[2014016] Rainbow Rabbits with Rabies

[2014016] Rainbow Rabbits with Rabies

Nicole Henriksen @ Gluttony – The Piglet

11:10pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little narcissistic when it comes to the words on this blog; whilst I write here mainly to augment my memory, I’m fully aware that Google loves me, and that most artists will find what I write about them when vanity-Googling.

So when someone grabs a pull-quote for their précis or advertising materials from my blog, I get a little thrill. Seriously – a little buzz of joy that someone has decided that my words were nice enough to advertise their show. It’s never expected, and always delightful.

There were no quotes from Festival Freak in the Fringe Guide this year, and that’s fine – to be expected, even; but, whilst out-and-about with a friend near the Garden one evening, Nicole Henriksen bounded up to us and thrust a flyer in our direction. I took it, then realised who was proffering it: “Hello Nicole!” I pre-empted.

She looked momentarily taken aback – but only monentarily. We had a lovely chat – very bubbly and enthusiastic on her part, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen her perform – and I assured her that I’d try and squeeze her show in.

But it was only when I got home that I noticed there was a pull-quote from me on the flyer: “It’s perfect”, it said, leaving off the leading quotation mark.

But go and read my post about Henriksen’s last show… go find the quote. Cheeky, eh?

Still, I had fond memories of Naked Unicorn Vomit, and I love Nicole’s seemingly endless optimistic energy, so back into The Piglet I went. It’s a bigger venue than the one she used last year, and the crowd is a bit bigger too… but also a little more confused.

Still totally on-board with Henriksen’s lunacy, mind you… just confused.

Henriksen kicks off proceedings with a bit of her standup; not her strongest material, sure, but entertaining enough. But then the characters come out to play: Big Yellow Button’s Big Business – Art Piece is a new direction for her, veering wildly away from her previous Europop. NK appeared to have been murdered during a home invasion whilst we were on a Skype call with her; Nicole’s discomfort onstage in the aftermath was delicious. And MC Misogynist got another airing for her gloriously misguided lyrics.

In between character pieces, Henriksen struts the stage with a sense of surety and confidence that is almost unmatched by any other performer; she really is impressive to behold. Her forays into the audience (as part of a Jeopardy-ish game show) also reeked of confidence, though her question to me (“Mein Kampf?” – “Your favourite book,” I answered) may have been getting dangerously close to the edge.

If I wanted to nitpick, I could say that her video accompaniment really should have been projected onto a white screen – using the black stage backing doesn’t really help the legibility of the clips, and made NK’s death more sinister than ludicrous. And MC Misogynist’s new material – like Poppin’ My Pussy – didn’t have the overblown attitude of previous efforts.

But, like I said, that’d be nitpicking. Henriksen’s strength is in her imagination and – most importantly – her commitment to her imagination; that she wields such impregnable confidence onstage is impressive. With a crowd willing to go along for the ride – as this crowd was – it’s a bloody fun (and weird) way to have some laughs.

[2014015] Chris Radburn – Breaking Rad

[2014015] Chris Radburn – Breaking Rad

Chris Radburn @ Gluttony – The Piglet

10:10pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

So – I’ve taken my seat in The Piglet, and it’s becoming apparent that Chris Radburn is going to get a decent-sized crowd in… the place is going to be at least half-full. Across the aisle from me, I recognise a recently familiar face: “Excuse me,” I introduce myself, “weren’t you at [my previous show]?”

He looked at me guardedly. “Yes…?”

“If you don’t mind me asking, who do you write for?”

His look turns to bewilderment, and he tells me. “But… how did you know?”

I chuckled knowingly, and started asking him about his media outlet’s review load over Fringe. “I do more reviews than most,” he says with a sense of pride, “I’ll see anywhere from thirty to forty shows.”

I smile to myself, and am happy that the house lights choose that moment to drop.

Chris Radburn leaps onto the stage, and it is clear that he owns it; despite lackadaisical body language, he exudes confidence, and he quickly wins most of the crowd over with material that I would call “middle-age staple”: Kids! Aren’t they nutty? Parents! Aren’t they competitive? There’s also a bit about his short-lived legal career, and a few attempts to show a bit of edginess – Radburn drops a c-bomb with considered precision, one eyebrow raised, and throws in some fingering material that caused some nervous laughs from the older members of the audience.

It’s all well-practised, it’s all casual-yet-confidently delivered with the polish of a comedian who has served his time; but it’s also accompanied by an undercurrent that’s distinctly anti-women… and I, for one, can do without that in my comedy now. That’s not to say that I was representative of Radburn’s audience – one chap, in particular, was laughing almost to the point of tears… especially during some of the “women are bitches” moments.

Having said that, I didn’t hear the reviewer mentioned above laugh once.

As time wears on, I’m becoming increasingly negative towards this show. Whilst there’s undoubtedly some solid material, a nice structure, and well-managed callbacks, the downsides are becoming too much to bear. I’m sure Chris Radburn would be a brilliant comic for men who don’t get out to much comedy, but for the more seasoned comedy-goers – and less misogynistic – amongst us, there’s a certain guiltiness that accompanies the laughs.

[2014014] Claire Ford: ConsciousMess

[2014014] Claire Ford: ConsciousMess

Claire Ford @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

8:45pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

Occasionally, I see a show that I really want to like, but simply cannot – for reasons beyond the control of the artist.

This show was one such instance. Despite having no knowledge of Ford’s work (she’s apparently done a bit of work on TV), I’m willing to take a chance on a bit of character-based comedy – and she certainly brought a bunch of curious characters to the performance. And, as the small crowd entered the Red Room (still sticky after the heat and rain of the last few days), Ford stomped around the stage wearing flippers and a goggle/snorkel combo making indecipherable muffled mutterings. Lights down, she starts throwing sopping wet tennis balls from a bowl of water at the audience, beckoning for their return after effectively splattering their targets.

It is, it must be said, a thoroughly WTF-ish start to proceedings.

Ford then cycled through a series of bizarre characters – the spaced-out grapefruit girl, a French Satan (or was it Friend-of-Satan?) who harbours a pathological dislike of spoons, and small-town celebrity wannabe Terri Skyler. They’re all curious characters, interesting in their own right…

…but they’re let down by the room. The PA in the Red Room has Ford’s voice coming across as boomy, making it difficult to follow a lot of her monologues; the pre-recorded audio that is pivotal to a lot of her sketches is almost unintelligible.

And – worse – the crowd is awful.

Two pairs of reviewers (and their comps), plus another couple who bought tickets at the door, sat there cross-armed and stony-faced. Ford’s attempt to get them involved with a game of mimed hopscotch failed to crack their sullen faces. And I sat there and tried to give as much laughter and positivity as I could… but, in the end, one person’s positivity isn’t able to overcome the negativity of six.

And that is a massive, massive shame, because I reckon there’s more than enough oddball nuttery in Claire Ford to get a room rolling with laughter. But it was never going to be this Red Room, and it was never going to be this stiff-lipped audience.

[2014013] NOB HAPPY SOCK

[2014013] NOB HAPPY SOCK

Simon Keck @ The Producers Bar

7:30pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for people who are willing to talk about depression. I’d never be so disrespectful to say that I suffer from depression myself – though I would (like everyone else, I suspect) say that my lows are much lower for much longer than they should be – but there’s something immediately identifiable about the topic.

Adding suicide to the discussion ups the ante a little, and guaranteed NOB HAPPY SOCK an early berth.

Simon Keck appears on a simple stage (there’s just a fridge and some fridge magnets to accompany him) wearing just a pair of pyjamas; he immediately launches into a story about how he shit himself in the schoolyard as a youngster. It’s a bold – and hilariously told – opener, but it lays the groundwork for two of Keck’s biggest personal problems: his inability to ask for help, and his divine ability to make Bad Jokes to cover up Bad Things.

Both these issues permeate all the stories that follow: from the soul- (and liver-) destroying job he once held, through to the joy of being paid to do something he loves, thence back to the crushing weight of emotionally-empty employment. When his depression becomes more evident, it is totally identifiable to me – it’s something that I face for maybe nine months of the year – but the impact of its darkness on Keck is… well, scary. Terrifying.

And, eventually, suicide is considered. The title of the show is described in almost offensively lurid detail within the darkest moments of the performance, and provides one of the most guilty laughs I think I’ve ever experienced. Clearly, Keck’s suicide attempt is unsuccessful, leading to another moment of disbelief and almost sacrilegious laughter… and tears of sheer delight, wrapped up with one of the most poignant and dryly bitter songs ever written.

I absolutely loved NOB HAPPY SOCK. I’ve probably used the world a zillion times in the preceding paragraphs, but it was so identifiable and funny and tender and beautiful that it makes my heart ache a little just thinking about it. I’m normally a little self-conscious when proclaiming a show in the Comedy section as the go-to show in the Fringe; but, as of right now, NOB HAPPY SOCK is (or, rather, was – its season is over) easily the best show in the Fringe, and recommended to everyone. It’s a remarkably refined performance of a script that is so amazingly polished that it simply gleams. I’m stoked that it picked up a Weekly Fringe Award; it deserves many, many, many more plaudits.

Also: I Am Gorgeous. See the show, and you’ll know what I mean.

[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

Woodcourt Art Theatre @ The Coffee Pot

6:00pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

As with The Bunker Trilogy, I’m a little wary of committing to seeing the set of five Woodcourt productions; but it felt right that I have a little taster of their programme on the same day as the Bunker crew.

And the outcome, it must be said, was pretty much the same: I wound up changing the remaining Woodcourt shows from “maybe” to “definitely”.

In a (previously unbeknownst to me) tiny little room atop The Coffee Pot, twenty people squeeze into the seating area; cushions on stacked milk crates create a makeshift raked seating area, but some are left to sit on the floor. In front of a simple set – a table with a collection of books neatly arranged – Simon Binns (who I’d previously encountered during Applespiel’s challenging Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat) provides a tongue-in-cheek fire safety warning (the Exit is that way) before the lights drop.

It’s a quirky start – Binns appears from blackout, holding an odd pose – before dropping the pose and sauntering to the table, grabbing the leftmost book in the collection: “Animorphs: The Invasion,” he reads, before flipping a few pages into the book; “Chapter one.”

He starts reading. And keeps reading.

And I remember feeling a little bit disappointed, and a little bit scared. Was this entire performance going to be just a series of readings from a series of books that I’d previously never heard of? And that were, on the basis of what was being read out, really badly written?

But at the end of the chapter, Binns snaps the book shut and starts talking to us, describing how he had discovered the Animorphs series of books through the Scholastic book club (which I also used to abuse in order to get “educational” books). And I’m immediately drawn to his story: getting addicted to children’s novels (though mine were Famous Five and Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventure). Drifting away from the initial rush. Returning to the series later and manically completing the collection after-the-fact.

It’s all so identifiable.

Binns flips between continued readings of The Invasion and his own thoughts and impressions, describing how he identified with the characters as a youngster, and was heartbroken at the discovery that some of the books were written by a ghost-writer. There’s also an audience interaction section – nominated in the most respectful way possible! – that has Binns directing questions from an online forum at a crowd-provided KA Applegate.

And, in between scenes, the lights black out: after some scuffling in the dark, we return to Binns’ exaggerated pose as he – step-by-step – performs his own animorphing throughout the show. The denouement extracted plenty of oohs and aahs from the audience, and was a super sweet touch.

Not only did Animorphed provide a convincing introduction into what the aesthetic of the Woodcourt series of shows would be like, but it was a sterling show in its own right. Full of heart, with solid storytelling and a hint of whimsy, it totally won over this middle-aged man with an OCD tick that still knows where his own book collections are stashed.

[2014011] The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana

[2014011] The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana

Jethro Compton Ltd @ The Bunker

4:00pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

Standing in front of the bar in The Bunker, I felt like I was at the party of a friend’s friend: there’s a whole heap of familiar faces there, a lot of nods of recognition, but only a handful of people whose names I remember (Shelley and Nicole and Peter and Hettie). And then I notice Jethro Compton chatting with a small group of people in the corner, and it’s then that I realise that The Bunker Trilogy is being presented by the same crew that brought us Belt Up Theatre’s excellent pieces two years ago: The Boy James and Outland.

And suddenly, far from treating this as an exploratory mission to determine the potential quality of the Trilogy, I’ve mentally committed to seeing the set; Belt Up’s curious take on theatre in-the-round had me hooked.

So it was no real surprise to be led into The Bunker’s performance space to discover that it also provided seating on all four walls, with the focus being the centre of the room; more surprising was the fact that a realistic World War I bunker had been created within, rough wood and hessian walls smeared with gritty charcoal, and soft soil providing a thick carpet, an earthy smell dominating the ambience.

With lights held low (and occasionally flickering with the sound of shelling rumbling in the background), three young soldiers inhabit the space; friends since childhood, they are the last three survivors of the thirteen that originally modelled themselves after the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And, as Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain verbally jostle each other (both good-naturedly and with snark), the impact of the war around them becomes evident.

Gawain – the most naïve and innocent of the three men – is convinced that he repeatedly sees a girl walking in no-man’s-land, the territory separating them from their enemies. The mythology of the titular Morgana is introduced, with the three men interacting with (and being distracted by) a girl from the local town, Gwen, and the Mystery Girl… but it’s never really made clear who is real, and who is limited to the imagination.

And that, for me, is just bloody brilliant. Morgana is a play that takes Arthurian legend and blends it seamlessly with the war-like setting, pitching man against man (the fight scene is really impressive, especially given its setting in the round), and giving ample reward to those prepared to have a think about their theatre. There’s little to fault in this production, save the dirt to be found on some of the seats, and you can be sure that – even without my little OCD ticks – the other performances in the Bunker Trilogy are on my list.

[2014010] Ro Campbell: You take the High Ro, I’ll take the Low Ro.

[2014010] Ro Campbell: You take the High Ro, I’ll take the Low Ro.

Ro Campbell @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

11:15pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

The Red Room is stinking hot… really, awfully, oppressively hot. Windows are open to promote a bit of air circulation, but they also let the noise of the opening night Rundle Street rabble in. Of course, some of the rabble is in the room, too – most notably a drunken Kiwi lass who engages with Campbell almost as soon as he starts his set.

And the start is a bit rough; in addition to the bleed from outside, the sound inside the Red Room is awful – boomy and muffled, I was thankful to be sitting close enough to be able to hear Campbell’s un-amplified voice. And, after a few teething jokes, he asks the audience who’d already seen some Fringe shows (someone proudly claimed it was their third show already!), and then checked if anyone in the crowd had seen him perform before… his eyes lit up when he saw my raised hand: “Hey, it’s the Festival Freak!”

It’s obvious that Campbell has a wealth of material to draw on, tailoring his performance to the mood of the show; for this performance, he mainly drew his travels around the world, and his many stories of shows in weird locations – prisons, mining camps – draw the biggest laughs. His priceless description of Aberdeen (where pole dancers go to die work for another sixty years) was an incidental quip surrounding the running joke that, after ten years living in the UK, he misses the cold (which included a biographical odyssey through the Shetland Islands).

The show climaxed as he talked about tracing his family history as part of a BBC documentary, to discover that his great-great-great-grandmother was sent as a convict from Scotland to Australia. Digging back, he discovers that she had been incarcerated in a prison in Perth, so he organises a comedy show there… hilarity (dangerous hilarity) ensues.

What I love most about Campbell is his ability to generate an incredibly filthy story from seemingly nowhere; a story that ascends to thrilling personal danger may suddenly devolve into a drag-crazed rimming orgy, and it all seems to make sense. Sure, his crowd work could have kept the annoying Kiwi in the front row a little quieter, and the sound could have been a little lot clearer, and the Red Room could have been a little more comfortable, but it was still a great show that makes me utterly chuffed that Ro Campbell’s filthy mouth is back in Adelaide.

[2014009] 36 Hours

[2014009] 36 Hours

Aidan “Taco” Jones @ Astor Hotel – Roof Top

8:30pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

The Astor Roof Top is an interesting little venue – there’s synthetic grass underfoot, creating an odd base for a room that holds maybe forty or fifty people. On the plus side, there’s a convenient little bar on the Roof Top; on the minus side, the back to the area is open, allowing sound bleed from the teeming throng downstairs to buffet the stage.

As soon as Taco walks onstage, he announces that his show was supposed to be about the events leading up to a 36 hour hallucinogenic trip and the resulting decision to volunteer in Bolivia, as described in his précis; however, he goes on to say that he tried the show out a couple of times, and it didn’t really work. So, whilst he would be presenting some of that material, that was not what this show was about.

And that made me a little bit sad, because I was really looking forward to the material as described in the Guide; there was something bittersweet in the précis that made me think that it could provide a framework for comedy gold. Plus, it suggested the faint possibility of Ted Danson.

But Taco’s material was good nonetheless. He still uses the hallucinogenic trip as the spine of his show, but there’s little discussion about his Bolivian experience (or Ted Danson); instead, there’s a lot of side stories involving drugs, the torching of a car, being a poor artist, and callbacks about the lies he tells his mother (she still thinks he’s a doctor).

Taco really looks like he enjoys himself onstage; he’s got a bubbly confidence that doesn’t become too overbearing, and he’s constantly bouncing from one side of the stage to the other. Every joke and pun (and, for better or worse, he loves a pun) is delivered with a genuine grin on his face… except when some of the audience (of around 15) start quietly talking amongst themselves or duck out to grab another drink. Then a flicker of doubt crosses his face, and a touch of fear creeps into his eyes… but they’re only momentary lapses.

Despite 36 Hours not being what was advertised, I had a bit of fun laughing at Taco’s exploits. He’s a decent storyteller – engaging, and with an openness that gets the audience immediately onside. It was hardly a blockbuster show, but for a measly eight bucks it’s pretty hard to argue.

[2014008] We’re Kind Of A Big Deal

[2014008] We’re Kind Of A Big Deal [FringeTIX]

Nick O’Connell & Joe Sampson @ Horner and Pratt

6:45pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

It’s the first time I’ve been in Horner and Pratt as a venue, and it’s immediately reminiscent of a lot of my experiences in my first Big Fringe: the performance space is little more than a small room with makeshift bench seating on the first floor of the building. I take a seat at the back of the room – a nearby fan counteracts the humidity, and the wall provides back support. There’s a couple of Nick O’Connell’s friends (or family) in, and one wary looking couple; a clutch of young women turn up about five minutes into O’Connell’s set.

And, as the lead act in this show-of-two-halves, O’Connell doesn’t really have the big opening required to get the audience cackling early… to be fair, though, the Wary Couple (or the male half thereof) seemed to be physically unable to crack a smile. Opening with material that’d be immediately familiar to local comedy-goers, Nick engages in a bit of self-deprecation (comparing himself to Bieber, and showing off his impressive “guns”), and leverages his prime story thread: his habit of ruining his Mum’s birthday. There’s some good laughs to be found, but it feels like he doesn’t let the material breath… and his callbacks, despite seeming quite clever, somehow don’t seem to work (though the use of his strip-club material to tie it all together is pretty good).

There’s an immediate change in tone as Joe Sampson immediately gets the (growing) crowd onside – he possesses the laconic drawl of rural upbringing in his voice and material. He talks about the family inheritance – limited in his case to some kitchen utensils – before tackling (almost literally) Big Issue salespeople, and random stories about walking the Mall with his grandmother. There’s also some odd sideways references to his nature – he works at Roxby, and gives to charity.

Overall, Sampson acquitted himself as a comfortable performer on stage who lacks a little material; O’Connell felt like the opposite, nervously delivering the material he had. But whilst neither could consider themselves a Big Deal yet, it’s not hard to imagine that (with a bit more experience) they could both grow into solid comedians.

[2014007] Rhys Nicholson – ‘Eurgh’

[2014007] Rhys Nicholson – ‘Eurgh’ [FringeTIX]

Rhys Nicholson @ Rhino Room – Beer Garden

10:15pm, Thu 13 Feb 2014

I first encountered Rhys Nicholson at a Friday night Rhino Room session last year: his ten- or fifteen-minutes onstage was deliriously funny, playing up his outrageously amplified camp-ness with material that would make most comedians blush. But this was the first time I’d been to see Nicholson perform a full set of material… and there’s an element of danger to that.

The first week of Fringe is always a bit of a dicey affair when it comes to comedy: whilst some comedians with a wealth of experience are confident enough to take to the stage and cherry-pick the material that seems appropriate for the performance, younger comics tend to want to leave the writing of their shows to the last minute. And that’s fair enough – I sure as hell defer all my work to the last minute, too. But, as a result, the first week of Fringe is a potential minefield of jokes that haven’t really been tested in the wild, along with “I don’t care what you think, that’s my favourite joke and I’m leaving it in” quips.

And that’s pretty much where Rhys was this evening… but he has an incredibly compelling saving grace.

Because Rhys Nicholson’s stage presence is absolutely amazing.

From the moment he walks onstage and spunks glittery confetti all over the crowd, he utterly dominates the stage with a thick layer of campy makeup. You never get the feeling that this is a stage personae; Rhys owns that presentation, and when he trots out gay-laced material, it’s delivered in an almost matter-of-fact manner: it’s like he’s saying “hey, if it’s shocking, that’s your problem.”

There is a central thread to the show – the idea that people can be classified as “sheep” or “guard llamas” – that somewhat justifies the constant presence of an inflatable llama onstage; but the use of that thread as a constant story beat is tenuous at best, though the visual juxtaposition of an outrageously camp looking man next to an inflatable llama is delicious. And, as mentioned, the material in Eurgh is clearly still being fleshed out, and Nicholson seemed to have a habit of rolling straight on without pausing after a previous joke dies; whilst this keeps the audience bubbling along, it also leads to a few disconcerting moments where topics wildly shift.

But, in the absence of an end-to-end set of solid material, there’s still Nicholson’s stage presence to admire: and he is a magnificent specimen. For a loose five or ten, he is absolutely solid gold, dark and twisted and acerbic; when he builds up his material to provide a full set, he’ll be unmissable. This evening, though, he was easy to like and laugh with (and at), but I came away wanting a little more.

[2014006] Musical Skeletons in my Closet

[2014006] Musical Skeletons in my Closet [FringeTIX]

Alison Kimber & Emma Knights @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Thu 13 Feb 2014

Alison Kimber reckons there are some songs out there that we secretly love, but are ashamed to admit; the songs that have a cheesy sentimentality to them, or that we just love to dance to. And, as she takes to the stage to belt out a rendition of The Sound of Music, she introduces us to the song that inspired her interest in singing.

Accompanied by Emma Knights on piano, and with cheerful interstitial explanations between songs, Kimber then trotted out a series of her “embarrassing” favourites: from I Still Call Australia Home (inspired by an Australia Day spent in New York) through a collection of booming ballads and thence to two instances of Abba’s Dancing Queen (one in the encore), she justifies the significance of these songs to her.

Kimber’s voice remains strong and clean throughout, but perhaps a little lacking in emotion; luckily, the packed audience was more-than-willing to come along for the ride, enthusiastically singing along when asked. Knights (also musical director for the show) provided solid accompaniment, and there was even a smattering of roses from someone in the audience during the encore.

But here’s the thing: I love K-pop. Unreservedly, unabashedly, un-ironically. When Kimber was singing Duffy’s Mercy, a little voice inside my head was singing Girls’ Generation’s Dancing Queen – in Korean. And I realise that, as a bloke in his mid-forties, that is something that would normally be kept in the closet. So, whilst Kimber trotted out some nice songs, I wasn’t really impressed by her admissions: there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about here. These songs were populist crowd-pleasers in their day, and they’re populist crowd-pleasers now.

But that takes nothing away from the performance here: Kimber and Knights delivered an enjoyable set of songs that had the audience smiling – if not cackling – in glee.

[2014005] New Cabal

[2014005] New Cabal [FringeTIX]

The New Cabal @ La Bohème

10:00pm, Wed 12 Feb 2014

Once again, I found myself in the position of being able to sneak in a Wednesday night jazz session at La Bohème before the hurly-burly of the Fringe proper; once again, a glass of their pinot noir and a booth at the back of the room (where, thankfully, the acoustics seem to have improved markedly) supplemented The New Cabal’s original jazz stylings.

It’s the same lineup as last year – Lyndon Gray (appears to lead) on double bass, Chris Martin on keys, Kevin van der Zwaag on drums, and Chris Soole on smoky sax. Opening with a broody number in Aung San Suu Kyi, they smoothly cruised through their opening set (including a piece by double-bassist Marc Johnson), paring back for solos to show the talents of the group.

The second set kicked off with Martin’s One For The Road: it’s a magnificent track, dark and stormy and vivid, and it petered out with a glorious extended bass solo by Gray. The rest of the set was more smooth jazz goodness – it’s obvious that these guys have a great rapport, and the understated slickness of their performance is impressive.

As with last year’s show, The New Cabal (or is it just “New Cabal”?) was the perfect tonic for me; on this occasion, a super-shitty week at work (and all the stress associated with wrapping things up prior to Festival Holidays) needed a performance that I could just let wash over me… and, whilst the show wasn’t punctuated with any oddball audience hijinks like last year, this was still a wonderfully laid-back experience.

[2014004] Rachel Collis – Naked Dream

[2014004] Rachel Collis – Naked Dream [FringeTIX]

Rachel Collis @ La Bohème

8:00pm, Wed 12 Feb 2014

My endearing memory of Rachel Collis is that she was a quality cabaret performer somewhat restricted by her lyrical content; her show last year left me somewhat conflicted. So the opportunity to see her again – to confirm or dismiss my personal concerns & reactions – was locked in nice and early.

In front of a quiet audience of ten (of which two were reviewers), Collis sang and played piano (and, occasionally, ukelele) without accompaniment. Dressed in an inverse of last year’s ensemble – red hair and black dress, versus 2013’s black hair and red dress – Collis hunched over the keys and thoughtfully concocted her opening piece If I Could… it’s a beautiful piece, with contemplative and heartfelt lyrics that meld with the tone of the song.

And, unfortunately, it’s the highlight of the show.

Whilst Winter in Munich resurrects that kind of vibe later in the performance, much of the content feels like an attempt to create quirky numbers with comedy content. Many of her songs tend to have curious rhymes that capture the imagination (“heaven” with “devon”, “pina colada” with “cicada”) which delight the first time, but grate after the fourth or fifth repetition… because they’re the lead lines in the chorus.

And… there’s little passion in the lyrics. There’s songs about the Lebanese restaurant in her neighbourhood that exploded, there’s songs about her cats, and they’re delivered in the same style and tone. The closest she gets to passion (after the sterling opener) is singing about her husband… but, even then, only the words are there: singing a little softer, and bobbing your head a little lower to the keys, doesn’t completely sell it to me. And the encore, a tweaked version of her old favourite If the Germans Won the War, was disappointing: the change of federal government has stretched her capacity for political commentary to near breaking-point.

And that’s a massive shame, because I actually enjoy her performance. I love Collis’ voice – she manages buttery smooth transitions from low to high… though her highs can get a little shrill in extended stretches. And her playing is lovely – her left hand can really hammer those low notes out. And whilst the construction of most of her songs has an enjoyable appreciation of space, the lyrics… I just can’t get past the lyrics.

[2014003] Bitch Boxer

[2014003] Bitch Boxer [FringeTIX]

Snuff Box Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Tue 11 Feb 2014

With the London 2012 Olympics on the horizon, the IOC declared that Women’s Boxing will be an Olympic sport for the first time. Chloe, from suburban Leytonstone in East London, is determined to represent the UK in the ring – after all, the bouts are to be held in Stafford, just down the road… it’s fate, isn’t it?

But after her coach – and father – dies (hmmm… should you warn about spoilers if the event occurs in the first five minutes of the show? … not that anyone reads this!), the emotional turmoil – or lack thereof, as she bottles up her feelings – creates a sense of tension in her character. There’s focus, and lack-of-focus; doe-eyed schoolgirl crushes, and steely-eyed don’t-fuck-with-me determination.

There’s two sides to Chloe, played here by Holly Augustine: there’s the tough-as-nails athlete, a hero-in-waiting, who we’re introduced to in the opening moments of the play as she locks herself out of home and athletically engineers her way back in; but there’s also the cutesy, smitten version of herself, revelling in the adoration provided by her boyfriend. Augustine flits between the two personae with ease, and the transitions seem to be written so as to maximise their contrast; and it’s when the attributes of the two sides of herself get mixed up that the real tension occurs.

Despite the frugal staging – there’s little more to the set than a chair and a boxing ring sketched out in talcum powder – the direction is quite lovely; lighting is tight, and the manner in which the powder gets scuffed around the floor over the course of the hour seems to mirror the frantic nature of the play. The final scenes are a bit of a blur, as Augustine convincingly brawls with an invisible other in the ring; the physicality of her performance is impressive. And the Eminem break in the middle of the show? It’s near-on perfect.

The lovely Martha Lott has brought some cracking bits of theatre from the Edinburgh Fringe to Adelaide in the past; Bitch Boxer was the winner of the 2013 Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Award, and thoroughly deserves a decent audience. It’s a cracking story that, whilst maybe a little thin in exposition, allows for a wonderful performance by Augustine; she should certainly be featuring in any Fringe awards.

[2014002] Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking

[2014002] Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking [FringeTIX]

Tangram Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Tue 11 Feb 2014

After the fun and intelligent take on Charles Darwin that Tangram Theatre brought to Adelaide in 2012, the mention of the same creative team taking on the life & work of Albert Einstein instantly caused a tick to appear in the “Must See” column of the Scheduling Spreadsheet; the fact that Holden Street allowed very early preview performances meant that this show was locked in.

But, initially, I was fearful: John Hinton’s appearance onstage as (a convincing) Einstein was accompanied by a pre-recorded introduction to the “lecture” he would be presenting… and it felt very – well, cheap. Forced, even. And when the first musical number came along (yes, there was exposition through song), Hinton’s clever lyrics were overwhelmed by the keyboards played by Einstein’s second wife (Jo Eagle, who remained mute throughout as she took on the occasional roles of Albert’s mother & both his wives).

And so, only ten minutes in, I was teetering on the edge of abject disappointment.

But then, to support the “lecture” that Einstein was delivering, Hinton embarks on his first physics lesson with the support of the audience: he arranges a love affair with an older woman and my old friend Dmitry to teach us about the inertial frame of reference, and uses another audience pairing (including a terrified young woman, a vacuum cleaner, and a light sabre) to add the constant nature of the speed of light to present the Theory of Special Relativity. There’s more songs explaining theorems and concepts, and it’s all pretty cleverly written – even if the musical descriptions of physical concepts weren’t always bang-on.

The highlight of Hinton’s script (and musical embellishment) is undoubtedly the appearance of rapper MC Squared: it’s a brilliantly pun-laden rap with a confusingly fun gesture-along exercise for the audience. And, rather than asking for audience volunteers (as per other interactions), I was plucked straight out of the thirty-odd crowd to play the role of Sir Arthur Eddington in conversation with Einstein… I’d like to think that I carried off the toffy English accent, gammy leg, and chicken clucking required of the character pretty well ;)

But when we start talking about the Manhattan Project – and the realisation that Einstein’s work (like Nobel’s) had been used to kill hundreds of thousands of people, there’s a definite poignancy in the script; introduced by a relatively stark piece of exposition through newspaper headlines, a slow and almost mournful song laments the outcome of his work. The denouement is a tricky thing, trying to clamber back some laughs and not completely succeeding… but there’s so much fun to be had in the middle that it’s easy to forgive the closing minutes.

Whilst nowhere near as polished as his previous show, Relativitively Speaking is still an entertaining – and educational – performance. Hinton’s performance is grinningly good (despite some dialogue being obscured by the over-hot music), and Eagle’s sparse character accompaniment was fantastic – the snarl from Einstein’s first wife was superb. The embedded physics lessons are pretty good – certainly more fun than the lectures I sat through at uni! – with the historical content being used for both comedy and emotional weight. And with a bunch of lovely subtle touches (like the application of T=Al^C to facilitate ageing), this became a show that satisfied on many levels.