[2013127] Dorothy Parker’s Sweet Release of Death

[2013127] Dorothy Parker’s Sweet Release of Death

Lucy Gransbury @ Ayers House Museum – State Dining Room

7:00pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

Shameful admission time: I didn’t know who Dorothy Parker was prior to this show. I thought her namedrop in the show’s title was a slightly verbose way of introducing a fictional character to the audience prior to the performance… it’s just that everyone else in the near-full audience knew exactly what kind of character they were going to be watching. I was just basing my character on four words in the précis: “Poet. Alcoholic. Aspiring corpse.”

(Incidentally: that is how you write a précis, people.)

When Lucy Gransbury drags Parker’s tired, drunk, and bedraggled form onto the stage (the northern end of the gorgeous State Dining Room), she brings with her an incredibly dry and cutting wit, which is then used to analyse and eviscerate perceptions (both her own and of others) of her life’s accomplishments. And there’s no beating around the bush, here – Gransbury portrays Parker as a ruthless and flawed drunk, critical of everyone (herself included), who also happened to be aware of her own talents.

The central thread of the performance – the continuing attempt to write the perfect suicide note – is not overused, and provides a darkly comical mechanism for Gransbury to skip from one scene to another. But it was Gransbury’s performance that really sealed the deal for me: she absolutely conveyed the stubborn conviction of the intellectual drunkard, with her seemingly booze-afflicted voice allowed to open up to pure notes for the occasional ironic song. Sure, there were a few bumps in the narrative – a few comical asides that seemed out-of-place and mystifying to the audience – but overall the script stayed strong throughout.

It’s a testament to the overall quality of the show that I actually started seeking additional information about Dorothy Parker after the performance was over… and blimey, that girl sure knew how to write a line. And, despite any flaws in the show itself, Sweet Release of Death has left behind only positive memories – of an insanely entertaining mind, a vicious wit, and a great impressionist performance.

[2013126] Squaring The Wheel

[2013126] Squaring The Wheel

Jens Altheimer @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Le Cascadeur

5:30pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

“A story about thinking outside the box,” the Fringe Guide promised. I like the idea of that, especially when delivered as a children’s show – I think that anything that encourages non-traditional thought processes is brilliant.

But after a mere five minutes of Squaring The Wheel, I’ve written it off… I’m completely unengaged, and I’m struggling to think of another show that delivered as much ennui in as short a time. Whilst Jens Altheimer performs some simple tricks throughout the show – hat juggling, some reasonable sleeve-in-sleeve slight-of-hand – none of it grabs me in any way… in fact, the rest of his set (in all its Rube Goldberg-ian glory) drags attention away from the human performance.

But the first time the stage is put to any significant use – the first of Altheimer’s two elaborate stunts, involving balls rolling around like a Mouse Trap game, and other toys used as mechanical triggers – doesn’t really pay off. The show starts to garner a little interest when Altheimer juggles a broom with two sticks, engages a woman in the audience in paper-bag-popping percussion, and creates music with PVC-pipe instruments. The second Rube Goldberg machine is much better than the first, facilitating some clever juggling that’s visually intriguing, but the closure to the show is weak and unsatisfying.

I’m sure the idea behind Squaring The Wheel is honourable; I’m sure Altheimer is entirely pure in his intentions… that he wants to put on an engaging, family-friendly show. But too much of it feels ramshackle and half-arsed… and bits of it remind me of when I used to play the aforementioned Mouse Trap as a kid: when the trap would get triggered and fail. There’s quirky engineering curiosities on display, but they’re obscured by dodgy implementations and a lack of polish.

[2013125] Chipolatas present ‘Gentlemen of the Road’

[2013125] Chipolatas present ‘Gentlemen of the Road’

The Chipolatas @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Romantiek

4:00pm, Mon 11 Mar 2013

During the prelude to Limbo, Jane‘s friend had mentioned that The Chipolatas not only presented a great children’s show, but a great show full-stop – I forget the extent of his superlatives, but they were sufficient for me to rock up to the Romantiek on a stupidly hot afternoon (again).

There’s a thick, heavy smell within the Romantiek – it’s almost like varnish (though, in retrospect, it’s more like to have been something like paraffin), and the heat exacerbates its impact… I’m immediately wondering whether this is the environment that day-destroying headaches are made of. But, in front of a small audience of only around twenty – half of which were parents desperately trying to keep their children cool and somewhat attentive – The Chipolatas created an utterly charming performance which, unfortunately, seemed completely at odds with the weather.

Presenting a series of short stories, music, and occasional forays into acrobatics, the three Chipolatan men have a very different take on a kid’s show: rather than the typical brash and rowdy music that accompanies most children’s shows, their acoustic tunes – delivered with a small drum kit, an accordion, and some occasional guitar and trumpet – are quiet, tuneful pieces with thoughtful lyrics that insult neither child nor parent. And their audience interaction is similarly intelligent: after coaxing a girl from the audience (there were initially fearful tears), the manner in which they empowered the youngster to walk a tightrope (which, admittedly, was on the stage floor) using a hi-hat as a makeshift balance umbrella… well, that was just heartwarmingly cute.

A little bit of object juggling (which was occasionally sloppy – no real surprise, given the Chipolatas were sweating buckets) was accompanied by a minimal acrobatic set – a couple of somersaults and cartwheels, and a solitary handstand. The lightweight physical movement pieces were followed by a campfire of juggled torches – with the house lights lowered, it’s a gorgeous experience with the flames erratically lighting the space. The juggling itself was pretty impressive, too, with torches being juggled in pairs and with a lot of Chipolatan swapping, and they milked for laughs by exaggerating the flicking of sweat from their brows.

But that pretty much nails the big problem with this performance – it was bloody hot in the Romantiek, and no-one in their right mind should have been juggling flaming torches. The audience (mostly) suffered silently in the heat, and The Chipolatas really had to work had for their applause. And they fully deserved applause – it’s a wonderfully intelligent and respectful production, full of quiet and encouraging moments – but the venue (and the sun outside) conspired against them.

[2013124] Sketch The Rhyme

[2013124] Sketch The Rhyme

Sketch The Rhyme @ Gluttony – The Pig Pen

11:50pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

Sketch The Rhyme hung out in the Theatre section of the Guide, which is a good way to get my attention; using a phrase like “unique game show where freestyle rapping meets fast paced animation” helps, too. A nice late-night timeslot almost guarantees that the show gets slotted in… as a result, I found myself in Gluttony with a whole lot of people wearing baseball caps. I felt very old.

The show largely lives up to its description: backed by a tight three-piece band (drums, bass, guitar, which really makes The Pig Pen feel small), a pair of MCs play a series of games whilst quartet of artists scribbled away in the background, their output projected onto a screen above the stage. The games included the MCs alternately rapping about the sketchers as they attempt to formulate a cohesive picture (Mr Squiggle style), and “Dead Celebrity Head”, where the MCs tried to guess the name of a dead celeb on the basis of some pictorial assistance (the bearded MC couldn’t figure out Don Bradman… for shame, sir. For shame.)

“Last Man Standing” was a fun word battle, where they had to get four rhymes in a row… starting with simple one-syllable words, it quickly ramped up to five-syllable words, and that was where the nature of their skills on the microphone came to the fore. In fact, this was probably my favourite bit of the night, as it allowed an insight into how the MCs minds worked while they were figuring out the approach to the next rhyme: their fallback patterns of speech came to the fore here.

Abandoman joined the MCs for the final game of the evening (“Guess the Next Topic”?), and suddenly it was like night and day: he was clearly a step above the previous levels of MCing (and I’d been reasonably entertained up to that point!), and guaranteed that I’d be squeezing his show in at last.

And whilst the MCs were fine, and the live music was a lot of mostly gritty-funk fun, the only real disappointment of an otherwise enjoyable show was the output of the sketchers… I guess I’d been expecting something like a pro cartoonist whipping out satirical cartoons in near-record time, which – in retrospect – is more than a little bit silly. But it did leave me a little deflated, and no amount of clever wordplay could overcome that.

[2013123] MKA’s SOMA

[2013123] MKA’s SOMA

MKA: Theatre of New Writing @ The Producers Garden

10:00pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

Truth be told, it’s mention of Huxley’s drug of societal control that drew me to MKA’s work; and, once I’d committed to seeing SOMA, my OCD kicked in and compelled me to try and see all the MKA shows. So – I can thank my Year 11 exposure to Brave New World for this.

Written and performed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin, he introduces this bizarre parody of a late-night talk show by constantly referring to himself in the third person – and believe me, when you’ve heard “Tobias Manderson-Galvin” repeated half-a-dozen times in thirty seconds, the words take on a comedy all of their own. Within the construct of the personality-driven variety show, Manderson-Galvin engages the audience – and society at large – with wry observation, and occasional bitter and biting accusations.

Levity is well weighted, and the odd audience interaction piece was made even more amusing by the fact that (for much of the show) there were only three available participants, leading to an awkward crowd surfing on a waveboard exercise. But the callbacks to the show’s mind-numbing namesake, and the context in which they’re performed, seem to honour Huxley’s vision of “utopia” – even if the show is a mish-mash of anything but.

But, more memorable than the show itself (or the trio of audients) was the fact that six drunk burly men walked into the performance (without paying) and parked at a bench in the shadows. It didn’t take long for them to start mumbling between themselves, and from there it was only a matter of seconds before Manderson-Galvin asked them, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.

They declined his request, and started hurling abuse.

And then, in one of the ballsier demonstrations of crowd control, Manderson-Galvin (who, it must be noted, is tallish – but extremely scrawny, and dressed in an incredibly odd manner – even considering that it’s Fringe-time) storms off stage and gets right in their faces.

“Have you paid? No? Well… fuck off then. Get the fuck out. FUCK OFF.”

(The last profanity was delivered with a guttural yell.)

Given the inebriation and physical appearance of the drunkards, I was expecting things to go really pear-shaped… but, after some consternation and derogatory comments, the group left… one of them dropping a cheap parting shot: “You’re the worst comedian ever.”

But, on the basis of the satire present in SOMA, Manderson-Galvin is certainly not the worst comedian ever; instead, he’s produced a funny, thoughtful, and caustic encapsulation of normative society’s ills.

[2013122] MKA’s 22 Short Plays

[2013122] MKA’s 22 Short Plays

MKA: Theatre of New Writing @ The Producers Garden

8:30pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

Every so often I encounter a work that makes me so thankful that the Fringe exists; that the opportunity exists to see a work that lies so far outside the mainstream. 22 Short Plays is such a work – there’s little doubt that I would be incredibly unlikely to see this outside of Fringe season.

Mind you, it’s not like there was a massive crowd in tonight, either; a mere handful of people. Still, I got to chat a little with director Tobias Manderson-Galvin before the show… before I strapped myself in for – as the title suggests – twenty-two short plays, all penned by David Finnigan.

And from the quirky opener, Commercial For Jeans, it was clear that the cast of three would have their work cut out for them as they darted from character to character, costume to costume, prop to prop; the playlets were all very different pieces of work, and almost seemed to be ordered to create the greatest possible dissonance between consecutive pieces. They veered from straight-up comedy to grim satire, light-and-fluffy to dark-and-heavy; by the time Conor Gallacher, Tom Dent, and Kerith Manderson-Galvin have made it through to the bizarre closing piece Coat Made Of Eyes, they’ve certainly covered the theatrical gamut – with, it must be said, great aplomb.

And whilst the twenty-two short plays (and two interludes) all had their own charm, special mention must be made of the abstract genius of Beowulf Computer Game – an utterly bizarre (yet completely logical) melding of folklore and video-gaming culture. That snippet alone almost justified the cost of entry; that the other content on offer was almost as good just made for a wonderful experience… and made me feel more-than-happy with my decision to take a chance with MKA.

  1. Commercial For Jeans
  2. Communist Anthem 1951
  3. Cumgoblin
  4. Westpac A.T.M.
  5. Disney Channel
  6. Dune
  7. Sad Threesomes
  8. Disease Play
  9. Preview For The Island
  10. Pharmacy Security Systems
  11. Footprints: A Parable Of Man And God
  12. Teenge Girls On The Railway Platform
  13. Slave Market At The Top Of A Ski Lift
  14. Let’s Climb On Each Other’s Shoulders
  15. 13 Angels
  16. Your Kidneys
  17. Sitcom In Three Different Time Periods
  18. Friction
  19. The Cigarettes 1965
  20. Beowulf Computer Game
  21. Bomber Aircraft
  22. Coat Made Of Eyes

[2013121] Rip Drag Ruminate

[2013121] Rip Drag Ruminate

Adelaide College of the Arts & Elder Conservatorium of Music students @ Adelaide College of the Arts – XSpace

6:30pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

An opportunity for AC Arts’ third year dance students to explore their physical and choreographic art, Rip Drag Ruminate is also an opportunity for family and friends of the students to publicly support the students, as well as let the general public have a look-in; but as a result, my Fringe-frazzled attire was quite obviously not the norm amongst the sea of familial-support formalwear. But, sweat-soaked and bedraggled, I managed to get a slightly less offensive seat on an aisle, and settled in for a quintet of contemporary dance pieces.

The first piece, Chris Mifsud’s Surrounds, was an interesting performance – but perhaps more for the choice of tenor saxophone for the backing music. Aimee Brown’s Norma disappointed – despite the interesting subject matter underpinning the piece (Marilyn Monroe’s bipolar disorder), there didn’t appear to be any real message or narrative… worse, the physical performance by the pair of dancers lacked both synchrony and snap to their movements when it felt like they were needed.

Abbe Peters’ Tessellate enticed with great use of strobe lighting, though the choreography felt like it was an exercise in what Chris Mifsud (appearing this time as a dancer) could do. Margot John’s Lost in Translation was the highlight of the ensemble, with four dancers performing wide, sweeping movements, drifting in-and-out of sync in a manner that recalled the stunning Drumming. Finally, Rita Bush’s Unexplained presented some interesting movement, but was most memorable for the live cello accompaniment.

At the end of Rip Drag Ruminate, I left the XSpace a little grumpy… it felt like it had been a distinctly uneven set of performances. But after a few days (weeks, months), I realised that that unevenness was largely due to the outstanding – and engaging – nature of Lost in Translation; without that standout piece, there would only really have been a lull due to Norma. And with that in mind, the AC Arts dance students (and the Elder Conservatorium composers & performers who provided the live music) put forth a pretty decent chunk of contemporary dance.

[2013120] Afternoon Fringe Showcase

[2013120] Afternoon Fringe Showcase

Nik Coppin, John Burgos, Micah D Higbed, Stuart Mitchell @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

4:45pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

As previously indicated, I’ve changed my mind about the value of ensemble shows: where once I was adamant it was a better proposition to give an artist money (more) directly, as my tastes have broadened I would rather the opportunity to see as many performers in as efficient manner as possible. And so, with a gap in the Schedule, I managed to sneak in a visit to the Austral’s Afternoon Fringe Showcase: the Red Room was absolutely packed and, whilst I managed to snaffle a seat by an ever-so-slightly cooler window, I still yearned for a dry heat somewhere in the low forties… it must have been a very sticky forty-five in the Room, making it incredibly uncomfortable.

Nik Coppin, who also manages the Showcase, made light of the heat & humidity and emceed with his usual cheer. Trotting out some familiar shark material – and a little taster of his racist/racism material – he also managed some good-natured callbacks with audient “John” from Perth throughout the show.

John Burgos was the first feature act of the afternoon, and – leveraging his swarthy looks – his terrorist material really hit the mark. On the other hand, Micah D Higbed based his spot on some heavy-handed analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which tanked… badly. Really badly. As in “silent room” badly. And no amount of punnery – even his “Anonymouse” pun – was going to help him climb out of the hole he dug himself.

Stuart Mitchell rounded out the show nicely: he’s got a really approachable presentation, though one joke felt like it was veering into gay-bashing homophobic territory. But he maintained a great form throughout, with good laughs from his other material.

In all, with the exception of Micah’s deadzone in the middle of the show, this was a pretty reasonable way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon… some decent laughs, and I think I managed to sweat out a kilo of weight in the Red Room sauna. Comedy and weight loss – what’s not to love?

[2013119] The Book of Loco

[2013119] The Book of Loco

Alirio Zavarce @ Tandanya – Theatre

3:00pm, Sun 10 Mar 2013

More than a little buzz had surrounded The Book of Loco; theatre-loving Fringe-goers were raving about it, yet didn’t seem able to describe why it was deserving of their praise. Or maybe they were being spoiler-friendly.

Which is nice, because there’s plenty to spoil. Alirio Zavarce starts the performance sitting in the crowd, and when he stands up to initiate proceedings – amidst a technologically marvellous set of cardboard boxes (used both as props and projection surfaces) and accompanied by an unnerving recording that states “In case of emergency, be vigilant” – it becomes clear that this Loco is going to be, at the very least, a unique experience.

Delivered by Zavarce largely as a monologue, Loco stems from his personal life – the loss of his mother, the breakup of a relationship, the impact of the 9/11 attacks: all these things lead him to believe that, on the basis of his life, everyone can get a little bit crazy… a little bit loco. And whilst the personal content is quite moving, there’s some forays into content of a political nature, too.

There are interstitials, breaks between scenes and set-pieces, where the pre-recorded audiovisual content takes over; and the direction of these moments is superb, with light and sound being bandied about the cardboard boxified theatre with inventive abandon. The boxes themselves start as an imposing wall, but their integrity is frequently broken – by simulated explosion, with boxes tumbling as the bass rumbles, or by Zavarce bursting through them, piss-farting around to change tone from a deeply personal scene.

Typically, shows I see at the tail-end of the Festival season have their blog posts written well after the fact; this one is being written about ten months after seeing the show. That means that I rely more on notes, rather than memories, and that usually means that my emotional reaction can be tempered somewhat: I tend to gloss over the bad stuff, and my overall feelings about the show – as defined by what I write – are usually more positive the longer I leave the writing.

Not with The Book of Loco, though. I distinctly remember walking away from Tandanya thinking that the piece was pretty powerful; my notes include references to the curious duality of the personal and political content, and I can totally understand why. But my subconscious has been chewing on the performance for a while, now, and it has formulated some sticking points: the juvenile crudeness of passing around a plate of shit, on the pretence of assigning it a value (to demonstrate capitalism). The extreme polish of the production – in particular, the superb lighting amongst the wall of fresh cardboard boxes – is almost in conflict with the messy jump-cut narrative.

But, most of all, my memories now foster the idea that Loco was an uncomfortable lecture. Like a uni lecture for a course that you’re only half-interested in because The Object Of Your Desire is taking it but the lecturer is trying to be Kool with the Kids and is being uncomfortably personal. Zavarce’s personal content still rings true, but the links to the political feel forced… now. But at the time, it was genuinely intriguing.

[2013118] Eurowision Adelaide 2013

[2013118] Eurowision Adelaide 2013

CarCon @ Gluttony – Pig Tales

10:50pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

I love Eurovision, I really do. And last year’s Eurowision was an event that captured all the cheese of Eurovision, added comedy, and created a parody of the self-parody… and, as a result, locked in Eurowision for all future years.

And the fact that this episode of Eurowision fell on my birthday? Perfect.

Whilst last year’s Eurowision location was really well organised (with raked seating allowing everyone a good view of the wide stage), this year’s venue proved to be less successful – the late start didn’t help, either, with a sold-out crowd squeezing into a very sticky Pig Tales. But, once underway, our heavily accented host and hostess kept things rolling with their predictably cheesy “jokes”.

Geraldine Quinn opened proceedings representing Australia, and was followed by the awesome Gravity Boots, who performed their Roach nightclub oddity for Moldova. And whilst I can’t remember who performed Flashdance for the Ukraine, I can remember the armpit hair; I’ve also completely drawn a blank on the Uzbekistani performance.

Local cabaret regular Annie Siegmann served Poland well, Malta was represented by mime, and the East End Cabaret crew represented England. The Golden Phung were only a little bit racist representing Japan, and (once again) James McCann absolutely blitzed it for France.

But – as with last year’s show – the Postcards were again the highlight of the show, with Mark Trenwith reprising his black body suited role and introducing countries through the power of interpretive dance. This year, though, he took it one step further and dispensed with the bodysuit by the end of the show, performing one Postcard completely nude… add onto that some “pyrotechnics”, and Eurowision Adelaide 2013 proved to be a completely silly winner.

[2013117] What the Body Does Not Remember

[2013117] What the Body Does Not Remember

Ultima Vez @ Dunstan Playhouse

8:30pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

In what has widely been recognised as a very strong dance programme in the 2013 Festival, this was the piece (along with Sylvie) that had people talking excitedly at the launch. What the Body Does Not Remember, the debut piece by Ultima Vez (and choreographer/founder Wim Vandekeybus), is spoken of with reverent tones in contemporary dance circles… or so I am told.

But I was bloody excited to have the chance to see this alleged seminal piece; to be able to do so on my birthday was almost too good to be true…

…but it’s been a big day. It’s been a big day that began in the early hours of the morning, contained lots of heartfelt hugs, more-than-a-few celebratory beverages, not enough sleep, a Blind Date, lots of trekking around my beloved city, and plenty of joy. It’s been a long day… and this is the point where things started catching up to me.

There’s something about the inky blackness of the Playhouse that accentuates any doziness that I may be trying to ignore; as a result, as the dancers from Ultima Vez start their almost voodoo doll-esque puppetry (as a woman’s nails scraping over a desk are invisibly linked to two male dancers writhing on the floor), my eyelids are drooping. I hate that they are, and I’m secretly thankful when the performance gains more dancers, and becomes more vibrant: the bodies span the stage as they clasp each other and are swung around. These broad movements are enthralling… exciting.

Bricks start getting tossed around… and I’m a little bit lost. It becomes a bit loud… and I’m back on board. And then there’s a sequence that catches my imagination, but not in a good way: the cast, decorated with (what appeared to be) the United Colours of Benetton, criss-cross the stage, stealing each others’ jackets. There’s humour to be found there, but the piece further evolves: it becomes seedy, an undercurrent of violence begins to emanate from the stage. It’s violence directed towards the female cast, and it’s all very… well, rapey.

And that leaves me feeling unsettled, disturbed… but also unsure of myself. I start wondering whether there’s an explanation for that violence, a context, a callback from earlier in the piece when my eyelids weighed more than the universe and my mind needed a break. Because there were parts of What the Body Does Not Remember that were genuinely engaging… and then there were bits that left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. And there was a big Benetton ad in the middle, too, so colour me confused.

[2013116] I’m not pale, I’m dead.

[2013116] I’m not pale, I’m dead.

The Roof The House @ Gluttony – The Runt

6:00pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

Back into the hot-and-uncomfortably-sticky Runt I venture for another show, and this time I’m well aware that the venue is going to prove super-problematic: I’m not pale, I’m dead has done well on the word-of-mouth front, and most of its remaining shows are sell-outs. As a result, The Runt is very uncomfortably chockers… and the tight space and lack of airflow makes the environment stifling.

Luckily, the show’s buzz is entirely deserved.

Writer/performer Lydia Nicholson opens the show with an intriguing premise: she purports to be a ghost (enlisting – then ignoring – help from the audience to verify that assertion), and we’re witness to the how-to-be-dead seminar she’s attending. As she relays her learnings from the seminar, facts about her demise are deftly woven in almost absent-mindedly – absolutely no attention is called to them. And that leaves me feeling good – Nicholson clearly trusts her audience.

Even better, then, when there are hints that her death was unnecessarily tragic – and was it her father’s fault? But these factoids, too, are never really evolved; the manner of her own death, via questions she keeps asking-without-asking, is never clearly resolved. Even as we work towards the show’s conclusion, when Nicholson implicitly suggests that a reveal is coming, she coyly sidesteps and evades any real narrative reveal.

Not tying up the loose ends is a ballsy move… but in the context of this show, with all the confidence shown to the audience, it totally works.

Nicholson’s view of the afterlife is entertaining, and if it’s anywhere near as kooky as she imagines it’s going to be a great place to spend my death. And her presentation is excellent – not only is she a great actress, but she shows fantastic comic timing with her jokes. And, in case you missed the hints, I loved the script: it’s sharp and funny and heartwarming and tragic and unafraid to leave the finer details to the audience.

And massive props to Nicholson for the useful sheet of information found on every seat in The Runt, too – “Program and optional hot weather fan”. Cute :)

[2013115] A Simple Space

[2013115] A Simple Space

Gravity & Other Myths @ The Birdcage

4:00pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore Gravity & Other Myths – I saw them very early in their careers, and was completely blown away. They’re a great bunch, too – very friendly and approachable, always happy to chat with a fan, and many times I’ve wished them every success as they’ve developed.

So it was a no-brainer when I discovered that I could see a matinée of their new show on my birthday – the stars certainly aligned for that one. And I was super excited to be in the front row of the U-shaped seating plan; right on the top corner of the square matted area with great viewing angles back to the wall at the rear of the stage.

The Gravity & Other Myths crew – a little lighter in number since I last saw Freefall – strolled almost casually out to the centre of the mats, knowing smiles on faces and skipping ropes in hands. They start skipping, faster and faster and faster… until one clips themselves with the rope. They all stop, still smiling, and the substandard skipper removes an item of clothing. They start again, and continue their game of strip-skipping until one of the lads – clad only in his jocks – is forced to go to the back of The Birdcage. He faces away from us, removes the underwear, and does ten skips naked.

It’s a ridiculously good-natured start to the show, and I’m completely smitten with GOM all over again.

But then comes the more physically engaging acrobatics… and oh my fucking god it’s incredible. Jascha is swung and thrown between the boys with a complete lack of inhibition, her body whizzing past the audience wrapped around the mat. There’s a piece where everybody enters into a grapple, torsos and limbs enmeshed in a human knot, and Jascha crawls all around the mass without ever touching the ground… I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it’s amazing. And then there’s a stunning human staircase, where Jascha walks from the mat, onto cupped hands, bent knees, then shoulders; the boys run from the back of the line to the front, Jascha climbing ever higher until she’s stepping between the shoulders of two two-man towers, and then onto the top of someone’s head…

Look, it was just incredible. And – when they were handing out stress balls (with which the audience could pelt the GOM crew in a little tension release exercise), Jascha held out two… but then, seeing me accept them whilst grinning like a loon, she smiled, gave me a wink, and handed me another ball. What a great birthday present :)

All this makes it sound like Jascha is the undoubted star of the show, but the entire GOM crew are on an equal footing; the boys, at times, share her sense of balance and finesse, and she possesses their strength. Not only that, but they’ve gained a live drumming accompaniment that gives the performance a further sense of urgency. But the pieces they choose to perform within A Simple Space give the show an amazing structure… it just flows from one jaw-dropping trick to another, each member performing exactly what was required. And I honestly think it’s the best-sequenced acrobatic show I can remember.

Is it the most polished show? Well, there are international contingents who will almost guarantee a flaw-free performance, and GOM had a few slip-ups this afternoon. But I could care less about a stumble here or there; in fact, it adds to the reality of the production… the knowledge that there are real people performing these stunts which could have real consequences. But what you don’t get from anyone else is that proximity – at one stage, there’s a stumble and the three-high structure is less than a metre from me. I could see every bead of sweat, every twitching muscle as they recover.

And that, to me, is far more engaging – and way more exciting – than the gleam of a polished performance.

I raved about this show to everyoneespecially to a friend who happened to be working for The Guardian, and was looking for things to show her international editors. I really really really hope that Good Things came of that – because GOM totally deserve it. They are, without a doubt, the must-see acrobatic troupe.

[2013114] Mr Shaggles Circus World

[2013114] Mr Shaggles Circus World

Shannon McGurgan @ Gluttony – The Bally

2:00pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

I was a massive fan of Circus Trick Tease; there’s been a tinge of sadness in the last couple of years when I realise that they weren’t performing in the Fringe. So I was delighted to spy Miss Tinkle and Mr Plonk hanging around the Garden one afternoon; I introduced myself, raved about how much I loved their work, then blundered on about how I wish they were doing a show again.

There’s a hint of annoyance as Mr Plonk – Shannon McGurgan – hands me a flyer featuring his Mr Shaggles persona.

Oh. Faux pas, we meet again.

So – in support of the Circus Trick Tease family (and partly in penance) – I committed to seeing Mr Shaggles Circus World. And there’s always a bit of a concern that niggles the back of my mind when turning up at a show aimed towards kids or families – I’m always afraid that other parents are going to look at the chunky orange-haired guy and wonder if he’s actually Captain Kiddie Stalker. But on this hot afternoon, there were actually more adults than children in the crowd; only four youngsters, who had to be cajoled to sit down the front, and around ten adults, who all sat near the entrance of The Bally fanning themselves furiously.

McGurgan bounds in wearing the bright greens and reds of his alter-ego Mr Shaggles, and there’s a faint hint of disappointment in his eye when he sees the thin crowd. But he quickly drags the youngsters on-side by “taming” some balloon animals, introducing them (via puppetry) to Bruce the angry koala, and (in the guise of the Argentinean Rod Reguez) gets some juggling action in.

It’s a shame that there were so few children in the crowd, because I think Mr Shaggles would create a glorious rabble with a gaggle of kids; as it was, he had to rely on young Jasmine to act as his chief Animal Trainer (she was great, firing up with pantomimic “He’s behind you!” exasperation). Lachlan, a slightly rowdy audient, was also cunningly corralled such that his outbursts were used for the enjoyment of others, and not just distraction. But when Mr Shaggles got all the kids on stage to perform acrobatics, the parents’ smiles and cameras came out for what I imagined would be quality shots.

Whilst Mr Shaggles Circus World didn’t really stand up to the ensemble (and adult-oriented) Circus Trick Tease, it’s clear that McGurgan worked tirelessly to entertain the kids – his shirt was absolutely drenched by the end of the show. And whilst I appreciate what was being performed, I reckon I might have hit my limit with kid’s circus shows in hot & humid tents.

[2013113] Blind Date

[2013113] Blind Date

Big One Little One @ Adelaide CBD

12:00pm, Sat 9 Mar 2013

Me and dating… well, we’re not really familiar with each other. I’ve never done any speed dating, and I’ve certainly never gone on a blind date. But it was approaching March 9, my birthday, I’m in a happy place, and I feel emboldened to do something out of the ordinary. And with Blind Date‘s précis – “Trust a stranger and lose yourself in a unique one-on-one experience” – I found it.

I’d bought a ticket nice-and-early, and on March 4 I’d received an email containing a survey. I filled it out – a little personal info (I made it quite clear that the date was going to be on my birthday), with a handful of what’re-you-all-about-now questions – and, on March 8, I received my date’s completed survey… and I don’t mind being a little disappointed to see that my date was going to be another bloke. Even so, I was determined to make the most of the experience.

The email also contained a series of instructions – where to meet, what to do, and (more importantly) what not to do:

You’ll meet your date outside the Art Gallery of SA, located on North Terrace. Please arrive as close to the time of the date as possible, and take a seat on a bench nearby. At 12pm, close your eyes and wait for your date to arrive a few moments later. Your date will greet you, offer you the blindfold to wear, and take you through the ‘rules’ of the date.

It is vital that you keep your eyes closed at all times, especially when your date arrives – instinct tells many people to open their eyes and turn to face the person saying hi, but we really do need you to stay focused on keeping your eyes closed and facing away.

The date will run for approximately 60-80 minutes – this can be negotiated between you and your date during the experience, and will also be dictated by such considerations as weather, traffic and the rhythm of the experience.

On my way to the Art Gallery, I stopped by Morning Glory and bought myself a Girls’ Generation notebook – hey, it’s my birthday, and I feel justified in indulging myself in something silly and fun. At the Gallery, I find a bench in the shade, and – at 11:59-ish – I shut my eyes. And listened… listened closely.

But my date – Bren – approached me undetected. A kind voice in my ear – “Pete? I’m going to blindfold you, is that OK?” – and, with blindfold applied, he explained that he was going to take me on a tour of the city. Sounds great, I said; he offered options as to how he would guide me on my blind journey, and I opted to be led by the forearm.

I’d deliberately worn some of my thinner FiveFingers – I wanted to feel my way around the city, and I was so glad that I did. After being spun around a couple of times for the purpose of disorientation, Bren took my arm and we started walking; I tried figuring out where we were by sound, but I was relying on the soles of my feet… and Bren’s descriptions of approaching undulations.

“I know it’s your birthday,” he said after a few minutes of walking and chatting, “so I thought I’d buy you a drink.” The ground had been rough underfoot, there had been a slight incline, and it had got a little cooler and echoey; I asked for my beverage options, and as he read off the bar menu I realised we were at the TuxCat caravan bar. There’s a momentary headspin as my mental compass re-orients itself, and I hear Bren order two Saporros. We sit at the end of a bench, and we start chatting; after a couple of minutes, I become aware that I’ve been doing a lot of drinking and listening. “You’ve talked a lot and not drunk anything,” I tell Bren, “so let me tell you a story while you chill out a little.”

So I talk a little about Mad March and what I do, and – moreover – what the Festivals mean to me. I realise I’m talking excitedly through a big grin. We finish our beers, and Bren takes my arm again and guides me back outside – I feel the sun hit my skin. We start chatting about Blind Date: I have a million questions about Bren’s other dates, and how the piece was evolved… he’s quite forthcoming about the work, and it’s a wonderful conversation. I’m trying to keep track of our location – there’s gentle descents and ascents, flat spaces, changes of texture underfoot, stairs, running water, amiable crowd noise… but I’m lost.

We sit down. Taking control of my hand, Bren makes me plant a seed in some soft soil; headphones go on my head, some pleasant music plays. I’m holding deathly still and grinning like an idiot. We start walking again, and I hear the chirping of another crowd. “People are looking at us,” Bren says, as he gets me to feel a rough concrete structure.

I’m still lost.

Walking again, more stairs. “We’re almost at the end of the date,” Bren says; we stop, and he grabs my shoulders from behind, gently orienting me into a specific position. “Now… please slowly count to twenty and take the blindfold off,” he says, before wishing me a happy birthday and bidding me farewell. I count. I remove the blindfold. I discover that I’m back in front of the Art Gallery, about a foot away from a post; on the post is a small mirror. I see myself.

I’m still grinning like an idiot.

I resist the temptation to look around, to try and spot Bren. Instead, I start trying to retrace our steps. I realise that we walked past my favourite nook in Adelaide Uni, and that I hadn’t aurally recognised it. I found the crowd that looked at us in the Art Gallery cafe.

I try to find the seed-planting spot and fail. And then I wonder why I’m looking for it; why do I need to know? Why can’t I just let The Experience be The Experience? Why taint the mystery with pointless fact? And with that, I make some notes and move on; my Blind Date was successful, I thought, but I don’t think I’ll be seeing Bren again. And maybe that’s the point.