[2010029] The Grimstones – Hatched

The Grimstones – Hatched [FringeTIX]

Asphyxia @ Bosco Theater

10:00am, Sun 21 Feb 2010

So: I’m a little groggy – after all, I’ve had some sleep – but I had that creeping-death feeling where you feel a deep need to feel the sun’s rays on your skin. I sit across the Garden from the Bosco, drinking in the Vitamin D and some coffee, watching families assemble in front of the steps, wandering aimlessly like some sort of human Brownian motion experiment.

We wander inside, and I take a seat on the far side of the venue, away from the majority of the children. As soon as the house lights drop, the crying starts – and continues for five minutes until it’s determined that the kid is really upset and taken outside. I bite my lip – after all, it’s a calculated and conscious decision to go to these “family friendly” timeslots, and I’m trying to be a bit more tolerant of these things. After all, the Fringe is for everyone.

Luckily, the performance is strong enough to make ignoring the mewling masses easy. The deaf and mute Asphyxia plays the narrator Gertrude Grimstone, with her assistant August (Paula Dowse) translating her signed narrative. Both women also act out the story of the Grimstones using some wonderfully evocative marionettes.

It’s a relatively short performance: young only-child Martha Grimstone, able to see the dreams of others, discovers that her mother, the widow Velvetta, still grieves for her husband – and the additional children that they never had. Martha then casts a spell (discovered in her grandfather’s books of magic) and creates a large egg which, when hatched, reveals the three-legged baby boy, Crumpet. Though the Grimstones are initially horrified by Crumpet, in time he unites the family and brings joy to them all.

What makes The Grimstones stand out are the little things. All the beautifully detailed sets emerge from within suitcases; they’re a marvel of both craft and engineering. The puppetry shows an amazing amount of delicacy, the subtlety of which may have been lost on the children present: Velvetta turning the pages of her book and working the sewing machine, the heaving sighs and weeping of various Martha and Velvetta. And the manner in which Asphyxia and Dowse handle up to four puppets at once is superb.

Even though The Grimstones may appear relatively… well, grim, these drawn and sorrowful puppets have a great sense of poignancy – and still manage to evoke genuine joy. I was utterly charmed by this show, and the pièce de résistance was the Q&A session that the women handled at the end of the performance, answering any questions the children had. The posed questions were full of innocence and wonder – but one young chap, in particular, was utterly fascinated by Asphyxia’s signing. Funny stuff :)

[2010028] Die Roten Punkte – Rock!

[2010028] Die Roten Punkte – Rock! [FringeTIX]

Die Roten Punkte @ Le Cascadeur

11:15pm, Sat 20 Feb 2010

This was my sixth Die Roten Punkte gig – and their crowds keep growing. Le Cascadeur is packed this Saturday night, and there are a lot of people who seem familiar with a lot of the new staples of DRP‘s act – Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter and Rock Bang seem to be really well known, now, but I’ve no idea how they’ve become so popular… maybe their YouTube videos?

But the thing is, I could almost copy’n’paste last year’s DRP post in here, and it would still be perfectly appropriate. The extended Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter piece is still in there, and new songs Burger Store Dinosaur and Banananana(?) show a complexity in their composition that was absent from their earlier work.

And that, I think, is where they lose me a bit.

As I keep saying in every DRP post since 2007, the absence of those simple audience singalong songs – the ones where the crowd almost drive the song along – creates a gaping hole in the DRP experience. And that’s demonstrated in this evening’s show by the fact that my highlights were the (audience selected) First Three Tracks From The First Album – the identical-sounding songs that sucked me into the DRP mystique to start off with.

I mean, really – the encore was Super Musikant. All they had to do was drop in Best Band In The World and leave me on a big singalong high. Sure, it was still a decent show – and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen Die Roten Punkte before – but on this form they’re creeping closer to the day when I don’t consider them a must-see act every Fringe.

C’mon, guys. Best Band In The World. You know you want to.

[2010027] The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie). A Theatrical Talking Blues & Glissendorf

The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie). A Theatrical Talking Blues & Glissendorf [FringeTIX]

Tamarama Rock Surfers @ The Bakehouse Theatre (Main Theatre)

9:30pm, Sat 20 Feb 2010

From the outset – I’m not a massive fan of Dylan. Yes, I appreciate his impact on music as a whole, and I can understand why he has his avid fans… but, in general, the snippets of his catalogue that I’ve listened to just haven’t rung my bell.

Which is just an elaborate way of saying that I didn’t pick this show because I was a Dylan aficionado. Rather, I was here because of the Tamarama Rock Surfers.

Last year’s Death in Bowengabbie was a stunner: a return to the simple, heart-felt theatre that made me fall in love with the Fringe in the first place. And, given the divine production values evident in that show, I figured another Tamaramarific experience was justified.

Sometimes, scatterbrained associations really pay off – because Chronic Ills was fantastic.

From the outset, we are informed that this is most definitely not a tribute show; then Matt Ralph appears as Dylan and, over the next hour, talks us through his life, showing us his pivotal moments and struggles and contemplations. It’s not always a pretty picture – we’re with him in hospital, we’re with him during his seedier drug days. But we also see his interactions with Guthrie (and the search for his Holy Grail of Songs), Lennon, and…

…look. I can’t explain it, really. And, even if I could, it would take away from the impact of the work. There’s enough up there to remind me of what the performance was like (and, after all, that’s the whole reason I started this blog), and hopefully there’s enough there to entice you to go and see this show. Because this production is almost without flaw. The writing is tight and always in motion; the three principle actors are perfect. Matt Ralph is fantastic as Dylan, and Andrew Henry & Lenore Munro flit between a plethora of characters, from Abe Lincoln to Marilyn Monroe.

Even the programme is deeply informative and bloody funny. All the songs, snippets of songs, and musical textures are wonderfully done – the electric set was superb – and Henry’s stints as Johnny Cash and Daniel Lanois are spot-on (as is Munro’s Jesus and Yoko Ono). In short, this was a bloody brilliant show, every bit as entertaining as Bowengabbie… and that’s a massive compliment.

[2010026] Heavier Than Milk

Heavier Than Milk [FringeTIX]

[one8in] Dance Collective @ Gravity Studios

8:00pm, Sat 20 Feb 2010

Hopes were high when I arrived at Gravity Studios; the Heavier Than Milk programme looked very professional, and the eight pieces to be performed were presented in the form of a menu, as a series of courses. There was a curious shot of milk available for necking at the door, then upstairs to the performance space.

The first course was already in progress as we arrived: Sarah Glover sat scribbling on the principal wall of the space, as she did for the entire performance. Ummm… OK. The first dance piece felt like a lazy start, with plenty of movement but no real feeling of intent. There was a somewhat interesting exploration of space around a large cubic frame, however, and that bode well for upcoming pieces.

It’s a pity, then, that the following piece was utterly dire. Built around horrible characters dancing literally to Thou Shalt Always Kill (a decision which feels so utterly lazy I’m reluctant to even consider it to be choreography), this piece represented the turning point for Heavier Than Milk; from here, they took the express lane to Wrongville.

Jo Naumann’s “Milkshake” won me back briefly with a quirky giddy-chicken of an opening, and a few cute moments, before being let down by an appalling ending. I mean, really… “I’ve hurt my finger”? What the fuck were they thinking?

“Two Dollars” is a stumbling mess, only partially redeemed by some smooth movements and moments of real beauty in the subsequent “She Ain’t Heavy”. Unfortunately, the movie used as background for this piece had more of a lasting impact than most of the rest of the dance. And Jay Mullan’s Dessert Course film, “Morning After, In The Middle Of Nowhere” felt like it was cut with a meat cleaver – it may have been interesting had we seen any actual dance in the movie (which featured Jade Erlandsen – who I’ve got a lot of time for after last year’s Out of the Dark). The final piece featured film, some rear-projection shadows, and had a real feeling of energy about it – and then pissed any goodwill generated by those positives away with some ill-advised talking sequences.

This was my first visit to Gravity Studios and, while the space itself is great, the options for the audience are not. The layout of seating for Heavier Than Milk had two banks of three rows each; the big problem here is that there’s no elevation, so those sitting in the non-front rows – including myself – couldn’t see a fucking thing when the dancers moved low. Which, as you might imagine, was often. The constant scribblings seemed utterly pointless, too, given the almost complete lack of involvement in the dance pieces (only one of the dance “courses” had any interaction with The Scribbler).

In short: Heavier Than Milk was a complete mess. There were one or two glimpses of something attractive there, but they were swamped by a mass of poorly-conceived, self-indulgent crapulence. To say that this was a disappointment is a massive understatement.

[2010025] When 3 Meet

When 3 Meet [FringeTIX]

Flexiflight Productions @ The Birdcage

6:00pm, Sat 20 Feb 2010

I must admit, I was filled with fear as soon as I realised that The Birdcage was not the big tent on the Torrens Parade Grounds – that, of course, is the Circus Oz tent. It was stupid of me to have expected otherwise; The Birdcage is a new venue that has been set up with the goal of making it easier for smaller circus companies to get out there, performing in a cheaper venue built with their performances in mind.

The Birdcage is precariously erected on the banks of the Torrens, just across the road from the Parade Grounds. It’s a bare-bones operation – at least, it was on this Saturday – with the crew still running around putting safety flags on tent pegs, whilst two yellow-vested security guards man the gate with a mixture of bemusement and disdain. There’s no crowds for them to control – hell, there’s barely any people. The two staff in the small bar combine to deliver me a drink in exchange for payment with only a modicum of confusion, the woman handling ticket sales was utterly bemused when I said I already had a ticket, and there was a bit of frantic confusion when some punters strolled right into the tent without paying.

Still, eventually I take a seat inside. It’s an odd setup – for one thing, there’s a tree just to the left of the main stage area, and there’s an overall feeling of rough’n’ready, rather than the polish that The Ringbox now exudes. But it is a big top, which lends a very positive ambience to things with the hot afternoon sun peeking in through the rolled up skirt of the tent.

When 3 Meet is a short piece based on the intersection of three very different people, all seemingly involved in one accident. It opens very slowly, with limited movement being used in the pre-accident exposition. Post-accident, it kicks off; the spurned-and-smitten guy performs some great work with the aerial silk, the hippy-esque girl does a great routine on the suspended ring, and the slick businesswoman performs a flashy hoops routine.

The reason I love watching circus acts is because they provide a glimpse of people doing stuff that I imagine to be nigh-on impossible, especially for a fat bastard like myself. And, when it’s in front of a small crowd, it feels like they’re performing for me – there’s an intimacy that’s missing with large, professional acts like Circus Oz and Cirque du Soleil. That intimacy removes the distance between me and the performer, and it puts my heart in my throat more than some spectacularly polished extravaganza.

In the case of When 3 Meet, the performances are solid – but there’s not a lot of them, and not much variety in them. Three performers, three disciplines, and some contrived semi-theatrics tying them together in a thirty-minute show. But I wound up urging the performers on because, essentially, they were my performers; they were doing all this stuff for me. And whilst I’d seen a lot of the tricks before in other acts, I’m still mesmerised by the silk, and hoops always confound my rhythm-less body.

Was it worth it? Maybe. But with a short run of three shows, and a mere handful of paying punters at this performance, it’s hard to see how this company could continue in this vein.

[2010024] Best of the Fest Late Show at The Gov

Best of the Fest Late Show at The Gov [FringeTIX]

Lindsay Webb, Andrew O’Neill, Mickey D, Eddie Ifft @ The Gov

10:30pm, Fri 19 Feb 2010

Last year, I saw a Late Show on a Saturday night in the latter half of the Fringe – and The Gov had been packed. There’s nowhere near as many people here this year – it’s maybe only about a quarter full. But none of that matters, really; the people least suited to sitting near the front have found their way there anyway, and it’s not long after emcee Lindsay Webb takes the stage that he’s being incomprehensibly heckled (in a unique dialect of slur and cackle)… and the Best of the Fest team have found some of their targets for the night.

Last year’s show was the first time I’d come across Webb, and I remarked then (well, I meant to, anyway) that he was entertaining, without being brilliant. As emcee, though, he came into his own – deflecting the heckles with ease, isolating the troublemakers in the crowd, and then pushing his own material into the mix. And his act has definitely stepped up a notch, too – last year his jokes were a little sedate in nature, but tonight he’s upped the filth-o-meter a bit and got more-than-a-little rude. Bloody good stuff.

I was stoked to hear that Andrew O’Neill was the first act – with a brain that’s always crunching numbers, I figured this would be a good opportunity to see someone who’s on The Shortlist and, hopefully, be able to rub them off the list afterwards. Unfortunately, O’Neill completely scuppered my plans by being fucking brilliant – even when appearing onstage wearing a hideous purple check dress, black tights, and bright red lipstick. See, his “occult comedian” show blurb mentions nothing about the T-word – that being “transvestite” – so the audience is taken aback at first. He wins them over, though, by getting a chant going and breaking it down with “that’s how racism starts.” Tales of reactions to his appearance on the street keep the laughter flowing, and I’m duty bound to not only keep him on The Shortlist, but elevate him up it, too.

Mickey D is up next, and once again he launches into a familiar act based around the peccadillos of us Adelaideans. As usual, his observations are spot on the money, and once he’s hammered home our North/South/East tribal nature, discussed the discomfort of having your Mum sign “wanker” to you, and performed a cringingly good impression of a Sunday-night Ice Addict, he’s leaving the stage with a lot of laughs and good will – even if he was a lot more caustic with the more unruly audience members.

As the headline act, Eddie Ifft is… uncompromising. And, while his act continues to be refined and made generally more palatable to the average audience, there’s still something intensely vicious underneath the surface. He dispatches hecklers quickly and violently; he’ll toss “retard” into a joke and demand that you laugh; he’ll get overly explicit when talking about arse-fucking, look to see who cringes, then attack. His one concession tonight was asking the audience for a topic for his closing joke; the accepted response was “Tiger Woods”, and he turned it into another stream-of-consciousness filth-fest. Brilliant.

Four great comedians, and plenty of lively peeps in the crowd wearing big comedy targets (the pissed slut, the gentle biker, the accountant-who-didn’t-know-he-was-an-accountant). When the worst performer of the night still had me thinking “hmmm… I might see if I can squeeze him into The Schedule”, you know you’ve seen a bloody brilliant gig.

[2010023] The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer [FringeTIX]

Weeping Spoon Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

9:00pm, Fri 19 Feb 2010

Now this was Proper Fringe.

The Arch is dominated by a large white circular screen. Creator / performer Tim Watts appears, dressed in black with bulbous goggles. He sits at a nearby computer and writes out the opening titles – they’re projected onto the circular screen, then washed away with the story of Alvin Sputnik.

Alvin’s happily married, living with his wife on a tiny island atop the debris of a flooded world. Sadly, she falls ill; backlighting the screen allows us to see through it, and we’re privy to the quiet and poignant death of Alvin’s wife (performed in live-action, with Watts performing some beautifully restrained puppetry for the fading woman). Her soul, embodied in a bright light, leaves her body and descends to the depths of the ocean; Alvin dives in and tries to follow her, but reluctantly has to turn back.

Distraught, Alvin sees an ad on TV – the human race is launching a last-ditch effort to try and find a new place to live, a way to save humanity. Of course, this just happens to require an almost certainly suicidal solo trip to the sea-bed; Alvin, making his way to the human HQ, volunteers for the job.

Donning a special diving suit – and adopting an incredibly cute puppet form – Alvin starts his descent, stunningly portrayed in the form of projected animation with seamless transitions to / from puppet form. Along the way, he passed though the flooded cities, finds a bizarre disco, and then finds his wife’s spirit again. Chasing her through the ocean, there’s frolics with a giant whale (again, excellent puppetry), before the spirit leads Alvin to the final destination of his mission. The subsequent ascension is eye-wettingly wonderful, and the ending… well, I’m running out of superlatives.

I cannot rave enough about Alvin Sputnik. The story is wonderfully sweet, and the execution is amazing – as previously mentioned, the transitions between live action and projected action are perfect. The puppetry, too, is divine, with the diving Alvin being wonderfully realised – one hand acting as all his limbs, quickly flipping around to create a stunning sense of character. And the audio accompaniment is lovely – well, I’m bound to say that of any show that includes Electric Dreams in its soundtrack.

And all of this is the work of one chap, Tim Watts – one of those quite obscenely talented youngsters that make me proud to be paying good money to see stuff at the Fringe. A quick chat at the end of the show revealed him to be incredibly humble, and yet buoyed and almost giddy with the accolades that were being proffered unto him by the departing crowd. He deserves them all, of course: Alvin Sputnik is a beautiful show, chock full of emotional whimsy whilst remaining aesthetically spectacular. I’ve got a good feeling that this will be finishing in many people’s Top Show lists.

[2010022] Be Your Age Or Bust

Be Your Age Or Bust [FringeTIX]

The Royal Adelaide University Old Footlighters Club @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Fri 19 Feb 2010

“Blimey, Pete!” I hear absolutely no-one say, “this is a bit of a different pick to your usual fare. A university revue show? What’s up with that? Come on, be honest – you’re just padding out your show count, aren’t you?”

To which I would respond (if I had any cause to, which I don’t, because no-one actually has asked – nor ever will ask – the above question): “Piss off. And no. In that order.”

The fact of the matter is that Be Your Age Or Bust made The Shortlist because… well, I’d never seen a revue-style show in the flesh before. And, with my dogmatic insistence that I not be in the City on Fringe opening night, it just happened to slot nicely into the Schedule.

The other determining factor is that, as I grow older, I feel more and more attached to my alma mater. I don’t know why, exactly – it’s not as though I had endless good times there, making lifelong friends and learning Important Stuff like all those Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds documentaries suggest; it just feels… I dunno, close. A source of comfort. Plus, one of my favourite places in Adelaide is Wills Court. And I love the old BSL reading room.

But none of that has anything to do with the show. So let’s get on with that, yes?

As you might have guessed by now, Be Your Age Or Bust is a good old-fashioned University revue show. There’s lots of little skits, political digs, enthusiastic singing and dancing, and tiny humour-filled barbs directed at our affluent society. The most pointed pieces were directed at the current University of Adelaide administration (who are proposing knocking down Union Hall to build a research facility – boooo) and our current Premier – doubly funny, given former Premier John Bannon was a member of the cast.

“Letters to the Editor Men” was a cracking song & dance routine, demonstrating an elegance of language that current musical humorists would do well to take lessons from. In fact, the songsmithery as a whole was wonderful, as were the “Superheroes At Rest” and “Leafy Suburbs Forum” bits. In fact, the only one of the 36(!) skits that fell flat was the ill-advised “Air Orchestra”… but the percussive brilliance of the Plumber’s Song (complete with a hose-and-funnel “trumpet” solo) more than made up for that little bump.

As mentioned before, John Bannon was a real surprise in the cast – but the real standouts for me were Mark Coleman (transitioning between the poncy East-suburban dinner party nerd to the young-and-dumb car-hunter with ease) and, of course, one of my childhood heroes: Rob Morrison. 85-year-old Jeff Scott was awesome, too – though the voice might be a bit fragile now, he’s still got impeccable timing.

I was surprised – really pleasantly surprised – by the number of people who turned up to this performance. They’ve had near sell-out shows for the entire season now, which is (a) charming, (2) wonderful, and (iii) slightly weird. Because, even days away from my 39th birthday, I was the youngest person in the audience – by far. And there’s something really lovely about the idea that there’s other people out there who are so attached to their alma mater too, and that the word-of-mouth and impetuous night-out thing still exists well into middle age; that Twitter and e-mail aren’t the be-all and end-all of buzz.

I left this show grinning like a loon, and you can’t ask for much more than that, really. Bravo, Old Footlighters :)

[2010021] 1 Camera

1 Camera [FringeTIX]

No Exit Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

4:00pm, Fri 19 Feb 2010

So here’s Holden Street for the first time this year – and not much has changed. Except pretty much all the staff. Kym and all the other regulars have gone, but the Girl With The Gorgeous Eyes is back – though her voice has changed somewhat. No matter!

I find it pretty ironic that I’m writing this the day after the Fringe bit in the ‘Tiser stated “there is nothing more annoying than latecomers at the theatre” – since a couple of peeps wearing the Orange Sash of the Media Baron (no names ;) sat down several minutes into the play, missing the announcement that, due to last-minute cast changes, there would be a prompter in use. And, in the middle third, the prompter was heavily used, the progress of the play becoming almost treacle-like. And one of the media people present spent a good amount of the play dozing – it’s not like I obsess about them or anything, they were just in my eye-line, nodding gently.

The name of production company gives it away – 1 Camera is an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre‘s No Exit (the name comes from a typo in the production’s original name, 1n Camera – the “1” intended to put the show at the top of the list of Theatre productions in the Guide). Thus, we meet Garcin as The Valet introduces him to a room; they constantly refer to it as one would a hotel room, except for Garcin’s queries as to the location of the torture devices that he assumes should be there. Inez is led in next, and treats Garcin with utter disdain; then comes Estelle, the sashaying socialite, who immediately takes a liking to Garcin – and Inez a liking to her.

The room is actually purgatory: these three characters are stuck in hell together. They all expect to be tortured, but it’s only with the advancement of the play that they realise that they are each other’s torturers, leading to continual odd-man-out situations where one character is being picked apart for their sins by the other two.

And therein lies the problem with 1 Camera; after a while, it becomes very episodic, with a predictable rhythm of characters being verbally reamed in turn, followed by a changeup… and then it all begins again. Yes, it’s a great concept, and for the first third it’s really enjoyable – sure it’s bleak, but I love a bit of Grim in my theatre. But the seemingly interminable repetition of the piece just wore me down to the point where I was clock-watching, waiting for it to end.

And that’s never a good thing.

I know that, if you’re going to produce one of the classic plays, you’re going to get reamed if you stray too far, or not offer it the reverence that some think it deserves; but for my tastes, this ménage à trois of psychological entanglement could be culled mightily without losing any impact. And, despite Inez stumbling over her lines, it was a pretty polished production – just way too long for my liking.

[2010020] So You Think You Can Get F#%ked Up

So You Think You Can Get F#%ked Up [FringeTIX]

Seb Carboncini @ The Tuxedo Cat – Rooftop

10:45pm, Thu 18 Feb 2010

It’s with great joy that I ascended to the Tuxedo Cat’s Rooftop Bar for the first time this year; it’s a great venue, most of the staff recognise me from last year and, as I have a seat whilst jotting down some notes and sipping on a mystery red that’s really quite delicious, I think – and these words really did form in my brain – “it doesn’t get much better than this.” I’m utterly content and happy.

Irene appears, having just seen Marcel Lucont – we grab some more drinks, sit and chat, wait for them to set up for So You Think You Can Get F#%ked Up. It’s taking awhile, and I’m thinking that my cunning plan – to make the 11:30pm show of Circus vs Sideshow, with just five minutes between the two shows – is going to unravel.

The thing is, the weather is too balmy, the wine is too warming, and the company too lovely for me to care anymore. So, even before we enter the TuxCat’s Rooftop venue, I’ve given up all hope of the last show. And that leaves my mind clear – but slightly hazy – for Seb Carboncini’s reality TV pisstake.

Irene, disconcertingly, is one of those front-row type of people, so it’s there we perch. Things don’t start well – the video projection that the show heavily relies upon (for intro titles and “ad breaks”) was displaying just fine, but there was no audio. There’s a bit of abuse from the dressing room behind the stage, in itself a source of much hilarity, and an audience member helps sort the problems out. And then, with flashy graphics and a lush aural introduction, we’re introduced to Robbie Butternob, the host for this finale of So You Think You Can Get F#%ked Up. Robbie tells us that the contestants are battling it out for the “ultimate rehab holiday” and, with an absurdly toothy grin, leaps offstage to prepare the first contestant.

Inbetween meeting the four contestants, we’re treated to a collection of pre-recorded ads; and they’re pretty fucked up, especially the series of yoghurt ads which devolved into head-drenching ridiculousness. But they’re nowhere near as fucked up as the contestants: Carlo Cabana hit me square in the head with his shoe as he stripped down to his banana-and-gladwrap undergarments, Wayne Gravel’s bath-bong entry tape was amazing, and by the time Rhonda Hangover vomited Up’n’Go onstage (thrice) I was madly cackling at pretty much anything.

Seb Carboncini was fantastic throughout, inhabiting these characters with ease, abusing the tech in their native tongue (except Rhonda, of course – she was in no shape to be berating anyone). But there’s a couple of moments from this show which will live with me forever: the first was watching Carlo’s shoe fly through the air in slow-motion, arcing towards my head… I was sitting cross-armed with a beer in one hand, and I’ll be arsed if I’m spilling any beer. Or uncrossing my arms. Therefore, shoe hit head.

The second memorable moment was just after Rhonda vomited for the first time. Sure, we were laughing at the coarse crudity of the action, but then the smell wafted out to greet me, and a little voice in my head said “mmmmm… chocolatey.”

At that point, I just completely lost my shit.

This was a great bit of absurdist character comedy; I had a bloody brilliant laugh during the show and then proceeded to piss off the TuxCat crew until they insisted we leave at stupid o’clock in the morning. Seb had a chat after the show, sprinkling all manner of gossip, and… y’know… what a fucking great night :)

[2010019] Jane was 16 yesterday!

Jane was 16 yesterday! [FringeTIX]

Spotlight Theatre Company @ Jah’z Lounge

9:15pm, Thu 18 Feb 2010

Oooooh, a bit of an odd one, this. As soon as the lights come up, we meet Jane – about to turn forty, she’s just emerged from a coma after nearly 24 years. There’s an understandable look of shock and disbelief as she looks into a small mirror – this is the first time she’s seen herself since awakening, and her own face is as unrecognisable to her as the “old woman” who says she’s her mother.

Exposition occurs via the sessions Jane has with Susan, who is trying to ascertain whether there’s been any lasting damage to Jane’s brain as a result of the accident and coma. It soon becomes evident that Jane is just the same articulate, intelligent teenager she always was; Susan’s focus then shifts to re-integrating her into society, free of the needy clutches of Jane’s mother. Along the way, there’s a couple of key revelations that impact upon Jane: the over-sexualisation of the media, the rise of terrorism, and – most importantly – the fact that her father had petitioned to turn off her life support.

This last fact, of course, triggers off a maelstrom of emotions – loathing is to be expected, of course, but as the play progresses Susan paints Jane’s father as the saint, rather than the sinner; the breakup of her parent’s marriage an inevitable outcome as her mother shifts in Jane’s mind from constant supporter to meddling oppressor, anxious not to let her daughter grow up.

The main problem with Jane was 16 yesterday! is that there are still a bunch of inconsistencies; after all, I’m the around same age as Jane and Susan (who’s a year younger than her patient), and so I find it very easy to identify with Jane’s most “recent” recollections. But there’s no way we used the term “lame” back in the mid-eighties, and (as Tony acknowledged when I chatted with him post-show) the Pet Shop Boys references are also a year or two out (simple solution: re-stage the play in a couple of years! ;)

Factual errors aside, there’s also a few bits that didn’t feel right; I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to hear of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York now, but I can’t imagine anyone having the same response that Jane did. Likewise, I wasn’t convinced by Jane’s penchant for flip-flopping moods rapidly – and deeply; little scenes like that killed the suspension of disbelief.

And yet, despite my grumpalump comments above, I really quite enjoyed this piece – even if I did expect a bit of a light-hearted comedy (in the vein of Freaky Friday or Big) when going in. It’s a good, solid Fringe production that manages to toy with a bunch of ideas in a short amount of time, and turn into something you weren’t expecting. Which, in this case, is nice :)

[2010018] Stevl Shefn and his Translator Fatima

Stevl Shefn and his Translator Fatima [FringeTIX]

Steve Sheehan @ SA Writer’s Centre

8:15pm, Thu 18 Feb 2010

Up the twelvety flights of stairs to the SA Writer’s Centre I go again, keen to see how Stevl Shefn is getting on. I’m greeted with chocolate frogs and the option of wine (which, for some reason, I fail to take advantage of). Melanie’s there – I say hello – and there’s some other familiar-but-not-quite-sure-where–from faces. I take a quick-getaway seat and jot a few memories down.

A tap on my shoulder – it’s the Great Hair from last night, all smiles and accompanied by a glass of riesling. We sit, we chat, and then Stevl Shefn & Fatima appear… and we laugh.

We laugh a lot.

Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention that this performance is largely a superset of Stevl Shefn’s appearance last year; the premise of the show is the same (Sheehan plays the eponymous Stevl, a wide-eyed gibberish-emitting character being translated by the burqa-clad Fatima). Large chunks of the material are the same – his aunt’s adult movie shop. The whale tourism. Even the grin-tacular rabies bit makes another visit.

And, even if it was just a repeat of that old material, I would’ve been happy… because it is staggeringly surreal, gut-bustingly funny, and just brilliant. The interaction of the characters onstage (mainly through their eyes), Fatima’s measured translations, Sheehan’s soaring physical mannerisms… it’s just a delight to watch.

But there’s more. The addition of the Stevl’s vacuum cleaner – one of his many “girlfriends” – adds a sublime element of tension to the interactions between Stevl and Fatima… the eyes, the silence, it’s just divine. I don’t recall the song from last year, either – the pair taking ages kitting Fatima up for her bass drum, chatting quietly amongst themselves, before Stevl strangles a trumpet and Fatima… well, it’s best just to go the show and find out what happens next ;)

It’s fair to say that this show gave me my first massive grin of the Fringe: when I was compiling The Shortlist, I spied it and noticed that there was a quote from me in the précis! But the fact that the show itself delivers bigger laughs than a grin-full of ego stroking should speak volumes; this was a must-see last year, and remains so now.

[2010017] Final Round

Final Round [FringeTIX]

SA Writer’s Theatre / Spotlight Theatre Company @ Jah’z Lounge

7:00pm, Thu 18 Feb 2010

As the lights come up, we’re looking inside a hospital; old Dave lays on one bed, reading the paper. Nurse Sarah wheels young wheelchair-bound Sol in – he’s received some serious knee damage as a result of an accident in his truck, and howls in pain as he tries to make it into his bed. In Sarah’s absence, the two men bond – before Dave’s needling enrages Sol to physical rage, and the inevitable crumpling on the floor.

This opening scene sets the pattern for Final Round; the three players rarely work as a trio, but the two pairings involving Dave provide the meat of the play. His constant antagonism of the flammable Sol; his unreciprocated flirtation with Sarah. It’s odd that, of all the characters, Dave is the character most guarded in his background: Sol is an open book, Sarah freely provides her background as texture and contrast, but Dave is pointedly evasive when it comes to his past.

As the play progresses, more and more of Dave’s life – and affliction – is revealed; sometimes through the interplay of the principals, and sometimes using the invisible Algie as a plot-advancing foil. But that’s where some of the problems with Final Round lie: Algie is undeveloped and underused and, ultimately, pointless; some of the dialogue also fails to ring true. The bit of babble about sex at the end of the first scene felt horribly out of place, and there seems to be an inclination for the two men to attribute their failings to their tumultuous childhoods – a blunt and contrived cop-out.

Cassandra Kane was brilliant as the Nurse – she’s got the gift of sublime comedic timing (there’s a perfectly weighted pause when she judges Sol’s pain “…a six”) and some of the best lines: “you’re just… coping”. The casting of Michael Baldwin as Dave was nigh-on perfect; he lends an acerbic dignity to the role. Nathan Porteus’ Sol, on the other hand, doesn’t work quite so well; sure, he’s got the teetering-on-the-brink-of-rage thing down pat, but I’m not convinced of the rest of his range.

The premise of the hospital as a microcosm of society was interesting, if under-explored, and the inevitable Happy Ending wasn’t as cringeworthy as it could have been. The drama was broken up with dollops of humour (Dave’s bottomless bedside locker providing much of the humour), helping make Final Round a competent bit of Fringe Theatre.

[2010016] The List Operators

The List Operators [FringeTIX]

The List Operators @ The Hive

10:45pm, Wed 17 Feb 2010

Groo, I didn’t like this much.

Rich and Matt – The List Operators – purport to present a sketch comedy show with lists in it. And that’s mostly true; there’s certainly a bunch of lists hanging around at the back of The Hive’s stage, and during the show they’re happy to compile lists of Countries It’s OK To Be Racist About, as well as audience racists and nobs (for the hecklers). The “Pros and Cons of Matt” sketch worked alright, too, with the broad and far-sweeping list of Cons far outweighing the specifics of the Pros.

The problem is that so much of the show seemed utterly juvenile to me; devoid of the aforementioned “comedy”. Matt’s list of favourite fruit, complete with googly eyes (and the death of Jennifer Cante-lopez later in the show). The “Hello” sketch. Even the crowd-singing closer felt pretty low-brow.

But the large crowd, who appeared to be intimately familiar with The List Operators, lapped it up. Sure, the opener “10 Ways To Start The Show” was pretty amusing, but not enough to compensate for the bits that really annoyed me. If this is the worst show I see this year, then I’d be reasonably happy – there were some decent bits – but it’s far from the best.

(Oh – and everyone in the queue was asked to write down the name of someone they wanted to apologise to, and why. Mine read…

Who: my girlfriend from 1991.
Why: for not talking to her for two weeks after she fucked up the taping of Twin Peaks.

That actually wound up being the final one they read out :)

[2010015] The Needle And The Damage Done

The Needle And The Damage Done [FringeTIX]

Fiona Scott-Norman @ The Hive

9:30pm, Wed 17 Feb 2010

I’m in The Garden on a Wednesday night, having drunkenly trotted from dinner & drinks at the Exeter; there’s plenty of people milling around, watching the buskers, but there’s a mighty crowd of four outside The Hive at the prescribed start time.

And that depresses me.

The start gets bumped out a few minutes, and a few more people turn up. The initial group of four – myself included – take the front row of The Hive once the doors open, and late-comers gradually fill the seats – in the end, the crowd wasn’t too bad. But as for the show…

I fucking loved it.

Fiona Scott-Norman has got a lot of things going for her, in my eyes; she looks like a long-haired (and happy) Tilda Swinton (and I love Tilda Swinton) in a wonderful late-seventies dress, she exudes confidence, and her style is immediately charming. And so, before a single note is played, I’m already hooked.

The show is, of course, Scott-Norman’s celebration of bad music. Bad songs, bad album covers, bad artists. There’s a fair few appearances by John Laws – who knew the man was so into trucking and poetry? – and other “celebrities”… The Hoff was a shoe-in, sure, but Bruce Willis and William Shatner also get a berth.

But there’s also albums of truly awful cover tunes sung by footballers. The white supremacy hate-mongering of the teenage Gaede twins in Prussian Blue. The soundtrack to the blaxploitation porn of Tongue. The inevitable list of music suggested “evil” by the impetus of the PMRC – including Abba (“Remember their massive hit, Ring Ring C@#t?”). And a frankly horn-inducing segment where Scott-Norman daintily sipped a cup of tea and gobbled an éclair whilst we listened to the glorious strains of Come In My Mouth (from the bizarre Let My People Come soundtrack).

Fiona’s grooving and singing during the songs is fantastic – it had every opportunity to be cringingly embarrassing, but she manages to pull it off. Her iPod and turntable skills are sublime. But in the end, it comes down to her final selection, Fiona’s pick as the Worst Record of All-Time. And, even with my knowledge of Free Jazz and bizarre experimental bands, I’ve never, ever, heard anything quite as mis-timed, syncopated, and downright bad as her choice. I’ll not mention it by name here – you really should go the the show to have Fiona unveil it for you! – but, if you’re brave, YouTube has the goodies.

As I said before, I loved this show. It’s everything I want from a Fringe comedy performance – a luscious hostess, a quirky premise, lots of laughs, and a teensy bit of awkwardness. Brilliant :D