[2015137] A Bit of an Overshare

[2015137] A Bit of an Overshare

Claire Healy @ La Bohème – Upstairs

5:00pm, Mon 9 Mar 2015

My first encounter with Claire Healy was pleasant enough, and I’d heard rumours that A Bit of an Overshare was a bit good… so up the stairs at La B I trotted, to find Healy sitting at the keyboard, tinkling keys and chatting airily with the small audience as we arrived.

Healy proves to be a thoroughly entertaining (and expressive) host. She plays (and sings) a collection of original – and funny – songs, and her chit-chat in-between songs is impeccably presented. There’s pieces on Facebook, potatoes (again), and even her goldfish; and as a self-confessed over-sharer, there’s plenty of material about her partners… and even a few (perhaps inappropriate, but certainly titillating) boudoir secrets. However, some of the material shows its overseas origins: while her Brit-centric bitching about the Royal Family was amusing enough, it would have had far more impact back in the UK.

But the show faltered when Healy turned her attention to the audience. She assured us that she’s not a threat, but that seemed to encourage the quizzed audients to be even more reluctant than usual to participate… and Healy didn’t seem to be able to cajole any engagement (even with Choc Wheaten bribery). The resultant laugh-free zones were very noticeable and, though Healy eventually got things going again with more quirky songs, the show was sapped of some momentum.

A Bit of an Overshare proved to be entertaining… but I couldn’t help but leave La Bohème a teensy bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – Claire Healy most certainly can play, her singing is bright and bubbly, and she has her comic timing down pat. But her choice of material, and scratchy interactions with the audience, let her down on this occasion.

[2015136] ODDBALL

[2015136] ODDBALL

Dado @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

3:45pm, Mon 9 Mar 2015

Dado’s been coming to Adelaide for years: he’s an expected fixture at Gluttony now, with his Doorway Cabaret garnering larger crowds every year. But – apart from glancing at the Doorway as I ran past – I’d never actually seen any of his shows; I figured this year was the time to rectify that.

La Petite Grande was absolutely choc-a-bloc, with kids outnumbering adults by about three-to-two, and there were plenty of grumpy faces on the adults as they jostled for the best positions for their precious little snowflakes. But when Dado took to the stage, hunchbacked in a trench-coat with a suitcase full of promise, many of the children perched down the front were wary to the point of muteness; it took a lot of quickly (and expertly) made balloon animals to get them onside. But once he’d braved the storm of the initially reluctant children, Dado was free to engage them almost at will. He’d drag them centre-stage to bamboozle them with ball and balloon magic (resulting in some adorable moments of kiddy confusion), and even the more challenging (and free-spirited) kids were kept well under control.

It’s a largely mute performance (except when repeated “technical difficulties” required a soft, explanatory squeak) backed by music and sound effects summoned from an iPad, with light magic and buffoon-ish clowning the mainstay of his act. Dado doesn’t forget the adults, either, with the occasional risqué aside… but Dado’s universal charm is the real star of the show. Even the repeated mopping of his brow (it was bloody steamy in there!) was performed in an utterly endearing way; the relaxed, low-pressure hawking of additional souvenirs upon exit was also wonderfully managed. Dado proved himself to be a true gentle giant of clowning.

[2015135] Strangely Flamboyant

[2015135] Strangely Flamboyant

Strangely & Claire Healy @ Royal Croquet Club – The Rastelli

1:30pm, Mon 9 Mar 2015

Strangely’s Roaring Accordion had been a very odd experience: a handful of spectators didn’t really help a show that seemed geared towards raucous audience participation. But Strangely himself had proven to be a lovely chap, and – in my own way – I wanted to support him where I could. Thus, I found myself in a surprisingly full Rastelli on a sticky holiday Monday afternoon, with a ragtag assortment of other punters… including a collection of clearly inebriated (but still happy) silver-topped women.

Strangely – tall and gruffly beardy – cuts an awkward contrast to the shorter, enthusiastically wide-eyed, and cuter Claire Healy, but they totally work as a duo. There’s a tangible comfort between the pair, and that extends out to the audience, as they made us feel completely at ease with their musical silliness and light-hearted banter. Their songs wallow in the absurd: Healy’s ukulele and Strangely’s accordion and foot bells are an odd basis for any musical number, but The Potato Song somehow tied it all together, and the few bits of audience participation were thoughtfully arranged.

Sure, there were a few problems with the show – Claire’s vocals were frequently drowned out, and the pissed silver-tops intruded a little too often in proceedings. But the pairing of Healy and Strangely handled it all with an easy, airy grace, leaving me with the feeling that they’d be the most easygoing party hosts ever. And the closer – a medley of Let It Go and Don’t Stop Believin’ – was indicative of the entire show: positive, gleeful, and silly.

Strangely Flamboyant proved to be a quirky, friendly, and super-pleasant bit of cabaret that worked well in a matinée timeslot. And, more importantly, it had two utterly nice people onstage that you just wanted to hang out with… and that’s kinda what this show felt like: the chillest kind of hang-time with some cool friends.

[2015134] EUROWISION Adelaide 2015

[2015134] EUROWISION Adelaide 2015

Carousel Pony Productions @ Gluttony – The Lotus Palace

11:45pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

So – I’m waiting in the queue for my fourth straight Eurowision, and Beth turns up – as one might expect. What I didn’t expect, however, was the news that Karen Hyland had died; whilst I didn’t have much association with her, I certainly understood her standing in the local comedy community, so it was a real shock… and cause for reflection.

Not quite the perfect lead-in for another round of Eurowision craziness… and it did colour the rest of the evening somewhat, especially since I knew that some of the performers onstage would be grieving.

But some things don’t change: Carla Conlin and Andrew Crupi reprised their hosting roles as Heidi & Uri, and production values seemed to have gone up a touch: they were escorted onstage with a shower of bubbles. After the usual awkward banter and borderline stereotypes, we were launched into the acts themselves. Forgive the vagueness (and quite possible complete wrongness) of some of the following notes; my memory is not what it used to be.

Diana Scalzi represented France, trotting out a Celine Dion number. Jason Chong murdered (in the best way possible) Hello (I think?) for Azerbaijan. Last year’s winner, Gerry Masi, switched from Moldova to Poland; once again, his performance of White Girl (With A Black Girl’s Ass) bore little attachment to his newly adopted home (except, perhaps, for the “costumes” of his accompanying dancers), but it was still a good bit of fun.

Elena & Grant from The Shuffle Show represented Russia, and belted through a handful of songs (including a rework of Sexual Healing into Soviet Healing), before Bok & Fahey – complete with kilts, dodgy underwear, and ukuleles – giggled their way through a “fuck buddies” song.

Hans – representing Germany, of course – dedicated his (super-polished!) song to Guy Sebastian, and Dave Eastgate starred for Japan by singing over a bloody awful J-pop ballad with a terrible “best friend” chorus. Finally, a parody of Eurovision 2014’s winning song was performed (by George someone? George Cassar, maybe?), with Heidi & Uri providing some lo-fi flame effects.

Throughout, Mark Trenwith performed his now-standard Postcards for each country, and the Hyperdance Dancers popped up in various songs (and for the requisite flag-waving)… it was all pretty much what you’d expect. But my own response to this year’s Eurowision was a little more muted: maybe it was because of my mulling over the news prior to the show, maybe it was because I was far more sober than usual, maybe it was because the date had rolled over and I was now another year older. I’m pretty sure it’s not because the show has become formulaic, though, because it’s a formula that works.

[2015133] Mixed Rep

[2015133] Mixed Rep

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

So… Cedar Lake again. Twice in one day. I honestly can’t remember whether that was a deliberate ploy, or whether I was just trying to take advantage of any matinée I could get my hands on… but you know what?

It totally worked.

With my appetite well-and-truly whetted by the amazing Orbo Novo, I returned to the Festival Theatre in a positively excited state. There was a moment of consternation upon entry – the running sheet posted in the theatre foyer threw an additional forty minutes of interval into the evening’s schedule, so a daringly-scheduled show later in the evening was dropped – but, once my seat was taken and the lights were dropped, all was forgiven.

The first of Mixed Rep‘s three distinct pieces, Jiří Kylián’s Indigo Rose, was a fascinating half-hour of spotlit duets and solo pieces split into multiple sections, each with their own emotional weight. The lighting (and colourful, flowing costumes) produced a stunning bit of shadow-dancing on the triangular white cloth that was suspended across the stage… and I started thinking that it was my birthday a day early. I love me some shadow-play, and Indigo Rose‘s playful (and occasionally saucy) exuberance totally worked for me.

An interval gave me a chance to reflect before Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets On A Theme Of Rescue, which – despite being half the length of the previous piece – was no less significant. A series of sensual duets, subdued sodium lighting heightened the emotion emanating from the stage. Some of the duets featured such focus from the dancers that it almost felt voyeuristic watching them move together: there was an almost too much intimacy, but it resulted in some of the most moving pieces of the evening: the moments when the score dropped away, allowing us to hear the breaths and steps from the stage were just beautiful.

Finally came Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid… and if the Pite’s work was stewed in the intimacy of two people, this piece was loud and bold and terrifying. A caustic industrial score (absolutely my cup of tea) drove waves of movement that began as a tribal war dance before veering – via an onstage execution – into more complex group dances. The combination of the harsh noises and wildly erratic – yet tightly controlled – movements somehow made me feel a bit unsettled. A little scared. A lot excited. Despite the political overtones in the work (and score), Violet Kid felt like a barely restrained wild animal; it was absolutely compelling.

Some friends (and enemies) are well aware that I don’t give standing ovations lightly; Mixed Rep deserved the accolade on the strength of Violet Kid alone, and the other two pieces weren’t far from that astonishing quality. But it broke my heart to see the news that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was closing down less than a fortnight after this amazing piece, because I remember leaving the Festival Theatre wanting to share Cedar Lake’s balletic brilliance with everyone I’ve ever met.

[2015132] Alice Fraser: Everyone’s A Winner

[2015132] Alice Fraser: Everyone’s A Winner

Alice Fraser @ Gluttony – Pigtails

6:20pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

After a rocky early encounter, I’ve kinda fallen in love with Alice Fraser’s comedy: some of her après-Fringe sets have been glorious work, and she’s always a charmer to chat with around the traps. Everyone’s A Winner was thus inked in nice’n’early.

Fraser sat onstage as the small crowd entered, quietly engaging in gentle chit-chat until a check with her tech announced the start of the show proper. And suddenly, we’re thrust into previous life as a corporate lawyer: we hear about office politics, the need to “win” within corporate culture, career-limiting moves, her almost cartoonish mentor Dave, and the depression & stress & harassment & tears associated with the job.

This all sounds heavy-handed and oppressive, but that’s far from the case: Fraser delivers tales of woe lightly and with cunningly humorous barbs, with body language carrying much of her derision whilst words deliver the laughs. There’s little movement on the stage – maybe a partial strip to demonstrate dress standards, and the occasional reach for a prop – but that totally works within the context of Fraser’s delivery: this is anti-corporate humour being delivered with a corporate face, and the jokes come at a rapid rate. In fact, the only let-up in the show was when Fraser pulled out her banjo to announce that she was the Best Stalker in the Land (as first seen in 2013)… not that the song was a dud, it’s just that it didn’t really seem to fit in the framework of the show’s narrative.

The more I see of her, the more I enjoy Alice Fraser. Her comedy is thoughtful and intelligent, and her style is fantastic: she drops killer jokes with a restraint and softness that belies their eventual impact, and her use of pregnant pauses is absolutely compelling. I – for one – am so glad that she abandoned her former career, and I’ll continue inking her shows in whenever I can.

[2015131] Law and Disorder

[2015131] Law and Disorder

DamnitLeanne! @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

5:15pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

Over the last decade or so, I’ve become increasingly insistent that the posts I write on this blog are not reviews; they’re supposed to be recollections of my experiences. The reasoning behind this approach is twofold: one, I know that I’m not a critic, and to pretend that I can “review” things is folly; and two, it’s easier to write about an inescapable truth… the truth of one’s personal experience.

I’m doubly-glad that I’ve chosen to write like that when it comes to improv performances, since I can focus only on the show that I witnessed… especially when the performance was as diabolically bad as this one.

On paper, you’d think that this was going to be at least half-decent: a crime thriller in the style of Law & Order, with the narrative inspired by audience suggestions. And the capacity crowd were certainly enthusiastic early. And the instantly-recognisable scene change “doink doink” certainly set the mood.

But that’s where the enjoyment of this performance ended.

Audience suggestions were stupefying; the resultant performances more so. Blocky, wooden acting and poor improv storytelling (that took juvenile ideas and turned them into laborious slogs) killed any goodwill, and most of the laughs during the performance came from the cast… at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

To be fair, it was uncomfortably hot and humid in La Petite Grande that afternoon. But when I gleaned most of my pleasure from watching the show’s tech (who looked bored and disgusted by what was going on in front of her, and only reluctantly applied her lighting changes), I think I have to say that this episode of Law and Disorder was a complete dud for me.

[2015130] DivaLicious: Opera Rocks!

[2015130] DivaLicious: Opera Rocks!

DivaLicious Opera @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Aurora Spiegeltent

4:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

Now – I love me some operatic vocals, and I love opera-fied modern songs, too. So, with DivaLicious promising a blend of rock classics and… classics, I was lured into a near-capacity audience on a sticky Sunday afternoon.

The problem is that the précis for Opera Rocks! also promised that the ladies of DivaLicious – sopranos Fiona Cooper Smyth and Penny Shaw – would be duelling for the affection of the (little-used) baritone Robert Hofmann, who performed as a credible Phantom. And the duelling motif was fun… when it was used. And it was used far too infrequently.

The bulk of Opera Rocks! consisted of credible rock covers with classical instrumentation, attempts to apply rock-music credentials to classical composers, and plenty of costume changes. Maybe I’ve been numbed by Ali McGregor’s wonderful operatic interpretations of modern tracks, but few of the covers offered anything surprising… in fact, the one true highlight of the show for me was the clever blending of Mamma Mia into Bohemian Rhapsody. But whilst the DivaLicious girls certainly had wonderful voices, the (lack of) duelling and faux conflict between them (and the criminally underused Hofmann) sucked most of the joy from the performance for me.

Look – I’m sure there were plenty of people who left Opera Rocks! with huge, satisfied grins on their faces. But I wasn’t one of them: despite the fact that the show was built upon so much raw talent, and had so much potential, I found it to be underwhelming and – worse – disappointing.

[2015129] Orbo Novo

[2015129] Orbo Novo

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet @ Festival Theatre

2:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

I must have said this a million times, both on this blog and in person: I love watching dance, but I understand nothing about it. Over the years, I’ve discovered that dance has the ability to move me more than any other medium; maybe because of my absolute lack of understanding of the medium, some dance pieces can just reach right into my brain and conjure emotions that I can’t quite explain. And when I heard the murmurs of delight and approval that accompanied the announcement of Cedar Lake’s Adelaide Festival programme, I immediately inked them into The Schedule… it’s fair to say that the two Cedar Lake shows featured in my Top Five Shows To Giddily Look Forward To.

When neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke, she was offered an opportunity that few (if any) of her colleagues would be offered: the ability to observe the machinations of the stroke from the perspective of the victim. She observed – initially panicked, then with a sense of calm – as her physical functions were compromised, as parts of her brain were shut down… Years of therapy later, her memories of the event spawned a book and a well-publicised and much-lauded lecture; Bolte Taylor’s familiar words formed part of the audio backdrop of Orbo Novo (though, unlike many who recognised the spoken word backing, I didn’t hear it via TED, but rather Love+Radio).

With Bolte Taylor’s words underscoring the performance, and a set of large movable wooden lattices spanning the stage, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography seemed to evoke the actions of the brain during (and after) a stroke. The members of Cedar Lake seemed to act as neurons, swarming as if fluid, combining to create actions, splitting to explore ideas. The lattices were rearranged on the fly to frame the stage and – later – to hold some of the dancers captive; but every inch of their height, every hole in their structure, was used by the troupe to show an organic process.

The smoothness and grace of the Cedar Lake dancers was almost beyond my belief. The manner in which they transitioned from wide sweeps, solo or duo or trio or troupe, and then focussed on smaller, almost finicky, movements was divine; the storytelling in their actions was palpable. At times overt – dancers would often face the audience, mouthing Bolte Taylor’s words in time with the backing – the performance never failed to engage… and the moments of fracture were darkly gorgeous – and emotionally impactful.

As I mentioned before, I know nothing about dance… and I certainly know nothing about the mechanisms of the medium to emote. But Orbo Novo was, without a doubt, the most cohesive, comprehensible, and intelligent dance piece I’ve encountered. And, perhaps as a result, it was also the most emotionally engaging: it conjured thoughts and feelings in me that only the best theatre had managed to lure before. I absolutely adored Orbo Novo, and I left Festival Theatre absolutely yearning for more Cedar Lake…

[2015128] Darkness and Light

[2015128] Darkness and Light

Sarah Bennetto, Alanta Colley, Dave Bloustien, Lori Bell @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

11:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Previous explorations into the Darkness and Light ensemble show have yielded good results; the idea of getting artists – who already have the ability to communicate with an audience – to reveal some of their darker times really appeals to me.

The assembled guests for this evening’s set was a real mixed bag. I’d heard Sarah Bennetto’s tale of sneaking into an Arcade Fire gig before, and I’m not sure it really fit the mood (or, rather selfishly, fit the mood that I expected) of the show… not enough darkness for me. But my first encounter with Alanta Colley, on the other hand, managed a pleasing mixture of comedy with a darker edge, as she talked about her faux pas whilst performing engineering relief work in Uganda.

Dave Bloustien totally nailed the Darkness and Light groove with a hilarious tale about a vigorous sexual encounter with a new partner, and the fretting around the resultant blister on his penis. Finally, Lori Bell brought plenty of laughs with her familiar tales of heckles from groups of footballers, and how lesbian comedians can deal with them.

To be honest, after my previous experiences with Darkness and Light I found this show a little disappointing… but it was still totally worth seeing, because Bloustien’s spot was so strong and well-constructed that I immediately scheduled his solo show.

[2015127] The Moon in Me

[2015127] The Moon in Me

Dylan Cole @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

9:45pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Whilst Dylan Cole’s 2014 effort, Safety First, didn’t quite match the quality of his 2013 TED pisstake, I was still keen to see what he had to say on the topic of astrology in The Moon in Me.

As with his previous shows, Cole’s style was an engaging formal presentation heavily supported by PowerPoint. The opening half-hour was a collection of (somewhat predictable, but no less funny for it) prods at the statistical lunacy of astrology, interspersed with autobiographical snippets of Cole’s life: his parent’s divorce, his girlfriend, readings from his teenage journals, and more musings of his chubby childhood.

The crux of the show is Cole’s commitment to monitor his astrological predictions (snipped from a number of newspapers and other sources) and compare them to the events of his days. These comparisons are scornful early, but – thanks to Cole’s comic twists – the tail end of the show becomes a torrent of stretched truths and hilarious justifications… and the reveal behind the name of the show was astonishingly groanworthy.

I found The Moon in Me to be the most consistent of Dylan Cole’s solo shows: even & intricate writing and wonderful pacing were the hallmarks of this performance. The personal nature of his analysis – and his comical twisting of the results – make for a great bedrock, but the tumbling text in the closing minutes of the show was one of the highlights of the Fringe.

[2015126] We Are All

[2015126] We Are All

Not Suitable For Drinking @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

8:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Wow. This was, most certainly, a weird experience… some of which was the performance, and some of which was me.

To set the scene: I could remember nothing about why I’d selected We Are All – other than it had something to do with religion. There were but a handful of people in attendance. I was very tired.

And, for the first half of the performance, my dozy mind could not figure out whether I was witnessing cutting satire… or a real sermon.

It was not without precedence: I’d attended a hyper-positive self-help seminar in 2002, and a reading from the Book of Mark in 2009, under the guise of the Fringe, and several other religious deliveries disguised as theatre. The venue probably didn’t help, either: The Arch was once a church.

And when Thom Jordan took to the stage and started presenting something that looked and felt like an evangelical, lord-thanking, bible-thumping sermon, with nary a hint of irony or sarcasm… well, I was a little concerned.

Jordan delivers a sermon as Paul, who – after an unfortunate childhood battle with leukaemia – was given little chance of living past his eighth birthday. But, as the son of a preacher, he was well versed with the power of faith… and he survived to discover his abilities in performance and personae. After chasing his talents to the parts of Sydney that challenged his faith, he discovers his place in a mega-church, “The Way”; there, he is presented as a “miracle”, and Paul’s childhood misfortune is matched with his ability to connect with people, resulting in a character that is decidedly malevolent… yet utterly committed to preaching The Way.

The lines between writer/performer Thom Jordan and his character, Paul, are constantly blurred. Jordan’s own upbringing mirrors Paul’s to an extent – the son of a minister, he also lived through the eye-opening move from a tight-knit faith community to Sydney, chasing his art. And the manner in which Jordan (and director Julia Patey) presented Paul was utterly convincing: despite being listed as a “Comedy” in the Fringe Guide, there were no nods to the audience: we’re forced to dig for the satire ourselves.

And, despite the fact that We Are All had me completely fooled for a large amount of the show, time has given the memory of the performance a more appreciative glow. This is dark – really dark – satire, and I have to give Jordan and Patey credit for the feelings they conjured in me as I left the theatre: I felt like I’d just been conned, that The Way were real, that they’d just snuck me into one of their sermons. It took a while for the bitter taste to leave my mouth… but, like the best dark chocolate, what remained was utterly delicious.

[2015125] Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton

[2015125] Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton

Penny Ashton @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

6:30pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

I last saw one of Penny Ashton’s Austen-inspired shows way back in 2010; I was somewhat surprised to discover that it was so long ago, so fresh was it in my mind. Even then it was apparent that her fascination with the work on Jane Austen – combined with her own comic delivery, delightful Kiwi witticisms, and penchant for injecting corseted smut into romantic fiction – appealed to a certain audience.

And so it was that The Arch was packed this evening… and my orange hair was like a beacon in a sea of grey hair and expectant smiles.

Ashton plays a plethora of Austen-esque characters in Promise and Promiscuity, each with their own accents and mannerisms. The central heroine, booksmart Elspeth Slowtree, is in constant conflict with most of the other characters: her mother, anxious to marry her off, and the advances of her cousin Horatio are the brunt of much of Elspeth’s ire, but so is much of the nineteenth-century setting: Ashton sets her up as an intelligent (“…for a girl”) protagonist, permitting her battle with societal norms of the day.

But modern references within Elspeth’s world also create a lot of laughs: there’s a lot made of modern sexual freedoms, a few quirky name-drops (etiquette teacher Kimberline Kardashian?), and even a spot of Bon Jovi… within a classical setting. It’s all very silly, and very well assembled…

…but it didn’t really work for me. And only me, judging by the continuous laughter in the room. I suspect that my lack of intimacy with Jane Austen’s work is responsible for that; I certainly appreciated Ashton’s craft, and could sense that there was a lot of fun to be derived from her deconstruction of Austen’s tropes, but without deep knowledge of those tropes I was left a little cold.

Ashton has made a career of these Austen-inspired, innuendo-laden shows… and she’s bloody good at it. And, judging by the audiences that I’ve seen at her shows, there’s tons of Austen fans that agree… The Arch rumbled with applause at the end of her performance this evening. But, given my lack of knowledge of Jane Austen’s work (and a general disinterest in the romantic fiction of her era), I’m just not that sure that I have the background to share that delight.

[2015124] Tales of a Strongman

[2015124] Tales of a Strongman

Strength & Beauty @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:15pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Going from a great circus show to another circusy show was always going to be fraught with danger; it’s rare to have two classy physical performances in a row, and I’m discovering that I need a bit of variety from show to show. Still, the joys of scheduling being what they are, I found myself in a steamy Bally with a handful of families… and I’ve yet to not feel like Uncle McCreepster in those situations.

Sergei and Svetlana are Strength & Beauty – a couple (in the romantic sense) of strong-persons who use a simple narrative to justify demonstrations of strength and balance. A lot of their showmanship is familiar – I’ve certainly seen their two-person balances and throws before – but they manage to pull off their tricks smoothly and with a lot of charm.

Sergei is most certainly lean and ripped, with well-defined (and well-toned) muscles barely hidden by his skimpy red-and-white striped leotard, and Svetlana – who acts as the straight-person of the pair, throwing wonderfully derisive looks in response to Sergei’s goofiness – also looks the part in her matching costume. They drop plenty of gentle giggles into the show, with some comically bad singing breaking up their tricks. The narrative never reaches any great heights – the reminiscence of Sergei wooing Svetlana, though sweet, was as involved as it really got – but that doesn’t really matter… their good-natured presentation won the audience over, and lured the children in the audience onstage for a photo-op finale (though one of the children did express an aurally-painful amount of fear).

Tales of a Strongman was gentle, clean, family-friendly circus fun: nothing remarkable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The characters of Sergei and Svetlana were pleasant and engaging, with amiable crowd-interactions plenty of charm. They’d be well suited to the busking circuit, I reckon… but I left wondering whether they could actually find an audience in this chockers Fringe programme.

[2015123] Cadence

[2015123] Cadence

Cadence @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

4:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

I remember scanning through the Fringe Guide and flicking through the Circus section with some fear: I’ve seen so much circus over the past few years that it’s hard to get too excited by the genre (with some exceptions). But when I scanned Cadence‘s précis, I immediately noted the duration – thirty minutes – and inked it into The Schedule: I’ve come to believe that a defiantly short duration usually means that the performers have something to say, some kind of definitive statement to make.

Still, I was a little surprised to encounter a pretty decent crowd out at Channel 9 for such a short show; clearly, from the bubbly enthusiasm in the queue, they knew something about Cadence that I did not. And I must admit that, once the show started with a short video intro, my heart sank a little: why spend so much of the show’s precious duration on pre-recorded introductions?

But within moments my heart had been lifted and began to sing.

Cadence proved to be an utterly exhilarating patchwork of micro-performances, with music and acrobatics and displays of strength and control alternating to continually stimulate the senses. Acrobatic pieces, I was delighted to discover, were performed by Rhiannon Cave-Walker and Daniel Liddiard (from the amazing Gravity & Other Myths); their balances and action-packed aggressive tumbles were absolutely arresting. Geordie Little performed some gorgeous guitar pieces, plucking and percussing to create moody musical interludes, and Elliot Zoerner (also of GOM) drummed up a storm with Tom Brown working alongside, generating visuals and beats via his laptop. The tear-down and build-up of each segment was covered by short video interviews of the five members of the Cadence troupe, which veered from hilarious to heartfelt… but never failed to be interesting.

Sure, the performances were brilliant, and the content was sound… but the true highlight of Cadence was the pacing and direction of the entire show. After the opening video, there was scarcely a moment where I wasn’t being engaged by the performance of these five individuals; the thirty minutes flew by in a flash, with barely a moment of entertainment respite to be found. Cadence was, hands-down, an absolutely fantastic show.