[2010064] Felicity Ward reads from The Book of Moron

Felicity Ward reads from The Book of Moron

Felicity Ward @ Le Cascadeur

8:45pm, Mon 1 Mar 2010

Last year I raved about Felicity Ward’s show; even now, the memories of it were of cutting laughter and an energetic mood. So I was a little perturbed to take my wooden seat in Le Cascadeur to find an old armchair, some slippers, and a big old book sitting onstage – this looked awfully sedate, I thought, and lacking in the vibrancy of last year’s show. But after a genuinely surprising start (her entrance is… well, let’s just say that you missed it), Ward settles into the same familiar groove – and that is indeed a Good Thing.

Yes, some of the material is familiar – there’s a tentative return to Ward’s IBS-inspired flatulence, and more prodding of her family… and her own idiosyncracies. But she’s also broadening her range with a little guitar accompaniment (not overused, thankfully), as she pulls new stories from her over-sized Book of Moron.

I’m not convinced that the reading-stories-by-the-fire-with-the-dog-at-your-feet motif added anything to the performance (other than the opportunity for that opening), but it’s good to see that Felicity Ward can still spin a yarn. Great stuff, and she remains an Australian comedian to be followed.

[2010062] Parasouls


Parasouls @ The Birdcage

10:00pm, Sun 28 Feb 2010

It was a really quick dash from Zack Adams at the TuxCat down to The Birdcage, and the show had literally just started as I scurried in and took my seat. And, knowing little more about the show than the line “five young women on stage, stripped down but still dressed,” I settled in for what would be a curious experience.

Parasouls was a blend of dance, mime, and simple circus acrobatics, all tinged with a hint of burlesque. In their little pinnies and short skirts, the girls juggle, hoop, and balance their way through an hour of quirky music. There’s always plenty going on to catch the eye – the choreography and direction is wonderful, and I often found myself switching focus from one side to the other as new tricks brought themselves to the fore. The candle balancing and burlesque feather bits, in particular, were really well done – I genuinely appreciated the restraint shown.

There’s more than a hint of the Stepford Wives within Parasouls, with an unseen and uneasy menace behind the perpetual smiles, wide open eyes, and perfect makeup of the performers. Everything is competently performed, and the presentation makes this well worth seeing; whilst the tricks alone aren’t the best you’ll find, the coherent motif makes it all worthwhile.

(This YouTube video gives a pretty good overview of the show.)

[2010061] Zack Adams: Love Songs For Future Girl

Zack Adams: Love Songs For Future Girl

Zack Adams @ The Tuxedo Cat – Studio

8:45pm, Sun 28 Feb 2010

It was always going to be a bit touch-and-go as to whether I got to see Zack Adams this Fringe; not only was he in Fringe Prime-Time, but he’d had to cancel a lot of performances due to sickness. But he recovered sufficiently to front up for the last couple of shows in his run, with this being his last before his return to Perth.

Zack is a maudlin scruffster – and his insecurities and nervousness make him instantly endearing. His songs, a collection of jangly chords and jokey verses, are uniformly excellent – Movin’ On (the “kinda looks like you” song) is absolutely brilliant, as was the meta-comedy of No Refunds. Sure, there were some familiar tunes from previous encounters, but his new tales – breaking couples up with his dedications, his quest for a new guitar, and a little Breakfast Club excursion – filled out the show wonderfully.

I enjoyed Zack Adams’ quirky musicomedy last year, and this year (illness notwithstanding) I saw nothing to dissuade me from throwing further money Zack’s way. His CD manages to capture his humour perfectly, too – so at least give that a bash.

[2010058] Melinda Buttle – Sista Got Flow

Melinda Buttle – Sista Got Flow

Melinda Buttle @ Ambassadors Hotel – Balcony Restaurant

11:00pm, Sat 27 Feb 2010

There’s something about Melinda Buttle’s précis in the Guide that intrigues; a teacher of juvenile delinquents who loves a good cardigan and claims to have never been kissed at 27? Oh yes, this could be something special.

Unfortunately, there were only about half-a-dozen of us that thought that this evening, her final show in Adelaide this Fringe. So I found myself in an “audience” upstairs at Ambassadors with two women who just wanted to chat (to each other), and three other (older) men who I think may have focussed on the “never been kissed” line a little too obsessively. It was, to be honest, a little creepy.

And disappointing.

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Buttle when she took to the stage – I could’ve sworn I saw the disappointment on her face. And if she indeed was saddened by the turnout, then more props to her – because she put on an earnest show, delivering some decent laughs and leaving a great first impression.

Her show was essentially three acts: tales from her day job as a teacher (including some brilliant examples of the politeness of her Samoan students), making fun of her arch-conservative father (his altercation with a homeless chap was an amazing story), and a frank discussion of her own… ummm… lack-of-conquests. Yes, that’s the nicest way to put it. There’s a common thread throughout, as she uses the medium of rhyme and rap to diffuse situations with her students and father, and her investigation into the online dating world – hello to TheWaguOfLadies! – was both touching and funny.

Buttle definitely leaves her best jokes until the end; the closing story that tumbles into rap covers her “never been touched” status, through some wonderfully crass fingering discussions, and a gut-busting discussion of her milkshake. It was a great end to a solid performance, and marks Melinda Buttle as one to keep an eye on; a unique perspective, laced with just enough self-flagellation.

[2010057] EGG


oh where, collective @ Arcade Lane – Regent One

9:45pm, Sat 27 Feb 2010

So – I’m flipping through the Fringe Guide, and I read the following: “EGG is a contemporary dance and audio visual exploration.” And, quick as a flash, I decide: I am so there… but with a limited run (only three nights!) it took a bit of juggling to squeeze in.

This performance saw me wander down Arcade Lane for the first time – and, whilst the massive crowds who checked out the Festival light-show at Victoria Park dissipated into the city, only the focussed seemed to be wandering into the Lane on this Saturday night. There were precious few curious or accidental walk-ins; only the peeps who were there for a show (like me), or the hipsters who tagged this bar (with its odd little grass patches) as the place-to-be, were in attendance. Was there something on the little stage, there? Or was it just people wandering up from the bar? Was anything being performed? It was hard to tell.

So – EGG is about to start, and the twenty-odd patrons followed our ticketmaster up the back stairs into one of the old Regent Cinemas. The cinemas are stripped and gutted now, of course, all bare concrete and rough walls; thin and threadbare cushions are on the front steps, with cold metal seats behind.

As we walk in, the performers stand in front of paper screens, harshly lit; they’re standing in place, but jiggling limbs ever-so-slightly. It’s unnerving, and there’s a genuine sense of apprehension amongst the audience. Suddenly, the light changes, and there’s a cacophony of white noise: the performers jump to life, their movements sporadic and extravagant and almost incoherent. It’s discordant… and exciting.

Now – I’d be lying if I said I found a common thread, or a coherency, to the performance; the performer’s movements appeared to be largely self-contained and individualistic. The appearance of the titular egg coagulated the group, and an inexplicable appearance of a horse head fragmented; live drumming propelled the piece along in a satisfyingly bewildering manner. The hanging sheets of paper that constituted the set, used both as a projection surface (for filmed ambience) and as a facilitator for shadow-play, were an inspired decision; anything that involves light & shadow almost immediately gets a thumbs-up from me.

EGG proved to be one of those utterly nutball experiences that you can only really see at the Fringe; cheaply produced with plenty of imagination, but providing plenty of memorable images that linger in the mind long after the performance has ended. First performed in the Melbourne Fringe, I’m so glad that “oh, where collective” (or is it “oh where, collective”? Both are on their official items, including the cool bookmark(?) with sewn edges and scribbly egg diagram) managed to get over to Adelaide for this weekend; I left this performance bemused and delighted.

[2010055] Songs of Misery & Despair

Songs of Misery & Despair

Jodie & Emlyn O’Regan and Tony Lillywhite @ St John’s Church

3:00pm, Sat 27 Feb 2010

It’s a hot afternoon and I’m very tired and hungover as I drag myself into St John’s. I collect my programme (along with a delightful and delicate black lace handkerchief for collecting my tears) and take up position in one of the rear pews; it’s stickier inside the church than out, and I’m increasingly sceptical as to whether this was a good idea or not.

Not that I could have possibly anticipated last night’s activities, of course.

It’s a decent turnout for this inclement afternoon, with about sixty people in St John’s. There’s plenty of room, and plenty of programme-fanning going on, too. But there’s even more people outside, braving the mid-afternoon sun in their trek past the church to Victoria Park, in order to snaffle a prime spot for the Festival’s public fireworks performance; they’re accompanied by loudspeaker tests and megaphoned instructions and helicopters flying overhead. And there were more people still at Soundwave, and I kept receiving text messages from my mate Mikey which – considering I read them in a church – almost felt sacrilegious.

Soundwave, eh? Yes, I’m a bit of an old metalhead, but instead I opted to come here – to an old church to hear downbeat renditions of morose songs. And I can understand how some people might think that sounds like a really uninspiring choice; but I love to wallow in the darker moods from time to time, so I thought this would be a good fit for me.

The opening piece, Chopin’s Prelude in E-Minor, set the mood perfectly; Tony Lillywhite’s piano filled the church, and the way the final notes painfully bled out to silence felt perfectly fitting. Jodie and Emlyn O’Regan then provided voice for a rendition of the folky Black is the Colour – wonderfully done, but sadly affected by the sound bleed from Victoria Park. Luckily, the external noise died out just before the end of the song, allowing for a weepingly wonderful and tender close.

Nicolina Barcello sang a couple of Bellini pieces, operatic and brutal. And then, much to my delight, a section of the programme entitled “The Haunting Cello” – surely the saddest of instruments, commented Jodie, and maybe a good reason why I love it so much. Claire Oremland was terrific, especially on her opening piece, the Jewish Melody – there were some fantastic transitions down to the grim, low notes. The piano also helped out in delivering the bass, with plenty of lingering keys there, too. A surprising brace of jazz covers was perhaps the lowlight of the performance; I’m not sure Emlyn quite had the range to do the songs justice, and the piano solo in You Don’t Know What Love Is was a bit too bright to get one’s mope on.

After a short interval “for quiet weeping” (with Morgana O’Regan setting a wonderfully gothic mood at the front-of-house, dressed in all raven black and lace), the second set opened with some great tempo changes – foot stomps create a substantially different feel, more outwardly aggressive than inwardly reflective. Pieta Signore was not only a cracking song, but brilliantly performed; and it was ably matched by the theatrical pomp of Addio del passato (of course, I managed to make a complete goose of myself by prematurely clapping the end of the song. I blame sleep dep). A bit more gorgeous cello, and the start of the final bracket – “Sorrow from the Grave” – provide a fantastic ascension; Andantino was stunningly quiet and morose. But the closing “lullaby for death” proved a somewhat flatter end – it was more maudlin than morose, more disappointing than despairing.

But the encore – with the singers solemnly trudging up the aisle and leaving the church – was quite wonderful, and represents my memories of this performance really well; because at the end of the day, this performance is remembered with a sense of surreality – a hot day, steamy within the church, brightly lit and dressed in black. Contrasts galore, and all the better for it.

[2010054] Tokyo Shock Boys – 20th Anniversary Show

Tokyo Shock Boys – 20th Anniversary Show

Tokyo Shock Boys @ Thebarton Theatre

8:00pm, Fri 26 Feb 2010

Waaaaay back when I was but a young country boy, eyes wide open with hope and excitement at the thought of moving to Adelaide to study, my older brother would tell me tales of his adventures in the Big Smoke. One such tale was of him being dragged by a friend to see the Tokyo Shock Boys, and his descriptions of the bizarre acts that were performed that evening seemed, frankly, unbelievable to my naïve ears. Then, in 2004, I managed to see the Shock Boys for myself – but, because of my exposure to other such acts, I was distinctly underwhelmed. Yes, there was a bit of spectacle to be had, but (as I said back then) most of the same stunts could be seen elsewhere, in a more engaging environment, for less money.

But, with their 20th anniversary this year, I thought I’d give the Tokyo Shock Boys another chance – and, in an attempt to create some sort of holistic cycle sort of thing, I invited my brother along (who immediately asked if his 10-year-old son could come too – the idea of which I find horribly irresponsible). Thebby Theatre was stinking hot this Friday night, and being wodged in the middle of Row H behind a gaggle of cackling Bacardi Breezer-fuelled women was certainly a stifling experience made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that nothing whatsoever happened onstage until about 8:25… nearly half-an-hour after the scheduled start time.

Even then, it wasn’t the act that we were expecting to see – Jacques Barrett came out to perform a bit of standup, and he was good enough with the packed crowd to warrant further investigation. The problem is that he wasn’t what we were there to see; the crowd didn’t need that (or, indeed, any other) warm-up. And, after a brief intermission(!), the Tokyo Shock Boys show proper started at about 9pm.

And it started with a 10-minute highlight reel, projected onto a big screen; video taken from other shows of the act we were about to see. Now, I don’t know whether this drives any crowds wild – I would certainly assume it does, because they would have to have been honing their act for twenty years now – but tonight’s crowd, hot and flustered, weren’t really buying into it… at all. So when the real, live, Shock Boys appeared and tried to get the audience clapping and chanting… it all fell a bit flat. They really had to work to get any response.

And once they got going, it was pretty much what you expected – breaking stuff with arsecheek clenches, darts being thrown into backs, superglue and liquid nitrogen hijinks. The scrotal tug-of-war was wince-inducing, but not as much as the embarrassing Michael Jackson segment. All the Tokyo Shock Boy staples (hah!) were there, right down to the thumping DJ-driven backing and vacuum-sealing stunts.

The thing is, it all feels… well, lame now. Sure, there are tricks there that you don’t see anywhere else, but with the size of Thebby it all feels really remote, almost unreal. And the progression of shows that pack people into the Garden has really expanded what we expect from this sort of freak-show.

I think the overall take-away from this show is revealed in the conversation I had with my brother when we were walking to where he’d parked his car.

“They looked really… old,” he said.

“Yep,” I agreed.

“Hmmm. How much were the tickets, again?”

“Fifty-six bucks.”


And that pretty much sums it up. The Tokyo Shock Boys: they were (I assume) great in their prime, but now they just look old and tepid and past it.

[2010053] Francesca Martinez

Francesca Martinez

Francesca Martinez @ The Tuxedo Cat – Attic

6:00pm, Fri 26 Feb 2010

Francesca’s show was the only thing on The Shortlist that I could squeeze in comfortably before the pivotal (in the planning stakes, anyway) show of this evening. And, walking into The Attic to see this show, I still had no idea who Francesca Martinez was. I choose not to watch anything with Ricky Gervais in it, haven’t checked out Grange Hill in around 25 years, and the blurb in The Guide was clearly enough to shortlist the show, but I didn’t pick up anything different from it.

So I was a bit surprised when Francesca was helped onto the stage, and even more surprised when she introduced herself by saying she had cerebral palsy (or “CP”, as she rarely calls it). Of course, she has to address it; but the great thing about Francesca is that she is innately funny, and leverages the condition to her advantage.

A lot of her laughs come at the expense of herself and her actions, but there’s a bit of social commentary in there too as she tells us how she’s been treated throughout her life – all the way from school (her interactions with other students & teachers), through to her professional life. She also takes us on a bloody funny Valentine’s Day date – speaking italian, eating spaghetti – and even hints at her performance in the bedroom…

Francesca tells us she doesn’t like to refer herself as having cerebral palsy; just that she’s “wobbly”. And that light-hearted, jovial approach to her condition shines through a lot of her work (except for her contention that all babies are c*#ts, of course); but there’s a more serious undercurrent there, too. She makes a few jokes around the idea that “words don’t matter”, and then mentions how people’s reactions change when they meet her for the first time after communicating for ages via e-mail. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in that, but it’s still a little bit sad, really. But that sadness only comes now, through reflection; in the actual performance, with Francesca “wobbling” on stage, taking the piss out of herself (“no, I’m not drunk”), you’re doing little else but laughing.

[2010052] Circus vs. Sideshow

Circus vs. Sideshow

A Whole Ruck Of Talent @ Bosco Theater

11:30pm, Thu 25 Feb 2010

So… one week ago I missed this show due to So You Think You Can Get F#%ked Up running amazingly late; this week I had another ticket, and Irene used but a fraction of her considerable charm to gain admission with my old ticket. As it turned out, Circus vs. Sideshow started bloody late too, so – if tonight was indicative – I probably could’ve made the show last week anyway.

But then I would’ve missed a fantastic session at the TuxCat, so it all worked out for the best, I guess.

Anyway: Circus vs. Sideshow is another of those ensemble events that allows a whole bunch of acts that are appearing at the Garden to get a little airtime, a little bit of paid advertising. It’s presented, as the title may suggest, in the form of a game show, with a trio of circus performers (the Dos or Duo pair, joined by a chap allegedly from Circus Oz) pitted against the sideshow freakery of The Dirty Brothers.

There were as many judges as contestants: the Sound and Fury guys manned one table, with Lady Carol and two of the Parasouls performers on the other. The emcees for the evening also stood either side of the circus / sideshow divide; Asher Treleaven, supporting the circus performers, opened proceedings with an amusing diabolo routine, attempting to appeal to the women in the crowd with sultry moves, then speeding things up for the action-oriented males. Sam Wills, lending his skills to the sideshow contingent, countered Treleaven’s opening by pulling a long, long, long string of tied-together balloons through his nose… in one nostril, out the other. Knots and all.

So – we were off to a pretty good start.

The opening round was labelled the “Skill” round. The circus lads did some great climbing and balancing routines; one of the Dirty Brothers responded by swallowing the bulk of a fluoro tube, then lighting it up. Not bad. The second round, “Random”, saw the Brothers ease off the spectacle – but not the quality – with a gorgeous little song played on the saw, matched by more balancing from the circus crew (accompanied by Treleaven’s favoured Top Gun theme).

In between rounds, Jess Love (from And The Little One Said) played the role of card girl, reluctantly displaying cards whilst wearing a tiny tutu, rollerskates, and a dismissive sneer. The power of that sneer cannot be understated; it was chock-full of utter contempt. Not just for her cohorts, but the audience, too.

The third round, “Spectacle”, lived up to its title. The Dirty Brothers trotted out two angle grinders and subjected one of them to a massive, mostly-nude, double-spark-shower – a real sight to behold in the darkened Bosco, the smell of burning metal heightening the experience. The Circus Oz lad performed a somersault off the top of a tall ladder, whilst holding a bowl of breakfast cereal (and milk, which was barely spilled), while he had a spoon up his nose (in classic blockhead tradition). Whilst this was a spectacular trick, it’s also the bit of the show that I liked the least… because it actually felt like the other performers were goading him into a trick he wouldn’t normally do.

The final round: “Challenge”. Both teams picked a member to lie on a bed of nails, and another member dropped a bowling ball on their stomach. The Dirty Brothers? That’s their bread-and-butter, that is, so no problems there. The Circus Oz chap volunteered to lie on the bed of nails – and, whilst the task was successfully performed, his back was a pincushiony, slightly bloodied mess when he stood up.

Of course, Jess Love “won” the competition, for being a sneering cardgirl – oh, and getting nude during her hoops routine. Which was nice. The judges, their involvement essentially pointless (except for Lady Carol’s great rendition of “Minnie the Moocher” on ukelele between rounds), appeared largely bemused by proceedings; certainly, the Sound and Fury boys looked utterly mystified in a “why are we here?” way at some points. But still, it was a great spectacle of a show, with a fair whack of variety and some seriously good skills on display… cheap, too, even if I did buy tickets twice.

[2010051] Ro Campbell: Shooting From The Lip

Ro Campbell: Shooting From The Lip

Ro Campbell @ Ambassadors Hotel – Ambar Lounge

10:00pm, Thu 25 Feb 2010

After being mightily impressed by Ro Campbell’s short spot during Shaggers, this show was gladly raised in priority. Sadly, it didn’t appear to be on anyone else’s radar this Thursday night, as there was only a handful of paying customers, bolstered by the usual collection of friends and crew; a disappointingly small crowd for this decent-sized room downstairs at Ambassadors.

I like Ro. He’s a genuinely affable bloke to chat to, and his standup is… hang on. I was just about to say “gentle”, but then I thought about the Roman Polanski / Bindi Irwin / Jack Nicholson’s hot-tub joke (the “wrongest thing he’s ever written”), and his description about spelunking for a clitoris (which turned out to be something quite different)… and that’s not “gentle” at all.

And then there’s comparing Australians to the Taliban, some different David Hicks jokes, and questioning the Oxfam cards that result in a third-world family getting a medical checkup: “Merry Christmas, you’ve all got AIDS. And so has your goat.”

Yep, “gentle” is completely the wrong word to describe Ro Campbell… yet it was the first one that sprang to mind. So where did it come from?

I’m guessing that it comes from the lingering feeling that he’s presented his material in a non-threatening way. And the bulk of his act is personal… the life-changing decisions he’s made, his time as a roadie, the rough-and-tumble of the comedy circuit in Scotland. But he tells these jokes in an almost passive manner – he’s not leaping in your face and shouting, he’s just telling a story. Kinda like Dave Allen, but without the stool and cigarettes.

And yet, there’s a slyness to his delivery, too – his eyes are watching you, really watching you, like he’s foxing you, trying to round you up.

All of that seems very contradictory – very contrasting. And that word keeps coming back to me still – “gentle”. But maybe that’s because I identified with him in a way… because I feel like I’ve been bumbling through life myself, making silly life-changing decisions along the way, in a manner similar to the stories Ro shared. I identify, therefore I’m not threatened; I’m comfortable with him.

Hmmm. You know what? I haven’t done Ro Campbell justice with this at all. Because he’s ace; crude, unassuming, filthy, and bloody funny. I love his work.

[2010050] Ivan Brackenbury’s Hospital Radio Roadshow

Ivan Brackenbury’s Hospital Radio Roadshow

Tom Binns @ The Bull and Bear

8:45pm, Thu 25 Feb 2010

Ivan Brackenbury is a bit of a hard sell – for one thing, I’ve not encountered any community radio stations in Australian hospitals, so that’s half of the ludicrously long show title that’s probably alien to most locals. Luckily, the title is curious… certainly intriguing enough for me to pencil in the show, and inked when a friend expressed an interest in coming along. So we walked into the show with maybe a dozen other people, and the only knowledge we took with us was a line from the show’s Guide précis: “entertaining the sick with inappropriate dedications”. And that is, quite literally, the show in a nutshell, as Tom Binns brings the dweebish character of Ivan Brackenbury to life with the aid of a laptop laden with songs and jingles.

Ivan’s community radio show, which he insists is transmitted back to the hospital from his little room in the Bull & Bear, consists of little more than snippets of Ivan setting up shout-outs to patients, then using a song’s lyric as a punchline for the joke. Someone suffering from jaundice and liver failure? Have a listen to Coldplay’s “Yellow”. A couple, both beset with Alzheimers, celebrating their anniversary? Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. Injured in a scaffolding collapse? “It’s Raining Men”. Coronary bypass? “Building A Bridge To Your Heart”.

Now, that may sound like a pretty simple kind of show – the puns are pretty obvious, and I soon found myself trying to guess the punchline song while he set up the joke. But Ivan is such a likeable character that I just got swept along by the laughter. Half the time he bumbles ignorantly through his faux pas, and the other half he’s reeling in shock – wait for his reaction to the Joan Arkwright’s Country Tracks call-out in this clip.

There’s also the odd ad (the show is sponsored by KY – cue “Love Really Hurts Without You”), as well as (genuine!) shout-outs to Ivan from Natalie Imbruglia and Mr T (the Mr T outtakes were brilliant). And it doesn’t hurt that the music, mired in the eighties, was very much my cup of tea.

I’ll be utterly honest, though: after laughing through the first ten minutes of the show, I began to sceptically wonder how long he could maintain the joke… after all, the set-em-up, knock-em-down rhythm was pretty predictable. The answer to that, I’m delighted to report, is all the way to the end… Ivan Brackenbury is a non-stop delight.

[2010048] Dr. Brown Behaves

Dr. Brown Behaves

Philip Burgers @ The Tuxedo Cat – Studio

11:00pm, Wed 24 Feb 2010

This show is one of the reasons (well, lame excuse, anyway) why I’ve been so lax writing these pieces up; because I’m not just writing about Philip Burger’s fantastically bumbling and eccentric Dr Brown… I’m also writing about myself.

Because I was onstage for (what felt like) half of the performance.

But let’s start at the beginning.

It’s fair to say that, after the odd drink or two upstairs at the TuxCat bar, Irene and I (and most of the other patrons) were ticking along pretty merrily before we went in; her occular abilities parked us in the second row. Across the aisle from us was a very serious looking chap, pensive and irritable. I distinctly remember him scowling with dark eyes, biting his nails. Everyone else in The Studio seemed to be bubbling with anticipation, but not him.

Dr Brown bumbled in at the back of The Studio, dragging a suitcase that was far too wide for the narrow aisle behind him. Chairs were being hit, people were being jolted as he slowly bumped his way to the stage. He makes it to the second row; the suitcase hits an impasse. Dr Brown asks the Serious Chap for assistance; the man waves him off with a scowl. Dr Brown persists; the man gets up and leaves the venue, distinctly unimpressed.

What a prick.

Dr Brown turns to Irene for help; she politely – but ever-so-firmly declines. And so, Dr Brown turns to me. His mark for the evening.

Actually, thinking back on it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Irene may have volunteered me.

I help Dr Brown get his suitcase on stage, then hear the audience laughing behind me; I turn to see that Dr Brown has parked himself in my seat and, with legs crossed expectantly, he waved for me to continue the show. I look at the rest of the audience; they look at me, laughing.

Laughing at me, not with me.

I feel horribly awkward and alone. I utter “it’s going to be a long fucking show” and investigate the table that Dr Brown is gesticulating towards. It’s surface is covered with all manner of plastic children’s toys and household objects, laid out in a very organised manner. At a loss for something to do, I pick up a box of sultanas and, after showing them to the audience, decide to throw them one-at-a-time into the crowd. This quickly gets Dr Brown back onstage and he directs me back to my seat. Success! I feel very pleased with myself; I’ve won the audience participation battle. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Except I haven’t won the battle at all. In fact, the battle hadn’t even started.

By himself onstage, Dr Brown is… bizarre. He communicates in a chirpy, sing-song voice, asking oddball questions of the audience and throwing olives at them (from a huge jar kept prominently in view) to encourage answers. He literally seasons the crowd (using salt & pepper shakers, naturally) for no apparent reason. And then… he handcuffed me to my seat.

Oooooh shit, I remember thinking. I am clearly his bitch, his plaything, now.

He beckoned me onstage; after a sufficient amount of protest (crowd laughing all the time, my blush feeling increasingly heated), he unlocked the handcuffs from the chair and dragged me back onstage. Dr Brown dressed me in a wig (and, perhaps, an apron – the memory is vague), and asked me to pretend to be his wife. “I’m home, honey,” he called, “what’s for dinner?”

I looked around. “Salt and pepper… and sultanas. And olives.”

“Sounds… great. Did you make enough for everyone?” He waves out to the crowd.

“Sure!” I say, and we proceed to empty the salt and pepper shakers in front of the fan that’s valiantly trying to keep the crowd cool. The front-left side of the room is coughing and sneezing and spluttering and laughing; the rest of the room just laughs.

Hey, I realise – these laughs feel pretty good.

“We’re at the beach!” Dr Brown announces, removing his trousers to reveal some stripy Speedos. “You’re a lifeguard,” he turns to me and hands me a bottle of baby oil, “I need you to put my sunscreen on.” He takes his shirt off and faces away from me.

The audience cracks up. I mean, they really crack up. I clearly remember the raucous notes of their laughter as I stood there in disbelief, baby oil in hand.

Yeah, alright, I think. No problem.

So I start rubbing the baby oil into his shoulders and back, giggling with his “oooh! cold” flinches, and going for laughs by reaching around and oiling his breasts, too. He puts me in my place straight away: “On my legs, too.”

I kneel down to rub the oil into his legs, and the laughter intensifies. There’s a definite hoot of hilarity coming from the audience now.

“Oh,” he says as I stand up again, “my inner thighs too.”

The crowd loses their shit. Hell, I lose my shit.

So… I rub the oil onto his inner thighs, with long motions from his ankles to his buttocks, my hands wrapped around his legs until I tailed my thumbs away to prevent contact with his budgie.

And the crowd went wild.

Dr Brown orders me to wait at the back of the stage whilst he “went” swimming. So I watched his brilliant buffoonery facing the audience – christ that was awkward. I don’t reckon I’ve ever felt as self-conscious in my life.

“Oh, lifeguard,” Dr Brown called back to me, “I’m drowning.”

I walk over to him. “Swim,” he hissed, eliciting another laugh. I swim over and whisper in his ear, “I really know lifesaving stuff. We’re doing this shit properly.” I throw my arm over his shoulder and grab his side, bend his knees so his weight is on my hip, and “swim” him to shore, just as I had been trained.

“Thank you,” he said. “Oh no! I’m not breathing.”

Again – the laughter, the cackles, the hoots from the audience felt overwhelming.

I remember shaking my head in disbelief (again). He looked back at me and whispered, “it’s cool.”

So… we kissed.

Kinda sorta. At the very last moment, in a manner which amazed me because it was clearly so practiced, so calculated, that most of the crowd wouldn’t have been able to see it, Burgers covered his mouth with his hand before ravaging my face.

Look – I’ll be honest. I’ve no idea how the show ended. I remember Dr Brown showing me back to my seat, and I remember pats on the back from people sitting behind me. I remember cheering like a madman when Burgers bowed at the end of the show, and I remember feeling awed when he directed the audience to thank me. But most of all, I remember what it felt like being on that stage, feeling wholly out-of-place… and being washed along by those waves of laughter.

Philip Burgers must have massive balls to put on a show this free-form, this bizarre, this audience-dependent, night after night. It’s an incredible effort to put yourself out there like that, I reckon. And, speaking to him after the show and at other times during the Fringe, he just appeared to be a normal guy.

A normal guy who just happens to harness the surreal on a nightly basis.

I like that.

[2010047] 3xperimentia: Live Cut

3xperimentia: Live Cut

Felicity Arts @ Ron Radford Auditorium (Art Gallery)

9:30pm, Wed 24 Feb 2010

3xperimentia was the finale of last year’s assault, and director/choreographer Amanda Phillips contacted me after the event. I always felt a bit guilty that this was the final show I saw; I was most definitely suffering from Fringe burnout, and I never really felt like I gave the show the attention it deserved. Amanda offered me a comp to this year’s incarnation of the performance, which I politely declined (I don’t take freebies) on the proviso that I committed to seeing the show – earlier, rather than later. And so, after a quick dash down from the TuxCat (and discovering that I was splattered with some thick syrupy stage-blood goo from Inanimate Eats Rage), I found myself outside the Art Gallery Auditorium – a venue for which, for some reason, I hold a special fondness (which is odd in itself, given that the only performance I’ve seen there was the eugenically-charged A Large Attendance in the Ante Chamber… and a plethora of Festival of Ideas sessions).

I’m surprised to see Kate Skully (from my frustrating Fringe dance darlings Playground) outside the venue; we have a nice chat in the balmy night air as I feebly attempted to mop up the stage blood. The Auditorium is a decent space for 3xperimentia; the silver screen required to support the stereoscopic imagery stands proud at the front of the room, Amanda and partner Alexander Waite Mitchell’s performance rig off to the right. Once again, the audience dons polarised 3D glasses for this performance: Amanda used a large touch-screen interface to assemble various computerised models and pre-recorded footage into a live cinematic experience, Alexander constructed a live musical score that felt a lot like a Philip Glass piece – minus the repetition and boredom, but with an uplifting element to it. Nothing like a Philip Glass score at all, then.

And, unsurprisingly, it was very similar to the show from last year. And that’s not a bad thing; the music’s really quite good, and the virtually concocted visual element is compelling… but also a little remote from the audience. Because, unless you realise that the performance is not actually on the screen, you’re missing half the action.

But I already knew all that going in to tonight’s gig – so I found I spent most of my time watching Amanda and Alexander perform. And that was really interesting to me; there seemed to be a fair bit of interaction between the pair, leading me to believe that there was enough scope in 3xperimentia for a genuinely unique experience as they riff off each other. But when I did check out what they were producing, the 3D effect was as solid as ever (despite the very occasional model overlap)… and this time, I noticed some common thematic elements, such as the constant touching of faces.

After the show, Kate and I chatted again while I waited to speak to Amanda for the first time; and she’s lovely in person, very friendly (though understandably guarded when I started asking a few too many techy questions). I mentioned that the performance felt a lot shorter this year than last (the on-screen timer reported something in the region of 38 minutes); Amanda assured me it was pretty much the same length.

This type of performance still remains exciting to me, because it’s a different medium to the norm. The visual component is still human expression, but with a layer of computer-generated magic inbetween – and that, like the best VJing, can lead to amazingly immersive experiences. 3xperimentia has also been performed in a planetarium; I only wish that my Schedule could have permitted me to have indulged in that experience too. After all, if you’re going to treat your senses to something a little bit out-of-the-ordinary, you may as well go in with all guns blazing.

[2010046] Inanimate Meets Rage

Inanimate Meets Rage

The Box City Theatre Company @ The Tuxedo Cat – Studio

8:30pm, Wed 24 Feb 2010

So – a chap I work with… well, let’s just call him The Hippie. Because that’s exactly what I do call him, as factually inaccurate as that may be. (And, curiously enough, this post marks one of the first times I’ve ever typed his name – and, oddly enough, I didn’t know whether I should go with “Hippy” or “Hippie”. I asked him which he preferred, and he gave me a look of mystified I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I-hate-it-anyway; so, a quick trip to GoogleFight has me plumping for The Hippie, reflecting the fact that he’s a contrarian bugger at the best of times).

Anyway, The Hippie is in a position where he signs my Staff Leave form, and as I submitted my application for time off over ff2010, he remarked that a friend of his was putting a show on. “Get me the details,” I said, “and I’ll try and squeeze it in.”

Thus, Inanimate Eats Rage became the centrepiece of this evening, the first show Scheduled: the one around which all others revolved.

Later, as I chatted with The Hippie just before knocking off work for the Festivals, I happened to ask: “So… how’s your mate coming along with his show?”

The answer filled me with a bit of trepidation – and excitement. “He’s had to do a fair bit of work,” The Hippie told me, “something to do with OH&S. He’s had to build a cage.”

And so the image of a cage is foremost in my mind as I wander into TuxCat’s Studio, taking a seat in the second row (as directed by my occularly-challenged companion). The Hippie and his Better Half are down the back, having a good laugh; Edwin reaches across the throng and tugs at my sleeve to say hello. The room is packed, the mood is jovial and expectant, and onstage is – yes – a cage. Well, more of a chicken coop, anyway, with the tight wire mesh wrapped around the structure.

And it appears, soon after starting the show, that we’re witness to an anger management session… with a twist. Our Hero has engaged in a little bit of road-rage and, rather than being treated with soothing tones and calming actions, he’s subjected to a ranting “therapist” who verbally assaults a front-row pacifist hippy (not The Hippie, but a more hipster version thereof) and encourages the venting of aggression. And into the cage they go, awkwardly donning safety specs before smashing the shit out of old stereo components, computers, phones… whatever. But these (often protracted) displays of violence against the inanimate, whilst bloody funny to watch, become almost cartoonish because of the safety requirements surrounding them – the elaborate cage, the insincere glasses.

A female patient introduced into the session about halfway through ups the ante significantly; the extra voice onstage raises volumes, raises tempers, and it becomes a very loud and violent affair. The finale owes more to Pulp Fiction than anything, with blood splatters accompanying the computer keys that had hit the front rows; an almost orgasmic climax to a show that revelled in rage.

Unfortunately, I had to dash off to my next show, so there was no time to mingle & chat with the cast & crew. The Hippie’s friend turned out to be writer/director Malcolm Sutton, who apparently founded The Box City Theatre Company in the UK before returning to settle in Adelaide; the flyer for Inanimate Eats Rage proudly states that it’s the company’s “first production outside of the UK” – The Hippie joked that it was probably their first production, full stop. Joking aside, the flyer also mentioned “think Quentin Tarantino meets Monty Python and you’ll be on the right track” – and that’s broadly accurate. But I’d also throw The Young Ones into that mix – the latter half of the show descended into a very anarchic, shouty blur, with extravagant – almost grinningly indulgent – violence a-plenty. And, believe me, that was a very good – and satisfying – thing.

[2010045] Sargasm


Jon Brooks @ Rhino Room – Downstairs

6:30pm, Wed 24 Feb 2010

It’s a lovely afternoon, and I happen to be in the city a few hours before my first show of the day; up to the Tuxedo Cat I trundle, sinking a few beers whilst chatting to Nik Coppin. I’m in a joyous mood; the temperature is perfect and the early-evening Asahi slips down easily. Before too long I realise I’m almost late for the show, so I dash down the stairs and around the block to the hotter (and muggier) bar servicing the Downstairs area of the Rhino Room. Luckily there’s still time to grab a Corona before heading in.

It’s a reasonable crowd this evening, with perhaps a third of the seats filled. Jon Brooks introduces himself in a very low-key manner, briefly chatting about his former lives as a political staffer and journo, before presenting the fundamental underpinnings of his show: that sarcasm, correctly wielded, is a tool for discussing (and even uncovering) the truth, allowing safe traversal of traditionally social taboos.

And this premise is extremely interesting to me, both as an avid (over-)user of sarcasm, but also because of the political shadow this places on the rest of his act. Because, even as Brooks wanders into tales and observations that may be deemed “normal” standup material (there’s bogan jokes a-plenty, with the northern suburbs’ Space Torana being cited as a uniquely South Australian solution to the international problem of Space Junk – upon which there’s the expected deposit), there’s always the feeling that there’s a deeper meaning, another level to his jokes.

Yes, there were a few Indian Taxi Driver assault jokes, and a nod to AC/DC, that felt a bit below the intellectual level of the rest of the act. But when the pragmatic approach to religion was proposed, and Brooks starts cynically digging at the distraction of Festival Month on the State Election, you realise that this material is a cut above regular standup fare. The attack on advertising – with the recurring (and perfectly timed) Zoot! Review callbacks – was sheer genius.

Throughout, Brooks maintains a sort of detachment from his subject matter – gruff in approach and coarse in language, he manages to come across as an informed ocker Aussie bloke: a classic pub politico. But the presentation is misleading; as he carries on his secondary aim of “reclaiming” words from their inappropriate modern uses, the distanced delivery manages to pack a heavy punch.

UrbanDictionary, always the most reliable source of NSFW word definitions, manages to accurately (with regards to this show, anyway) define sargasm as “deriving far too much satisfaction from glibly berating another with sarcasm”. And Brooks clearly enjoys his work, loves sinking the boot in, and manages to get more than a little bit political to boot… and that all adds up to a pretty bloody good show.