[2010044] Controlled Falling Project

Controlled Falling Project

ThisSideUp Acrobatics @ The Ringbox

11:30pm, Tue 23 Feb 2010

The Ringbox is only about half-full for this show; a pretty good crowd, all things considered. After all, it’s still early in the Fringe Season, it’s late on a Tuesday night, and it was a bit chilly out. The mob that did turn up, though, didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest… in fact, they were one of the most enthusiastic crowds I’d encountered so far.

Clearly they knew something about ThisSideUp Acrobatics. I had heard bugger all about them, attracted to the show by the promise of “a laboratory of acrobatic impossibilities” and an easy-to-manage timeslot. Still, I had a fantastic seat, the stage was littered with props that gave the air of a mad scientist’s lair, and the bubbling anticipation of the crowd swept me up.

Four characters strut onstage – a professor (whose exaggerated over-acting created a comical focus) and his three minions. Progress through the four “acts” of the performance is registered on the professor’s chalkboard, but the first act – a collection of tumbling and balance routines – failed to thrill… I felt like I’d seen it all yesterday, that there was nothing new here.

The rest of the crowd, though, ate it up.

The subsequent acts did manage to impress, however. There was some breathtaking stacked-chair balancing, more tumbling, brute-strength single-handed pole balances, and a bit of teamwork in their russian bar routines. Some ring work, flips and throws, and plenty of humour.

Linked together by the peripheral premise of a series of lab experiments, Controlled Falling Project is a superbly polished and stunningly presented acrobatic event. Sometimes, though, that just isn’t enough to satisfy. Throughout the show I felt surprisingly irritated by crowd around me constantly chirped about how amazing they thought the Project was; all I wanted to do was tell them about the stunning experience I had with Freefall, but I know my limits: I wouldn’t be able to explain why a bunch of tumbling youngsters, full of enthusiasm but smattered by mistakes, managed to capture my eyes and – more importantly – my emotions.

And that’s the thing that was lacking with my Controlled Falling Project experience – the emotion. Yes, it was all very wonderful to look at – and a noticeably more professional & polished production than Freefall – but it didn’t make a connection with me in the same way that Freefall did.

However, ThisSideUp also performed as part of the Smoke & Mirrors ensemble show in the recent Cabaret Festival, and my proximity to the stage during that performance made a massive difference. Sitting in the second row of that show, I was in a position where I could watch the ThisSideUp guys strain and sweat through large amounts of the same tricks; that closeness made everything more immediate, more personal. So there’s a lesson to learn there for me, I reckon: favour the proximity over the all-encompassing view, maybe?

[2010043] Sound and Fury’s “Private Dick”

Sound and Fury’s “Private Dick

Sound and Fury @ Le Cascadeur

10:00pm, Tue 23 Feb 2010

An admission: Sound and Fury’s “Private Dick” was actually the first show to get bumped from The Shortlist onto the newly-created “On Second Thoughts…” section of my Scheduling Spreadsheet of Doom. Sound and Fury are great chaps – wonderfully friendly and personable – but I’ve always found their pun-laden work to be a little too… well, punny. Cheap. And the faux mistakes that seem to be in every show? Oooh, I hate them.

However, it was also the first show to get a reprieve, graduating from the “On Second Thoughts…” section thanks to awkward timeslots and a big gaping hole in the Schedule. And they are nice fellas, and I love the very idea of a Sound and Fury adventure inspired by film noir… and so, after a swift walk in from Norwood, I wind up sneaking into Le Cascadeur as the lads try to fire up the front couple of rows. I wind up sitting near the back next to another FringeFriend, Julie – it’s been awhile since I’d bumped into her (probably a whole year, I’d guesstimate).

The show opens with a cliffhanger – we’re privy to one of the closing scenes, the boys quickly backtrack to the beginning, and all the noir stereotypes are there: the drunken private-eye protagonist, the double-crossing female lead, and the lighting lends an authentic feel to the production. And, as expected, it’s incredibly pun-tacular. Here’s the thing, though: no-one seemed to mind… even (surprisingly) me. Sure, one section of the audience was almost screaming in delirium (a touch over-the-top, I thought), but – even with all the elements that usually piss me off (the constant laughing-at-themselves, for example) – this left me feeling not-annoyed. The fact that Julie and I were able to share an almost private chortle at the “Shaft” jokes (that fell flat with the rest of the audience) was an added bonus.

There’s some great singing in there (the three-part “It’s a [Man/Woman]’s World” is bloody brilliant), a great noir feel, and the audio & lighting cues were tighter than a duck’s chuff… it’s very much exactly the show I imagined when contemplating the phrase “Sound and Fury does noir”. Sure, they still do that faux mistake thing… but hey, that’s part of their raison d’être, and it keeps the audience happy. I’m just happy that it didn’t irritate the shit out of me… this time.

[2010042] This Kind of Ruckus

This Kind of Ruckus [FringeTIX]

version 1.0 inc. @ Norwood Concert Hall

8:00pm, Tue 23 Feb 2010

I arrive a fair bit early, and there’s only a few souls milling about – unsurprisingly, they’re all APAM folk. Many more arrive, seeking the artist discount available with the light-blue lanyard of the arts market. I chat with a couple of people prior to the show; comparing show notes, one chap was staggered at my current show count; it was a little like Jeremy Piven’s part in Grosse Pointe Blank – “forty-two shows, man! FORTY-TWO!”

So the arranged seating in the Concert Hall is maybe two-thirds full, the stage curtains are drawn, six (I could’ve sword there were six, though the programme only mentions five performers) seats in a row along the front of the stage. A man wanders onstage, settles in front of one of the chairs, presents some cheerleader’s pom-poms, and strikes a pose, rustling with a forced grin. Another figure comes out and does likewise, then another, and again… eventually all six chairs are fronted, and the figures collapse in them. A slackening of form, and suddenly they’re a group of friends in conversation.

One woman leads with a dangerous tale of a night out in the city, encountering the worst elements of man’s violence agains man. Assaults and chases and terror, identifying with a woman in danger and assisting her escape – before discovering that the woman is, herself, carrying a load of ice and is of considerable interest to the police… the victim is, indeed, a “bad guy”. The idea that a “bad guy” could be the focus of so much intended violence is the first conundrum that we are forced to consider; but, with the story over, the stage curtains open up.

I feel like we’re in a nightclub – but it’s more than that. There’s a woman dancing around, a guy checking her out, sizing her up, formulating a battle plan. He makes his move, dancing into her. You can feel the physical power play taking place in front of you, and it’s uncomfortable – it’s something that we’ve all probably seen before, but presented in such a stark manner (with video screens displaying the action – and responses – from many different angles) it’s deeply unnerving. More disturbing still is the woman lying on the floor at the front of the stage; there’s a man just sitting a short distance away, elbows on knees, staring at her. There’s no real menace on his face, but it’s certainly there in his presence; the forward lilt of his body makes him appear as if he’s looming over her still and slumped form. It’s ominous, and utterly creepy.

Then we’re thrust into a couples therapy situation. A guy – seemingly honest, friendly – attempting to communicate with a woman – shirking, skittish. An offstage therapist (and he’s literally offstage, sitting with us in the audience) chastises the man for his language, his physical projection… the scary thing is, I didn’t see anything wrong… at first. He corrects the language, following the directions given to him… but she still flinches at his approach.

And then we’re back in the nightclub, back into conversation, and it’s over – with Matthew Johns’ “apology” on The Footy Show playing in the background. I leave for another show, and as I strolled back into the City I remember thinking “that was all very interesting.” I make a few notes about the ominous nature of some of the pieces – that’s my key word, my memory jogger, “ominous” – and let it sit at the back of my mind.

And it’s only now, typing this up in the Norwood Library on my birthday, that I realise the latent power in the work. Because right now I’m feeling like it was a violent performance; but I don’t actually remember anything overtly violent about it. And therein lies the point, the crux of the matter; maybe there was some physical violence displayed, but I’m so blasé about it that it didn’t register as “important” to my memory. Or maybe the inference of verbalised violence has taken a fortnight to sink in?

Either way, that’s a pretty sad indictment on me – but I don’t really know whether it’s an indictment on society per se, because who can say what’s shaped me this way? And it’s only now, after feeling like I’ve been kicked in the guts by this realisation, that I remember the single most overtly vicious conversation in Ruckus – a woman tells the throng about her “bad breakup” which resulted in her… rape?

And the fact that I threw the ellipsis & question mark in that sentence indicates what kind of a performance Ruckus is. Even the other characters onstage seemed to be debating whether to use ellipsi and question marks. It’s confronting, but politely so. It’s like those Jagermeister shots that don’t taste too bad going down, but kick you in the head later.

And so here I sit, thinking about my own response to these issues, second-guessing whether I am in any way sensitive or aware of how my actions may affect others. Because I can recognise some of those “innocent” behaviours as my own – but without thinking that they could be seen as “sexually violent”. Hell, it even seems ludicrous now typing those words out in the context of the words before it, but the reality of those actions seen through the different lens that Ruckus provides leaves me head-spun and pondering.

Director David Williams’ notes in the programme make for delicious reading, in light of the above: “We hope that you enjoy the show tonight, although enjoy may not be the right word…” Christ. I actually thought I had enjoyed it, and now I find myself questioning my own behaviour, comparing myself to an offensive testosterone-inflated sexist twat… two weeks later. Two weeks: it’s the show that doesn’t stop… it’s still going on in my head.

And, a few hours after I realised and felt and wrote the above, I walked in to see Bully. Talk about an emotional double-whammy.

[2010041] Tommy Dassalo – An Explosion of Colours

Tommy Dassalo – An Explosion of Colours [FringeTIX]

Tommy Dassalo @ The Tuxedo Cat – Studio

6:00pm, Tue 23 Feb 2010

This has been a bit of a weird year for me, planning-wise; I scheduled all of my Festival shows very late and, rather than booking all my Fringe shows a week in advance (as I have been wont to do in the past), I seem to be doing my scheduling two days at a time, picking up tickets in wussy batches of sevens or eights.

The Scheduling for this Tuesday was predicated around one show; everything else was at the mercy of that single, inconveniently-timed-and-placed event. Frantically squeezing in Shortlisted shows around it, I’d originally selected Dooda for the 6:00pm timeslot – only to discover, upon picking up the ticket, that it wasn’t a six o’clock show at all, but 8:30pm. Which was, like, a bit shit, and revealed some horrible inconsistencies with my Scheduling that has led to me second-guess every subsequent planning decision.

So I plucked Dassalo from the Shortlist, snaffled a ticket, and donated my Dooda ticket to the TuxCat crew for free redistribution. Hopefully someone out there was able to take advantage of it.

But enough about me! There’s Tommy Dassalo to talk about.

As his bio points out, Dassalo has written a lot of comedy for TV – and it really shows in his act. He’s got a wealth of material that he whips through, intricate jokes with massive amounts of crossover and clever callbacks. There’s an element of – well, if not surrealism, certainly oddness – to his work, as evidenced by his father’s dog-biscuit & balloon escapades, and Tommy’s whimsical toilet-paper designs… but there’s plenty of (young) experiential material in there, too, such as his Wet’n’Wild escapades and “mature” friends’ less-than-escapades.

And this all sounds great so far: decent material goes a long way, especially from someone as young and earnest as Dassalo. But there’s a teensy-weensy little problem with his delivery, with the pacing of the material; the callbacks are really close together, often only a minute or two apart, and that really lessens their potential impact. The closing joke, however, is a brilliant example of a callback done right, reaching back twenty minutes or more to invoke the tale of being spooned by an ultrasound operator during his disease-investigation exploits.

So, at the end of the day, Tommy Dassalo proved himself to be an accomplished writer, but a fledgling standup comedian – but one with a lot of potential. And, as a last-minute ring-in show, I’m pretty happy with that. Mind you, I did have to resort to begging the other half-dozen audience members for one of their ticket stubs to maintain my collection for the year, which was a bit of a bizarre experience.

[2010040] Sound Cinema

Sound Cinema [FringeTIX]

Bird Lantern @ The Deli

9:00pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

I first saw Bird Lantern perform a set at The Jade Monkey two years ago, and was mightily impressed then; spying their name in The Guide was enough to warrant a place on The Shortlist, but reading the description – “a live re-scoring of silent, black and white films” – turned Sound Cinema into a must-see for me.

As, apparently, it did for many people; prospective punters were being turned away at the door in droves – this show, and the Tuesday night performance, were both sold out, and there were but a handful of tickets remaining for the third and final show. I wander out the back of The Deli, and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere… maybe forty or fifty people sitting around on benches, lounge chairs, rugs, cushions – just chilling, leaning towards the screen onto which we were going to be treated to some old silent classics.

I find myself sitting next to the film reviewer from The ‘Tiser, an amiable chap who occasionally whips out his phone to make a few notes. Bird Lantern (Greig Thomson and Al Thumm) introduce their concept to the crowd and fire up the first movie: Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (Trip to the Moon) – a charmingly innocent film, rich in detail and – considering the fact that it’s over 100 years old now – technically impressive in its execution. The music underpinning this short (it’s a mere 8 minutes long) is laidback, some gentle grooves underpinning the frantic moon-men chase sequences punctuated by umbrella-smiting. Great stuff.

The main event, though, is Buster Keaton’s The General. It’s a really wonderful movie, though I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without the soundtrack that Bird Lantern provide – drivingly uptempo for Keaton’s brilliantly designed action sequences, dropping back to softly twee for the blank-faced romance scenes. The first plane to fly overhead seems to be perfectly timed to provide some extra oomph to the movie (and the soundtrack); unfortunately, subsequent flyovers are less considerate.

Sure, the boys had a few issues with the film restarting at a particular point (which looked like a problem with VLC to me). And Greig told me afterwards that they’d encountered a few discrepancies between their DVD copy of The General and the version they originally composed against. But it was a bloody great experience, watching these old movies reliant on their visual performances being underpinned by modern beats and loops.

(Greig also remembered me from that Jade Monkey gig two years ago, and had a couple of CDs of new creations for me to snaffle. How cool is that! :)

[2010039] Peeled

Peeled [FringeTIX]

Di Smith @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

7:30pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

Waaaaay back in 2000, it seemed like there was a real glut of one-woman-multiple-character shows – The Entire Contents of the Refrigerator being the one that immediately springs to mind – but I don’t recall there being much activity in that somewhat specific genre in the last few years. Sarah Quinn has, of course, excelled in one such show (and this year’s A Captive Audience looks, thankfully, like more of the same), but others have been hard to come by.

Or maybe they’re just not reaching out from The Guide, appealing to me.

Regardless, I’m back in The Arch for the third time today to see Di Smith’s display of three characters whose only common trait appears to be loneliness. The first woman, Irene, is a carny spruiker with an autistic son, constantly battling pre-conceived notions on multiple fronts: as an itinerant carny, she’s viewed suspiciously, and her son is always the first to be blamed when something goes wrong (such as the missing girl that drives most of Irene’s tale). You get the feeling that, at story’s end, Irene is almost relieved at the outcome… but her isolation, her lack of emotional support, just barely starts cracking her hardened façade.

Alison, on the other hand, seems desperate and dateless. Venturing into the duplicitous world of online dating, she fantasises about the potential for romance with her new beau – only to have her dreams shattered by a Cleveland steamer. Tragic for Alison, but bloody funny for me.

The last character, Maureen, was the one that hit home for me. Suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s (at age 51), Maureen knows she’s entering a murky twilight, with her husband doing all he can to make her life as fulfilling as possible. But she can sense that she is, essentially, leaving him behind – she’s grateful, of course, but cognisant that her condition is ruining his life. It’s certainly the best-written of the three pieces, and I sense perceptive parallels with my own parents.

Peeled lingers in my memory in some sort of strange limbo; on the one hand, all the characters are unique in their own way, with Maureen standing out the most. And Smith’s delivery is certainly convincing, both in dialogue and song (each character belts out a tune as a signature flourish). But the first two pieces didn’t really engage me at all – leaving me quite firmly on the outside looking in – and the third was a little uncomfortable, given the close-to-home nature of the characters. And so Peeled falls into that category where I’m glad I saw it, but would hardly recommend it to anyone; a shame, really, because I love this format when everything goes right.

[2010038] iexist.com

[2010038] iexist.com [FringeTIX]

I Must Not Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:30pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

As an obsessive/compulsive gamer during the Fringe off-season, I should have been able to identify with this performance. And, after a solo opening filled with the emulation of an MMORPG session gone horribly wrong (something that I have no direct experience with, and have desperately tried to avoid (MMORPGs, that is)), I was intrigued.

The problem is that the intrigue, for me, didn’t last.

Inspired by the growing legions of teens that are finding their social interactions to be easiest through various cyberspace options, iexist.com aims to portray the relationships between its physically seperated characters through abstract dance and some spoken word. And, whilst some of the form and movement through the sparse (but clever) PVC piping framed set is interesting and evocative, it really failed to engage me – but I can’t put my finger on why.

It’s not like the material was contrived or offensively dumbed down; indeed, it’s quite a compassionate and pragmatic look at the issues affecting these people – their physically disconnected relationships and abstracted communications within these online worlds, addressing the extent to which people open themselves up online… and the dangers in doing so. But, as mentioned above, it just didn’t grab me.

Decent ideas turned into decent content, competently delivered… for no emotional connection. But, for some bizarre reason, I found the Director’s Comments in the programme really interesting. Go figure.

[2010037] King Lear

King Lear [FringeTIX]

So What? Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

2:30pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

This year seems to be particularly good for Shakespeare – along with the Festival’s Vs Macbeth and The Life and Death of King John, this production of King Lear appeared, wodged in a very Pete-friendly timeslot. The Bard on a weekday matinee, you say? I am so there.

Not many other people were, though. There was maybe eight of us, I reckon. Which has the cast outnumbering us quite heavily.

It’s a relatively straight-forward production: minimalist in nature, relying only on a few chairs, a wheelie bin, and a lot of newspaper for staging. There’s some great direction in there, travelling being denoted by movement around the audience; the space of The Arch is used to its fullest, but – save for some clever shadow-play – there’s no massive surprises in store. It feels complete, but sparse.

But then we get to Act V – and it is, quite literally, a bloody mess. Dispensing with the Bard’s scripted dénouement, it’s an all-cast lineup where each character rapid-fires an explanatory soliloquy about their downfall, then marks their death by smashing a blood capsule on their forehead. With twelve cast members on stage, it rapidly becomes a pile of bodies and blood atop a bed of newspaper.

Lear’s two dirtbag daughters (Danielle Nakkan and Ash Vlahos as Gonerill and Regan, respectively) are sufficiently hateful, while Jacqueline Breen’s Cordelia is a demure shrinking violet. Clare Matchett’s Fool (popping, surprisingly, out of a wheelie bin at the appropriate moments) provides great comic relief, but it’s Stephen Sharpe’s performance in the titular role that brings it all together: he oozes regality early, then manages to pull off an absolutely convincing batshit-insane Lear later in the piece.

I bumped into Sharpe down Rundle Street one day as he emerged from the Sushi King that seems to feed all Fringe Artists. He was still bloodied from that day’s performance, and as I raved to him about how much I loved the show (and let’s be clear – I thought it was awesome), he smiled broadly and thanked me for my words… and he sounded so young, so far away from that character onstage. That really surprised me; but then I remembered that there’s this little thing called acting, and that’s partly why I see all these shows.

Because these kids can really act, and director Christopher Hay definitely has an eye for the theatrical. King Lear deserves to be an unmitigated success, and I feel disappointed in myself that I didn’t push it onto the Fringe-going masses more myself.

Oh – and the programme? Divine – wonderful texture, superb presentation, and great content… not unlike the production itself.

[2010036] Freefall

Freefall [FringeTIX: The Arch, The Ringbox]

Gravity & Other Myths @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

1:00pm, Mon 22 Feb 2010

Summary: this show was amazing.

Now step back and explain.

I’ve no idea what attracted me to Freefall; the precis in the Guide is ambiguous and, indeed, a little odd given its location in the circus section. I walked in expecting some light acrobatics set against a bed of interesting characters embedded in some sort of basic theatre. Why’d I pick this show, again?

Regardless, as the lights drop, the young-looking cast appear, scribbling on hanging sheets of paper at the rear of the stage (a common motif this year, it seems). Then a large lightbulb is lowered from the roof – it’s the only source of light in The Arch now and, as it is swung around its fitting (scooting within millimetres of the corners of the T-shaped stage) the soft orange light it emits lights up the faces of the cast with wonder.

And then the acrobatic part of the performance kicks in – and it’s bloody amazing. There’s tons of brilliantly choreographed tumbling and balance acts, the female members of the cast are swung and flung around seemingly at will, and the multi-level juggling is almost impossible to follow. And then there’s the occasional spoken-word break, with the cast delivering lines based on the phobia theme… this could have been incredibly cheesey, but they manage to pull it off with the perfect balance of humour and compassion.

And the genuine sense of camaraderie that seemed to exist within the group… there’s a tangible team on stage. If there’s a spill (the odd juggling feat went awry), there’s always someone to clean up. There’s the little looks between them that indicate a focus, an intent, greater than the individual’s need to get past the next trick. And, whilst the male members of the cast have a homogeneity about them (in dress and stellar ability), the women are more distinct: the coy, cheeky grin of Tilly Cobham-Hervey (“Blue”). The elegance of Jascha Boyce (“White”). The stunning balance and strength of Brie Henwood (“Stripey”).

Now, there can be no messing around here; I heartily, unreservedly, recommend this to anyone and everyone, but with one small caveat: I saw this at Holden Street, not The Ringbox. And that may have coloured my experience somewhat, but I don’t really care – because my emotional response to this performance was one of tearful joy. And that’s something I haven’t had from many shows… ever.

It’s a ridiculously confined space for such a massive act… it’s all right there. Christ, I was sitting in the second row, and one mis-directed club whilst juggling could have knocked all my teeth out. When they’re standing three-tall, the topmost person is staggeringly close to the roof of The Arch – indeed, the lighting rig in The Arch had to be reconfigured to provide the vertical space required for Freefall. And yet they towered above the miniscule audience that day – all ten of us, maybe – and they fucking delivered. I shit you not, I’m tearing up right now, just recalling the jaw-gaping joy I felt that afternoon.

And then I discover that, apart from instructor/mentor Triton Tunis-Mitchell (who’s still on the junior side of thirty, and astonishingly strong), not one of the cast is over nineteen years of age. And that chucks a whole new perspective on things… because, whilst I’ll see some of the same tricks elsewhere this Fringe (in fact, the entire first act of Controlled Falling Project could have been plucked from Freefall), I’m still stunned that a group so young were able to conjure up that strength, that skill, and deliver with such poise.

And the ending… the ending! An absolutely magnificent full-stop on a magical show; perfect punctuation.

Look, I could keep typing, but get no closer to communicating how much I loved seeing Freefall. I hope it translates well to The Ringbox – the kids(!) certainly have the skill to carry it – but such an amazing show, in such an intimate venue… this is one of my shows of the year, hands down.

[2010035] Shaggers

Shaggers [FringeTIX]

Nik Coppin, Ro Campbell, Oliver Clark, Brad Oakes, Bart Freebairn @ The Tuxedo Cat – Attic

10:00pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

After last year’s Shaggers episode (which included moments of extreme fish-out-of-water discomfort), I was a little reluctant to schedule this one in so early; but with “we’re just friends” Irene as my partner-in-crime I felt a little safer this year.

And, without further ado: this was, quite possibly, one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen.

But it’s important to put that into context.

Most significantly, there were four of us in the audience that night. Irene and myself, merrily sloshed at this stage, along with the married-for-thirty-odd-years Ingrid and Joe. Ingrid & Joe took their seats halfway back in the empty room while we continued pissing on at the bar; Irene (a) is blind, and (2) brings out the bravery in me, so we grab a cocktail table directly in front of them, then goad them into coming up front to join us. It’s all friendly laughs when emcee Nik Coppin takes to the stage, encourages introductions amongst the four of us, and then explains how Ingrid, prior to ascending to the Attic, had asked him whether this was a “dirty” show; “well, it’s a show about shagging,” Nik had replied, “but I’ll talk to the boys and we’ll try to clean it up a bit.”

And then he introduced Ro Campbell.

And he was fucking filthy.

Ro started out rude, moved onto tales of cunnilingual spelunking in the back of a ute, then wrapped up with the Wrongest Thing He’s Ever Written (a joke involving Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson’s hot-tub, Bindi Irwin, and a stingray). By the time the ultimate punchline of the joke comes around (which my own sick little mind predicted), I’ve completely lost my shit – tears are in my eyes, Irene is crying “stop it” repeatedly, and Ingrid is laughing her arse off.

And suddenly Ro Campbell is a must-see.

Oliver Clark is up next with his cheesey schmaltz. Heavy on the innuendo (as befits a Shaggers show), his hip-thrusting closer was particularly amusing – “since it’s such a small crowd, you get another go each” he crooned, pointing his fingers and crotch in each of our faces in turn.

And then came Brad Oakes. Now, in their defence, most of the comedians tonight had been partaking of frivolities down at the Fringe Club prior to fronting up for Shaggers – but Brad was clearly worse-for-wear. Chucking his foot on one of our cocktail tables – and then struggling to keep his balance – he introduced us to his runners, bemoaned his lack of sex, threw in some arse-fingering jokes, then somehow staggered away again, leaving us chortling away.

At this stage, Irene’s finished the drink she was nursing; Coppin, back onstage to introduce the final act, asks if she’d like another. Yes, she replies, and Coppin summons the lonely barstaff to bring the appropriate beverage. “I’ll have a glass of red, too,” I called. Nik looked incredulous – even more so when Ingrid and Joe also re-upped their orders. The drinks came – “best show EVER!” I exclaimed – and, speechless at our brazen attempts to leverage his hospitality (and meagre profits), Coppin went the whole hog and presented us with DVDs and flyers, ordering us to at least spruik the show for him.

And so, to our final act: Bart Freebairn. Now, I’ve not been super-keen on Bart’s work in the past, but when he dragged a beanbag onto stage and parked himself in it sans microphone, surrounded by the four of us, it just rounded the night off beautifully. Sure, I’d heard the bulk of the material before (the wrongest-thing-he’s-had-said-to-him-during-sex bit), but tonight – in this intimate space and inebriated state – it just worked.

I was pretty bloody hammered by the time this show finished (and then we kicked on at the TuxCat’s rooftop bar for a decent old Sunday night session), but I’ll be buggered if it wasn’t one of the funnest hours I’ve ever had. The intimacy of the show just made it utterly memorable, one of those experiences that I’ll cherish always. It obviously made an impact on Joe & Ingrid, too, because they spied Irene and myself in The Garden a week later, leading to even more laughs.

There you go, then – Shaggers: the show that keeps on giving.

[2010034] Marcel Lucont – Encore

Marcel Lucont – Encore [FringeTIX]

Marcel Lucont @ The Tuxedo Cat – Rooftop

8:45pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

I loved Marcel Lucont’s show last year – it was exactly the right show at the right time with the right audience. It was piss-yourself funny and left me indebted to Lucont forever.

This year, it’s a couple of hours earlier in the evening, and the crowd… oh dear.

They weren’t into it. At all.

And that’s a massive shame – because Lucont is still a magnificently realised character, aloof and arrogant. And charming, in a horribly acidic kind of way. Because he’s the misanthrope (a kindred spirit!) we all hate to love… but love him we do, despite his threads of humour which weave back and forth across That Line.

But, with a longer set, Lucont is forced to delve into time-sucking stories (ostensibly taken from his autobiography, Moi) – and these ruin the pacing of the show. Still funny, mind you… but out of place. The unresponsive crowd didn’t exactly help this evening, either – I get the feeling that one good heckler would’ve made all the difference, allowing Marcel to cut them down with confident disdain, getting the audience onside, and rolling from there.

I really think Marcel Lucont is a great impact comedian, perfectly suited to the half-hour-or-shorter set. That’s not to say this show is bad, by any means – it’s just that prolonged exposure to his style gets a little numbing after awhile. By all means, check him out if he’s not had the pleasure before.

[2010033] Alexis Dubus – A Surprisingly Tasteful Show About Nudity

Alexis Dubus – A Surprisingly Tasteful Show About Nudity [FringeTIX]

Alexis Dubus @ The Tuxedo Cat – Rooftop

7:30pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

Another drinkie or two between shows, and we walk into the TuxCat’s Rooftop venue to be greeted by Philip Burgers (from Dr. Brown Behaves) posed naked on stage, Alexis Dubus quietly painting away. There’s a chuckle by everyone as they enter the room; Irene decides the optimum seats are directly in front of Dr. Brown’s cock.

Thankfully – for me, anyway – as soon as the audience are bedded in and tittering, Burgers leaves the stage (to appreciative applause), and Dubus begins his accurately-named Surprisingly Tasteful Show About Nudity. And it is very tasteful; whilst nudity is obviously at the core of the show, this is first-and-foremost more of an informative discussion than a collection of cheap gags.

Sure, there’s the odd humorous aside into nudity through history – witty quips surround fertility statues and the Rude Man, but it’s all broken up with facts and figures that Dubus has been collecting. There’s a brief discussion of the impact of streaking, and we’re introduced to Stephen Gough, the Nude Rambler, currently still in prison after being arrested for Breaching the Peace.

The bulk of the material, though, revolves around Dubus’ own explorations into nudity – recounting stories of his research trips to naturist events at theme parks, and, more prominently, his participation in the World Naked Bike Ride – first the Adelaide version (with all of fourteen participants), and then the London event (which had a lazy 1200 riders). Sure, he started the ride in his Nude Suit, but he’s already committed to riding stark naked in Adelaide’s event this year if he can get 100 other people to sign up.

This is the first time I’d seen Alexis Dubus perform outside his Marcel Lucont alter ego, and he’s got quite a likeable style. He’s enthusiastic without being effusive, and he seems to be taking this subject matter very seriously – so much so that, when I bumped into him (fnarr fnarr) in his Nude Suit one afternoon in Synagogue Place, he mentioned to me that he was considering doing a free show during which everyone would nude up. I’ve no idea whether that eventuated but… yeah. Like I said, he’s taking it seriously.

And, at the end of the day, this was an enjoyable performance. It wasn’t wall-to-wall laughs, but I’m not sure it was meant to be; just one chap talking about nudity, tastefully. Just your average Sunday evening, really.

[2010032] Death in Bowengabbie

Death in Bowengabbie

Tamarama Rock Surfers @ The Tuxedo Cat – Rooftop

6:15pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

I absolutely adored Death in Bowengabbie last year; it’s one of the few shows that I recommended to people before the Fringe started, and something that I’ve continually been telling people they should see. Because – quite simply – it is that good. I convinced Gareth (the choreographer) that it was a brilliant show, and well worth his precious time; Irene reluctantly came along as well.

And you know what?

Everything I said before still stands.

And, if anything, it was even better this time: I noticed the suitcases being used as headstones. The great characterisation of Rasputin, the Tasmanian devil. The impact of the father’s suicide on the story.

It’s a magical piece of theatre, wonderfully sparse and economical and perfect in its presentation. It still speaks to the small-town country boy in me, and it’s just one of those experiences that feels like it wraps me up in a coddling mist of descriptive delight, leaving me drawn and deliriously happy at the end of the performance.

So imagine my surprise when I look to Gareth as we walk out, raising my eyebrows in a so-what-did-you-think? kinda way… and he responded with a hand-waving “meh” gesture, followed by a quick escape. And Irene, whose taste has proven to be mostly compatible with my own thus far, responded to my excited inquisition with a wrenching “the Titanic song at the end was the best bit,” followed by “I found the character too cold to be able to connect with.”

Oh my.

Could I really be so wrong about this? Have I completely misjudged the quality of Bowengabbie not once, but twice?

Ah, fuck it. It’s all opinions, innit? And, truth be told, I’d rather people see Death in Bowengabbie and think I’m a nutter, than not see it at all. Better to have loved and lost, and all that.

…go see this show. Bloody brilliant, it is.

[2010031] Pickled.

Pickled. [FringeTIX]

Chris Scherer @ The Tool Shed

4:45pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

Just south of the entrance to the Fringe Club is The Tool Shed. In the spirit of There., it’s a tiny white shipping container, and on either side of the footpath there’s a couple of chairs that waiting punters are using. I take a seat, start jotting down some notes on other shows, when a chap called Gareth leans over ask introduces himself.

It turns out Gareth is a choreographer from Melbourne, briefly in Adelaide on a whirlwind Fringe expedition, seeing all shows he can; he remembers seeing me in last night’s Heavier Than Milk, of which he was far more scathing than I. We chat, I pick his brain a bit on the state of contemporary dance, and then we’re ushered into The Tool Shed.

Now, the shipping container forms an incredibly intimate space for a small audience; there’s a limit of twenty people per show, and I reckon that’d be a tight fit. Our audience of about ten was comfortable, without feeling like we had acres of space on the white steps we perched on. To get to those steps, though, we had to first negotiate a field of primed mousetraps – the audience tip-toeing ever-so-carefully through a couple of metres of the snappy booby-traps before parking on the steps at the rear of the container. Then Chris Scherer appears, dishevelled and nervous, and launches into one of the more confronting and provocative shows I’ve seen in years.

Pickled is very much a physical movement performance with theatrical elements thrown in; there’s a plethora of small vignettes, sometimes linked by the odd phone-call, but otherwise disconnected. After Scherer unsuccessfully negotiates the mousetrap mine-field, there’s pieces where Scherer throws himself around the long-narrow space in the form of dance; he dons bright orange tights and flops around like a fish out of water whilst a goldfish looks on; he sits with the audience and addresses them directly. There’s also a quirky and challenging Kissing Booth, the pain and confusion evident on his face as he lowers his price – to the unresponsive silence of the crowd (I bumped into the Fringe Club a few nights later and asked if he’d ever had any takers for the Kissing Booth; “not yet,” he said, “but here’s hoping.”).

But two episodes really stick out in the mind; after providing each of the audience with a ping-pong ball, Scherer stands a few metres away, wearing a target on his chest. The mental cue is triggered in the audience, and the ping-pong balls are launched; some miss, some hit the target, and there’s a titter amongst the crowd. After all the balls have been dispatched, the previously-motionless Scherer flinches – and a gasp goes up behind me. We all, suddenly, feel like shit. This is followed by a segment where Scherer simply faces the crowd – and weeps. You want to look away, but there’s a compulsion to watch him; the weeping continues, outstays its curious and painful welcome, and the discomfort escalates.

Now – I love this sort of stuff. I love being emotionally challenged, being dragged outside my comfort zone by someone who clearly has a coherent vision. And that’s the amazing thing; despite the disparate nature of the elements that make up this performance, there really does seem to be a singular vision behind it.

If this were performed in front of a sober crowd at midnight, it would blow minds – it’s very much an avant-garde piece of work that is at once aesthetically impressive and emotionally involving, and I can only imagine how the isolation of an inky black night outside would impact the viewer. But, as it was this sunny Sunday afternoon, Pickled was merely stunning.

[2010030] Angels vs Demons

Angels vs Demons [FringeTIX]

Lumina Vocal Ensemble @ Barr Smith Library – Reading Room

3:00pm, Sun 21 Feb 2010

I’ve discovered that an injection of taurine into my mid-afternoon routine (in the form of Red Bull) is almost necessary to be able to push through the day with my eyes open at all times; so, ambling towards Adelaide Uni’s BSL, I dropped by the KBS Convenience Store (two Red Bulls for $5.50!) and neck one before heading to one of my favourite places in Adelaide – Wills Court, within the Uni Grounds. I find it remarkably tranquil – more so when they’ve got water flowing in the pool there – and the warm day and quiet surroundings soon have my eyelids drooping. Anxious to keep the drowsiness out of shows, I decided that the right thing to do was to meditate for a bit.

Forget good versus evil, or light versus dark… Red Bull versus meditation is where the real battle is. It’s bloody hard to drag a racing heart into a meditative state, let me tell you.

Eventually, a bit better rested, I head down to the Reading Room of the Barr Smith Library for this performance. The Reading Room is another of my favourite places in Adelaide, partly because of its inspirational beauty, but also because of memories of lustful teenage fumblings within it’s sleepy hallowed halls. The Room is implicitly split into two – one half providing ample space for the performers (and which they utilise well), the other containing a surprisingly large audience.

The Lumina Vocal Ensemble consist of a healthy fifteen choral singers, and they seemed to exude a distinct mood that felt like I imagined “renaissance” should feel. The opening piece, Dies Irae, Dies Illa, sees half-a-dozen men from the Ensemble perched at the far end of the Reading Room – an aeon away, but the space adds a stunning echoic ambience to the sound.

The men move to the implicit barrier that separates Them from Us, and are joined by the rest of the Ensemble for Anna Pope’s The Traveller. Part I features some lovely gender-split overlays and alternations between the men and the women, and Part II is simply thrilling – explosions in tempo create a real rollercoaster of a listening experience. James Scott’s baritone solo in Part III, though, is absolutely amazing.

Saam Thorne’s The Common Perception of Demons is brilliantly constructed, with the Ensemble clapping and stomping the pace into the piece; The Truth of Demonic Existence is an almost mirror-image of a follow-up, with wind-whistles and clicks creating ambience. The penultimate song Faire is the Heaven has a stunning conclusion, but then Rachel Sag’s Speak Of The Devil kicks in straight away… complete with a breakdown and a rap(!), this is a very contemporary end to an otherwise classical performance.

I loved this, I really did. With the sun streaming through the BSL windows, it’s an utterly ethereal experience hearing these soaring voices and orchestrations echo throughout the Room. The Ensemble themselves were glorious; the songs (mostly penned by members of the Ensemble) worked brilliantly.

Possibly the only technical negative to be levelled at this show would be that the accompanying projected images & videos added nothing, providing only the opportunity of distraction. And what was up with the snippets of Metropolis during Faire Is The Heaven? What’s that about?

There was one other downside, though – the reluctance of the audience to applaud at the end of each song, leaving uncomfortable pauses heavy in the air. The fact that I feel guilty not starting the applause myself is a handy reminder that I’m quite a sheep in that regard – awareness of which comes back to bite me further into this Fringe. But more on that later ;)