to become paler, more drawn – it’s a really remarkable performance.

Unfortunately, Lee Hall’s script is a bit uneven. Even taking the logical inconsistency of a small child being so deeply observant and philosophical about life, religion, and relationships, the pacing is almost lethargic at times: some scenes are extremely contemplative with no progression of plot or understanding, and – after over one hundred shows in this Fringe – I was really struggling to stay awake through some of those slower moments.

But that takes nothing away from the power of Dwyer’s performance; it really is a wonderful effort. Trim out a couple of those largely inconsequential bits, though, and there’d be a stunning and impactful show in Spoonface Steinberg.

[2012107] The Big Bite-Size Soirée (Menu 2)

[2012107] The Big Bite-Size Soirée (Menu 2)

White Room Theatre @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

6:00pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

A regular Fringe Friend consistently raved about The Big Bite-Size Soirée – the show was already on my Shortlist, but it was only after talking to her that I learnt that there were three different sets (or menus) of ten-minute plays. With that in mind, I realised that my OCD would probably force me to see all three menus; I figured I’d better get started early.

Turning up for Menu 2, I spent an interesting five minutes chatting with the director of all fifteen pieces, Nick Brice. Though he was noticeably guarded – fair enough, given the fact that some fat redhead has started firing twenty questions at you – it’s always interesting talking to overseas artists who’ve decided to chance their arm in little ol’ Adelaide. Into the theatre, and there’s only twenty people (tops) in the audience for this series of five short plays.

Uncomfortable Silences kicks things off, and it’s immediately recognisable – it’s me and one of my friends. Unrequited Love, Just Good Friends. It hits maybe a little too close to home to be enjoyable, but I can see the quality in the piece. Vintage follows, a charming – and funny – tale showing a modern couple who decide to live their lives as if they were in the 1940s. Clever, and well done. All Hail is a relatively straightforward pisstake of Macbeth – entertaining enough, but not exemplary.

Transactions is probably the pick of this Menu, featuring a chap who pays a prostitute for a “real” relationship, with an inadvertent – and uncomfortable – “I love you” admission well before his time is up. Scott McAteer’s dialogue is fantastic: “Ten minutes – is that all you can afford?” she asks. “I’m saving,” comes the bittersweet reply.

Finally, The Key to the Mystic Halls of Time is an awkward piece revolving around two World of Warcraft players; the elder bloke was obsessive, the younger far more balanced. I’m not sure what the intent of this piece was supposed to be, but it felt like I was being lectured that oldies were being told not to play games… and, if that’s the case, writer Matt Cassarino can fuck right off (I’m a proud, old gamer).

Throughout all five pieces, the White Room cast – Alice Robinson, Andy Hutchison, Lisa Beresford, and Sean Williams (who looks scarily like Rob Sitch) were exemplary. Usually operating in pairs, they manage to create believable characters onstage, which must be tough given the fifteen(!) bite-sized plays they’re performing over the Fringe. And, whilst some plays are more successful than others (Key to the Mystic Halls really rubbed me the wrong way), Menu 2 was strong enough overall that I don’t regret my compulsion to see the other Menus too.

[2012106] Am I Good Friend?

[2012106] Am I Good Friend?

Yve Blake @ Bull & Bear Bar and Restaurant

3:30pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

I’m concerned as I glance over The Program that is given to me as I hear into the rear room of the Bull & Bear; the photos contained therein seem symptomatic of a mind that’s obsessed with internet meme images. Especially cats. There’s ten cat pictures. Watermelon-head cat? Yep. Sniper kitten? He’s there too.

Now, I hate cats. Okay, it’s not so much “hate” as it is “extreme resentment”. Because those little fuckers get to look cute and cuddly and then when you sleep they eat your pizza and when you yell at them they look all cute and cuddly and you can’t yell at them anymore and it’s not fair.

But anyway…

The room’s pretty chockers, and – given this is the first of three performances of Am I Good Friend? – I’m thinking it’s a family-and-friends affair… a thought that is solidified when Yves Blake takes to the stage (well, the little semi-circle of space at the focal point of this makeshift theatre) to raucous applause. And if there’s one thing I want to remember about Yve, it’s that she is enthusiastic.

Armed with PowerPoint presentations and previously-assembled movies, she describes – in comic detail – how she is going to scientifically determine whether she is a “good friend” to people. To argue her position, she presents statistics (Facebook Friends vs Real-World Friends), shows interviews with random strangers who espouse their Friend Judging Requirements, and tracks down long-lost friends (or even just Facebook de-frienders) to ask them what she could have done better.

Whilst her multimedia content is very much from the technology-wielding Generation Y outlook – and hence came across a little childish to an old fogie like me – there’s an interesting thread to the show that has a bit of heart to it. The persistent multimedia got a little wearing after a while, but Blake changes it up with bits of audience interaction; we were all asked to contributed the name of a former Friend for her dataset, and there’s an oddly sweet bit where she gets a punter to confess her Friending sins for her.

It has to be said: Blake is a dynamo of a performer. Her writing shows a wonderful self-assuredness (the text of The Program is madcap fun), and her delivery is oddly engaging: she had great pitch variation in her voice, and a weird habit of leaning into audience members when addressing them… intimate, and maybe just a little bit creepy. In a kooky way. Getting the tassels out at the end was odd, too.

And then, after she’s guided us to a feel-good ending (we all got our “golden truth egg” that assured us that yes, we can be good friend), she thanks us for attending; this show is a big risk, she tells us, especially since she’s only eighteen years old.

And then content of the show, and all the little notes I’d made that said “YOUNG” in uppercase, underlined several times, made sense.

Am I Good Friend? was guilty good fun. It left me with a smile on my face, and I’m smiling thinking about it now (ten months later), and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Yve Blake does in the future.

[2012104] Rapskallion

[2012104] Rapskallion

Rapskallion @ Idolize

11:30pm, Thu 8 Mar 2012

An unintended gap in the schedule leads to a last-minute decision to see Rapskallion, who – despite the précis promise of music laced with junkyard and romance – were relatively low on The Shortlist. Still, with the timeslot open, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity of RushTIX… only to belatedly remember that the Garden’s ticket office doesn’t use the FringeTIX system. Full price it was, then.

Green ticket in hand, I park myself in the queue that’s only about forty deep at the nominated start time… and the previous show was still playing. I get a comfortable leaning position and start sketching out the route the eponymous vehicle took in Back of the Bus, and start jotting down a few notes. The queue builds behind me, but I’m trying to focus on dumping my memory; suddenly I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn and look at the tapper – a somewhat familiar face, but I can’t place him.

“I want to thank you,” he says with a smile.

I’m still drawing a blank. “Oh?”

My face must have given away my lack of recollection. “Yeah; you were the only other guy there last night…”

Last night, last night…

“…at the GhostBoy show. There was no way I was getting up on stage, so thanks for that.”

The memories flood back in. “Oh! You’re the grumpy guy!” He grins, and we start chatting, swapping show stories and recommendations, and checking the cricket scores for the benefit of his son. It turns out he’s reviewing for one of the street mags, so we talk about that process until the line starts moving.

Once inside, the reviewer and I have different priorities, so we go our separate ways. My limbs are tired and aching, so I grab a booth with a good view of the stage; Rapskallion take to the stage, and it’s a pretty big complement of players: drums and double bass, squeezebox and trumpet, guitars and violins, and vocalists of both genders. Their songs… well, they’re not so much songs as they are seedy stories with musical accompaniment.

And the music… well, it’s kinda-sorta one part folk, one part cabaret, one part blues, and one part filthy Lithuanian vodka. Drunken rhythms lurch along, tempos stay up to keep the dancers happy (hey, I almost got up for a jig myself – and that is saying something), and – for some bizarre reason – I found myself fascinated with the punctuation of muted trumpet in the songs. The fact that I felt like I was revisiting a drunken, sloppy Crooked Fiddle Band (from much earlier in this Fringe) should only be considered a positive thing.

Look, there’s not really much else there is to write about here. Whilst I’m not sure I’d be prioritising a repeat viewing of Rapskallion’s seemingly sordid act, I enjoyed their performance enough to warrant buying a couple of CDs… and certainly didn’t decry their win in the Fringe Awards a week later.

[2012103] Jon Brooks – Breaking News

[2012103] Jon Brooks – Breaking News

Jon Brooks @ Austral Hotel – The Bunka

9:30pm, Thu 8 Mar 2012

The morning after the city-ruining Fringe opening parade, which left the streets strewn with detritus both cast-off and human, I bumped into a stern looking Jon Brooks in front of the Austral. I’ve chatted with him before, mainly about our shared love of Bill Hicks (Brooks introduced the first screening of American in Adelaide), so I stop to say hello and ask how he fared on opening night. He looked disgusted: “drunk wankers everywhere,” he lamented, “I saw pissed people holding up an ambulance that was trying to take someone to Emergency.” We chat a little about politics before I depart, and I assure him that his show is on my Shortlist.

(As an aside, a passerby heard us talking about the Fringe and stopped: “there’s too many venues,” she complained, “There’s too many shows.”)

And so I arrive at The Bunka on this evening, and waiting outside is a couple who I’d seen at a couple of shows previously (starting with The Boy James). We chat and compare notes – they rave about Spoonface Steinberg again, escalating it up my List – before we settle in for Brooks’ comedy.

Noting that today was International Woman’s Day, Brooks opens with a piece that – at first blush – felt sexist… before it evolves into an expression of outright revulsion and disgust firmly aimed at The Project‘s Carrie Bickmore, which ended with an evocative depiction of Bickmore being staked through two orifices. Opening tirade over, Brooks grins broadly at the small assembled crowd – we’re all on board, and ready for the ride.

But despite the name of the show, and the topicality of the opening piece, a large amount of the show is spent telling comic stories of a personal nature – and, in particular, the intervention that Brooks’ family forced upon him when he went home to Port Pirie for Christmas. It’s a funny story, but also carries with it hints of compassion and alcoholism truisms – a really well-rounded piece of writing.

Things head back towards the news again as Brooks recalls one of the first pieces of newspaper reporting he undertook – the tale of Midnight Lenny in Andamooka – before he rounds out proceedings by comparing the power struggles of the Labour Rudd/Gillard factions to the public pop-brutality of Chris Brown/Rihanna. And that piece, once again, highlights the strength of Brooks’ writing and delivery: rapid-fire descriptions that get twisted and turned for great comedic effect.

Jon Brooks is a bloody brilliant comedian, combining an ability for astute analysis with a coarse acerbic tongue and pacey, punchy delivery. Add onto that a fearless approach to his material selection, and he’s totally won me over.

[2012102] Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death

[2012102] Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death

Matt Parker and Timandra Harkness @ The Science Exchange – Auditorium (RiAus)

8:00pm, Thu 8 Mar 2012

Being an engineer and mathematician by training, I like numbers. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, I like the idea of combining mathematics and comedy. And whilst Simon Pampena has given that idea a whirl, I was seeking something a little more adult.

With a title like Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death, I thought I’d found a good match.

In front of a near capacity room at the RiAus (downstairs was nearly full, anyway – and that’s where the bar was open), Math teacher Matt Parker starts out strong: he certainly knows his stuff, and is comfortable with PowerPoint, a whiteboard, and a rowdy crowd. Comedian Timandra Harkness, however, didn’t really come across convincingly at all. Where Parker is almost blithely introverted and focussed on the math at hand – the classic straight-man – in attempting to bring the mirth to proceedings, Harkness occasionally comes across as… well, needy. Desperate for laughs.

At least the math was reasonable: Parker throws around all manner of weird death statistics, which Harkness attempts to punctuate with quips and one-liners. They look at how the media can distort statistics, and demonstrate how marketing campaigns twist numbers to their advantage. There’s some well-worn factoids about shark attacks and plain/car/bicycle death rates, and they do a good job of highlighting that a statistically unlikely outcome is… well, unlikely.

But then there’s an audience participation bit that falls a bit flat – look, the audience member only got one of five of the unlikely deaths in the right order of likelihood, so surely he only deserves 20% of the applause, right? And, whilst they’re aiming for a crowd-pleasing discussion of the benefits of alcohol, the “analysis” feels incredibly loose – with precise figures on one hand, “a bit” of alcohol on the other, and a chunk of data dismissed because doctors “sneer” at the result.

So, whilst Your Days Are Numbered was at least mildly entertaining – and mostly pretty good with the numbers – I’m still blessed (and, in a way, cursed) by the fact that I’ve seen an incredible nerdy comedian before… and he still forms the high-water mark for science-based comedy. Unfortunately for everyone else, they continue to be judged against Don McMillan… and come up short.