[2013015] Kim Churchill

[2013015] Kim Churchill

Kim Churchill @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Paradiso

7:00pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

One of the most mind-blowing musical experiences I’ve had in recent years was discovering The Tim McMillan Band; listening to (and watching) McMillan’s insanely fast hands dance around his guitar, picking and strumming and tapping and thumping the instrument to produce an incredibly exciting and cohesive song structure, is one of those experiences I’ll never forget. It completely redefined what is possible from one man and a guitar.

So when I saw Kim Churchill’s style described as explosive, with intricate fingerpicking, percussive beats on the body of the guitar, tapping intertwined with stomp box, powerful harmonica melodies and soulful voice, I figured he’d be following in McMillan’s footsteps – as a result, he was one of my earliest ticket purchases.

And whilst he opened up with a nice tune that allowed him to roam the fretboard and show off his white-soul vocals, there was no evidence of guitar-based percussion; instead, Churchill produced his beats using a single small kick-drum. Additional instrumentation came from his (treated) harmonica, which allowed him to venture into the one-man-band stereotype, and two accompanists who provided trumpet and (superb!) electric violin.

Churchill’s songs were really quite nice: peaceful tunes that just sorta existed and pleased my ears, without necessarily tricking my brain into emoting. His stage manner was also quite pleasant, and he’s comfortable with his blonde-haired surfie good looks – humble words and flashing smiles and gleaming eyes. Churchill provided, on most fronts, a professional presentation…

…except for one thing – which, for me, was a pretty major thing. In using his kick-drum, Churchill’s ability to keep time… well, wavered. I reckoned he’d stray around five BPM from his nominal target – not much, to be sure, but enough for me to actively notice it… and once my brain picks up on something like that, it refuses to let me ignore it. The fact that these timing variations didn’t throw his accompanists is of credit to them… but they shouldn’t really have had to deal with it.

So, despite some polished presentation and pleasant tunes, I left this performance disappointed. Disappointed that I didn’t see any McMillan-ish brilliance, and snobby-disappointed that the rest of the crowd hooted and cheered for someone who – my brain kept reminding me – couldn’t keep the beat.

[2013014] Memoirs of a Pageant Princess

[2013014] Memoirs of a Pageant Princess

Emma Khourey @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:30pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

It’s late in the day – like, just before I entered The Bally – that I learned that performer Emma Kourey was pregnant… really pregnant. And as soon as she appears onstage in her Miss Wollongong persona, I started wondering whether she’s actually last the entire performance; despite the best efforts of the Bally staff and their multitude of electric and handheld fans, it was still bloody hot in that tent… and Khourey looked ready to burst.

To call Miss Wollongong dim would be an insult to five-watt lightbulbs. Whilst she attempts to mimic the traits of the beauty queens that have preceded her, she has trouble even dealing with scissors – her ribbon-cutting ceremony was almost like watching a dizzy kid attempt to pin the tail on the donkey. Opening with a photo display of her head photoshopped onto various less-than-flattering shots of Wollongong, this self-appointed Princess of Steel proceeded to demonstrate her “talents” to the small audience, before being distracted by her favourite things – sparkly butterflies, and “sparkly things in general”.

Her speech at an opening (that accompanied the ribbon-cutting) was a ditzy laugh, with her cue-cards being a poorly organised mess; and (of course) I was plucked from the crowd to act as a judge in a talent competition. After almost trashing the stage and then completely mis-reading the first cue-card (I read “My name is Steve, for example” and substituted my own name, which resulted in a puzzled frown from Miss Wollongong until I corrected my “mistake”), I got to quiz the Princess of Steel on her hopes and dreams… before feeding her spoons that she attempted to flip into a bowl on her head.

We went through a lot of spoons, but I got a commemorative Miss Wollongong teaspoon as a token of appreciation.

There’s a moment of sadness – leading to bleak laughs – as she reads out a letter from the officiating body of Pageant Princesses decrying her self-appointed status… but then there’s more sparkly things, and a happy – if ditzy – ending.

Look – it feels really awful to say anything negative about this performance; after all, it was a stinker of a day, and Khourey was heavily pregnant. But there’s no denying that transitions between scenes were slow and clunky, leading to a stop-start feeling in the show; I also got the feeling (and the press release suggested) that the show was supposed to be far more physical in nature, with some of those elements removed due to the impending birth. And whilst I’m happy to give anyone on a stage as much positivity as I can muster, by the end of the show I was almost worn out; Miss Wollongong would be a fun support character, but fifty minutes with her was almost too much.

[2013013] Ponydance

[2013013] Ponydance [FringeTIX]

Ponydance @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Romantiek

4:00pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

It has, apparently, only gotten hotter as the day has gone on; the Garden is deserted, with the few punters that have ventured into the heat avoiding the wide open spaces in favour of huddling under trees and umbrellas. But when the door call for Ponydance goes out, a surprising number of people – including a fair number of families, leading to a quarter of the audience being children – manage to fill the Romantiek to maybe two-thirds capacity.

Deidre comes out to introduce Ponydance’s new show, Anybody Waitin’?, and instantly there’s an issue – her wireless microphone isn’t working, leading to her straining her voice attempting to get the people down the back to hear. But she describes how the (joyously buxom) Paula is on the hunt for a man and, utilising their two male friends (Bryan? Duane? Lorcan? It’s bloody difficult to track down the names of the Ponydancers), they do their damnedest to hook her up. Of course, there’s manufactured angst between members of the troupe, the boys are painted in a vivid shade of gay (leading to the performance’s highlight, a Total Eclipse of the Heart denouement), and plenty of Adidas tracksuitery – which, it must be said, is a brilliant bit of costuming, with the three white stripes flashing with their dance moves.

An impromptu change-room pops up onstage, providing a few laughs; more come when two male audience members are dragged in there with the other boys and they all reappear wearing gaudy lion(?) leotards. But the moments of audience interaction most definitely feel like padding – it’s almost like the show was being padded with embryonic material out to fill an entire hour block.

And whilst Anybody Waitin’? features some of the exuberant dance that I experienced in last year’s Ponydance show (with Deidre in particular standing out), there’s a couple of major problems with this production. The first is lack of coherence in this year’s act: it most certainly feels like a collection of (admittedly fun) dance routines interspersed with limp narrative links, and the writing is… well, pretty bloody average. After the gorgeous unified storytelling and movement last year, expectations were high in that regard – and they were simply not met.

The other problem is far less solvable – the Romantiek is an absolutely shithouse venue for a performance such as this. With the performance taking place on the flat, with the audience radiating around the performers, there’s almost no opportunity for those more than two rows back to see any of the performer’s lower bodies… and, given the nature of the dance, that’s a fair chunk of the reason you’re there. I was lucky in my second-row seat – I had no-one sitting directly in front of me – but I’ve heard tales of others who weren’t so lucky, and were unable to see pretty much any of the action.

Add onto that the mike issues on the day, and the reliance on the audience for shock-laughs, and I left this performance pretty disappointing. Sure, the way the Ponies unexpectedly explode into a synchronised flurry of limbs from a tussle is a grin-worthy delight, but unfortunately there’s not enough of that action occurring… and the bits in-between are too clunky to support an hour-long show.

[2013012] Drum Fiasco

[2013012] Drum Fiasco [FringeTIX]

Seneoz @ Gluttony – Pig Tales

2:30pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

When I planned out my first Saturday schedule, I did so under the impression that it was going to be in the low thirties during the day; not the best tent-show weather, but bearable. So when I looked at the temperature before leaving home and saw that it was thirty-seven degrees… well, I started feeling a little concerned; I’d scheduled four tent shows in a row.

Given the weather, there’s a surprisingly large turnout for this performance; but lots of families means lots of children, and I was half-terrified to discover how they’d handle the heat and humidity within the Pig Tales tent. But in the end, I needn’t have worried… because once the four Seneoz drummers (led by djembe player Karamba Cissoko) started pounding out the African rhythms, everyone seemed to forget about the oppressive conditions.

Their opener was, all things considered, a suicidally high-energy piece that just kept giving – and, after a few piercing whistles, Seneoz’s acrobat Iddi Waziri took to the stage, dancing and leaping and tumbling around, all while rallying the crowd. Far from being an afterthought or distraction, Waziri’s physical activities seem to be an integral part of the Seneoz performance, with the drummers always keeping one eye on his antics.

The second piece was a little more sedate in tempo, but Waziri kept the visual engagement going with some bottle percussion and balances. Later pieces got more lively again, and there was plenty of audience interaction, with Waziri fetching youngsters from the crowd to teach them limbo techniques or dance moves.

Despite the heat, and the necessary hydration & sweat-mopping breaks, the Seneoz troupe all appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves – indeed, the second djembe player, Jacqueline Goudkamp, never stopped smiling. And the audience – including myself – left the sticky venue buoyed by the experience; Seneoz provided a genuinely unique and exciting musical (and visual!) experience.

[2013011] Wolfwolf

[2013011] Wolfwolf

Wolfwolf @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Romantiek

11:15pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

“Born of a moog-synth and wicked vocoder, Wolfwolf has evolved from the dance heavy beats of the 1980s to bring a new flavor of funk to 2013” promises the précis, and I’m intrigued; a two-show run has me buying tickets for opening night nice’n’early. But I’m a little saddened to see a relatively frugal crowd lining up for this event – it’s (inevitably, given opening night issues) running late, but the queue barely reaches back to the path from the Romantiek.

Once the doors open, it becomes clear that this won’t be the thumping dance-fest I half-hoped it would be; everyone, myself included, clung to the nooks around the entrance to the venue, leaving the wide expanses of the dance floor depressingly empty. And when Brisbane-based Wolfwolf – the unnamed performer rendered anonymous with a wolf mask – took to the stage whilst pumping out samples of a wolf nature, there was no rush forward… more a sense of hang-back curiosity.

Wolfwolf created some great beats with distinctly eighties-ish punches, perforating them with more samples and the occasional wolf howl; he also worked some tuneful keys to create nice melodies to sit on top, and the occasional dub-ish wobble was fantastic. He was joined onstage for some live vocals by Alianah for a great track, before closing the set out with some more big retro-tinged beats.

Wolfwolf’s constructions remind me of my beloved eighties pop remixes – and that’s almost enough to get me dancing, except that (a) I’m a shithouse dancer, and it’s only the last year or so that I’d even vaguely consider getting on my feet, and (2) literally no-one else was on the dance floor to provide me with cover. Well, the (relative) youngsters who caused the table in the booth we shared to collapse (netting us free drinks) got up whilst the table was being repaired, but apart from that there was no real audience activity.

And that’s a massive shame, because I reckon Wolfwolf was pretty bloody awesome… but I’m also pretty sure I was the oldest guy in the room (except for, maybe, Wolfwolf himself, who remained hidden behind his mask). Read into that what you will.

[2013010] Frisky and Mannish – Extra Curricular Activities

[2013010] Frisky and Mannish – Extra Curricular Activities [FringeTIX]

Frisky and Mannish @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Deluxe

10:00pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

So – I’m waiting pretty near the front of the queue outside The Deluxe. Most of the people in front look older than me; most behind look younger. But they all had one thing in common: none of them knew quite why they were there.

Maybe, like me, they’d caught wind of the cult of personality that seems to surround Frisky and Mannish; I’d certainly first heard of them when they were talked up as part of a Cabaret Festival many years ago. But I had no real idea what they were actually going to be like; and whilst that’s pretty lazy these days (what with YouTube et al), sometimes it’s good to go into things fresh.

But first, the queue: I notice a woman strolling the length of the line with a handful of F&M flyers; I acquired one from her, and as she handed it over she looked at me carefully: “I remember you from last year,” she said.

“Probably,” I responded, “I’m around a lot.”

“That’s right… aren’t you media?” It felt like more of a prod than a question.

“Well… I blog,” I offered.

“Oh, okay,” she said. “Enjoy the show.”

Something about that little exchange gnawed at me; when she walked by again, I asked for a little chat.

“So – you’re producing this show?” I guessed correctly. “Why would being media make a difference?”

“It’s a preview night,” she replied, “We don’t want reviewers in on previews. They’ve just come in from Perth, and they’re just getting used to the stage, so they’ll be a bit rusty. Don’t want reviewers seeing that. Enjoy the show.”

As she walked away again, I felt almost marginalised – I know what the numbers on this blog are, and I know that nearly all the people who read these memories are artists vanity-Googling themselves, but to be so summarily dismissed as “irrelevant media” by a show’s producer still stung a little. And that’s what was going through my mind as I entered The Deluxe and took a “safe” seat in a booth.

Frisky and Mannish rush the stage in a flurry of colour and exaggerated movements; their appearance and mannerisms are as cartoonish as you may expect from their gaudy flyers. The show is a mish-mash of pop-music references, referencing everyone from Kate Bush through the Bee Gees and up to Gotye. It’s all quite cleverly written – funny and pointed, whilst still providing a measure of respect to the topic.

But you can only realise just how cleverly it is written if you recognise the source material – and, for someone (like me) who is only really well grounded in pop of the 80s, J-, and K- varieties, I could only pick up maybe half the references. But whilst I wouldn’t be able to pick out a Rihanna song, I appreciated the Bee Gees demo version; I have no idea who Lana Del Rey is, but F&M’s rapid-fire discussion about how she met her mentor is still a chortle-worthy affair.

There were some odd non sequiturs thrown into the mix – a piercing alarm going off resulting in moments of comical panic, and a curious audience interaction segment to close the show with a conga line. And let it never be said that Frisky and Mannish don’t deliver onstage – Frisky’s voice is fantastic and covers a massive range, with her exuberant physical flourishes maintaining a manic sense of activity, and Mannish provides a perfect comic foil from behind the keyboards. But, unfortunately, this evening they were providing a pop masterclass to an audience that didn’t really know a whole lot about the expanse of pop music… and that resulted in a rather flat, though politely appreciative, room.

[2013009] Tommy Bradson – Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre

[2013009] Tommy Bradson – Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre [FringeTIX]

Better Bradley Productions @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Campanile

8:45pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

The crowd is looking pretty thin – which is to say, it’s looking like just me – and through the trees I can see lightning sparking in the distance; it feels like there could be rain. The Gardeners managing the Campanile seem to be getting the short end of the opening-night organisational stick, but they manage to conjure a sense of calmness from their lack of control, as flapping tents are tied down and venues secured.

The crowd swells to a whopping seven (including the two women who engaged me in shoe discussion – an easy way to get me talking, as they discovered), and when we’re let in The Campanile we encounter a table set up for a party: there’s bowls of cheese balls and packets of chips and cups and party poppers and hats and paper plates all laid out. Behind the table, on the stage, sat the band: keys, guitar, and the cutest drummer since Caroline Corr (alright… since Scandal‘s Rina Suzuki, though that’s a more obscure reference). And then out comes Tommy Bradson, garishly performing the role of June, mother of Lula… the girl for whom we are gathered at this party.

June is loud and brash and talks at a hundred words per second; with opening night acoustics and my wonky ears, it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly what’s going on at first, and before I knew it I was sitting at one end of the table, embodying Lula’s Uncle Dick, whose wife had just left him for a man of ethnic persuasion. I’m encouraged to practise my “surprise!” for Lula’s entrance in between June’s rapid-fire exposition; she soon leaves, however, and (as Bradson dips the mike while departing to avoid feedback) she is replaced by her (second? third?) husband, Gary: Lula’s step-father, emasculated but proud of his pork.

Gary is replaced by Lula’s boyfriend, who serenades one of the party-goers; there’s six seats at the party table, and one by one Bradson fills the places with other members of the audience, giving them roles in the family – the (uncharitably assigned) grandmother, Lula’s best friend, and a cousin and her new boyfriend. Bradson had written parts for six guests, but with seven in the audience he provided an extra seat and ad libbed some extra material. Lula herself finally appears (after another of Bradson’s costume changes), and we all yell “surprise!” and play the part; it’s a lot of fun, but Lula herself feels to be the weakest of the characters.

This performance of The Birthday Party Massacre really suffered from opening-night rust – the tech constantly needed prompting for audio insertions, and there were frequent dead bits when Bradson was off-stage and the band had finished playing their tune. But, with the entire audience sitting around the same table (sharing cheap wine and ultra-light beers from the inflatable tropical-island esky), we had tons of fun amongst ourselves – whether it was daring each other to eat the cheese bits, putting a party hat on the baby, or seeing how many party poppers we could arm ourselves with. And, to be honest, for the first twenty minutes I was convinced that this show was the product of a singular vision that I could not comprehend… but, by the end of the performance, I’d been won over.

Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre is a really fun piece of rock cabaret, performed by a flamboyant singer and a great band – but I say that having seen most of it from (essentially) the stage; I’ve no idea how entertaining it would have been for the majority in a full house. But it’s pretty hard to think negative thoughts about a show that had seven strangers unabashedly murdering a rendition of You Can’t Always Get What You Want to close out the show; suffice to say I had a blast.

[2013008] Leo

[2013008] Leo [FringeTIX]

Circle of Eleven @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Vagabond

7:00pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

Despite the huge effort being put into cooling the Vagabond, it was still stifling from the heat of the day; as the decent-sized crowd slowly filed in, there was much fanning by people already seated; from my position in the front row, I heard many laments from behind me about the decision to bring red wine instead of water into the venue.

In front of me, on the right-hand side of the stage, were two walls of a room assembled around a distinct patch of floor: three clearly-defined dimensions. A lightbulb sat at the end of a rod that extended into the “room” from the left; stage left was dominated by a large screen.

Toby Wegner purposefully strode into the room and lay on his side on the floor. The screen flickered to life; it showed the same scene of the room we were looking at, but from a different perspective; the camera has been rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise, so Wegner’s body appeared to be standing. By supporting his body weight on one arm and “walking” up the wall, the screen shows him to be pacing up and down; it’s a disconcerting – and incredibly effective – visual trick, and as a result I’m constantly turning my head left and right to see the correlation between his actions and the result. There was a slight lag on the camera – it wasn’t significant, but just enough so that by the time you’d registered something on the screen that you wanted to see on the “stage”, the moment had already passed.

But the first thirty minutes of Leo were fantastic, with Wegner’s strength, physical control, and imagination creating a series of clever (and funny) sequences; the hip-hop piece, and the vaulting over his persistent suitcase, were standouts. But then he started sketching the interior of a house on the back wall – and, by all means, his drawing is wonderful – and when the screen started overlaying animations of the cat and bird and goldfish that he’d drawn, I started to feel a little distanced from the performance.

And as the screen became an undersea scene, with Wegner swimming through it, I became completely divorced. Where I had previously been keen to see what was next in store, I was now counting the seconds… I was clock-watching, waiting for this performance to be over. Even the big, bold, ominous, semi-industrial notes in the soundtrack during the final scenes failed to recapture my interest; my arse is numb from the uncomfortable front-row seat, and my neck is sore from looking back and forth.

For me, Leo is the poster-child argument for less-is-more; if the performance had ended at the thirty-minute mark, I’d have been singing its praises. After a long hour, however, all I feel like expressing is a lacklustre “meh”.

[2013007] On The Shoulders Of Giants

[2013007] On The Shoulders Of Giants

Disco Danger Productions @ Gluttony – Pig Tales

5:40pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

It’s the opening night of the Fringe and, whilst in previous years I would’ve avoided the Garden end of town on this evening, I couldn’t structure a satisfying collection of shows that lay west of King William Street; as a result, I bit the bullet and plotted an all-Garden, all-Gluttony assault. And, with a short run offering limited opportunities, On The Shoulders Of Giants got to be the first cab off the rank.

Unfortunately, the heat (and pending parade) had thinned out the Gluttony lingerers somewhat, and the handful that were around seemed to be all attending another show. So when it came time to crowd into the (seemingly) largest venue at Gluttony, it was disappointing to discover that there were two of us waiting for entry. And the other person elected to sit in the the sixth row; I gestured her forward to the front, promising that neither I – nor the performers, who were already onstage holding static poses – would bite. (A third person arrived slightly late, but only committed to the second row.)

It was bloody hot inside the Pig Tales tent, and I was thankful for the water I’d carried with me; the fans that were trying to move air around the venue did little more than make noise, and I was concerned with how the dancers were going to survive the performance. The four dancers – three women, one man – were accompanied onstage by singer/guitarist Gareth Jay, who used a sampler to create complex multilayer guitar textures for the dancers to perform on.

Once Jay creates a groove, the dancers move into action: and theirs was a dance of reaches and poses, of maintaining the form. The dancers often paired up in mirrored movements across the stage, and an element of acrobatics seeped in – Ben Cole and Sarah Ryan were the obvious strong bodies, with lifts and balances adding a sense of spectacle to proceedings.

Then Jay created a quieter, gentler backdrop, and the dancers started injecting short monologues whilst the others engaged with each other, drew cute sketches on blackboards, or just took a break from the heat; the stories told revolve around family, and it’s all very sweet, very heartfelt. Whether they’re tales of grumpy grandpas, or of a woman watching her mother and daughter feed each other blueberries over Skype, they’re all stories that were sourced from people in Bathurst – the result being a sentimental melding of movement, word, and music.

Sure, some of the acrobatic lifts went awry, but the lighter performers (Lauren Gemmell and Lamai Thompson-Long) handled the mistakes with grace; it’s only the break in synchrony that gives them away. And sure, some of the monologues were all but drowned out by the fans vainly trying to keep things cool. But it was stiflingly hot, and as the performance ended, our applause only broke in order to instruct the dancers to get offstage and have a drink.

I talked to Jay after the performance, and he told me he used up to thirteen tracks in his musical loops, layering guitar and vocal lines and singing over the top to create a rich score… and Gemmell was an absolute delight to chat with the next day (as I spotted her lugging Jay’s guitars!). And I assured her that I very much enjoyed On The Shoulders Of Giants; despite bordering on twee, the overall mood of the performance was wonderfully honest and heartfelt.

[2013006] The Blue Room

[2013006] The Blue Room [FringeTIX]

5pound Theatre @ Urban Spaceman Vintage

9:00pm, Thu 14 Feb 2013

I’m early, and the chap manning the door informs me – and the gathering throng of people (including a healthy brace of Media badges) – that the cast are still setting up within Urban Spaceman. I’m the only person who hasn’t already bought a ticket, and as names are gathered for ticket verification I sense a vague feeling of concern; I ask how big the performance space is, and my question is returned with a smile: “We’ll find out.”

As we mill about outside, I spot Her appearance in the front window of the shop, and wonder why everyone else is ignoring Her; She sat on the windowsill of the store, luscious and lascivious underneath a bright-blue wig. She sees me looking at her, and furtively looks away; I smile. She looks back, points at me, then gestures to the empty space next to Her – on the windowsill, inside the shop. I widen my smile; she breathes on the window and draws a little love-heart.

It is, after all, Valentine’s Day.

I laugh; She points at the empty space again and slowly curls her finger, beckoning me closer. She flashes all ten of her fingers once, twice, five times, and nods to the space again. I turn away momentarily in consideration, then return to Her gaze… I flash my ten fingers four times. She shakes her head, feigns insult, and starts trying to catch the gaze of someone else; when our eyes meet again, I raise the offer to forty-five. I am still snubbed.

I’ve always been shit at bartering.

We’re eventually allowed entry into Urban Spaceman and take our seats; there’s only one or two spaces left unoccupied. I opt for a front row seat at the far right, directly in front of the male performer leaning against a column and smoking nervously; the girl in the blue wig continues prowling in the window sill. Eventually She slinks into the space in front of us, which is dominated by a bed; hiding behind another pillar, she waits for Him to walk past, and lures Him to Her. Their flirting is tense, and feels constrained; the resulting copulation is rushed.

We’re then instructed to leave our seats and are cajoled into surrounding a doorway at the back of the store, where the next scene plays out: He is the same character, but She – after a quick costume change – is now a coy au pair, and the courtship this time is far more playful, but unfortunately the background music occasionally drowned out the softer dialogue. The next scene keeps the au pair, but He is now a privileged student from a wealthy household; His attempts to woo Her are clumsy, and Her eyes glisten with thoughts of another.

The Blue Room continues in this vein for a total of ten scenes, featuring five male and five female characters; each character features in two consecutive scenes, with the blue-haired Irene bookending the play. Each scene is a different tone, a different interaction… a different way of looking at courtship, at sex. And make no mistake, The Blue Room is very much about sex – characters are always hopping in and out of bed, and at times the nudity is so frequent that you wonder whether the previous costume change was justified.

He (Zak Zavod) was thoroughly engaging, from his pensive Cab Driver to the clumsy Student to the incredulous playwright, and it’s only his role as the Aristocrat Malcolm that has any real flaw, as his accent felt a little ropey at times. And whilst I admit that I may have been swayed by our pre-show dalliance through the window, She (Kaitlyn Clare) was nothing less than phenomenal in her roles: the gorgeous accents of the au pair and the Model, the fractured desires of the Married Woman, the sheer power of the Actress, and the slightest hint of desperate need behind the blue-haired Girl… it really was an incredible series of performances.

Direction, too, was near faultless – save the aforementioned issue with sound drowning out text in the second scene. The various scenes away from our seats were really well done; peeking through the curtain to the Actress’ dressing room was a voyeuristic delight, and the management of the final scene guarantees a standing ovation for the cast.

It’s only after the performance that I do some digging into The Blue Room and discover its origins and legacy, from snide treatise of Austrian decadence through to Nicole Kidman’s much-talked-about nude scenettes. And, as I mentioned before, there’s plenty of nudity in this production; in fact, I had the… – lucky? uncomfortable? – experience of having both actors performing full-frontal naked soliloquies directly in front of me, almost at arm’s length. But despite the quirky pre-show interaction and the delight/intimidation of my proximity to the performers, The Blue Room will stand out in my mind as being a fantastic production of a (surprisingly!) thoughtful play… and must certainly rank as one of this Fringe’s highlights.

[2013005] 3 Tales of Woe

[2013005] 3 Tales of Woe [FringeTIX]

Professor Forbes @ Ayers House Museum – Loft

8:00pm, Thu 14 Feb 2013

After fretting about with Dad in hospital – chatting with doctors and whatnot – everything was as organised as it could be; I grabbed a lift back into the city and checked the Fringe App. 3 Tales of Woe was in the right timeslot, easy to get to, and – more importantly – on The Shortlist.

Down to Ayers House I trundled, and up (for the first time) to The Loft, a tiny little room above the Museum. In one corner, a shadow box; fanning out around it were twenty seats, three-quarters of which were full – pleasing for such an early show in the Fringe! I took my seat in the second row, only to chastise myself when two of the tallest people I’ve ever seen (slight hyperbole, there) arrived just before the lights dropped and planted themselves in front of me. Annoying, but completely my fault.

3 Tales of Woe lives up to its name in presenting excerpts from The Raven, A Christmas Carol (perhaps more an indictment of capitalism than a tale of woe, but whatever), and Azathoth. Amber Forbes’ puppeteering is reasonably good, with a great deal of care being put into the little movements – the angle of the head, the actions of the hands. But the setup time for each change of scene – though necessary – feels too long, and whilst the variation throughout The Raven was welcome, the single scene of A Christmas Carol (in which Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost) is almost static, with just the jiggling of Marley’s chains to create variation. Azathoth, on the other hand, is an almost conceptual piece that seems to have a bold driving force behind it… but I imagine that idea would almost be better animated, than limited but the scope of shadow puppetry.

With one exception, most of the puppets (and their frames) are pretty coarse; and unfortunately for this production, Adelaide has been blessed in recent years to see the creations of Mr. Bunk‘s shadow puppetry… and despite their junkyard origins, Bunk manages to imbue his performances with a charm and polish that wins the audience over. 3 Tales of Woe is sadly bereft of charm – only the male puppet used to spin in a mental maelstrom has any real character – and polish is sorely lacking; the readings of the three pieces were all quite flat and inexpressive, with A Christmas Carol sounding dull almost to the point of disinterest.

And that’s perhaps the biggest problem with this production; if the narrator of the works doesn’t sound interested, why should we – as the audience – care? Perhaps the idea was to create a sense of cold distance with the readings, to drench them with a detached sense of dread; but it didn’t work for me, and instead I felt like I was being forcibly held at arm’s length… less woeful than unengaged.

[2013004] The New Cabal

[2013004] The New Cabal [FringeTIX]

The New Cabal @ La Bohème

10:30pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

After arriving home from back-to-back theatre at Holden Street, I was feeling a bit beside myself: Dad was going into surgery tomorrow, it was to be my last day at work before holidays (necessitating a panicky handover), and… well, I was just feeling awful. Nervy, jumpy, unsettled.

But I knew that The New Cabal were on at La Bohème… so I figured that some jazz and a quiet glass of wine might help me calm down a little.

Off I trotted, arriving to find La B maybe half full. I grabbed a glass of pinot noir (no Alicante behind the bar now!) and sat at the cocktail table at the back of the room, by the door. I collapsed against the wall, sipping my red; this, I thought, is just what I needed.

And when The New Cabal started up, it was pretty much exactly what I was expecting – a standard double bass / drums / sax / keys combo meandering their way through half-a-dozen wandering numbers. Saxophonist Chris Soole wrote a couple of the pieces (and also looked familiar – was he part of Butt School?), Lyndon Gray’s double bass was amazingly quick, Chris Martin’s keys fleshed things out nicely, and Kevin van der Zwaag kept things moving along smoothly on drums.

Whilst my jazz knowledge is admittedly pretty shallow, it seemed like they played a full set of originals – Soole contributing a couple of tracks, and Martin’s contribution (One for the Road?) was a smokey, broody wonder. Sure, I forgot all my previous lessons from attending shows at La Bohème – sitting right at the back of the room, the bass and drums become muddy, overwhelmed by the sharp edges of keys and sax notes. But on the occasions they allow the bass to dominate – both upright and on the keys – it sounds amazing… and the band revels in it.

So I was thankfully chilling out, enjoying some tunes, thinking that this had been a brilliant idea… but the best was yet to come.

During their final piece (a solid bluesy Soole composition), a tattered individual enters La Bohème; his shoes were in his hands, and his white bandana (wrapped around his skull) shone like a beacon. After being instructed by staff to put his shoes on, he body-popped his way into a chair (that he removed and replaced with a flourish) and applied them to his feet; he then body-popped back to a standing position and started very physically grooving, eventually grazing one of the cocktail tables. Staff came over and suggested he leave; he listened intently to their suggestions, then body-popped his way out the door, yelling out “yeah… JAZZ!” as he left the building. But the truly great thing? Every pop, every noise, every movement was perfectly in time with the tune being played.

And that… well, that could be my Favourite Moment of the Fringe. And we’ve barely even started.

[2013003] Glory Dazed

[2013003] Glory Dazed [FringeTIX]

Second Shot Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

Returning to The Studio a mere half-hour after Angry Young Man finished, it was interesting to see the change in scenery: where the previous performance had just used the empty space with no backdrops whatsoever, the Glory Dazed crew had inserted the interior of an English pub into the space. And the play starts with a jolt: the lights snap on, revealing three characters fearfully watching the door to the pub; there’s a tangible sense of terror in their eyes as they hold the pose for tense moments.

They quietly confer amongst themselves – is He gone? – but their questions are answered by a violent banging on the door. The source of their fear is Ray, a British soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; his ex-wife Carla, her current beau (and Ray’s former best friend and workmate) Simon, and young barmaid Leanne are trapped inside the pub. Ray’s trying to find Carla – he’s got something important to tell her, he says – but she is adamant she doesn’t want to see him; physical abuse is implied and confirmed, but the emotional abuse is the focus of this play.

There’s tension aplenty as Ray manipulates his way inside the pub; he’s covered in blood, and is in Big Trouble, with the occasional passing police siren raising his hackles. And then the emotional battles begin: Ray attempts to convince Carla to leave dingy Donnington with him and their kids to go to Brighton, ostensibly to escape the police… but also for a New Start. But he also brazenly flirts with Leanne, introducing her to The Game in an effort to get her drunk, and the slight prickle between he and Simon comes to a head when it’s revealed that Simon and Carla are now dating. Most of the critical exchanges are two-handers, with the less-used characters drifting into the background; as the play tumbles towards its conclusion, there’s a lot of pain on display as words are used as bullets.

Glory Dazed lives and dies on the portrayal of Ray by Samuel Edward-Cook – and he provides a perfect portrayal of a shattered vodka-swilling hard-man, physically dominating the stage and snapping between the fractured elements of his broken psyche. When he roars, he’s genuinely intimidating; when he emotionally cowers, he comes across as fragile, brittle. But the transitions between those states are almost too sudden; sure, the script is trying to portray the nature of a PTSD-affected serviceman, but the result feels… exaggerated. Too big.

And these transitions end up making the performance feel two-paced; loud shouty soliloquies separated by quieter moments of almost desperate, struggling tenderness. And that would be great… if the tender moments didn’t contrast so markedly: it’s almost as if they don’t seem to fit.

But the biggest problem I had with Glory Dazed is that none of the characters are likeable – Ray constantly jars when switching from brute to pissed-giggler, Carla’s flip-flopping from restraining-order to consoling-partner irks, and Simon just feels like a weedy runt for most of the performance. But Leanne… oh, Leanne. Used as either comic relief or a battering ram for most of the performance, she delivers the moment in the last ten seconds of the play… a glance. Just a sideways look. But that look was so full of fear and cowering respect and… wow. It was just amazing; if one look alone could win a best acting gong, Kristin Atherton would win hands down.

Despite its well-meaning political inclinations, Glory Dazed had my mind grumbling for much of the performance. Yes, I know PTSD is a serious issue… but maybe that was at the heart of my problem with the show: the fact that I know that PTSD is out there, affecting the lives of thousands of people and families. Maybe I’m not the target audience; maybe other people are fine with the delivery that borders on blunt and episodic. But then I think back to That Look, and how that caused me to well up with tears almost instantly… and all else is forgotten.

[2013002] Angry Young Man

[2013002] Angry Young Man [FringeTIX]

Mahwaff Theatre Co. @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

Way back in 2006, a little play called Angry Young Man ran away with a whole heap of plaudits from the Adelaide Fringe; it was a great little production, at once poignant and pointed and political and funny; a great bit of writing, wonderfully performed. So I was pretty happy to see it return to Holden Street again: enough time had passed that I’d forgotten the nuances of the production, but the memory of a solidly enjoyable show remained.

And as soon as the play started, with four men sitting in the centre of the stage gently grooving to Smooth Operator, the memories came flooding back: all four are identically dressed in grey suits and maroon ties, and all four take turns playing the central character, Yuri (both with a stuttering, East European-accented in-place delivery, and as a straight narrator). Yuri’s life as a surgeon in his (unnamed) home country is cut short by a force majeure (or, perhaps, an episode of malpractice); seeking to apply his medical skills in England, a poor choice of airports and an opportunistic cabbie leave him penniless and destitute pending an interview with a new hospital. As a result of a misunderstanding in a park, he meets Patrick – and from there he is swept along in a left-wing liberal plot which is derailed by lust, leading to an encounter with skinheads who object to his foreign presence in their country. There’s a hint of revenge, of reflecting the treatment of immigrants to Britain… and a heartfelt, feel good ending.

Beside the two voices of Yuri, each actor also takes on another role: Yuri A doubled as the dim-but-confident Patrick who offers Yuri a lifeline (and conspires to ruin him), the luscious Allison (played with great comic conviction by the smallest of the Yuris, B), and Yuri C dropped into a collection of various right-wing keep-Britain-for-the-British thugs. Much comic relief is delivered by Yuri D, writer Ben Woolf’s original role; mute for most of the performance, his alter characters included a urinating cherub “of small stature”, a set of antlers hanging on the wall, and a brilliantly performed old labrador.

The familiarity of the piece had me thinking that this was the same production that toured here seven years ago; a little lighter in tone, perhaps, but otherwise identical. So I was staggered (after chatting with Yuris A and B after the show) to discover that it’s an entirely new cast – and that this polished production was only a couple of weeks old. The group performance was superb, with a seemingly seasoned understanding – and impeccable timing – between the actors; character transitions are particularly neat, with a physical flourish – a twist, a turn – triggering the need to Spot the Yuri.

Whilst Angry Young Man deals with the dark nature of anti-immigration currents, and all the implied racism that brings with it, the contrasting cartoonish nature of Patrick’s seemingly liberal – but ultimately selfish and conflicted – character makes the performance far more comical than it really should be. And that, in my mind, is a hallmark of great writing – being able to wrap a serious motive deep within a layer of comedy, and still have both register with the audience. Combine Woolf’s wonderful script with some fantastic performances, and Angry Young Man is a winner.

[2013001] Stephen K Amos – The Spokesman

[2013001] Stephen K Amos – The Spokesman [FringeTIX]

Stephen K Amos @ The Gov

8:00pm, Tue 12 Feb 2013

ff2013 kicks off early with a new, earlier, pre-week – which I’m half-tempted to call pre-pre-week – but that’s essentially useless nomenclature, since very few people use the grammatically-poor phrase “pre-week” in the first place. Nevertheless, with a projected thirty-four days of Festivities this year, kicking off on a Tuesday night when I have to go to work the next day feels… well, daunting.

But a mid-week Fringe comedy gig – before the Fringe has officially started – obviously appeals to someone, because The Gov was pretty bloody chockers. Indeed, I got the impression from staff that the show was sold out – and whilst it wasn’t standing room only, there was barely a spare seat to be seen. As the house lights dropped, Amos’s unmistakeable voice came on from backstage, and he cajoled the audience into cheering for his Close Friend.

Now, I’d previously seen another of Amos’ “close friends”, The Prince, back in 2007. This time, however, Amos was introducing Adam Rozenbachs, who blasted through a ten- or fifteen-minute set. Rozenbachs delivers solid situational humour (with the exception of a slightly uncomfortable tirade targeting Matthew Newton); there’s some good jokes in there, but I’m not sure he could structure an hour-long set. I certainly wouldn’t object to seeing his work in an ensemble show, though.

After a quick booze break, Amos takes to the stage – and I was half-surprised, and half-wary, to see him carrying a clipboard when he arrived. After all, he did the same thing during last year’s show – and (again) announced that he was trialling new material for the show, complete with joyous ticking and grumpy crossing of jokes on the clipboard. But it really did feel like he was performing much of the act directly from his script on the clipboard… and that made me feel like a bit of a guinea pig for his new material.

But in Amos’ case, that’s fine – because he has more than enough raw comedic talent to carry the performance. After some introductory I’ve-got-a-massive-cock banter, he leapt into an occasionally uneven cluster of jokes surrounding the recent British horse-meat scandal. He quizzes the audience for strange phobias – one woman completely failed to explain her fear of scabs, a girl directly behind me said she was afraid of “touching my neck” (Amos cackled with glee at the mis-heard “touching myself”), and there was a token midget-phobia; these fears (as well as Cory the Grocery Manager) were constant callbacks through the rest of his set. He also asked the audience – with (retrospectively) cunning innocence – who was afraid of public speaking; the front-row woman (with the unfortunately billowy dress) got to face her fear at the end of the show, reading Amos’ prepared statement apologising for much of his prior material (in another litany of callbacks).

Some chunks of the show are most definitely rusty – there’s some short jokes that noticeably don’t fit in, with only tenuous connections to the rest of the material, and some of the local references feel like real throwaways – you know the sort of thing: namedropping Gillard and Abbott, and slipping in a derogatory reference to Salisbury. But his delivery is so good (his rubbery faced antics, his storytelling style) and his laughter is so infectious (his utter joy at finding something gut-bustingly bizarre in an audience interaction is great to behold) that it’s hard to hold anything against him. Hell, he even called-back to Rozenbachs’ melon jokes.

The Spokesman is (as Amos tells it) a response to the call for him to be a spokesperson for homosexuality (after he publicly talked about his own sexuality in a 2006 Edinburgh show); this is the first time I’d heard him mention it in Adelaide. And, in closing the show, he dedicated the performance – and his ongoing efforts to show others how to Find the Funny – to the memory of a British lad who recently committed suicide after being bullied because he might be gay; it’s a well-meaning dedication, to be sure, but it was a bit deflating for the end of the show.

I first saw Stephen K Amos completely by accident nine years agonine! – and he was astoundingly brilliant at the time. Since then, the talent hasn’t faded, but it feels like the polish of his performances has been tarnished somewhat – but (tonight, certainly) that could be my fault for seeing him so early in the season (or on opening night of a new show). But make no mistake: a Stephen K Amos gig will still have you laughing a lot… because no matter how undercooked the material may be, the delivery is nothing less than brilliant.