[2015103] Jenny Collier: Love in the Time of Collier

[2015103] Jenny Collier: Love in the Time of Collier

Jenny Collier @ Austral Hotel – The Bunka

10:30pm, Mon 2 Mar 2015

I didn’t really know what to expect from Jenny Collier… and not many others were keen to investigate, either. With a crowd that would have struggled to hit double-digits – two small clumps of drunken punters, plus me – Collier swishes onto the stage like a breath of fresh air.

A lot of Collier’s material is familiar ground for a female comic – relationship hassles, tales of singledom, societal pressures to have children – but it’s her delivery that sets her apart. If you only knew her act by the text of the jokes – taking away her gorgeous voice and appearance – you’d imagine that she was a filthy-mouthed school class clown. And she owns her crudity, too, as she describes how she scares men away with her unladylike speech (“Where’s the shitter?… Sorry, where’s the ladies shitter?”), and the fact that she’s usually the first person to drop the C-Bomb (…at a wedding).

There’s more laughs to be had at her Welsh heritage, the dissonance between her age and young appearance (“Is your mummy home?”), and some fantastic jokes gleaned from her work in a fertility clinic. And Collier’s methods for introducing farting into a new relationship? Fantastic.

Jenny Collier was a real surprise packet. She has a ferocious wit, a wonderfully cunning way with words, and an utterly brutal self-deprecation mechanism. And, better yet, she didn’t outstay her welcome, with a perfectly timed and weighted set.

[2015102] This Is Not A Love Song

[2015102] This Is Not A Love Song

Greg Fleet, Shane Adamczak, Tegan Mulvaney, Mick Moriarty [music] @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

8:30pm, Mon 2 Mar 2015

I’ve always maintained that Greg Fleet can write, but his solo standup shows have mostly been a bit patchy for me. But a piece of theatre, that has to be fleshed out and delivered as a team by a cast of differing viewpoints? That would have be ensure more consistent & balanced writing, right?

But early signs did not look good. Fleet acts as a narrator, looking back in time at a defining relationship between his younger self (Jimmy, played by Shane Adamczak) and Sophie (Tegan Mulvaney, who also directs, and sounded – in voice and text – like my Significant Other). Initially, there’s some awkward elements of Fleet’s standup on display, and the interactions between Jimmy and Sophie are stiff; there’s still some great moments (the pawing through of record collections elicits a joyful familiarity), but something still feels… not quite right.

The moment where Fleet’s narrative invades his memory – when Sophie can actually see his future self in her present – is where the show starts to truly shine. At that stage, the conflict (and love) between all three characters comes alive, and the rest of the performance is a delight.

The short excerpts of period pop songs – set to Mick Moriarty’s live guitar – were performed well by the cast… even with Fleet’s gruff vocals. Having said that, most of the snippets are short enough not to matter, meaning that the occasional off-note (and odd harmonies) didn’t impact the performance. There were some really neat bits, however: the vocal lines in Mr. Blue Sky were pretty cool.

After a bit of a clunky start, This Is Not A Love Song grew into a pearler of a relationship breakdown memoir. I was prompted by a lot of familiar moments of my own relationships akin to Jimmy & Sophie’s, leading to a personal connection to the play; if only the front end had been stronger, this would have been unmissable.

[2015101] A Four-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy

[2015101] A Four-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy

Rowena Hutson @ Tuxedo Cat – Rivers Studio

7:15pm, Mon 2 Mar 2015

Rowena Hutson’s previous show was a thoughtful, challenging affair that was unique in its whimsical presentation; this carried through to A Four-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy. Hutson plays an enthusiastic junior astronomer, dubiously named “Buzz Lightyear”; broken-hearted, she dreams of travelling to the stars with her equally-broken sausage dog, Sputnik 2. Her mode of travel: a lo-fi cardboard space ship.

Buzz appears in her spacesuit (astronomy-themed pyjamas), with Sputnik 2 strapped to her chest; as she plots and engages in her travel, she addresses the audience with beautifully lyrical poetic text. But there’s also a sweet childish naïvety to her speech, too, which adds elements of humour to proceedings; lo-fi props, in conjunction with some cheerful audience interaction, created an ethereal sense of space at a low cost.

The script is both charmingly simplistic and coherently detailed; it’s the perfect story for anyone who has ever dreamt of going to space. But the recurring themes of loneliness create a pessimistic aftertaste which contrasts the quirky humour found elsewhere in the script; Hutson somehow creates a sweet atmosphere that makes you smile one moment, and feel impossibly sad – and yet hopelessly optimistic – the next.

A Four-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy was a deceptively deep piece of lo-fi theatre. Emotionally complex, and alternating between scientific fact and implausibility, it’s another compelling production from Hutson, and firmly entrenches her on the Must-See List.

[2015100] Who Is Dani Cabs?

[2015100] Who Is Dani Cabs?

Dani Cabs @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

6:00pm, Mon 2 Mar 2015

The simple answer to the question posed by the title is: Dani Cabs is a first-generation Australian of Uruguayan descent, with a penchant for “orange”, a passion for making videos and slideshows, and with deep-rooted issues of acceptance within his family.

There. Glibly easy.

But Dani answers the question himself with around an hour of mixed performances: there’s some straight standup, there’s some well-intentioned audience interactions, there’s more solemn theatrical soliloquies, and there’s a plethora of pre-recorded “ads” which do nothing other than constantly reinforce Dani’s inexplicable fixation on orange – whether it be the fruit, or plastic ponchos (leading to the eyebrow-raising repetition of “poncho orange”).

Dani likes poking fun at himself, whether it be through his slideshows or his comedy – his brief exploration into the Latin American passion for football is well worth a chuckle, and he mines the pressures of masculinity for a few moments of self-deprecation – but when he starts talking about his love of making movies, and showing us some of the snippets of video that bring him joy… well, I started feeling a little lost.

Whilst he has plenty of energy onstage, and clearly wants to be honest and transparent (as befitting the title), a lot of Dani’s material feels a little half-baked and… well, indulgent. A lot of his short stories seemed utterly disconnected from any other thread in the show, and of interest only to the people who were present at the time. His audience interaction was awkward, and – far from making him appear to be the wacky guy he clearly wanted to project – he just came across as a little bit desperate… the attempts to add weight through more serious topics felt like an attempt to balance his character.

And then I’m called up onstage to act as a focal point for Dani: I’m supposed to be his brother, respond as his brother. And suddenly it doesn’t feel like undulating comical theatre any more… it feels like a therapy session. It feels like I am part of Dani’s therapy.

And that’s too much to ask of an audience member.

It was difficult to get enthused about Who Is Dani Cabs? after being onstage: I felt like I’d been part of a super-self-indulgent piece of theatre, and in no way did it feel like Dani had earned the right to be so bold. The changes in tone – from almost madcap zaniness to morbid look-at-my-problems – also killed any goodwill in the show… which is a shame, because Dani was always an awesome guy to talk to off-stage.

[2015099] Riverrun

[2015099] Riverrun

Olwen Fouéré @ Dunstan Playhouse

2:00pm, Mon 2 Mar 2015

It may surprise some people (and I really do mean “some”) that, despite all this art stuff I see, I’m actually pretty culturally illiterate. To wit: I don’t have any formal knowledge of anything to do with James Joyce. So it wasn’t (the source of) the content of Riverrun that drew me to this performance… rather, it was David Sefton’s delight at describing the content that convinced me that this would be worth a punt.

And Sefton’s enthusiasm is warranted, if only because of the weirdness of the synopsis: Olwen Fouéré writes, directs, and performs a monologue “in the voice of the river in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake“. Now, with no knowledge of the book, that sounds like a compellingly odd idea; having read a little after-the-fact about the “challenging” nature of Finnegans Wake, and the fact that the book apparently contains references to many rivers from around the world, it now seems completely nuts.

Fouéré is a striking presence as we enter the Playhouse, waiting in the inky dark in a black suit, her white shirt almost as much of a beacon as her white hair. And with the house seated, the lights drop; she very deliberately takes off her shoes, and launches into her Riverrun.

And I think I speak for at least half the audience when I say that I could not understand a word she said.

For at least the first few minutes of Fouéré’s delivery, her thick accent makes it almost impossible to discern words: once my ears adjust, I start being able to pull words and fragments of sentences out of the torrent being presented. Towards the end of the performance, I recall discerning an entire sentence, and feeling very pleased with myself.

But the physicality of Fouéré’s performance is undeniably beautiful. She roams the stage with an almost balletic elegance, and she can twist the mood in the room by standing minutely taller and changing her expression, puffing out her chest. It’s so well weighted, so well performed, that I want to laud Riverrun

…but it’s really, really difficult to do that when you can’t engage with the text. Which, in turn, makes me contemplate whether I’d feel differently had this been presented in a completely different language.

It’s not just me who remained disengaged: a chap behind me nodded off to sleep, and I heard the gentle thudding and nestling of his slumber. And there was obviously a contingent who couldn’t wait for the performance to be over: after Fouéré removed her jacket and walked backwards, swiping the jacket across the floor, people started applauding… only to hush when she returned to stage centre for a spotlight on her face to shrink to nothing, catching her cracking a broad smile as it did so.

So: I had no idea what Riverrun was about, but I enjoyed watching it happen. Maybe some knowledge of Joyce would have helped comprehension; immersion in Irish accents would certainly have made the text more audibly legible. But maybe that would have taken away the mystery, too, and detracted from the joy I found in the physical performance.

[2015098] Smile Practice

[2015098] Smile Practice

Anith Mukherjee & Blake Mitchell @ Gluttony – Pigtails

10:50pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

It’s the final show for Smile Practice, and the final night of Clipsal – the Cold Chisel concert has wrapped up, and sun-soaked & sozzled drunks are streaming past – and through – Gluttony on their way (hopefully) home. As I walk into Pigtails, I realise that there’s only three people in the audience – two women and myself. I sit in the front row, trying to offer the artists some support, and I try to coax the women to sit a little closer to the front, too – they refuse.

Good call on their part.

On stage, Anith Mukherjee is sitting on Blake Mitchell’s shoulders; they’re covered in a cloth. The show (nominally) starts, and the man-mountain gives noisy birth to a series of plush dolls. I laugh at the absurdity of the image; the women aren’t so sure.

Mukherjee whips off the cloth, and the two men see the light audience: they run outside, and we can hear a commotion. They return, dragging wobbly and confused people in Cold Chisel t-shirts back in with them… and straight onstage. The two men they’ve abducted jump off straight away and sit in the front row, leaving two women onstage… one is somewhat lucid and scared, the other one is blind drunk and barely solid. Mukherjee and Mitchell attempt to interact with them, but – after the women can’t follow their intent – they banish them off the stage.

I’m summoned onstage, and have to read a bedtime story to the hefty Mitchell, who had donned a bonnet and pacifier. “Once upon a time I had sex with my sister and she stuck her finger up my bum and I liked it. The end.” The Cold Chisel fans were gobsmacked, and started WTF-ing amongst themselves with wide eyes. The repetitions of “Who likes chicken? I like chicken!” didn’t assuage their concerns.

Mukherjee pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and starts reading a list of petty grievances; Mitchell spots more Cold Chisel t-shirts peering into the Pigtails tent and rushes out to coerce them into sitting down inside. The rabble from the growing audience grows louder; Mukherjee grabs their attention by dropping his pants, revealing his genitals… which were covered in purple glitter.

There’s more exclamations and head shaking. The super-drunk woman climbs up onstage to talk to Mukherjee; he jumps off the stage – far too nimble for her, even with his pants around his ankles – and sits between me and one of the other men. The other man immediately shuffles away from him; the drunk woman onstage is slurring to her friends and cracking herself up. Mukherjee turns to me: “What is this show?” he asks. “Some drunk woman cackling,” I reply.

Mitchell returns to the stage, and the drunk woman starts slurring at him. At the goading of her friends, she starts drunkedly sleazing onto him; she latches onto him with a slobbery open-mouthed kiss, before calling him a “dirty fucker” and getting up to leave, wobbling dangerously as she did so.

I turned to Mukherjee, still sitting next to me: “Do you guys have liability insurance?” He looks at me, determined that I was only half-joking, and – as if to underline my question – the drunk woman slides down two steps from the stage on her arse. “We walked twenty people last night,” he proudly grinned, his nether regions still sparkling purple flashes.

Eventually Mukherjee stands up again, and Mitchell hands out party poppers. They proceed to count us in for the popping: “One, two, three… …four, five, six,” They continued all the way to a triumphant “Seventeen!” until they celebrated the end of the show; Mukherjee stood by the exit, still exposing his sparkling purple junk, with a hat, asking for donations from the freeloaders. I gave them another twenty dollars.

Smile Practice was quite spectacular in the most WTF way possible. I mean, I had one of the performers sitting naked (well, with his pants around his ankles) next to me for most of the show. His genitals were covered in purple glitter. On stage, a super-drunk freeloader was kissing the other performer before stumbling down the stairs and heckling incoherently. It was creative anarchy that could have gone terribly wrong, but – in my mind – was oh-so-right.

[2015097] Kirsty Mac – Feminazi

[2015097] Kirsty Mac – Feminazi

Kirsty Mac @ Gluttony – Pigtails

9:50pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

So I’m one of those guys who likes to think of himself as a feminist… and I’m also one of those guys that feels very nervous doing so, simply because I know I can’t experience the female perspective. So I’m always interested when someone who does have a “purer” feminist perspective comes along with something to say.

Kirsty Mac is one of those people.

Whilst she kicks off proceedings proclaiming that she’s been (perhaps inappropriately) called a “feminazi” so often that she’s decided to own the term, she soon migrates to the type of material that I’d expect from a feminist comic: calling out misogyny, gender inequality, and men’s inability to purchase tampons. But whilst a lot of her vitriol is aimed at men, women – especially the patronising mothers who decry her feminism as outlandish – cop a serve, too.

Much is made of dating pressures that are put on her due to her age (mid-thirties), with the assumption that she’s seeking a mate for procreation (which, she assures us through song, she most certainly is not). There’s also a brief wander into politics (with vicious insight into the rise and fall of Julia Gillard), and a curious (but patchy) Q&A session with the audience about feminism.

I really enjoyed Feminazi: I like Kirsty Mac’s style, and the fact that she can casually drop c-bombs with extreme precision. The fact that her material is genuinely funny – as well as being gender political – is icing on the cake.

[2015096] Icarus Falling

[2015096] Icarus Falling

Scott Wings @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

8:30pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

Scott Wings takes to the stage, and within seconds I know I’m going to adore Icarus Falling: he has invoked the myth of Icarus, he’s used repetition in his poetry with words that conjure white clouds of wonderment in my mind, and he’s dropped an f-bomb in the perfect spot.

And then he, as Icarus, gets the audience to watch him fall.

He demands of the crowd: “Close eyes. Open! Close. Open!” as he repeatedly jumps, and the result is that everyone generates a little flicker animation of Wings falling through the air.

It’s such a simple device that I’m amazed that I haven’t seen it before… but I was left speechless, stunned by it. Those moments of Wings suspended in the air are etched into my mind now.

But Icarus falls, and we soon move into the guts of the play: the relationship between Scott and his abusive father, through the lens of Icarus and Daedalus. And whilst Daedalus tried to warn Icarus of the dangers of his hubris, Scott’s father seems… well, rather less complimentary. Less heroic. Repeated lines like “You’re father’s an arsehole” give it away.

The poems that form the text of Icarus Falling shift rhythms and styles, get broken and interrupted by each other, as it becomes clear that Icarus – Scott – is also battling depression. Lucid thoughts and tales are cut off by suicidal thoughts, and anti-suicidal thoughts… and then She enters the play, and Wings plays with Her as Icarus plays with the sky, and his words around Her are just so beautiful… How to Bottle Lightning is an absolutely gorgeous poem.

And then there’s more depression, Daedalus harshly lectures Icarus, and a strange fixation on Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory. Bruce Willis and Michael Bay. And a tremendous Ocarina of Time reference which made my head sing, even if he blatantly explains it. And the denouement suggests that maybe the legend of Icarus is not actually about pride, or hubris, or obeying the word of your parents… maybe it’s about depression. Maybe it’s about manic depression.

It should be abundantly clear that I abso-fucking-lutely loved this show. Icarus Falling is one of those utterly amazing Fringe pieces that you just want to get everyone you know to go and see. Smart, funny, anarchic, sad, and poignant, it’s a mesmerisingly deep piece of work that just keeps giving the more you read it… and on my copy of the script, accompanied by little ninja stars and a stylised feather, Wings inscribed this:

Fringe Master Sifu, you are not grasshopper, you are tarantula. Your skills are beyond mere mortals. You are ninja. Your nightingale floors are silent. You are stealthy and shadows. You should open an academy.

And all that – plus the script within – makes me incredibly happy.

[2015095] Marilyn Forever

[2015095] Marilyn Forever

Aventa Ensemble @ Studio 520, ABC Collinswood Centre

6:00pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

The only show in the Festival’s Gavin Bryars in Residence programme that I elected to attend, Marilyn Forever required me to take a bit of a trek out to the ABC Studios at Collinswood… a combination of the extra walking, a bit of opportunistic carb loading, and a weekend chock-full of wonderful emotions meant that – once again – I was a little bit dozy… initially.

But prior to the show, I’d wound up talking – as is my wont – to two gorgeous regular Festival-goers who come to Adelaide every year from Tasmania. I’d also investigated the seating arrangements at Studio 520 – there was the raked seating downstairs (that I’d used before during a Zephyr Quartet gig at the Studio), but I also discovered the upstairs section… and the view was a little nicer from up there.

Marilyn Forever is an opera revolving around the night of Marilyn Monroe‘s death, with Marilyn (soprano Anne Grimm) onstage throughout. Flashbacks show us earlier stages of Monroe’s life: from orphanages to her relationships, to battles with fame and inner demons. Curiously, baritone Richard Morris plays The Men in these recollections, and he morphs easily from sleazy agents to husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Staging is plain – a great blank-canvas look, but also (I suspect) an homage to that dress, which Grimm also sports – and a jazz band and mini orchestra bookend the stage.

As mentioned, I settled into Marilyn Forever in a very sated state… and promptly dozed off, repeatedly struggling to open my eyes to see Marilyn lamenting whilst sitting on the floor, mournfully singing about depression or disappointment… and whilst Grimm had a great voice, it completely lacked the breathiness that typified Monroe, and that left me unable to engage. The music, while gorgeously constructed and well performed, rarely rose in tempo, helping me drift off…

But somewhere in the middle of the performance, my brain had obviously recuperated enough: I switched on, and suddenly I was transfixed. The last half of the libretto was fantastic, with the musical backing swelling to a wonderful climax. Having experienced that, I was pretty angry at myself for dozing in the first half; who knows what joy may have been contained therein.

(…well, lots of people know, actually: the ones who didn’t sleep during the performance!)

[2015094] Who’s Your Daddy? the funny side of parenting

[2015094] Who’s Your Daddy? the funny side of parenting

Terry North, Kate Burr, Fabien Clark @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

4:00pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

Now… I’m not a parent, but I’m seeing someone who is – and I like to be somewhat prepared for any interactions with children that may occur. And what better way to prepare myself than through the medium of standup comedy?

So, after a trip to the airport to see my Significant Other off after an amazingly fun whirlwind visit, I scooted back into the city for this short-but-sweet ensemble lineup. A bit of a shame it was a light audience – maybe just touching double-figures, and certainly containing couples who had fobbed their children off for the afternoon.

Terry North kicks off proceedings, and was the nominal emcee for the show – though that seems like a bit of an overblown title when there’s only two other comedians on the bill. His style of comedy is very gentle, but he provides a couple of laughs before introducing Kate Burr.

Now – I really like Kate Burr, having seen her once at a Fringe gig, and a couple of times around town since – but I really don’t understand why I don’t see her more often. She’s a natural onstage, with a wonderfully affable style, and her rapid-fire kid-running rant at the end of her spot was a touch of genius.

Fabien Clark’s style is almost the complete opposite to Burr’s – he’s very laid-back and chilled, and – having seen him do a lot of spots around town après-Fringe, some of his material was familiar. But his frank evaluation of his three children (the eldest is soft and smart, the middle one is tough and dumb, and the youngest is raised by the other two) is solid, and yields many laughs.

Like I said, this was a short show… but pleasant enough. And it reminded me that I should seek Kate Burr out more often… her uniquely country-girl-ish take on married life in the city is an absolute treat.

[2015093] dotMaze: Get Lost!

[2015093] dotMaze: Get Lost!

dotComedy @ Royal Croquet Club

12:00pm, Sun 1 Mar 2015

As the Fringe approached, I could see the construction of a large hedge-maze in Victoria Square; it didn’t look massive – maybe a square of twenty metre sides – but it certainly took a chunk out of the northern side of the Square. And when I saw dotMaze in the Fringe Guide – then discovered that tickets were selling fast – I managed to squeeze in one final Fringe event for my Significant Other… a family adventure, of which she would be more familiar than I.

We turned up about ten minutes before our allotted starting time to find a queue wrapped around the side of the maze in the baking sun. Chatting with the people around us, we discovered there was no consistency in their ticket times: some had tickets for the session before ours, others for the session after. The line only moved occasionally, and we eventually found out why: the dotMaze had a very limited capacity, so people could only be admitted once existing wanderers had escaped.

After some solid Vitamin D time, we gained entry to the maze to find that we were sharing the space with a whole bunch of people who appeared to be wandering aimlessly… that’d explain why the line was moving slowly, then. But there was also a wealth of genteel storybook characters – I spotted old friend Seb in old English explorer khakis – and there were also a handful of strange creatures wandering around, made from the same synthetic grass as the maze itself: the people inside the teacup and (functioning!) teapot must have been super uncomfortable.

The storybook characters focused most of their dialogue on the children, providing clues about where to go… and their suggested route took people back and forth to landmarks within the maze (and explained, again, why the queue outside moved so slowly). There was something super-whimsical about their presence and presentation, but they conjured a sense of mystery – and some of the more obscure parts of the maze contained some darker secrets, too (the cage was a bit… grim).

The exit to the maze was surprisingly obscure, I thought, and required an engagement with the players in the maze that doesn’t come naturally to Australian audiences (in my opinion, anyway); but dotMaze was a reasonably interesting, if uncomfortably hot and muggy, chance to explore and interact with all manner of English twee-ness. I’m certainly thankful – for myself and the performers – that it wasn’t a hotter day.

[2015092] Scotch and Soda

[2015092] Scotch and Soda

Company 2 & The Crusty Suitcase Band @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Aurora Spiegeltent

10:15pm, Sat 28 Feb 2015

So… earlier in the week there’d been this little photoshoot, during which I met a lot of the (totes lovely) team behind Scotch and Soda, including the fantastic Chelsea McGuffin and Mozes (who I totally fawned over because Acrobat was one of the pivotal performances of my Fringe-going life), and after expressing surprise at the number of shows that I’d seen, they’d asked whether I was actually going to see Scotch and Soda. “Do you still have tickets for Saturday night?” I had asked, and – hearing an affirmative – I decided that this would be the Big Fringe show for my Significant Other. Chelsea smiled sweetly, and said “Great! We’ll reserve a couple of seats up front for you!”

So, after arriving maybe twenty minutes before the nominal start time of the show to find a stationary queue that zig-zagged around the front of the Aurora, I thought I’d check with the front-of-house team (as Chelsea had suggested) regarding our seats. “Nope!” said the main guy, “I don’t know anything about that. Go to the back of the line; they’re all good seats.” That made me chuckle to myself as I walked down the queue – still, that’s part of the Fringe experience too.

Even so, we wound up with aisle seats about three rows from the front on the far left of house… and I was pretty chuffed with that. But as we craned our necks, watching the Scotch and Soda team warm up the audience as others filled the room, Chelsea bounced past and caught my eye – “Oh – hi! We saved you seats over here!” She guided us over the stage – for a split second we were onstage in a Spiegeltent! – and took us to two seats, front row right-centre… and I was super chuffed.

From the moment the Ben Walsh-led Crusty Suitcase Band start playing, something is always happening in Scotch and Soda. The thin narrative – focused around the chase of The Bush Stranger (Mozes), of that much I’m sure – is barely necessary, because the driving score provided by the Crustys propels the show along its course of acrobatics and balancing acts and tumbling.

Some tricks – McGuffin’s bottle walking and Mozes’ roller skating, for example – are reprised from earlier works (Company 2’s Cantina and Acrobat, respectively). But there’s a freshness to the presentation here, with the visual aesthetic having an earthiness to it that made me feel like it’s an everyman performance… but not everyone can balance three-high on a rickety table. Or ride a bike around the tight stage at speed whilst performing stunts. Or swing from the trapeze, flashing genitals amidst other tricks.

For a change in pace, the company erect a tent on stage for a little shadowplay, there’s a tensely acrobatic card game, and a curiously twee sequence featuring some budgies… but for the most part, it’s non-stop action with springboards and more balancing and dancing… all powered by the jazzy blues of the Band.

Maybe it was because of the privilege and position that I had in the Spiegeltent, but I absolutely loved Scotch and Soda. It felt more holistic, more complete, than Cantina (though, admittedly, that was much earlier in that project’s gestation), and the grittiness of the visual production speaks to me more than the glitter and sheen of something like La Clique. For me, this was the best big-production Fringe show I’d seen in years.

[2015091] Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Catchy Show Title

[2015091] Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Catchy Show Title

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza @ Tuxedo Cat – Mayall Room

8:30pm, Sat 28 Feb 2015

It’s best to say that I was perplexed during my prior Portenza encounter, but – on the occasions that I’d seen him (and Josh Ladgrove, his “normal” personae) at various TuxCat events) – I’d since developed a real affection for the character… and I figured that his bizarre clowning and audience interaction would be another good bit of Fringe exposure for my Significant Other.

Of course, I’d failed to take into account that this was Clipsal Weekend… and, as such, the general rabble of people in the city this Saturday night was heavily skewed in the “pissed bogan” demographic, and some even managed to find TuxCat (though, thankfully, they had a “no race shirts” policy in place). And four fucking morons wound up in the audience for this performance.

But that wasn’t evident at first. We’d entered the Mayall Room to be greeted by Maria, Neal’s grandmother, whose high-pitched voice and heavy accent left many wondering whether she was actually speaking english as she queried the audience. Many quizzical looks were passed around; just by the door, a group of men started talking amongst themselves: “Is this guy alright? I think he’s fucking mental.”

Neal whips off the headscarf that signifies Maria, and engages in a bit of Neal-ish banter with the audience: he’s silly, he’s abrupt, and he’s pointed. The chatter by the door continues; I look around and see four heavy-set men, all double-fisting their drinks, in conversation.

Josh drops out of character and asks if everything’s OK; the men try to come up with a witty riposte, but their words are heavy and slurred. Josh points out that this is a weird comedy show, and maybe that’s not going to be their sort of thing? They’re sullen in response. One final check, and Neal is back.

But the men keep talking, and it’s obvious that the murmurs are annoying the audience – and Josh. He offers them their money back if they want to leave; three of the men sink back into their seat, but one – who proudly announces himself as Osama – starts backchatting.

And things go south very quickly.

It becomes a sad battle of the sodden witless versus the match-fit razor-sharp wit; Osama is hopelessly outclassed, but too drunk to realise the battle he’s losing, so it’s not long before there’s threats of violence. Nathan the tech pipes up to try and diffuse the situation. Claims and counter-claims, chest-beating machismo, and an awful tension builds in the room before a tenuous cease-fire is reluctantly agreed to.

There was more of the show – Stavros turns up and goads Osama and Friends, there’s a rubber chicken singalong, and – for the finale – selected members of the audience were invited to thwack plungers on Neal’s chest before the audience played a game of glow-stick coits.

But, to be honest, the air never cleared from the altercation in the middle of the show; the laughs were there, but they were tempered, measured.

Ladgrove apologised profusely during the show, and even offered everyone (apart from Osama and his three meathead buddies) free tickets to see Portenza again. I laughed it off – as uncomfortable as the show was because of their presence, it was still part of the Fringe experience for me – by my Signifiant Other was furious at their mangling of the show. “You should take him up on seeing it again,” she said to me; I’d already resolved to do just that.

8:30pm, Sat 14 Mar 2015

Josh caught me at the door as I flashed my ticket – “You didn’t have to pay again,” he said, but I just laughed him off. That’s not how my Fringe-going works: if you’re putting on a show and asking for money, you’ll get money.

The audience this evening was almost the polar opposite of the first show: there were (at least) four kids in the audience, which took Neal by surprise (Josh dropped character to check if their parents were okay with the likely profanity and adult themes). Sure, the fourteen year old girl in the front row was brave, as was the seventeen year old boy (who wound up helping Neal and family onstage a bit), but the nine and twelve year old that sat with their parents were in for a weird, abstract ride.

Much of the material from that first show was still here – Stavros the doof-doof loving Greek and Maria still showed up, but so did Vanessa, the ultra-patriotic young girl singing for her country. We got to singalong again with the rubber chickens, play glow-stick coits (after I nearly broke Josh’s ribs trying to attach the first plunger), and there was some leaf-blower weirdness. Nathan the tech came in for some stick, and I even got explicitly called out as the Festival Freak, which was nice.

It’s not really amazing that the show was much more enjoyable without a bunch of drunk fuckwits trampling over the enjoyment of others; but it was pretty amazing just how much more fun it was. With an audience that spanned many decades, everyone laughed themselves silly at this weird, abstract, physical performance… and I was convinced that Dr. Professor Neal Portenza is a clown of the very highest order.

[2015090] Felicity Ward – The Iceberg

[2015090] Felicity Ward – The Iceberg

Felicity Ward @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Studio 7

7:15pm, Sat 28 Feb 2015

I’d seen Felicity Ward perform solo shows at the Fringe three times now, and have loved (and appreciated) the work she’s been doing in mental health awareness over the past few years. Given the fortuitous overlap between their visits to Adelaide, I thought she’d be totally appropriate for my Significant Other’s introduction to big-ticket Fringe standup comedy.

But I’d forgotten how different Ward’s shows can be.

Studio 7 was packed to the rafters, and Ward was greeted with raucous applause and hooting; Ward quickly explains that The Iceberg is so named because she’d been mulling over ideas of perception, and the analogy of the iceberg being mostly underwater seemed too good to miss. And so she delves into meaty topics like misogyny, the leering at and putting down of women, racism, and politics with her usual cutting language.

Since Ward had moved to London, she surmised, she’d been afforded the opportunity to look at life in England and – more importantly – Australian culture a little more objectively, and she draws a lot of laughs from pointed observations (our cricket-watching is subject to some fun barbs). But Ward weaves a lot of compassion into the show: her mental health advocacy continues here, and her encouragement to get the audience to think about the rest of the iceberg – not just the bit that we can see and complain about – gives a lot of depth to the content.

Despite (or maybe because of) persistent niggles with the sound desk, The Iceberg proved to be an incredibly well-constructed piece of standup. Not only was the content substantive, positive, and bloody funny, but Ward’s delivery is polished to a tee, and the ending has not one, but two big reveals… but let’s not veer into spoiler territory. Needless to say, that’s the best closing five minutes to a comedy show I’ve seen in years.

[2015089] Only You Can Save Us

[2015089] Only You Can Save Us

Sekrit Projekt @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

6:00pm, Sat 28 Feb 2015

The Significant Other and I had just been hobnobbing with the Festival arts community – drinking bubbles, eating pork belly, chatting with Bill Viola (how good were his videos?) – and arrived at TuxCat in good cheer. With a few minutes up our sleeve before the show, we grabbed some beers – big mistake.

Why’s that a big mistake? Because in the warmth and humidity of the Cusack Theatre, even sitting in the front row, additional carb loading made me sleepy. Again.

But I don’t think snooziness affected my perception of Only You Can Save Us as much as it did Azimut… because Sekrit Project’s show appeared to have one trick that it milked ad infinitum.

Just a glance at the brief programme gave a good idea of what to expect: with characters listed as Captain Hero, John Villaine, Doc Science, The Girl, and Sarge, you’d expect that it was going to be chock-full of stereotypes.

And so it was: this simple tale of good-versus-evil felt like someone had taken every populist sci-fi universe, chucked it in a blender, and created a tongue-in-cheek lo-fi homage to classic B-grade sci-fi movies. Nothing is taken seriously – hey, there’s even a (well done!) dance break in the middle of the show – and everything is completely overplayed: Captain Hero’s heroic poses are ludicrously done, and John Villaine’s evil monologues put Bond villains to shame. The odd action scene (torch lightsabres! balloon enemies!) underline the lo-fi aesthetic.

But despite all the goofy content and exuberant performances, I found myself drifting off more than once. I blame the carbs, I really do. But what I saw was most certainly enthusiastic Fringe theatre, and there was certainly some fun to be had prodding populist sci-fi tropes.