[20060011] Black Crow Lullabies (Part 1)

Black Crow Lullabies (Part 1)

floogle @ Tea House Gallery (Synagogue Place)

8:00pm, Sat 25 Feb 2006

Score: 9

The first thing I noticed after climbing the stairs to the Tea House Gallery was that there seemed to be a family-and-friends-type gathering for the opening night of the Black Crow Lullabies, put on by young local group floogle. Sometimes this sort of event can generate a tense atmosphere; tonight, however, there was only feelings of goodwill and happiness.

Which was at total odds with the Part 1 of the Lullabies, “one long night in the land of Nod”. Focusing on the plight of two estranged brothers, there was an immediately identifiable country-ness to the performance and set. The troubled conflict between the brothers is also evident in the first fifteen (count ’em) profane utterances. Actually, “utterances” is completely misleading – they are literally spat at each other.

The script is wonderful, with wild swings allowing the audience to alternate their perception of which brother is “good” and which “bad”. The set reminded me of the kitchen in my Hughes Street childhood home (which, whilst not on a farm per se, was still in the country), and the acting was earnestly spot on: William Allert’s somewhat smarmy Kane versus Patrick Graham’s perfectly pitched “other son”. The end-of-show lighting, in particular, was superb.

And there’s not too much else that can be said about this piece without giving “it” away; suffice to say, this tale of diverging lives and converging fortunes is a corker.

(See also Black Crow Lullabies (Part 2 & 3).)

[20060010] Under Milk Wood

Under Milk Wood

Guy Masterson @ Union Hall

4:20pm, Sat 25 Feb 2006

Score: 10

After a false start due to technical problems, and with the lesser lights of the O’Ball line-up seeping through the walls of Union Hall, Guy Masterson stands atop a chair – the only prop of his enthralling 90 minute monologue. Snapping flawlessly between 69 characters, he paints Dylan Thomas’ vision of the hamlet of Milk Wood with a wonderfully rich palette.

Masterson roams the entire stage as he recounts the lives of Milk Wood’s inhabitants, earnestly engaging the audience… it’s a very physical performance. His energy rises and falls with the character being portrayed; at times quiet and restrained, then moments later explosive. Some scenes – the children leaving school, Gwennie Gwennie chasing the boys and catching a willing Johnnie Christo – are a delight, full of youthful energy and sheer joy; other scenes feel far more ominous, weightier, sombre; still others – like the wonderful Pughs – are played straight for laughs.

Not only did the performance put on show the characters of this functional (and dysfunctional) town (“this place of love”), it also captured the joy and happiness of the spring day in which it was set; you could almost feel the time of day pass with the performance. Utterly fascinating.

Technical support for Masterson’s superlative performance was limited to gorgeous lighting and a few vocal effects (for the voices of the dead). Though the lighting started out a little sloppy, it quickly tightened up… and the effect of Masterson’s giant shadow on the back of the stage, when used, was sublime.

Yet again in Union Hall, there was rapturous applause. This time, it was richly deserved.

[20060009] James Campbell’s Comedy 4 Kids

James Campbell’s Comedy 4 Kids

James Campbell @ Queens Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 25 Feb 2006

Score: 7

I admit it: I’m a big kid. Emphasis on “kid” (and “big”). So I felt absolutely no shame in dragging my sleepy arse out of bed and getting it to one of Campbell’s plethora of family-friendly (in content, as well as time) shows. Despite the frankly disturbing photo on his advertising, it was great to see the turnout for the show; there was at least 120 people there.

Campbell has a great stage presence: exuberant, without entering the “try-hard” zone, and easily builds a friendly rapport with the audience. He wins the kids over with tales of tractor video games (a nice little monologue on Grand Theft Tractor); he wins parents over with sly jokes about reincarnation and the girlfriend/fiancé dichotomy; he wins everyone over with his elaborate analysis of emergency numbers, milking dogs, and the answer to What Hair Is For.

Sure, your average four-to-six-year-old isn’t going to get jokes about the Word Bookstore just down from the (glorious) Queen’s Theatre, nor appreciate the gorgeous surrealism of the stepfather cardigan; and they’re certainly not going to care about his humorous bitches about the 2004 Fringe scheduling, nor the prevalence of consumerism in kids shows. And they certainly won’t recognise the tune to “I’m A Retriever”, his closing song which cracked all the adults up. But, whilst my knowledge about the habits of children is thankfully limited, I know that Campbell managed to keep 70-odd children entertained for an hour. And he kept me entertained, too.

[20060008] Circus Bizarre

Circus Bizarre

Circus Bizarre @ Caos Café

10:00pm, Fri 24 Feb 2006

Score: 7

Circus Bizarre is a good old-fashioned freak- and geek-show – we’re talking old-school freakery here: blockheads, beds of nails, people generally performing stupid acts upon themselves. And it’s pretty entertaining stuff, too.

First act: Cruella (“The Lady of Steel”) MC’s proceedings with a fun, assertive, and generally pleasingly corny style (as well as picking on the typos for “gormet” pizzas in the “Caos” café). She introduces Baby Hanibal, who proceeds to perform the blockhead standard of sticking a nail up his nose. Ho hum, thinks I… but then he removes the nail and uses a power drill instead. OK, that’s got me interested. Cruella lies on a bed of nails, Mr Tetanus (or, as he was constantly referred, “The Super-Masochistic Human Piiiiiiiiincushion Mister Tetanus”) slams his hand in a rabbit trap. From my seat at the back of the Caos Café, I heard the snap of the trap, the front rows of the audience groan, and Cruella croon “oooooh, that’s gotta hurt.” Visually unspectacular… until he proceeds to slam a rabbit trap into his face. Now we’re talking entertainment. Mr Tetanus then pierces his cheeks with a pair of skewers and lifts a six-pack from the makeshift piercings. Ouch.

There’s a short break, then the body abuse really starts. Lifting heavy objects with nipple and scrotal piercings, eating live worms, cockroaches and even a live mouse (apt, given that P&K Pets is sponsoring the show), the appearance of the stunning Matron Lee.

Another short break, then the show is completely stolen by The Amazing Christina, claimed to be the world’s oldest contortionist… surely Cruella didn’t say “sixty-one”? (Website says “yes”). Christina was, quite frankly, incredible. Her act added a wonderful bit of class and finesse to proceedings, and… wow. Just… wow.

And then the run home. Baby Hanibal has 240 volts sent through his nipples whilst holding a chicken fillet on two forks between his hands… was that the smell of cooking chicken or human flesh we smelt? Then a painful scrotal tug-of-war between Mr Tetanus and Baby Hanibal (the former won), and we’re done. Time to catch your breath and assimilate.

Obviously, this production lacks the big-budget polish of something like the Jim Rose Circus – but is every bit as entertaining and, due to the proximity, far more accessible. Recommended.

(Throughout this performance, I sat alone on my barstool at the back of Caos Café, watching the seemingly unhappy man wearing the tell-tale orange lanyard of “the press” (also artists & volunteers, but this guy was furiously scribbling throughout the performance). He really didn’t seem to be enjoying himself much at all. Chin up, fella – there’s only three weeks left.)

[20060007] The Kransky Sisters: Heard It On The Wireless

The Kransky Sisters: Heard It On The Wireless

The Kransky Sisters @ Union Hall

8:20pm, Fri 24 Feb 2006

Score: 6

Like many others, I first came across the Kransky Sisters whilst channel surfing one Saturday night. Coasting through SBS’ “In Siberia Tonight“, I spied the three sisters performing a most odd arrangement of Mi-Sex’s “Computer Games”. Despite the weird orchestration – tuba, organ and saw – it seemed both perfectly apt, and gigglingly hilarious.

And that’s what drew me to the performance tonight – the memory of a cheeky rendition of an otherwise long-forgotten 80’s classic. And the Sisters didn’t disappoint – after wandering onstage through the audience, they entered a charming story / song / story rhythm, through which they detailed their lives and adventures thus far.

The songs were great – in particular, peculiar renditions of Highway to Hell, The Age Of Aquarius, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These); they even delved into the area of mash-ups: Deee-Lite, Pink, and M coming in for some treatment there.

Musically, they’re tighter than a duck’s chuff – though there were some odd harmony issues, but the looks exchanged between Mourne and Eve intimated that either they were staged, or just milked for laughs. The interludes between songs often got a little stilted, but that’s probably a result of their characterisations.

Overall, this was an entertaining hour or so, though I don’t think I’d necessarily pencil the Kransky Sisters in next time they’re in town (I’m not sure their gimmicks would last another sitting). In fact, the cynic in me thinks that this show is simply a concatenation of a bunch of their TV spots. And be warned – their “audience participation” prank is one of the most cruel tricks I’ve ever seen a “volunteer” suffer. Not nasty cruel, mind you, but still…

[20060006] The Travellers

The Travellers

Fortune Cookie Theatre Company @ Union Hall

6:30pm, Fri 24 Feb 2006

Score: 3

“In the spirit of ‘3 Dark Tales‘”, boasts the ads for this piece.

What a piece of crap.

This piece of Shakespearean tragedy is sublimely presented, with a lovely elaborate set, and the cast are all obviously talented. But whilst 3 Dark Tales created three distinctly wonderful worlds, inhabited by curious and lovable characters, The Travellers proffers a simple tale, which will be boringly familiar to long-time tragedy fans.

Milking the trapdoor laden stage for the few moments that could be considered clever, The Travellers was interminably long – almost painfully so. The few highlights – the slow motion death scene, the feather duster puppetry, and a snippet of embedded Shakespeare – failed miserably to make up for the overwhelming audio, the boorish shouting masquerading as dialogue, and a general feeling that this production was mired in the presentation, rather than the text. Style-over-content.

“In the spirit of ‘3 Dark Tales‘”, eh? The association is an insult.

[20060005] The Circuit Breaker

The Circuit Breaker

Sound of HumaN @ The Umbrella Revolution

11:30pm, Thu 23 Feb 2006

Score: 8

Let’s be honest, here – after the bliss that was The Fever, I got a bit emotional. By which I mean: I grinned like a loon and drank like a fish. On a mostly empty stomach. Which means that, by the time we got into the Umbrella Revolution for Ben Walsh’s new show, I was pretty shattered. By which I mean: pissed.

So, what do I remember? I remember more grinning. I remember great drumming. I remember laughing my arse off at the “session work” skit. I remember an incredible multi-track feedback percussion piece. I remember Walsh enjoying himself and his toys (a roll-up keyboard, the broken japanese thingy… OmniNote? OptiNote?), and I remember him apologising profusely for his opening night teething problems.

But most of all, I remember an enthusiastic and appreciative percussionist who put on a great show. And that’s pretty much all I need, really.

[20060004] The Fever

The Fever

theater simple @ The MooBaarn

7:30pm-ish, Thu 23 Feb 2006

Score: 10

This was always going to be hard to write about. Even before the performance, I knew it was going to be an intense and personal experience for me; after all, it involved my favourite starving artists, theater simple, mixing it up with a selection family and friends in our home (which hasn’t seen a decent-sized gathering for nearly six years).

Way back in November 2005, Andrew Litzky first floated the idea of a salon performance to us; we were both flabbergasted that such a thing could be done, and gladly accepted the proposition put forth. My SO and I carefully thought through the guest list, and were frankly surprised at the number of positive RSVPs we got. Frantic house cleaning, all the other prep work, a “production meeting” with Llysa, Andrew, Monique and Bob at Beyond India

See that? That’s a real, live, production meeting sketch. Or something.

…the usual last-minute doubts, and then… the night was upon us.

After Andrew introduced himself to the crowd and laid down the house rules for the evening, Llysa came downstairs to engage in the performance… and what a performance! Cornered in our kitchen in an armchair, she evokes the labyrinthine story of a delusional reporter in a far-off land, who has seen too much and is questioning all she believes in; all she has been raised to believe. The underlying theme seemed to be: how can I bear to have so much, when others have so little? A particularly poignant query when posed in your own house!

Everything about this performance was sublime, all-enveloping; and, despite the location, it possessed all the hallmarks of a classic theater simple production. Prop usage was minimal, relying on a table-lamp and requisite beverages; the lamp coming into its own as dusk closed over the house, drawing focus into Llysa as the performance progressed. Just… riveting.

And then… the performance is over. I was grinning like a loon; it was such a great show, such fabulous theatre. In my house. Friends coming up to me, telling me how happy I looked – that wasn’t happiness, that was sheer delight. Delight that such an event could happen.

Then the drinks really started to flow. Catching up with old friends, realising that I hadn’t had any lunch. Or dinner. And simply not being able to thank theater simple enough – because it’s almost impossible to do so.

Well, what else can I say about this? It was an utterly amazing and unique experience. But here’s the pearler for me: hunting down some phone numbers for stragglers, I had cause to pop upstairs in The MooBaarn. There, in one of the rooms, I spied Llysa prepping for the performance. That insight, that snippet, that fragment will always remain so dearly personal and precious to me.

Festival Opening Night Party…

(I just found this on my laptop; it’s the inane tappings I made whilst at the opening night part for the Festival, Friday 3rd March 2006)

A little black and silver card gets me into the party that overlooks the Persian Garden. It’s supposedly a party to celebrate the opening of the Festival; the invitation was claimed back off me at the entrance, and I really can’t remember; it’s probably a (Festival) Friends and family affair.

Anyhoo – looking into the Persian Garden, I see the young and influential milling around. And it suddenly strikes me – those people are going to be the ones making the Persian Garden the “In Place To Be” tomorrow. Those people are the ones setting the trends for the next fortnight. And they probably don’t even realise it. Or maybe they do; maybe they’re there to set the trend, it’s their lot in life.

The crowd here are a bit more reserved – each, like me, are likely to be considering themselves “special” by virtue of the fact that they’re here. But they’re not setting the trend, not setting the tone; sure, they’ll name-drop to their friends that they were here, but in the grand scheme of things we mean nothing. The Festival’s already got our commitment, already got our money; the ones below, the casual punter, the malleable, are the ones that need to be indoctrinated. And the trendsetters will do that job for them. And the Festival will be deemed a success.

(I’ve just had my first glass of orange juice in years – it’s supposedly bad for my haemochromatosis – and it’s absolutely delicious.)


There’s camels down by the riverfront. There’s eastern-influenced music playing in the Garden. The sound system is great – it sounds brilliant from our position up on high. Half the people in this enclave line the front wall of the Riverfront Promenade on their barstools, all enjoying the music. None of them applaud the artists onstage; the crowds below (sans the drunkards on the edges) are raptuous and appreciative. The lines outside the Garden are long.

In general, the people here are done up for a party. Put another way – there’s a total of about five men here wearing shorts, and precisely one wearing bright orange Okanuis (guess who). There’s a lot of evening wear, a lot of sideways glances. It’s fantastic to watch these social interactions, rendered invisible by my own stubbornness and fashion crapulence.

Later still…

People milling about in the general vicinity of Brett Sheehy, all eyes on him, hoping to hobnob. He’s a busy man, he has little choice but to ignore most of them. They nod knowingly towards him as he drifts past. Security asks some guys sitting on a wall to please refrain from doing so; they comply, wait until some better dressed patrons seat themselves in a similar manner, then re-acquaint themselves with the prime seating area.

There’s an opening-night speech: Welcome to all the politicians who are here. Welcome to all the artists who make this Festival what it is.

On leaving…

The security guard who stamps my wrist as I’m leaving looked at me disdainfully… “nice to see you dressed up for the occasion.” The snappy comeback only occurs to me later.

[20060003] Sam Simmons’ Tales From The Erotic Cat

Sam Simmons’ Tales From The Erotic Cat

Vanilla Productions @ The Garden Shed

9:15pm, Wed 22 Feb 2006

Score: 9

Quite frankly, nothing I write here is going to do Sam Simmons justice.

This act is surrealism at its finest. With fantastic pre-recorded accompaniment (“audible thoughts” and musical backing), Simmons appears totally comfortable performing his completely fractured routine; even his feigned awkward moments (don’t worry, he’s audience safe) are sublime.

His songs – especially the “Erotic Cat” closer – are completely hat-stand; his on-stage flip-chart support is genius. Props, cardboard masks – purrfect. There’s a flat spot in the middle of the show (the house story drags on a bit too long), but the rest of the time I was in tears of laughter.

Genius, abstract comedy genius. This is one I hope to see again before the end of the Fringe.

[20060002] Lawrence Leung and Andrew McClelland’s Somewhat Secret Secret Society Show

Lawrence Leung and Andrew McClelland’s Somewhat Secret Secret Society Show

Lawrence Leung, Andrew McClelland @ The Garden Shed

8:00pm, Wed 22 Feb 2006

Score: 7

After being happily amused with Lawrence Leung’s show in FF2004, and being a inquisitive fan of secret societies in general, I was looking forward to this. First things first, though: The Garden Shed is a very odd venue. It’s small, it’ll be very humid in the hotter weather, the bark chips beneath the audience’s feet make for an atmospheric smell unlike any other venue, and the fluoros used for the house lights makes for a very subtle transition when the lights go down. Or not, as the case may be.

Anyhoo, on with the show: long-time school chums Leung and McClelland launch into a somewhat limited expose of various secret societies through the history of man. “Limited” is good in this case, because they stick to those that provide solid comedy material – and that means either sex or sheer lunacy is involved. They cover the Ku Klux Klan, miscellaneous religious sex cults, the da Vinci Code(!), try to join the odd Secret Society or two, and poke much fun at the Freemasons. Very little is said of the Illuminati, though… suspiciously little.

There’s some quality humour thrown about, and some unintentional funny stuff, too – their computer (providing quality PowerPoint and media goodness for the show) locked up, they managed to break Leung’s mother’s dinner gong, and Leung managed to spray himself in the eye with deodorant (don’t ask). Their doctored coverage of the Prime Ministerial debate from the last election was sublime, too.

The only flat spot was the faux-tears ending, but that was compensated by having the audience start their own secret society! So I’m now a member of the not-so-secret (and rather unimaginatively named, given the options available) The Evil Of Stuff. Ummmm… yes. There’s other goodies on their website if you poke around, too.

In short – not bad, not bad at all.

[20060001] The Candy Butchers – A Circus Sweetmeat

The Candy Butchers – A Circus Sweetmeat

The Candy Butchers @ The Umbrella Revolution

10:00pm (more like 10:45), Tue 21 Feb 2006

Score: 6

Entering the Umbrella Revolution for the first time this Fringe, we notice that there’s an abundance of fairy floss… either pay $3 for some during the seating spruik, or be lucky enough to grab some as it’s flung into the crowd during the show.

The Candy Butchers have produced a theatrical acrobatic show reminiscent of so many that have gone before it in the Umbrella Revolution (Acrobat being the most notable). There’s tumbling, some hoop hijinks, some fantastic balancing acts, and a little trapeze work; it’s all presented within a framework of slapstick, pantomime, with a cute bit of fairy floss striptease thrown in.

The ramshackle nature of this show is both its charm and its failing; the sloppiness of some of the moves & routines suits the imprecision of the show in a way. However, where a show like Acrobat was gritty to the core, The Candy Butchers are merely grubby – there’s a feeling that the in-your-face brashness is just a thin veneer over a mishmash of acts. The ending, in particular, was disappointing – it was the kind of whimsical abstract bullshit that you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil.

Talented performers, yes. Enjoyable enough – well, yeah, and more than a few in the audience deemed the show standing-ovation-worthy. For me, the most exciting bit (after the outstanding balancing act) was the realisation that they were using a somewhat obscure PainKiller track as backing music. But that’s not really enough; The Candy Butchers are hardly essential viewing.

Irrational Beliefs and the End Of Cantankering

(Despite the fact that this was only posted now, it was written waaaaaay back on the 17th of Feb, after I’d come home from the first of two benefit shows that theater simple did for Urban Myth Theatre).

I must be growing up.

I was sitting in The Space (a familiar and homely space to me) watching the crowd drift in to catch “52 Pick Up“. It’s the third time I’ve seen this piece, and I’m keenly anticipating the fall of the cards. But right now my interest is in my partners in this particular endeavor – the other people in the audience.

Those who know me even vaguely should have already made the connection between the previous two paragraphs – I referred to the audience as “my partners”. I shocked myself when I first realised that was what I was actually thinking; in the past, I’ve been adversely territorial to the point of rudeness towards my fellow audience. Now, I felt a kinship.

Then, an overbearing feeling of superiority; now, a sense that we’re about to share something, that – by our very observance of the same act – an unacknowledged bond is being generated between us. Previously, a pathological hatred of every mannerism they bought into the space, my space; currently, a deeper understanding – and even forgiveness for imagined sins of times gone by.

This sense of what others may call “normalcy” – but which I call “kindness” – was completely unexpected. I must be growing up.

And so I watched these people file in – either committed to the cause of the benefit, or maybe just in search of a great show (and they certainly saw one that night). No matter; I watched them with curiosity and acceptance, a smile in my heart. I love watching people file into a venue. I love knowing that I’ll never know their stories – why they chose this particular performance. And tonight – for just about the first time ever – I didn’t feel the stabs of angst, masquerading as superiority and loathing.

And that’s what this biannual event – the Festival/Fringe combo – means to me; a chance to get outside my own head, to expand my horizons (if only for a week or three), the chance to emote where I would normally not, the chance to engage where I would normally remain remote. Emote/remote. Piffly word-play. Good one. Expect more of that as I exercise my normally dormant (thank god!) writing gene over the next month.

For the record: “52 Pick Up” was awesome that night – the cards fell well. The following night – Feb 18th – the cards were nasty. Llysa regarded that show as “whiplash”, such was the emotional contrast between subsequent cards. Still, both nights were fantastic theatre.

The (belated) Beginning…

So – the Fringe has been going for over a week now. The Festival officially opened last night. I’ve already seen 30+ shows. So it’s about time I got the review action happening, hmmmm? This year State Bank have their TalkFringe site set up, and I’ll try submitting some of these reviews there; however, given that their T&C states:

You can expect that swear words, obvious slander, offensive postings and repeated entries will definitely be moderated, and the posting and rating may be rejected, modified or deleted.

…you can imagine how some of my more assertive reviews would go down ;)

I’ve shifted hosting companies & blog engines (amongst other things) and, more importantly, re-enabled (moderated) comments – so please let me know if there’s anything amiss. Hopefully I can get this thing running sweet-as-a-nut by 2008.