[2013030] Jon Bennett – My Dad’s Deaths

[2013030] Jon Bennett – My Dad’s Deaths

Jon Bennett @ The Tuxedo Cat – Blue Room

8:30pm, Tue 19 Feb 2013

Way back in 2010 – on the 11th of March, to be exact – I did a bit of a softcore ArtWalk… I mean, it only took in a lazy seven exhibits, but it was the tail end of the Fringe (and the day when some of the Visual Arts judges were venue-hopping in an attempt to do their judging). Anyhoo, I wound up in Urban Cow to check out an photography exhibit called Pretending Things Are A Cock, which apparently already had a bit of Internet notoriety… most of which was lost on me, I have to admit, but I had to give the exhibitor – Jon Bennett – props for providing a perfectly descriptive title for his collection of photos.

So when I saw a Pretending Things Are A Cock comedy show in The Garden this year, I was pretty dismissive – just how much could a man milk that one (admittedly amusing, in a puerile way) idea? But when I saw the précis for Jon Bennett’s other show, I contemplated the emotional turmoil of my own fathers’ current health jaunts – and promptly bought a ticket.

Bennett leaps into his set, quickly painting a vivid picture of his Dad’s character (in particular, the fabulous way in which he plainly announces his feelings: “I’m angry,” Bennett flatly intoned in demonstration, and it was hilarious). The relationship between them is also quickly established: the long list of parental disappointments (including video footage of the first time Jon’s father ever saw him perform his comedy), and the sole source of parental pride (buying a house). And then, with the emotional foundations established, Bennett starts listing a subset of the occurrences when his Dad has nearly (or, indeed, technically) died.

And there’s a flood of them. Falling off ladders, fires, fainting on packed trains, choking on soda bubbles… Bennett somehow paints his father as a loveable blunderer with little regard for his own wellbeing, and manages to deliver each tale with equal parts tempered rage, incredulity, love, and humour. In between these recollections of his Dad’s deaths, Jon tries to honour his father’s wish for him to become a writer by indulging in poetry (When I First Had Sex I Tried To Put My Balls In is, almost by necessity, a letdown after the glorious title, but the “Happy Birthday” poem is wall-to-wall gold), throwing in a few non-sequiters (the baby-sized dildo reference was a cracker), and trotted out some home-town Facebook status updates for good measure.

Above all, though, My Dad’s Deaths is a really well crafted set of jokes and stories. Bennett’s sense of storytelling is impeccable: he’s not afraid to use suspense, and the balance of sober- to jokey-material is nigh-on perfect. It’s fair to say that, even if Jon’s Dad doesn’t think much of his son’s work as a comedian, he has every reason to be proud of his efforts as a raconteur.

[2013029] Remnants Found In You

[2013029] Remnants Found In You

Remnant Dance @ Nexus Cabaret

7:00pm, Tue 19 Feb 2013

Fringe contemporary dance from Western Australia on a Tuesday night may seem like a pretty iffy proposition to some, but the pre-sales list for Remnants Found In You was pleasingly long, and there’d obviously been more-than-a-few walk-ins as well: Nexus Cabaret was positively humming when I arrived, with the bulk of the floor seating already occupied. I wound up snaffling one of the cocktail tables along the wall; a great vantage point, to be sure, but offering somewhat restricted views of the back of the stage (as I later discovered).

The first of three pieces, O-Sea, was a curious construction featuring six dancers who drift on- and off-stage throughout, making it feel like a multi-chapter composition. Some movements were almost balletic in nature before descending into chaotic combative grapples, but the choreography was cramped by the left-hand side of the stage. That didn’t prevent some great lines appearing from nowhere, but the movements only felt like they co-existed with the music (a largely fractured, piano-based score), rather than working with it. The piece evolves to a relatively upbeat ending, though.

Shade: less, despite the mournful (and slightly ominous) cello-based opening, was a much more enjoyable piece. With the ensemble reduced to three, I initially thought it was merely going to be a collection of solo pieces with short transitions… but it became a much more involved piece, with plenty of interaction and deft, angular movements. Unfortunately, some of the performance was pushed to the back of the stage, obscured from my sight; what I did see was really enjoyable, though.

The final piece, Spring, somehow managed to conjure up the image of a quartet of beautiful sisters frolicking in the garden of an Elizabethan English manor – though I’ve no idea why. Again, the dancers were constantly dropping off- and on-stage, but the constant change-ups failed to hold my interest… though the conclusion to the piece was genuinely exciting.

The production values of Remnants Found In You are pretty high: from the great costumes, to the presence of a string quartet in Spring, to the gorgeous programme and thoughtful questionnaire. But there was something that just didn’t feel right about much of the dance itself; it’s almost as if the choreography in the bookending pieces constricted the dancers so much that they appeared to be performing in someone else’s bodies… and, unfortunately, the quality of the second piece didn’t manage to lift my overall opinion of the event.

[2013028] Arnie Pie – Because I Felt Like It

[2013028] Arnie Pie – Because I Felt Like It

Arnold Luichareonkit @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

11:00pm, Mon 18 Feb 2013

When trawling through my Shortlist, the great thing about an 11pm Monday night show is that I’m almost certain to be able to fit it in. The shitty thing about an 11pm Monday night show is that very few other people will make the effort.

So it was that my Fringe Buddy and I rolled up at the Red Room right on starting time to find Arnold Luichareonkit – who adopts the name of a Simpsons character onstage – hovering outside the door, slightly dejected. His face brightened immediately upon seeing us – and, once we’d determined that we were the only two attendees for the session, we did the usual are-you-okay-performing-to-a-small-crowd check. “No problems,” he assured us, “I like intimate shows.”

It was thus a very friendly and casual start to the show as we planted ourselves optimally for both ourselves and Arnie (front row in the Red Room is just too close), and he thanked us individually for being his audient…s. With such a gentle and simple start, Arnie had us immediately onside, and he had me completely won over when we discovered a mutual hatred of Newcastle.

From there, he delves into the rich goldmine of ethnic material that is his father. Using racial stereotypes as both support and contrast, his constant use of accents really showed off Pie’s training as an actor; more character voices came out as he took us on travel tales throughout the US and Europe, performing comedy at clubs all over the world. His comedy is solid, though the threat of political incorrectness hinted by his précis was never really delivered.

Of course, there was a bit of good-natured back’n’forth between the pair of us and Arnie, as he occasionally offered us the choice of material to explore next (as well as asking for feedback in a cheerful manner). And, when another couple rolled up about halfway through the show, they walked in during one of out short discussions – “oh… it’s an interactive show” said one of them as they sat down the back of the room. Sadly, they took their observation to heart, and proceeded to intermittently interject barely discernible quips from the dark throughout the rest of the show, which made the rest of the performance both tricky for Arnie to manage in an agreeable manner, and way less enjoyable for us.

And that’s a shame, because I was having a ball when Arnie was smoothly cruising through his material; he’s not only pretty damn funny, but he’s also cool as a cucumber on stage without distancing himself from the audience… at least, he was when there were only two audients. As a foursome, the gig was distinctly less awesome – though it’s pretty hard to blame Arnie Pie for that.

[2013027] Nellie White in The One Handed Show: An Introduction To Pornography

[2013027] Nellie White in The One Handed Show: An Introduction To Pornography

Nellie White @ The Tuxedo Cat – Cat Bowl

9:45pm, Mon 18 Feb 2013

There’s no mucking around with The One Handed Show – mere seconds after introducing herself, Nellie White is describing her first encounter with pornography in lurid detail. Then, with just the briefest of pauses, she describes the worst time to discover that you’re not a lesbian (in the midst of a threesome), and follows that up with an overview of the various types of vaginas typically found in porn movies – including “the one that looks like it’s going to suction onto your face.”

I read that paragraph back objectively, and – apart from the obvious (and deserved) self-criticism over its structure – I have to admit: this sounds pretty puerile. Lowbrow. Cheap and lazy fodder for humour.

But Nellie White totally makes it work. In front of a small crowd – double-digits may have only been threatened, not breached – her stage manner appeared quite bizarre; it’s like she’s ultra-self-conscious, and unsure as to how a joke is going to pan out… but then she pulls out a joke (such as her description of whippets – “like a greyhound played by Tom Hanks at the end of Philadelphia”) that is absolute gold, and in stark contrast to the perceived lack-of-confidence and that accompanied it.

Sure, some of her threads felt a little slight: the short story where she meets a significant pornography producer in the UK seemingly goes nowhere, and I would’ve loved to hear more about her visits to the OFLC and her hunt for historically significant pornography within the secret rooms of the British Museum. But I’m more than happy to trade those flat spots for the result of her audience query this evening: upon receiving mystified looks from some females in the front row when they admitted to not knowing what bukkake was, Nellie was momentarily taken aback when one of them admitted she was only sixteen years old. “Oh,” said Nellie guardedly, “that probably means that most of this show is illegal.”

Now, I was wary that much of the delight I felt about this show may have been due to the contrast between this quiet and shy (almost a shrinking violet, really) woman onstage, and the utter filth (but historically accurate filth!) that came out of her mouth. But, having seen her perform a short set at Rhino Room a few nights later, I became convinced that Nellie’s sense of timing is impeccable – and when she offhandedly suggests that “no-one should be forced to suck a dick until they vomit… except for that unhelpful guy at the bank,” you can’t help but love her work.

[2013026] … him

[2013026] … him

Theatre Beating @ The Tuxedo Cat

8:30pm, Mon 18 Feb 2013

… him certainly benefited from word-of-mouth early on, but sadly had a pretty short run; as a result, this performance was sold out. And, quite possibly, over-sold.

Which is a bit of a bugger, really, since the performance space for … him doesn’t lend itself to Packed House Audience Comfort on days like today, which cracked forty degrees. Found upstairs at TuxCat, the space was a small – though thankfully tall – room that had been lined with newspaper; I didn’t think to check the roof, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that had been covered, too. Most significantly, the walls and small windows of the room had been literally papered over… and that had the effect of creating little air pockets. Hot air pockets, trapping the heat in the space.

It was like a sauna in there as the crowd packed in, sitting on boxes and crates along three sides of the room. Everywhere, people were busy fanning themselves; those that didn’t just sat and grumbled, discomfort evident on their faces. Ben – who was teching the show from possibly the hottest spot in the room – apologised in advance for the heat, and tried to keep the crowd in high spirits; that didn’t really seem to work for the woman next to me, who started complaining cattily to her friend about the conditions. “Why can’t they at least have a fan?” she whined.

And then Ben closed the door – the sole entrance to the room – and dropped the lights. Yes, it was oppressively hot, and we soon realised just how significant the meagre airflow through that doorway had been. The next five seconds were clearly the last straw for my neighbour: she stormed across the room and flung the door open (revealing a startled TuxCatter, who waited a moment before softly shutting the door again) and harrumphed back to her seat, loudly proclaiming “it’s stupid that it should be closed.” She looked directly at me, presumably for validation, or possibly because a scowl had crossed my face; “errr… it’s not your show,” I whispered, “so maybe you should leave stuff alone.”

But my quiet half-snarl was cut short by a rustle directly across the room from us; from within (what appeared to be) a pile of newspapers came a hand, a knee, arms, legs, and eventually Barnie Duncan hauled himself out of his newspapery tomb. And the first thing that crossed my mind was “fuck me – it must have been fucking hot in there.”

And the second – admittedly self-righteous – thing that crossed my mind was “that woman better not complain about the heat again.”

From the feel of the room alone, it appears that Barnie is playing a recluse; there’s something about his short, sharp movements, too, that generates the impression that he’s perhaps nursing an obsessive/compulsive disorder of some kind. Suddenly, there’s a squeak – the mail-slot on the door opens up, and Barnie rushes over to it; after a few moments, a folded newspaper is injected into the room, and he pounces on it as the mail-slot squeaks shut.

Barnie starts snipping articles out of the newspaper and reading them aloud; they’re dry pieces, but he injects emotion into the readings, imbuing them with comical overtones. It’s clear that this newspaper delivery is his only connection to the outside world, the lens through which he views the machinations of billions of other people; within the context of this black-and-white environment, the reported stories are ludicrous, but he attempts to create a consistent world view with them. It’s cynical, yes, but there’s a measure of poignancy (and laughter) to be found, too.

More laughs come as he tackles the cryptic crosswords that are scattered upon the walls, with bizarre tangents leading him to feasible answers (although that’s how I thought cryptic crosswords worked, anyway). There’s an element of tenderness as he fashions a pair of newspaper wings with the aid of sticky-tape spanning the width of the room: he appears almost angelic, and there’s a hint of desperation there, of the desire to escape… and the OCD terror I felt (as the mail-slot opened and a torrent of newspapers flooded in) gave me a pretty good idea of what he wanted to escape from.

It should come as no surprise that, despite the oppressive conditions, I found a lot to love in … him. The obsessive elements of Barnie’s character were scarily familiar to me, but the compassion with which the character was treated was genuinely heartwarming. That’s not to say that the piece is straightforward, hell no – it’s cryptic and obtuse and I’m pretty sure all my analysis is absolute bullshit, but I loved it nonetheless.

[2013025] Love in the Key of Britpop

[2013025] Love in the Key of Britpop

Emily Andersen @ The Tuxedo Cat – Red Room

7:15pm, Mon 18 Feb 2013

So… music, then. Despite a very early (I was nine at the time) OCD-inspired collection of mid-life ELO, I regard my musically formative years as the early-to-mid eighties; late new-wave and early English synth-pop is the stuff that really resonates with me. And, whilst I was still at Uni during the first wave of Britpop, most of the big names (most notably Blur, Oasis, and Pulp) passed me by… though I did get into early Suede, and I loved Elastica‘s body of work.

Despite that, Emily Andersen’s précis immediately draws me in – maybe it’s the promise of poetry, or the appeal to those heady memories of Uni. Regardless, after a little misdirection I found myself scrambling upstairs to the Red Room for my first TuxCat show of the year, arriving just as Emily had taken to the stage.

Emily makes it quite clear that she’s an Anglophile – and, amidst gorgeous lyrical compositions that paint her dancing her life away in Melbourne nightspots that feature her beloved Britpop music, she meets Him. Swept off her feet by His accent, and excited by their common musical lingua franca, they fall in love… and, eventually, they decide to return to England: Emily’s dream. But there, after their marriage, the relationship strains show; a return to Melbourne only provides temporary respite before the inevitable – painful – disintegration.

But threaded throughout Emily’s performance (which is interrupted only by a few – ultra-necessary, in this weather – gulps of water) are the most endearing references to the Britpop that she adores; whether it’s the constant comparisons of her own relationship to that of Damon & Justine, or just the odd familiar (and sometimes head-scratchingly not-so-familiar) line or name dropped into the monologue, there’s always a warmth associated with it – the references never seem to be cheesy, they’re always there out of a genuine love of the material.

As for the monologue itself… well, it’s wonderfully paced, with a beautiful rhythm to the delivery; but it’s only the occasional rhyme that reminded me that this was, indeed, a piece of poetry (though the rhythmical delivery should have given that away). And Andersen certainly appears to be a lovely, warm character (both onstage and off), and she managed to completely suck me into her Anglophilic world (which, she estimated, is “only” 95% autobiographical).

I absolutely adored Love in the Key of Britpop – despite not having the same affinity for the musical genre as Emily, she almost manages to convince me that the nineties were a better decade than my beloved eighties. But the utterly charming thing about this performance is that the Britpop references are merely accents to a wonderfully emotive love story… and that ability to deliver on multiple levels is what really made it shine.

[2013024] Danny Stinson’s ‘Confessions Of A Psych Nurse’

[2013024] Danny Stinson’s ‘Confessions Of A Psych Nurse’

Danny Stinson @ Gluttony – The Pig Pen

10:45pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

I may have known a psych nurse or two in my time. They may have mentioned tales to me – whilst protecting their patient’s privacy, I hasten to add – about weird and wacky events that may have befallen them in their day-to-day jobs; (ideas of) patients and process and bureaucracy and stuff that just sounded unbelievable.

No stories like that were in this show. No tales even halfway as interesting were in this show.

In fact, Stinson only uses his job as a psych nurse to link together tales of interactions with other nurses – usually, how he tried to pick them up (or the exploits thereafter). There’s tales from nursing school, there’s tales discussing the (glorious, apparently) disparity in gender numbers in nursing… but there’s also digressions into unemployment and more generic comedy topics.

Stinson delivers some good laughs – but I was constantly thinking back to the stories I’d heard from other people, and hoping that he’d drag experiences like that into his act. And, whilst he did venture into some interesting areas, there seemed to be too many tales that had a fair chunk of backstory, but were truncated by a limp punchline and no followup… even when the followup joke was almost blindingly obvious.

I wound up leaving Gluttony unsatisfied; I didn’t find enough of the material I was expecting (and, let’s be honest, that’s completely my fault for going in with such expectations), but I also felt that so much potential was frittered away by not following through with the joke (or by using loose metaphors and not tightening them up). I’m sure Stinson would be able to cobble together a decent ten minutes for a lineup show, but “unsatisfied” is not the best way to be leaving a gig.

[2013023] 3

[2013023] 3

Matt Tarrant, Shahin Zareei, Vinh Giang @ Gluttony – Pig Tales

9:35pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

Either there were a lot more magic shows in the Fringe Guide this year, or something in my brain had changed and caused me to put way more magic on The Shortlist. 3 was the first cab off the rank in that regard – and early whispers had audiences singing its praises.

Taking its name from the three performers who bring their unique skillsets to the stage, 3 gets off to an overwrought and clunky start as they solemnly take to the stage. The tricks of mentalist Matt Tarrant are the first on display, as he guesses objects from the audience’s pockets with duct tape over his eyes. Of course, the fun with magic shows is in trying to figure out how the trick is done, and I suspect that Tarrant’s “mentalism” is guided by Zareei’s dialogue with him, but it’s still a neat trick. More impressive, however, was his ability to guess cards in a deck that were randomly selected by multiple audience members – I, of course, had picked the ace of spades, which (along with all the other cards) was dutifully divined by Tarrant.

Shahin Zareei performed some old-school sleight-of-hand magic, hiding an audience member’s ring within a walnut (which was then enclosed in an egg, inside a lemon), as well as other common tricks; but despite his billing as Australian Magician of the Year, his performance was a bit lacklustre, especially during the ropes trick – a slip all but gave the trick away. But his rough performance was more than compensated by Vinh Giang’s efforts: introducing himself as a “Psychological Illusionist”, the way he guided thoughts using subliminals was head-scratchingly impressive (with letters and animals and numbers and words all being successfully implanted). This sort of trickery fascinates me no end, and Giang’s likeable stage presence is the icing on the cake of his segment.

Overall, though, 3 was let down by Zareei’s stumbling set, and a few problems with pacing – there were too many instances early on when I was waiting for the next trick to kick in, rather than dwell in the afterglow of the last trick. A somewhat mute audience didn’t help much either… but that takes nothing away from Vinh Giang, whose set was by far the highlight of the show.

[2013022] Like a Fishbone

[2013022] Like a Fishbone

Early Worx in theatre and art @ Higher Ground East – Main Theatre

7:30pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

I was really disappointed when I heard of Higher Ground’s Light Square closure last year; notwithstanding the generally amiable vibe of the place, it was also home to Guy Masterson’s Centre for International Theatre project – and the generally high-quality drama that it tended to present. So I was a bit surprised to see the Higher Ground name reappear in the Fringe Guide… but all the more delighted to wander in for the first time. Rough hewn walls, artwork hanging, makeshift bar… it felt right.

I spot Jane for the first time this season and have a nice little chat; upstairs to the Main Theatre, we perch on bar stools at the back of a decent-sized crowd. Amy Victoria Brooks is waiting onstage when we arrive, hidden beneath a dark shroud at the edge of the space; centre-stage is a prominent model of a small village on a table. The house lights (almost imperceptibly, given the ambience) drop, and Shannon Mackowski primly bustles in; startled by the presence of the figure in the shroud, the play is off to a nervously tense start.

Mackowski plays The Architect, charged with creating a memorial in remembrance of a school shooting in a small village (which, given the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred after Fringe submissions closed, demonstrates the unfortunately evergreen relevance of Anthony Weigh’s play). Brooks plays The Mother of one of the the slain children – and she, in her physically frail and partially blind state, has come to The Architect to plead for the memorial to be scrapped. The two women appear to be polar opposites – one earthy and maternal, the other polished and cold; emotive versus rational. The reasoned pleas and explanations give way to more passionate accusations and spirited defences as the time for formal presentation of the model of the memorial draws close; The Architect’s Intern (Rebecca Calandro) provides some (almost unwanted) light relief as feelings escalate, before a surprisingly violent turn of events – and a cold, fractured denouement.

Both Mackowski and Brooks really deliver the goods with their roles; Shannon’s character is utterly focussed and dedicated to her work, her irritation with the presence of The Mother evident with every punctuative “yes?” – less a question, more a dismissal. The Mother is a portrait of the struggling faithful; frail and emotionally battered, Brooks lets the religious devotion of her character appear desperate and broken… and that’s very much in keeping with the undertones of the piece, which seem to contemplate the role of religion in the spiritual destruction of the town. The direction of the play is… well, curious: with the model of the memorial dominating the centre of the stage, there’s three very well defined spaces which seem to reflect the leaning of the play’s wavering sentiment at any given point in time: left for the rational, right for the emotive, front-and-centre for the combative.

I really enjoyed Like a Fishbone, but it’s not beyond criticism. As Jane points out, The Architect and The Mother are both pretty highly strung from the moment we first meet them… and when the physical struggle between them occurs, it seems to spring from nowhere. The initial tension between the two women doesn’t really get the opportunity to appear to escalate, so the attack seems sudden and unnecessary – yes, there’s the urgency of The Architect to get to her presentation, but it still feels unbelievable.

Worse, though, was the noise bleed in the venue. With word-of-mouth spreading about Little Miss Mexico, the pop-up bar’s patrons raucous noise tumbled through the walls to provide an unwanted distraction. Despite the ratcheted tension of Like a Fishbone, it’s a play that would benefit from the silences between the lines – and they simply weren’t available during this performance.

But hey – that’s the Fringe for you. And, despite the obstacles, this proved to be quality Fringe theatre – a heady production given weight by two substantial performances.

[2013021] Sullivan and Bok

[2013021] Sullivan and Bok

Claire Sullivan and Lauren Bok @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

6:00pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

I’m the first to admit that, sometimes, my processes aren’t perfect… and this was demonstrated when I looked at my collection of tickets for the day and discovered that the show that my scheduling spreadsheet assured me was at 6:15pm was actually an hour later. Thus, that show was dropped, and a hole in my schedule needed to be filled; I checked the timeline and found another shortlisted show – one I’d originally slated for later in the Fringe – and made my way to the Austral.

I grabbed a ticket at the door, and was directed to the upstairs bar to await the readiness of the show; I grabbed a beer and collapsed on the lounge, happy for the opportunity to make some notes. After a few minutes I see a blonde woman walking towards me with a nervous smile: “Hi,” she said, “are you here to see a show?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you here to see my show?”

“If you are either a ‘Sullivan’ or a ‘Bok’, then yes.”

And that’s how I met Lauren Bok, who went on to explain that I was the only ticket-holder for the evening’s performance – “we’re happy to give you a freebie for another night,” she suggested, “or we can do the show anyway.”

I trot out my usual lines – my schedule is ever-so-busy, I’d really prefer to see the show now if at all possible, but I understand if it’s too uncomfortable for you to perform to an audience of one. Bok assures me they’re happy to perform to an audience of any size, and as we start amiably chatting (after being joined by Claire Sullivan) a man wanders into the bar… and his face looks familiar. It takes a few seconds for me to recognise Lachlan, who used to live in my building – Adelaide! – and who had also just purchased a ticket for the show.

So with two paying customers – and friend Hayley Brennan, another comedian – forming an audience, we all bundled into the Red Room full of good humour and cheer. Lachlan and I spaced ourselves out comfortably in the second row – the front row is just too close to the stage of the Red Room – whilst Sullivan and Bok conferred in whispers at the back of the room. Suddenly they configure themselves in a bizarre horse-riding configuration that has Sullivan riding Bok to the stage as they both bluster their way through the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet, before disintegrating into a game of Marco Polo – a decidedly odd start to proceedings.

Claire eventually takes a seat at the back of the room, leaving Lauren solo onstage to perform some (comparatively!) conventional standup – and it’s pretty good stuff, as she presents the origins of her surname before moving onto quirky tales from her retail work. A cigar-box ukelele makes an appearance for a great short song, before Sullivan’s reappearance is preceded by a curious video of the techie’s cats – or so we are told.

Sullivan’s solo piece was… well, fucking bizarre. “I love Adelaide,” she begins – before emphasising “Antelaide.” Thereafter followed a spiral into a philosophical discussion questioning whether ants had thoughts, before she encouraged us to all wear party hats to mimic unicorns, and concluded her set by creating a chair tunnel and crawling underneath us.

There’s no denying the fact that the combination of Bok and Sullivan is a marriage of the straight-(wo)man and the utterly bizarre – they admit as much in their précis. And on the basis of the material (and style! and class!) they showed a tiny audience tonight, they could very well be the next Cloud Girls… and that means they’ll most definitely hold a place on my “must see” list.

[2013020] Low Hanging Fruit

[2013020] Low Hanging Fruit

Nat Jane Productions @ The Soul Box

4:30pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

There’s a small (but enthusiastic) crowd gathered for this performance of Low Hanging Fruit; it also marked my first visit to The Soul Box, which provides performers with a wide, shallow stage. The set is simple: a row of desks and three chairs, along with perfunctory props to create the feel of an office environment.

This is a branch of the Gibbons & Lipshutt recruitment agency, and we’re initially introduced to the green Jason, who awkwardly bumbles through his management of jobseeker Ruby via the office operations manual. Slick Seth soon enters, sweeps Ruby into his care with a cool indifference, and – after promising her the world and dismissing her from the office – proceeds to berate Jason, comparing his junior’s lack-of-achievement to his own checklist of wins… Seth, it seems, can do it all, whether it be in the workplace or bedding women, and he’s clearly the top dog in the office.

When the more sedate (but work-focussed) Hannah enters the office, and it is revealed that one of the three workers will be retrenched at the end of the week, the potential for a backstabbing triangle develops; Seth naturally feels that he has nothing to worry about, with his natural charm and paternal influence on the Gibbons & Lipshutt directors. Hannah, who needs the position to sponsor her visa, is in a more delicate predicament, and Jason’s dweebishness naturally marks him as the odd one out. But Seth “loses” his mobile phone with all his work contacts, preventing him from closing any deals; when Jason finds the phone, and uses the information therein to increase his KPIs, the tables are decisively turned.

And that last element is really troubling to me; normally, I’m all in favour of the underdog, but Low Hanging Fruit seems to be espousing the idea that Jason’s theft of Seth’s phone & wallet in order to climb up the corporate ladder was fine; that cheating is a legitimate way to the top. And maybe that’s the point of the play… but it’s a bloody unpalatable point.

But that’s not the only problem with the play: whilst Stephen Coutts is wonderfully slimy as Seth, he doesn’t receive much support – and Amy Gubana is criminally underused as Ruby. The dialogue is rarely convincing, the comic moments raise groans rather than chuckles, and the songs – yes, there’s the occasional musical sojourn – feel cheesy, and are infrequent enough to genuinely bemuse when they appear.

It’s a shame, really – despite the interesting motivational triangle that is set up by the play, nothing really seems to work, and I end up leaving the performance thinking that I never want to encounter any of these unlikeable characters again. And, combined with the lacklustre presentation, it’s hard to take anything positive out of the experience.

[2013019] The Art of Letting Go

[2013019] The Art of Letting Go

Rachel Collis @ The Promethean

2:00pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

It’s a ridiculously hot day, and the trek out to visit Dad in hospital (a couple of bus trips with some awkward waits) has been draining – it’s that energy-sapping type of heat. So when I enter the Promethean (after a quick wander through the soulless Depot venue), I make a bee-line for the bar – it’s mojito time. The guys behind the bar are only too happy to go old-school with a twist on the beverage – hand-crushed mint and ice, with a contemporary twist of ginger ale to top up the drink. It’s an absolute delight, dry and refreshing, and I nurse it as I take my place in the small and scattered crowd.

Rachel Collis – who I’d inadvertently met the previous day when she’d been flyering in the Market – is delectably clad in reds and blacks, and she plays piano and sings tales of her life without further accompaniment. Not that any is needed: her voice is gorgeous, with clean notes covering a wide range, and she tends to favour the left side of the piano – which is just fine by me, with rumbling bass notes often providing a perfect backdrop for near-gutteral growls (or contrasting high wails).

The melodies and structures of her self-penned songs are pleasing, but the lyrical content caused me a few moments of consternation – mainly because Collis managed to ensnare me in a siren-like manner early on, and then proceeded to sing about how completely and utterly happy she was being married. And that is… well, a little unfair, really. And whilst the sentiments in her more contemplative songs are honest and heartfelt and quite lovely (Ever After and Pour Me a Glass of Wine spring to mind), the lyrical frameworks around her “edgier” songs feel a little shakier: I’m not completely convinced she’s confident singing about being unable to see her own pubes, or Pablo the Brazilian Waxer, and the Facebook Friend song feels forced.

Maybe that’s because of Collis’ upbringing – some of us have wrangled words and flitted with filth openly for years, whereas I’m guessing things may have been a little more refined in young Rachel’s formative home. But the occasional dubious lyrical structure isn’t enough to detract from the rest of the performance – and when Collis hunches over and really attacks those bass notes, it’s a thing of beauty… even if I’m still miffed about the whole being-married bait-and-switch ;)

[2013018] Naked Unicorn Vomit

[2013018] Naked Unicorn Vomit

Nicole Henriksen @ Gluttony – The Runt

11:30pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

A lot of things can attract me to a show. Sometimes it’s a known name, sometimes it’s a well-written (or just plain quirky) précis. And sometimes it’s a great show title.

I mean, Naked Unicorn Vomit. It’s perfect.

But I’ve no idea what to expect from the show itself – apart from “comedy”, that is. I’ve no idea who Nicole Henriksen is, I’ve no idea why she would plan such a short run of gigs. And I’ve got absolutely no idea why anyone would choose to use The Runt as a venue. It’s a horrid little space – a shipping container, 24 seats, a bench, and a sense of claustrophobia like no other venue.

And when Nicole Henriksen bursts into the venue, it’s pretty clear that she’s giving it everything she’s got – she’s bubbly and enthusiastic, with her high energy levels almost too much for the tiny venue. Her character sketch comedy is a little up-and-down, with an uncomfortable audience not really granting a lot of leeway to technical issues (as videos and songs occasionally go awry), but it’s the kind of stuff that leaves me smiling.

The opening character, Nicole Henriksensen, delivers some stand-up that falls a little flat, but the appearance of UK pop songstress Big Yellow Button (“Hit the button… the Big Yellow Button!”) really opened things up – her minimalist Why’d You Break Up With Me (or somesuch) was brilliant, with some really clever callback structures. Ex-talk-show host (and hopeless showbiz addict) NK was next, a gigglingly confused mess of a character, before things wrapped up with MC Misogynist and his eponymous songs like I Fucked Your Mum.

I quite enjoyed Naked Unicorn Vomit. Whilst the material overall was a bit patchy, the highs were most definitely quality material – and Henriksen is still young, with plenty of time to hone her craft. When I talked to her after the show (and many times in the days thereafter), she was adamant that this short run of shows was a great experience, and massively beneficial; I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for her in the future.

[2013017] Dandyman

[2013017] Dandyman [FringeTIX]

Daniel Oldaker @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Spare Room

9:45pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

Occasionally you go to a performance that feels… well, unfinished. Like the performer is trialling some material out, evolving the show somewhat, with an eye towards delivering a more coherent experience at another Festival. This is usually most evident with comedians, who trial material and shape their show in Adelaide before migrating to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

But it’s somewhat rarer to find other performance pieces in such an embryonic form. Sure, when I saw last year Dr Brown admitted he was starting his show from scratch, but Dandyman felt even less prepared than that.

Daniel Oldaker’s character, dressed in a sky-blue suit with a bow-tie made of pink drinking straws, is certainly charming enough as he bumbles into The Spare Room and, through shoulder shrugs and smiles and quirky non-lingual vocalisations, tries to drag us into his somewhat vaudevillian world. He juggles balls and clubs; he fashions more straws into odd objects; he attempts to perform with a diabolo.

But Oldaker is clearly not at ease in the venue. He’s constantly looking upwards, unsure whether the stage has the height to permit the tricks he wants to perform; he even takes out a light globe during one constrained juggling attempt. It’s also evident that he’s not quite sure what he’s going to do next; this leaves the audience restless and uncomfortable, doubly so once the Dandyman decides to partially strip.

And maybe that’s the point – to make the audience feel out-of-sorts whilst being distracted by simple carnival tricks. But I can’t fathom what the deeper motivation behind such a decision would be; as a result, I left The Spare Room thinking that I’d just paid good money to watch someone else experiment with ideas of what could possibly, one day, be entertainment.

[2013016] Tim FitzHigham – The Gambler

[2013016] Tim FitzHigham – The Gambler [FringeTIX]

Tim FitzHigham @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Cupola

8:15pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

Plucked from the Fringe Guide for my Shortlist – a decision later validated by the recommendation of an old family friend – I admit to having had no idea who Tim FitzHigham was prior to entering The Cupola. With a quirkiness about the text of his précis, I figured he’d be a pretty safe bet.

After a long and amiable chat with people at the tail end of the queue, I wind up being the last punter in the tent, and take a seat in the penultimate row next to the tech’s desk. It’s a pretty bloody good crowd, and there’s no problems with visibility at this venue – FitzHigham regularly projects images and movies onto an elevated screen, and the man himself purposefully roams the width of the stage, directly addressing as many people as possible.

The Gambler focusses on FitzHigham’s fascination with the habit of gambling… but not normal gambling. He’s more interested in the wagers that people make with each other: that one man can cycle from London to Dover and back again before another can draw a million dots, for example. Weird betting – the types of wagers that you’d expect from eccentric Englishmen.

And that very much describes this show: it’s eccentric in the extreme. FitzHigham’s quirky personality – and passion for doing silly stuff (rowing the English Channel in a bathtub, for example) – certainly helps, but as he revisits his Top Ten Greatest Bets in History there’s plenty of eccentricity fodder.

FitzHigham races (on foot) a racehorse over one hundred yards; he wheels a barrow over 20 miles from Ware to Shoreditch; he reels in a mile of rope to facilitate access to the land he needs to attempt to roll a cheeseboard four miles in less than a hundred rolls. And, yes, the dots-versus-bicycle bet is tackled as well.

The Gambler is an enjoyable excursion, and it’s pretty easy to get swept up in the excitement as FitzHigham struggles to attain his self-imposed goals. His storytelling style is great, though I must admit to getting irked by his tendency to repeat small phrases for emphasis. But it’s a show that remains in the “quirky” bracket, rather than being “compulsory”.