[2010014] Red Bastard

Red Bastard [FringeTIX]

Red Bastard @ Umbrella Revolution

10:10pm, Tue 16 Feb 2010

It’s not until I’ve been spruiked with TalkFringe flyers whilst in the queue for Red Bastard that I realised that this is a buoffon act… that little line in the précis – “His target: …you” – is easy to skip over.

Alrighty then, I ponder – massive audience participation is expected. What to do – front of house, or back? I’m early in the queue, so the house is mine for the choosing… I opt for front, second row table, and wind up sharing it with the friendly & gorgeous Amanda and her beau.

But not for long.

Red Bastard takes to the stage, strutting like a bulbous chicken. His absurd appearance should be familiar enough – he’s almost as much a poster-child for the Fringe as the astronauts – and he roams the stage, eyeing up the audience, whilst uttering nonsense. Suddenly he strikes a pose, arms outstretched – “Space!” he yells, and there’s one or two in the audience that recognise the call and pose likewise. He grins at them, licking his lips, before turning to the rest of us with derision and explaining how to “make space”. The next lesson is “Displace!”, sending the audience scurrying from to another nearby chair, frantic bumps causing many embarrassed giggles. And then we start warming our voices up. Gently, then louder, then screaming. And if there’s one thing I can do on cue, it’s Be Loud – as the Red Bastard found out when he singled me out. The audience’s laughter and applause felt good :)

He’s warming us up, of course, because we are the real stars of the show; Red Bastard is merely a facilitator, a mirror. He poses awkward questions of the audience, then dances around them, opening them up. Whether it be purely conversational (quizzing people on their dreams and ambitions, and what impedes their progress in achieving those goals) or physical (goading members of the audience into feeling around his bulbous butt for money hidden therein), he’s always challenging the audience, making them think.

There’s the occasional rant to himself – an inexplicable treatise on shaving, and a massive missive on Strut & Fret’s immensely profitable hegemony over The Garden’s acts (the Circus Trick Tease folks cheer him on). But this isn’t a comedy show, nor is it theatre… it’s almost meta-theatre, a deconstruction of the performer / audience relationship.

Having said that, I also found it deeply thoughtful and oddly inspirational. It’s more like a self-help seminar wrapped in abuse. And some of his queries stick with me still – What is the dirtiest thing I’ve ever said? How do I displace my instincts and intentions? And I can’t exactly say it’s a “good show” – as the complicit agreement between the crowd and Red Bastard infers, this show is what the audience makes of it. And as he leads us outside at the end of the show, he’s introducing us to the rest of our lives; the show lives on outside the Revolution.

I believe him. What a bastard.

[2010013] Philip Escoffey: Six Impossible Things Before Dinner

Philip Escoffey: Six Impossible Things Before Dinner [FringeTIX]

Philip Escoffey @ Umbrella Revolution

8:45pm, Tue 16 Feb 2010

A late scheduling, prematurely plucked off The Shortlist by the cancellation of Beat Munky, I couldn’t even remember what the précis of Philip Escoffey was as I scooted straight onto the end of the line into the Umbrella Revolution. When I get in, the place is packed; it’s hard to see where they could squeeze any latecomers.

Philip introduces himself: he’s a softly spoken, but earnest, Englishman. His show is based around the myths of mind-reading, with a little bit of other spiritualism and “mysticism” roped in for comic relief; he polls the audience for believers and sceptics, finds a majority of the latter, then sets about changing their minds – all the while preaching a message of rationality.

Philip proclaims that he’s going to perform six impossible things (as per the show’s title), and things start off slowly; randomly selecting audience members by tossing a (foam) brick over his shoulder and into their midst, he opens with a simple demonstration based on the classic Zener cards. Things progress into a comparison of his mind-reading “abilities” versus the predictions of horoscopes, a discussion of the spiritualism industry, and he plucks one “unlucky” person out of the audience (Emma) and proceeds to turn her into the luckiest girl alive (well… in comparison to two other audience members, anyway).

His penultimate act, though, is a doozy. Three random audience members, undertaking three different selection tests (Zener cards, normal cards, dictionary word selection), and he verbalises all their choices correctly. He explains the myriad of ways in which he could have acquired the correct answers – marking cards, memorising pages of the dictionary – to create the illusion that it’s all just a clever trick. But then, as the audience departs, he reveals the same answers written behind signs that were on the stage all along – which is pretty bloody impressive (though it does call into question the theatrical nature of his verbal analysis of the people).

There’s a mild sense of disappointment associated with the last Impossible Thing (after a final cash-grab for charity); the trick doesn’t turn out the way we expected, and I almost felt cheated by a bit of wordplay. It’s only after we leave the Revolution that the denouement is finally revealed… and it’s then that you’re left completely and utterly flabbergasted.

The thing is, with the benefit of a couple of days of hindsight, it’s also the most rationally explainable of his tricks: it’s the ultimate celebration of sleight-of-hand. But in no way does that detract from the impact of this performance; there’s plenty there for everyone to enjoy, with the only possible flaws being the flat spots where he lingers too long on the history of cold-war mentalism research. Still, Escoffey’s dry wit and English charm make this a thoroughly entertaining show – not one to see when you’re pissed, though.

[2010012] Sarkadi’s Budapest Marionettes

Sarkadi’s Budapest Marionettes [FringeTIX]

Bence Sarkadi @ Puppet Palace

8:00pm, Tue 16 Feb 2010

So – I’m arriving very early to the Puppet Palace for this performance, and more than a little pissed off that Beat Munky has been cancelled. To fill in that gap, I’d bought a ticket to Philip Escoffey which, if everything ran on time, would leave me five minutes to hop from the Puppet Palace into the Umbrella Revolution, right next door.

If everything ran on time.

Which it didn’t, really.

Tuesday nights appear to be the new Monday nights – the Dead Night. There’s bugger all people milling around, and those that are coming into The Garden are scurrying on to the Bosco – they’re running late for The Boy With Tape On His Face. I’m chatting to the bored attendant at the Puppet Palace, empathising with her frustration at not being able to play her MMORPGs whilst “working” on dead nights such as these, and the decision is made to wait a few more minutes, try to drum up more interest in this show. But when the show eventually starts fifteen minutes late, there’s still less than a dozen people there, including the Garden ring-ins.

Bence Sarkadi is a likeable enough chap, with the stereotypically stiff and proper politeness of an ESL eastern european. He opens his show with a small, hand-sized marionette of a man, lifting and carrying objects; it’s very twee, but very expressive. This little man was alive.

His larger marionettes, however, didn’t have as positive an impact on me. There’s an uncomfortable lull as his musical backing CD goes missing, leaving the reluctant audience to try and figure out when to insert the appropriate “ooohs” and “aaahs” into the acrobat performance. I can see how this acrobatic marionette would be impressive on the right day, but Sarkadi was having a bit of a ‘mare – tangled strings and a less-than-bouyant crowd cuts that piece short.

Luckily, though, his act seems to alternate between the large and small puppets, so the charming little man reappears for more cheery goodness between the larger pieces. But the ice-skater was reasonable, and the bongo-player was the highlight of the larger forms – though the manipulation of the manipulator (puppeting a puppeteer, so to speak) was pretty decent, too.

For all the nice bits of this performance, I can’t help but think it was unpolished; Sarkadi’s vest still had advertising for his show pinned to the back of it, creating an annoying distraction every time he turned around. And when I saw the train-riding sequence, complete with moving scenery, I was instantly reminded of Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones – an immeasurably more polished performance, and one that’s also playing this year. And that’s a bit of a shame, because Sarkadi seems like he’s got a real passion for puppetry – it just wasn’t able to express itself properly this performance.

[2010011] Michael Bowley – Stories & Exaggerations

Michael Bowley – Stories & Exaggerations [FringeTIX]

Michael Bowley @ Rhino Room – Downstairs

6:30pm, Tue 16 Feb 2010

So – the other venues are starting to open up, and this is my first city show outside The Garden. And there’s a pretty decent crowd for the early shows on the first day of the Rhino Room’s Fringe assault, including last year’s Spirit of the Fringe award winners, the Hylands. I wanted to chat with them, say hello & that kind of thing, but they’re the centre of attention, and with just about every person entering the downstairs bar stopping by to say hello I just never had an opening.

It’s a pretty decent crowd that file into the downstairs space of the Rhino Room (or, as Bowley constantly reminds us, “the shop”) – there’s a lot of camaraderie there, and I get the feeling that there’s a lot of local comedy regulars and family present (Bowley himself being a local lad… indeed, Bowley’s brother walks in late and plonks himself in the front row). But, as the lights drop (or rather, go from “on” to “off”), my phone vibrates my ample arse; I pull it out and check the number; I didn’t recognise it, but the first four digits were “8232”. And, back when we had six-digit phone numbers, “232” was the prefix of my hometown, of my parent’s phone number.

Now, my Dad’s just turned 80, and Mum’s not far behind him. So I’m kinda mentally gearing myself up for those phonecalls that I imagine are made when… well, when something bad happens. Of course, I’m not expecting it soon – Dad’s as strong as an arthritic ox, and Mum’s pottering along same as ever. But those numbers stared out from my phone, and I wondered where this mystery call was coming from… until I switched off the phone.

Can’t have phonecalls interrupting shows, now, can I?

And, having just written all that, I’m disgusted with myself. What kind of human being am I? Preferring to listen to a comedy show rather than, potentially, take a phonecall from the hospital where my own parents lay, possibly taking their final breaths?

At least I switched off the phone with a heavy heart. And the very idea that there was a panicky call being made, someone desperately trying to get through to me, squirrelled into my brain and festered for this entire performance.

So – what was the point of that long diatribe, which seemingly achieved nothing except to expose me as a shallow excuse for a human being? Well, despite this gnawing little voice at the back of my head, Michael Bowley made me laugh. A lot.

Whether it was the indignant bitterness of the meltdown of his relationship with his girlfriend, the tail-between-his-legs acceptance of his comedic exploits overseas (the retelling of his gig for the Marijuana Party was fantastic), or bizarre stories of drug abuse, Bowley’s affable and non-confrontational style makes him a joy to listen to, laugh with, laugh at. Because it’s not often that you hear a tale that requires wanking onto a windscreen.

Sure, there’s the odd stutter along the way – he has a couple of direction-changing non sequiturs that probably don’t really have the desired effect, jarring rather than easing. But when I chatted with Bowley prior to Stevl Shefn a few days later, he was far more pessimistic about his act than he had any right to be; “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve been trying to write a whole new show, and I’m obviously still working out the kinks.”

Bullshit, I say. Bowley is a fine comedian, a perfect destination when you just want some good, honest laughs, and this show delivers.

(After the gig, as you might expect, I turned my phone back on. “2 missed calls”. I hit redial… “FringeTIX office, how may I help you?” Of course – phonecalls from the hometown would be “88232″, not just the single-eight. Phew.)

[2010010] Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist [FringeTIX]

zen zen zo physical theatre @ The Ringbox

10:00pm, Sun 14 Feb 2010

Walking into The Ringbox for the second time this evening, I wasn’t really expecting to see eight people, deathly white, curled up on the stage.

Naked. Okay, so they – four women, four blokes – all had modesty patches.

Ummmmm… oooookaaaaay.

Their dance – and let’s be quite clear here, because this is a dance act that belies its inclusion in the “Theatre” section of the Guide – begins as these foetal humans start slowly rocking back and forth, back and forth. And then, effortlessly, they’re on their feet, pacing the stage as a pack, hissing at the audience with bared teeth, occasionally emitting an animalistic squawk. It appears that they’re acting as individuals within a herd – there’s a distinct lack of synchroneity, and an unabashed willingness to confront the audience with their nudity. And that’s pretty daring, pretty confronting, for the first dance.

The problem is, it doesn’t really progress from there.

Every piece largely follows the same format, contains the same elements: Nudity. Slow, focussed movements, contrasted with faster, sharper actions. Chirps and squawks and growls. Reaching to the crowd with anguished looks on their faces.

Yes, the second piece – “Butoh Babies” – was at least humourous and thematically identifiable, with the learning-to-walk segments being pretty cleverly devised. And the creation of their own smoke machine in “Tokyo Vogue” was certainly impressive. But – as mentioned before – the overt lack of sync between the dancers made it really hard to tell if they were taking the piss or not.

Because there’s so much here that can Work, and so much that seems Desperate. Pegging eggs into the audience – really? What’s the point of that? What’s the meaning of the differences in the dancer’s form? Aren’t the modesty patches a compromise in themselves?

Maybe I’m over-thinking things here. It’s all cheap titillation with some movement and good music and some vogueing and look there’s boobies. Or maybe I’m under-thinking things, the modesty patches are just a means to a non-R-Rated show, and there’s a much higher spiritual meaning to the entire performance than I’m prepared to concede.

Clearly, I’m a bit confused about Zeitgeist. Kudos to the cast, certainly, for stripping it all off on a cool night with a biting wind, and they’re certainly a lithe and limber lot. And the penultimate piece, “An End to Dreaming,” is a genuinely exciting bit of movement. But, overall, I just can’t tell where the choreography ends and the Wank Factor begins; if there’s a higher significance imbued in the piece, then I can’t see it. Sorry.

[2010009] Circus Trick Tease

Circus Trick Tease [FringeTIX]

Circus Trick Tease @ The Ringbox

8:40pm, Sun 14 Feb 2010

Cheap cop-out time: this show is pretty much the same as last year’s Circus Trick Tease.

And that’s just completely brilliant.

Even with full knowledge of what was to come, I loved every minute of this performance; Tinkle’s spotlight-stealing petulance, Ghazanfar’s deadpan clown-foolery during the shadow-sex show, Plonk’s sensitive new-age strongman routine. In fact, during his “pick-up” routine (where he lifts four women plucked from the audience at once), he selected a girl sitting next to me again.

That’s two years in a row. Uncanny.

In fact, just about the only noticeable difference from last year’s show was the fact that Tinkle didn’t throw surplus-to-requirement condoms at the departing audience. Oh, and there were about twice as many people as last year.

And that second bit makes me very, very happy for them. Bravo, Circus Trick Tease :)

[2010008] Skitch Tease

Skitch Tease [FringeTIX]

Liz Skitch @ The Pod

7:00pm, Sun 14 Feb 2010

Liz Skitch takes to the stage wearing shorts, a bra & panties, a short jacket, and stockings. With a look that wavered between mild disgust and mild disinterest, she strutted the width of the stage a few times before stripping.

Yep, it really was that perfunctory. Sure, she conveniently picked up her accordion before removing her top, and she was neatly cross-legged on a stool at the back of the stage before she removed her knickers, but there she was: naked, with just stockings, an accordion, cute curls, and a cheeky grin (she looks much happier now she’s nekkid). All within about 90 seconds of the start of the show.

This girl, clearly, doesn’t mess around.

So – the gimmick has been exposed (or not, so to speak), and all that’s left is Skitch’s comedy. And… well…


Look – I go into shows wanting every performance to be the best thing I’ve ever seen. There’s no point not thinking that, really – otherwise, why should I bother? And so I found myself grinning in support, urging Skitch on… but I didn’t really feel it.

Now, maybe that’s wrong; maybe that’s giving her the wrong impression of the direction she’s heading. But in The Pod this evening, I like to think of it as lending a hand.

See, neither the audience nor I really seemed to respond to her songs about her domineering Mum, or sneezing, or dating advice, or the interminable one about her travels in South Africa. And the chat in between the songs was, well, pleasant, but… y’know.

It wasn’t all so ho-hum, though. She really is delightfully cute onstage, with her squeaky voice and coy looks and occasional searches for the accordion keys. The accordion really is her ally, too, offering her the ability to escape some dead air with a three-note sting. And as she reaches for a drink half-way through the show, she somehow manages to re-cross her legs without flashing anyone: when she points out what she’s accomplished, she rhetorically asks “Have you forgotten I’m naked? I haven’t.”

Towards the end of the show, she asked if anyone in the audience was single; I very reluctantly replied in the affirmative and then, in response to Liz’s babbling about being single herself, started to imagine what it would be like to court her. My hopes were raised when the following song mentioned that she wasn’t into good-looking men. But then, Skitch started expressing how much she wanted to have children and the guttural roar that she emitted – that she claimed was “cluckiness” – scared the living bejesus out of me.

Yes, I had the odd chuckle during the show; but, as alluded to earlier, a lot of the time I felt like I was laughing for her, rather than myself. Because her cheerful grin had a real hint of desperation in it, pleading for acceptance from the crowd of maybe two dozen on Valentine’s Day. But in all honesty, I thought her spruiking prior to the show was actually better than the show itself. Except she wasn’t spruiking naked.

Naked spruiking. Now that would get the crowds in.

[2010007] Pigs In Wigs

Pigs In Wigs [FringeTIX]

Puppet Palace Projects & Pooka Puppets @ Puppet Palace

5:00pm, Sun 14 Feb 2010

I always feel a little wary going to puppet shows that are aimed at kids; as a tubby middle-aged man going to shows alone, I’m afraid that it just screams paedophile.

At least I’m not balding and clinging pathetically to the length of my hair; that’d really finish the look off.

It always feels especially dodgy when I’m the only adult without offspring in a small crowd; luckily, there was little of that to worry about at this performance.

Talking to Tony Pedro the Parrot before the show, he proudly announced that the opening crowds have been great thus far. And this performance had about sixty people attending, probably half of them being little’uns. Sixty! That’s bloody brilliant for a puppet show at the best of times; for the opening weekend of The Garden (let alone the Fringe) I reckon that’s exceptional… and it makes me happy :)

The whole reason I wanted to see this show, of course, was the fact that it purported to tell the story of the Three Little Pigs from the wolf’s perspective (as per The True Story of the Three Little Pigs). The wolf is introduced as a genteel character, kind to everyone, and anxious to deliver a birthday cake to his granny. In need of ingredients to complete his recipe, he enquires for some sugar from his three new piggy neighbours. The pigs are shown to be lazy, tight-arsed, and belligerently rude, and apparently it was the wolf’s cold that causes him to accidentally sneeze the first two houses down… before finally being arrested at the panicky behest of the third pig.

The subsequent trial is a bit of a farce with Little Red Riding Hood (announced with blare of dance music, compared to the wolf’s refined string sting) supposedly acting as a character witness for the wolf, before admitting that he had, in fact, eaten her (and her grandmother) in a fairytale previously; in the midst of a media beatup, the wolf is sentenced to 100 years of prison.


Clearly this is not the story of the three pigs you were read as a child.

As previously mentioned, this performance is clearly aimed at children – at least, that’s inferred by the timeslot. However, for myself and the half-dozen sozzled child-free patrons at the back of the Puppet Palace, this was still a bloody funny show. There’s plenty of content that would sail right over the kids’ heads; references to H1N1 and Al-Qaeda being the most overt, but the “left turn at Albuquerque” directions for Red Riding Hood and the use of Yakety Sax during the police chase scene were also delivered with an implicitly knowing wink. The use of Give Peace a Chance as a closer, whilst the pigs take a bow with ham in the background, was brilliant.

Look, this isn’t a perfect show. The later scenes devolve into a cacophony of noise and puppet battery, and the loud tunes that announced the entrance of characters to the stage caused the little girl in front of me to cover her ears – she really didn’t like Red Riding Hood, nor the Plastic Ono Band. And Tony’s ventriloquism leaves a bit to be desired ;)

But you know what? When you’ve got a performance as fun and entertaining and – dare I say it – sneakily mature as this, none of that matters.

[2010006] Tall Stories

Tall Stories [FringeTIX]

Imaan @ The Spare Room

10:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2010

Imaan is a midget.

There, I said it. How politically incorrect! Even Imaan himself prefers the term “migger” (“that’s with an em, not an en – I’m not a fucking racist.”)

Seriously, though, he is tiny. And yet, I was more flabbergasted when I discovered that he was nineteen, and that he’d only been doing comedy for five years.

Because he’s a filthy little bugger.

And that totally makes the show work. This short-statured chap with the helium-squeaky voice is constantly talking about his sexual conquests and peccadillos, his fears of being “swallowed” by large hookers in Amsterdam (“50 euros. It was research. Tax deduction!”), and riling up the female members of the packed-out crowd in The Spare Room (best get in early for Spare Room shows, by the way; the seats are spaced for people requiring Imaan’s legroom). It’s not all sex-related, though; he leverages his size for humour quite a bit (as expected), but also adds his Lebanese background into the mix as well.

Having said all that, it wasn’t exactly a great show – because after twenty minutes or so, the novelty has worn off. You’ve become accustomed to where he’s prepared to go, and you can start reading his jokes in advance. And, worst of all, Imaan starts interacting with hecklers in a way that excludes much of the audience (if only because they’re catching one side of the story). Waaaaay too much time was wasted there, even if it was fun to chant “you are a wanker!” to the chap in the front row who took a piss break in the middle of the joke.

Still, the entry music was a collection of Richard Cheese‘s best covers, and FNM’s “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” took us out, so that was nice.

[2010005] Sam Simmons – Fail

Sam Simmons – Fail [FringeTIX]

Sam Simmons @ Bosco Theater

9:00pm, Sat 13 Feb 2010

As I indicated when I saw last year’s show, Sam Simmons has been an up-and-down performer for me; his Tales from the Erotic Cat were divine, but shows since have been varyingly less so. I don’t think it’s inappropriate, though, to flat-out state that this show is a real return to that form of old.

And that’s a great thing for me to admit, too, since I was extremely pessimistic going in – but mainly because of the crowd with which I was sharing him. The Bosco was packed with people giggling about his JJJ persona, and the entire row of pissed blokes behind me were boorishly shouty pre-show, as Simmons sat at the edge of the crowd eying them up. Thankfully, the boors fell sullenly silent once the show started; did they not understand Simmons’ abstract approach? Were they just wary of their drunken extent? No matter.

The show is presented as, essentially, three different threads: Simmons plays the Fail Quiz inside his own mind, his pre-recorded subconscious asking him all manner of absurd questions. Storybook segments allow him to present different perspectives on a chain of events, continually placing the blame on Vince Vaughn (though Delta Goodrem and Home and Away were other persistent targets on the night). And a slideshow, full of op-shopped family memories with thematically progressive text scratched into them, tied it all together. Then there’s musical interludes and singalongs, the “Carpet or Floor” show, and the list of things that Simmons regards as Failures.

It’s all nonsense. Surreal, absurd, nonsense.

And it’s brilliant.

Sure, Simmons is still working the kinks out of the show; there’s still plenty of times where he snickers and mutters to himself, and the fallback “I don’t even know what that means” remark appears a bit too often for my liking. But the fact that I knew the exact wording of the punchline to his “swear jar” joke endears him to me mightily; suffice to say, this is a show I’d love to see at the end of its run, too, just to see it polished. But that’s not to say I regret seeing it now – hell, no. I loved it.

At the beginning of the show, Simmons alludes to the fact that he was contemplating suicide. Dude, no – you’ve got too much to give us all :)

[2010004] Often I Find That I Am Naked

Often I Find That I Am Naked [FringeTIX]

Jo Thomas, Sam Clark, Tom Raymond @ Le Cascadeur

7:15pm, Sat 13 Feb 2010

I have no idea who Fiona Sprott is, but her plays appear to be on the high school curriculum. Nothing else could explain the sixty-strong predominantly “young adult” audience that near-packed Le Cascadeur for this performance; then again, maybe it was the promise of “Sex and the City meets Bridget Jones”.

And this tale of a woman fucking and sucking her way through life, all the while musing about her lack of emotional fulfilment, is certainly amusing enough – for the first half of the show. Sure, you know who she’s going to end up the second he’s introduced, and the “I’ve got a disorder” line is a terrible cop-out, but there’s some comedy gold in there: the speed dating scene sees Clark flip between a handful of creepy male dating stereotypes with great aplomb, and the dog-fucking bit has him panting and howling as he humps Thomas’ leg as the audience roars with laughter.

But there’s too much there that doesn’t work for me. There’s a tiny snippet of pointless nudity – look! boobies! – during an interlude that seems completely out of place with the rest of the show. The sound bleed from the tent next door was atrocious, and terribly timed; during the one segment of emotional sensitivity, all we could hear was “ARE YOU READY TO FREAK OUT?”. And the audience really bothered me; their reaction to the spitting episode, and especially the way they reeled at the use of the c-word, reinforced my perception that there were a lot of young’uns present.

Tom Raymond’s piano accompaniment was pretty good, and the songs were generally pretty well done: nothing wrong with Tainted Love as an opener, Every Breath You Take gets wonderfully appropriated and made even more sinister during the stalking sequence, and Love Will Keep Us Together makes a great duet; Girls On Film felt a little out of place, though, even with its slightly morose tone.

In the end, I’m left shaking my head a little. It’s all so blunt, so tactless. The writing, the production, the acting are all… well, there, but none of them have any subtlety, and chance for lasting impact. Sam Clark’s multi-character acting was the standout of the show for me, but unfortunately that’s not as great a compliment as it seems. But, reading back the show blurb, I don’t really know why I would’ve expected anything else.

[2010003] War Notes

War Notes [FringeTIX]

Lili La Scala @ Salon Perdu (The Garden’s Spiegeltent)

5:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2010

A decent-sized crowd has turned up for War Notes and, given its premise of wartime tunes and the classic beauty that shimmers from the promo pictures of Lili La Scala, it’s an understandably older audience. Which, given the fact that I’m a year away from my own forties, is becoming increasingly difficult to say.

I had the good fortune of seeing Lili in Club Cascadeur last year, and mentally pencilled her in for further patronage – her voice was only exceeded by her appearance in terms of beauty. And tonight she appeared in a lovely short-sleeved black dress, a single string of pearls around her neck that are almost indistinguishable from her gorgeous milky skin, blemished only by matching tattoos below her elbows – and her bright red lips and nails.

Lili’s performance revolves around the recreation of the songs that were aimed to buoy the spirits of both soldiers and the loved ones they left behind. Opening with Keep the Home Fires Burning, progressing through When the Poppies Bloom Again to the sing-song oscillations of The Homecoming Waltz, this is very much an homage to Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, and the composers of the era(s). Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade also gets a glorious outing, the “affectionate racism” of George Formby Jr (Mr Wu’s is Now an Air Raid Warden) is a laugh, and the audience participation as we hung out the washing on the Siegfried Line was, while contrived, still an amusing break.

Covering both World Wars, the songs are also interspersed with pre-recorded readings of letters sent from (now deceased) soldiers on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan – an interesting comparison, with the letters dripping thick with sentiment and love. The final letter, from a young soldier to his mother, was the standout, though: insisting that his mother not blame the Army for his death, instead stating that he was doing what made him a Man, and that she should be proud of him. Both the letters and the songs carry an idealism which I find hard to reconcile, but maybe that’s just because I’m a modern grumpalump – they certainly represent a simpler, and nobler, attitude than that which I believe is prevalent today.

While the accompanying pianist is fine, Lili’s voice is really the centre of attention. When she soars, she really soars; her voice is strong and pure of tone. The only niggle – and it’s only a tiny problem, really – is that occasionally some of Lili’s transitions (from her quieter voice to that beautiful operatic pitch) are as creaky as the floorboard she kept mentioning: noticeable, without being distracting. Well, there’s actually a slightly bigger detraction: the sound bleed from the amusements outside. But that’s part-and-parcel of The Garden experience (more’s the pity). But Lili’s raw talent and elegant charm is more than enough to carry the show – even her stumble in her final song (where she forgot the lyrics, ducked back to the pianist’s sheet music, whilst muttering a ridiculously cute “for goodness’ sake”) was thoroughly endearing.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I was going to dash out and buy a CD of old war tunes after this show; this really isn’t my style of music. But the show satisfied the reason I picked it: To experience something new, and to acquire something to talk to my Dad about. Except he was ten when World War II started, so he wouldn’t actully remember many of these tunes. Oh, and he’s German too. Which, given the Anglo-centric nature of the songs here (despite the solitary bilingual entry), doesn’t give me much common ground.


Great show, though.

[2010002] A Curious Day

A Curious Day [FringeTIX]

Justin Sane @ Bosco Theater

11:30am, Sat 13 Feb 2010

It’s a pleasantly warm day – but the Bosco is sweltering inside at 11:30am as we wait for the performance to start (to the tune of a country version of Devo’s “Secret Agent Man”). The crowd of ten – only three children in that lot, much to the surprise of performer Justin Sane – sweat profusely… well, I do, anyway, and I was near the sole source of cooling for the space. Luckily, the children were (a) cheerful, and (2) the friendly, participating type.

Justin appears, and jovially takes the small crowd in his stride. Targeting the children, he explains that his dog Trevor has gone missing – have we seen him? – and then uses Trevor’s love of playing ball as an excuse to launch into some juggling, his love of music to play some piano, and his love of magic to… perform some magic. So – there’s some juggling, some stumbling physical humour (including a great zit-squeezing surprise), a bit of juggling (three balls & his hat), and some magic (a few rope tricks, and some great cup & ball decoys).

When Trevor, his canine friend who’d been missing for most of the show, finally appears, he’s a cute puppet – and Justin’s ventriloquism is as bumbling as his general demeanour, but he still manages to charm us with his ventriloquism trips (“oooh, that was the wrong voice,” said Justin. Trevor turned his head to him and retorted “they’re onto you, mate.”) And Trevor’s wry delivery was pitched perfectly; as a character, he was perfectly used, and a great spark to the programme.

If I had to use one word to describe this show, it would have to be “charming”. With a child-targeted show such as this, there’s every chance that the delivery would be pitched too low for adults; but the majority of the crowd were in this elder category, and seemed to enjoy it immensely. I certainly did, anyway; Justin’s charm and humility (and innate sense of humour – when his smoke machine failed to function in the heat of the Bosco, he managed to get out of it with great faux fluster) was especially endearing, and he certainly has talent and a cohesive show to work within. Great fun, criminally underseen.

[2010001] Gerda’s Journey

Gerda’s Journey [FringeTIX]

theater simple @ Richmond Grove Winery, Peter Lehmann Wines, and Langmeil Winery

5:30pm, Fri 12 Feb 2010

The first Fringe show of the year, and following my ex’s creed of “always take the active option”, we jump in her car and head out to Tanunda to catch the Australian premiere of theater simple’s open-space imagining of Hans Christian Andersen‘s The Snow Queen. Google Maps on the iPhone took us on the circuitous scenic route (via Chain of Ponds) and, distracted by the promise of the delightfully fruity semillon at Vinecrest and the need for a belated lunch, we wind up running late, taking the wrong turn into Richmond Grove and then frantically dashing about, before finally finding the prescribed start location – right where the ticket said it would be. Oops.

The seven stories of Andersen’s tale are told in different locations spread throughout the leafy environs of the three neighbouring wineries; in between stories, the audience is whisked along to the next area by the ensemble cast and a swarm of helpers. It’s a big production; theater simple have brought seven members over from the US, and expanded the cast with a collection of lucky locals. And, right from the opening moments, I know that this was going to contain all the bits that I love about a simple production.

The first two chapters took place at our starting point; we’re introduced to the devils that cause our predicament, and then to young Gerda and her friend Kai. Kai, inflicted with the devil’s cruelty, spurns his friendship with Gerda and becomes enraptured with the Snow Queen, but is presumed dead; Gerda, not convinced by the rumours of his death, then embarks on a journey in search of her friend.

A short walk takes us to the enchanted Flower Garden, chock full of pantomimic exuberance with the reactions of the flowers to their watering (the buttercup’s effervescence and the tiger lily’s yawning indifference). Back to lush lawns for the Prince and Princess; the vocalisations and mannerisms of their crow attendants were divine.

It’s a bit more of a trek to the next location, a small hut that offered the most challenging sightlines of the evening with the sun setting directly behind the “stage”. But the journey itself was probably the highlight of the night for me; with our path stretching into the distance through the trees, we could see the robbers darting between the trees ahead, planning their assault on Gerda – and the audience in tow.

The road back to our starting place is more meandering, with lots of short stops along the way – only a minute here, five minutes there. And this pacing really lends itself well to the production; the children (and there were plenty of them present) were still enthusiastically skipping from one location to the next, and the adults – most of whom had carried glasses and bottles of ever-so-conveniently available wine around with them – were able to replenish supplies from the back of a ute at the appropriate time, with the final rush towards the conclusion of Gerda’s Journey being perfectly judged.

And so, with Gerda’s approach to the Snow Queen’s Palace, the snowflake guards whistle through the crowd to buffet her. The guards, as with the flowers and the crows, were wonderfully costumed with evocative minimalism; their little forward hunch literally raised their imposing hackles. The Palace itself, staged within the drooping confines of a tree and acting as a cocoon for Gerda and Kai’s reunion, led to a great climax; the ascension up the hill to return to our starting point was punctuated by character recurrences, both overt and in the background.

Now, it probably sounds like I’m gushing a bit over this performance – and on the one hand, that’s because I’ve got the luxury of time this early in the Fringe. But it’s also because theater simple have the unerring ability to impress me with their ability to (apparently effortlessly) conjure so much out of so little. The production of Gerda’s Journey is beautifully staged in the grounds of these wineries; the fact that the wineries were also hocking their wares didn’t hurt things, either. The costumes, as previously stated, were divine in their frugality; and the entire cast, local and import alike, managed to exude joy and whimsy with impeccable timing, and surprisingly (given their geographic disparity) they looked like a cohesive troupe.

Yes, I really enjoyed Gerda’s Journey. I’d love to see how the roaming presentation pans out in the Botanic Gardens; hopefully my schedule will allow that. And it was really great to see Llysa, Andrew, and Monique again – I really missed their presence last year. But the icing on the cake was the gathering that inadvertently occurred after the show; catching up with old friends, hugs and handshakes, talking to the cast. Talking wine with Rachael from Rockford; Guy O’Grady (from 2009’s Rough for Theatre II, and one of the floating cast here tonight – including his superb tiger lily performance) starting a conversation with “Are you the Festival Freak?” Made my Fringe, that did, and in the first show of the year, too :)