[20040093] Ivan Rebroff

Ivan Rebroff

Ivan Rebroff @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Mon 15 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Big singy guy sung a bit, and had a chat…

After a gorgeous instrumental opening by four supporting musicians (on the balalaika, “bass” balalaika, “pregnant” balalaika, and some 12 zillion button accordian type of thing), Ivan Rebroff strides onstage wrapped in a bear. Well, a hell of a lot of fur, anyway. The huge fur overcoat was dispensed with almost immediately, but a den of foxes stayed atop Rebroff’s head for the duration of the performance, whether he was roaming the stage or sitting imperiously in his throne.

With overcoat doffed, Rebroff reminded me of the Jolly Green Giant as he repeatedly sang a song & chatted amiably (in decent English) with the audience. The last song before the interval was a unique version of Waltzing Matilda (all the emphasis on the wrong words), then a costume change saw the musicians lead into the second act with a trio of delicate snippets from Nutcracker. Another series of songs/chats, and the performance was over – leaving the audience happy, but quizically looking at their watches.

Throughout, Rebroff constantly sipped (occasionally gulped) wine; and his vocal performance was not really what I was expecting. I reckon only the bottom half of his four-and-a-half octave range got a decent workout, with the closing songs expanding a bit, but losing out in terms of volume. Still, it was an entertaining enough show – and judging by the ticket prices & two capacity crowds, a tidy money-earner for the Festival.

[20040092] Tokyo Shock Boys

Tokyo Shock Boys

Tokyo Shock Boys @ Thebarton Theatre

5:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Underwhelming… except for the CO2

Apparently, it’s been 10 years since the Tokyo Shock Boys first came to the Fringe. I’ve never seen them before, so I took advantage of a nice matinee to check them out.

First off – I get pissed off with shows where the performers repeatedly run around greeting the audience. That screams “lack of material” to me. However, once the Boys actually kicked into stunt mode, the laughs came pretty thick and fast. Clips being yanked off, hands being superglued, milk being sucked through the nose and squirted out through the eyes, scrotal weight-lifting, freezing hands and faces with dry ice, and more carbon dioxide stunts than you could poke a stick at – it was all good, but not what I would consider shocking – or maybe I’m just getting a little blasé about all these freakshow acts. The lack of shock-factor made the show a little underwhelming to me :}

But, to be honest, I’m a bit disturbed by the number of parents who thought it’d be a good idea to take their kids along to a show like this… I mean, does a child under 10 years of age need to see a man’s scrotum in a tug-of-war with a motorbike? Still, as a self-contained show, it offers some nice thrills – but given that you could see two Umbrella Revolution shows for less than the cost of this, you’d have to weigh up your options carefully.

[20040091] Circus Monoxide

Circus Monoxide

Circus Monoxide @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights

2:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2004

Score: 3

Short Review: Why bother?

Apart from a low-brow high-wire act, some creative juggling moves, and a bus with some inventive fold-out panels, Circus Monoxide had little new to offer over any of the other circus acts of this year’s Fringe.

And when an hour-long show starts 5 minutes late, finishes 15 minutes early, and has no seating (just a patch of well-worn grass), that’s about the nicest thing I can say.

[20040090] And on the Thousandth Night…

And on the Thousandth Night…

Forced Entertainment @ Royalty Theatre

6:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: An entertaining bit of theatrical stamina – but is it art?

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time there were seven performers from a UK-based ensemble (barefoot, and clad in simple red cloaks & cardboard crowns) that sat at the front of a stage and presented a cut-down version of one of their 24-hour performance pieces. The audience are free to some and go as they please during the 6-hour-long Thousandth Night, which poses no problems to the comprehension of the performance, because it is simply a collection of short stories preceded by the phrase “once upon a time…”.

As one of the performers sees fit to interject, or simply end the current thread, they would call out “Stop”, and start another story with “once upon a time”. (Much) more often than not, their “new” story would contain elements of the previous story – or mix elements of stories from several hours ago; and thus, a very long, winding, often absurd collection of unfinished stories.

As the performers tire, get hungry, or just get pissed off that their story was neutered in its prime, they take their chair and retire to the back of the stage, where they can eat, drink, sleep (!), or disappear to the wings to smoke or otherwise relieve themselves. And the duration of the show is very important – as the performance progresses, the behaviour of the players changes somewhat – story change-overs slow, threads become weightier and more considered, they become noticably irritated with each others interruptions and inclinations – time becomes as important an actor as the humans onstage.

As for subject matter? Movies, plays (we start with King Lear), books, nursery rhymes, fables, physics, the God of Love, axe cannibalism, sex mad kings/plumbers/gorillas/high schools/(etc), mirrors that reflect evil, nose pickers, politics, good/bad thieves, plagues… the list is almost endless. As the night wore on, individual stories would run longer (up to 5 minutes); as some players got their second/third winds (or just had something to say), the rapid-fire changeovers returned… “Once…” followed immediately by “STOP!”

Occasionally, the story would be morbid – a tragic death, a wife discovering her husband was collecting child pornography, a brother & sister becoming sexually intimate, the Twin Towers… and the audience would become deathly quiet, waiting on every word as if it possessed great weight. Unfortunately, when the story started verging on popular distaste, the inevitable “stop” would be heard, and the subject would be avoided. This was a great pity, IMHO, and at odds with the attitude of First Night.

To be honest, I took seven columns of notes during this performance – just tracking threads and the looks & performance of the actors during this piece. And, in the cold light of day on the morning after, I can’t figure out whether I could consider this art or not. Yes, it was certainly entertaining, occasionally confronting; and yes, it was always interesting, if only to watch the reaction of the players during a boring story – would they let their colleague uncomfortably meander? And the final story was beautiful: “Once upon a time there was a mouth that wouldn’t stop talking; ears that wouldn’t stop listening; eyes that wouldn’t stop watching; …”.

But was it art, or was it just adept storytelling?

[20040089] The Caretaker

The Caretaker

Brink Productions @ Odeon Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 13 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Solid effort

Brink Productions, responsible for ff2002’s Killer Joe and ff2000’s The Ecstatic Bible (with The Wrestling School), present this play by Harold Pinter. It’s a thoughtful, plodding piece, with interesting – but not really likeable – characters.

Two brothers – one, the weak and wistful owner of the building in question, the other a noble but emotionally crippled caretaker of said building – are thrown into an uneasy conflict when a whiny, ungrateful itinerant bum is shown compassion… and opportunity. As each man strives for their own short-term goals, their weaknesses are exposed, and an unhealthy mistrust develops.

The opening of the piece – quiet, introspective, mesmerising – was quite beautifully done, and the articulate set proceeded to be stripped away over the duration of the play, as the characters themselves were laid bare. The lighting was gorgeously subtle, with lovely transitions. Acting – as always with Brink – was considered and well-weighted… in all, a solid piece of entertainment.

[20040088] Comedy Gala

Comedy Gala

Guy Masterson/Theatre Tours International @ Scott Theatre

11:00pm, Fri 12 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Improv fun

This Gala evening featured four of the actors from 12 Angry Men – Steve Frost (Juror 03 & MC for the evening), Andy Smart (Juror 11), Dave Johns (Juror 06) and Ian Coppinger (Juror 02). All four presented some stand-up comedy – which, at worst, was still amusing – but the real fun started when they performed some improvisational theatre using audience suggestions.

A lazy half-dozen improv games were used, all of them bloody funny… I mean, where else do you hear phrases akin to “gurgling like Camilla’s vagina”? Still, this was improv, so anything could have happened – it just so happened that these four guys made it happen in a most amusing manner on the night.

[20040086] Pandora 88

Pandora 88

fabrik Company @ AIT Arts (Main Theatre)

6:30pm, Fri 12 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Great idea, but dull

A wonderful feeling of claustrophobia is generated with the sound of heavy breathing in the pitch dark at the start of Pandora 88; then the two East German dancers that comprise fabrik appear. Their accents as they toy with the concept of hide and seek over an ominous music score almost creates a sinister effect.

And then they’re trapped within the real star of the show, The Box. Initially using a plane of light at the front of the box for some very unique effects, the piece soon turns into an exercise into what can be achieved in such a confined space. The two men play hide and seek within the box, suspend themselves and each other horizontally, create the convincing effect of looking down on them from above, and use the depth of The Box to create some interesting effects.

The two performers are obviously talented – and strong – and the lighting within the box is great, creating all manner of different moods. But, in the end, I just found this piece to be dull. Lots of other people loved it, though, so take your chances.

(Oh, and it loses big marks for repeatedly using a ringing noise at the exact frequency that freaks my tinnitus out. Grrrrrr)

[20040085] Plug Into Serotonin

Plug Into Serotonin

Neo @ Weimar Room

11:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Funkalicious!

NT band Neo presented a fun bit of cabaret and music at the Weimar room. The theatrical component was a bit naff, but earnest and honestly performed; but it’s when the band start pounding out the tunes that this show really takes off.

Tight funk, with a bit of rock thrown in. And when I say “tight”, I mean it – these guys know their stuff backwards, and they have a lot of fun doing it. The occasional use of harmonica or flute adds interest, but in general there’s plenty of bass, wah-wah and chuggy guitar backing to keep this band moving along with their bright, punchy, and grooving songs.

They really deserve huge crowds during their short stay. Neo’s remaining appearances are:

  • 13 Mar, 10pm: Crown & Sceptre (gig only – no theatrical stuff)
  • 14 Mar, 8pm: The full Plug Into Serotonin musical experience at the Weimar Room

And they’ve got double CDs available for $20, too – ace :)

[20040084] I Bought a Spade at Ikea to Dig My Own Grave

I Bought a Spade at Ikea to Dig My Own Grave

La Carniceria Teatro @ The Space

9:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Food-mangling anti-consumerism avant garde performance art theatre

Spanish company La Carniceria Teatro (“The Butchery of Theatre”) present a, quite frankly, messy statement on modern life with Ikea. Spanish dialouge is translated onto a screen behind the stage for the duration of the performance, and occasionally short video clips are also displayed there too.

Opening with a list of common societal grievances, confronting the audience with a controversial list of Top 40 All-Time Motherfuckers (Lennon & Ghandi?), and closing with performer Juan Loriente shaving using a wreath-decorated mirror, Ikea was a bleak and absurd rant that, almost inexplicably, used the mangling of food at almost every turn. Cornflakes and milk served with a huge knife? Drowning a boy in gravy?

Creator Rodrigo Garcia’s anti-Argentinian (why?) message is given a good airing, too. There’s a disturbing role-reversal paedophile scene, a movie that literally gave societal icons the finger (especially death), and a great “masking tape logo” scene.

Sure, there was a general overwhelming feeling of anti-consumerism, but was there any finer point to it all? Was the spewing of unfrozen lasagna a comment on the gluttony that pervades our society? Why were exactly six bottles of sauce and mustard emptied onto hotdogs held by a near-naked man? Was Christmas really that bad that they had to explode both a tree and a turkey? Was there any significant social comment behind shoving food up their own arses?

In short, was there any more subtle meaning to this? More questions were asked than answered in Ikea, though this may not have been the intention of La Carniceria Teatro.

[20040083] Downward Dog

Downward Dog

Typically Red Productions @ Rumours

7:30pm, Thu 11 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Yoga-filled chick fli-… erm, play

It’s an hour long. It’s three women talking about yoga. It uses a yoga class as a central theme for the trials and tribulations of their lives. The cast are fine (they all sing really well), there’s a twee plot, there’s cheesey songs, there’s jokes about yogarobics, masturbation, and fanny farts.

And that’s Downward Dog in a nutshell. It’s entertaining, it’s funny, it’s probably worth $15 – it’s just not compelling.

[20040082] The Baudrillard Brothers

The Baudrillard Brothers

The International Men Of Leisure @ Exeter Hotel

6:00pm, Thu 11 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Curiouser and curiouser…

Taking their name from French social theorist (and author of “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place”) Jean Baudrillard, the Baudrillard Brothers pose the question: how do we really know whether their comedy has made us laugh? Running weeknightly at the Exeter for the last two weeks of the Fringe, they present a different theme and content every night.

Today was Tangential Thursday: themes were introduced, discussed briefly, then used as a tangential basis for the next topic of conversation. This worked bloody well, leading to a rapid-fire display of wit – but also meant that flat spots were all the more obvious. However, the boys were quick enough to go off on another tangent quickly when needed.

Really, I’m a bit pissed that I only discovered this show now, and that my schedule precluded just the one Baudrillard Brothers experience. Despite their overt geekiness (Simpsons and Matrix references, too much Moebius), at least they didn’t mention Star Trek ;)

Bloody good laughs all ’round – even if they did rubbish Hudson Hawk.

(I’ve just spent a few minutes scooting over the Brothers’ show plans on their website. Now I’m really pissed off I didn’t see any other shows).

[20040081] Ross Noble – Unrealtime

Ross Noble – Unrealtime

Ross Noble @ Scott Theatre

11:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Manically funny… but…

Having seen Ross Noble at ff2002 (I could’ve sworn it was in Nova 1), I figured his surreal, rambling, improvised comedy would go down a treat this Fringe too. And, again, his intro is quite bizarre: a short cartoon by the Information Slug. Erm… yeah.

And then Noble bounds onstage, rapidly launches into banter involving Yetis and lecturns, then proceeds to try and disassemble the Scott Theatre in order to create a makeshift lecturn. He discovers a remnant from either Back To The Future or Short Circuit, expertly milks the laughs, then finds his audience mark for the night.

An occupational therapy student. Noble invents the OT Interpretive Dance (which makes several encores throughout the night), links in Ghost and huge pottery, goes shopping with his wife, scoots across via monkey-love to Stephen Hawking, throws in the time-honoured Aussies-swear-lots material, and then he’s gone.

It’s like watching a comedy whirlwind with long black hair. Ideas flit through his head quicker than you can say “hey, that’d be funny”; some are common threads for the evening (pig killing, that’s another one), some pass by as quickly as they were conceived. It’s fair to say that Noble is an improvisational genius.

…and yet, I don’t think the bigger stage at the Scott Theatre suits him. It seems less intimate, less immediate – more like an impersonal performance than an interaction, you know what I mean? Still, if you’ve got tickets to one of his remaining sold-out shows, you won’t be disappointed.