[2011131] Freefall


Gravity & Other Myths @ Arcade Lane – Regent One

6:30pm, Sun 13 Mar 2011

Of all the shows I saw in 2010, Freefall was one of the most memorable; I can still recall every emotion I felt in The Arch that day. And, being absolutely truthful here, one of my secret joys this year was discovering that a quote from my post had been lifted for Freefall‘s 2011 Fringe précis. It was only halfway through the Fringe that I noticed that another quote was splashed across all their flyers and posters. That made me indescribably warm and fuzzy inside :)

But here I now was, in Arcade Lane, at a hastily-arranged extra show: with the Fringe Awards later that night, I knew that this would be my last show of the year. Show one-hundred-and-thirty-one. And I couldn’t imagine anyone better to spend the time with.

Arcade Lane was positively packed with people; young kids with parents, tweens and teens and dinks alike, the place was jumping – such a change from the small audience when I saw them last year! Despite arriving relatively late, it was easy for all one of me to nab a front-row seat… and as I looked out onto the performance area of Regent One, padded down with thick corrugated cardboard, I started wondering how the experience of last year’s confined spaces of The Arch would compare.

If anything, this performance was better than that already incredible effort.

Despite being largely the same performance – the same routines, the same spoken-word bits, the same cheesey-but-not telephone gag – the (comparatively) wide open spaces allowed the Gravity & Other Myths team to be bigger; bolder. The tumbling acts were incredibly dynamic, and a few detached and slippery bits of cardboard weren’t going to hold these kids back. The arc of the light-bulb drew massive yellow streaks in my eyes as it flew around the old cinema; the three-high balance, which had felt so impossibly tall in The Arch, still had a sense of I-can’t-believe-what-they’re-doing about it.

In short: once again, I watched the last half of this performance through eyes that wept with joy. I could blame it on last-show relief, but the truth is that Freefall is still the most engaging, exciting, and – yes – bloody amazing circus performance around.

[2011130] My Filthy Hunt

My Filthy Hunt

Horizon Arts @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

4:00pm, Sun 13 Mar 2011

It’s an ominous and uncomfortable opening: as some caustic Depeche Mode plays, four characters clad only in black underwear prowl around the stage in a square, anger evident in the way they move… and if the body language doesn’t give it away, the eyes do. As they face the audience, their eyes burn holes in us; being locked in the sights of these people was not a pleasant experience. Suddenly, the frame that had provided our only respite as they had negotiated their way through it on their path is flung down: it becomes a grave, and they all stand beside it, mourning the loss of their common friend, Marvin.

Marvin was more than a friend to them; he was their saviour. One by one they reveal how they met Marvin, and how he saved them from their previous lives: the bloke who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, who saw his friend die. The pretty girl distanced by her own beauty. The girl abused by her father who cannot tolerate the presence of other men. The intensely shy guy, bullied his entire life. Marvin came into their lives and made them better; he gave them the confidence to be strong.

But now, in his absence, they all fall apart. They all know what Marvin did for them; but how could they possibly carry on without him? Were they actually better off not having met him at all?

There’s no doubt that Marvin is a religious figure within the context of Hunt, and that the play as a whole is a reflection on the role of religion on society. And that may sound like a pretty pretentious idea for a play, but it’s handled really well – there’s nothing overt about the presentation, and Marvin could just be some guy who was really nice to people.

The first act of My Filthy Hunt is – quite frankly – fucking incredible. As the Marvin stories are told, the other performers continue prowling the stage, leaping into character as the stories warrant. The second act is a little more circumspect as they wallow in His absence; I feel a little divorced from the play until the narrative returns to the graveside, and all four characters repeat the first words Marvin said to them. Suddenly, out of all the noise and bluster and aggression that the play had provided beforehand, I’m choking up; it’s a remarkable bit of writing, with a completely unexpected U-turn into tenderness.

My Filthy Hunt shares a lot in common with Horizon Arts’ last Adelaide production, Heroin(e) for Breakfast – both were written and directed by Philip Stokes, both feature the incredibly intense Craig McArdle (who played Niffer here), and last year’s heroin(e) was assistant director on the project. Both pieces cast a cynical and despairing eye on modern Britain; both pieces presented a collection of shattered characters. But, for me, My Filthy Hunt is – by far – the more enjoyable show (though “enjoyable” feels like completely the wrong word to use) – it was challenging, raw, passionate, and extremely rewarding.

[2011129] LoveFridge


Michelle “Baggas” Baginski @ The Tuxedo Cat

2:00pm-ish, Sun 13 Mar 2011

Hidden away in the Events section of the Guide was a tiny blurb: “5-10 minutes. Pay what you think your heart is worth.”

And there’s something so intrinsically sweet in those words that I can’t resist it. The fact that it’s a short show on my way elsewhere doesn’t hurt, either.

When I arrive there’s a familiar-looking chap with a bloody big DSLR wandering around the TuxCat bar; DeAnne Smith is pottering on her laptop. Baggas bids us a hello in her soft voice and invites us into the LoveFridge – a tiny room just off the main bar.

Seriously – it’s tiny. With four of us in there, I start wondering whether there’s enough oxygen for us to subsist the ten minutes of the show. Anxiety heightens in the dark – it’s really dark – as we sit there quietly. The noise of each others’ breathing is noticeable; the noise of my own breathing (and heartbeat) sounds deafening.

I hear Baggas gently picking up her guitar; in the darkness and tight space, the first chords fill the space with warmth, with electricity. A soft light comes on, highlighting a pickle. There’s a large polystyrene slice of toast. A short monologue about Women’s Special Health Bread. There’s a gorgeous song in Devour Me.

And then Baggas asks the question:

“What are you thinking?”

I’m taken aback. “Er… about the intimacy of this space,” I stumble.

“How pretty you are,” offers DeAnne.

“How my camera won’t autofocus,” said FamiliarCameraGuy.

It’s only after we leave that I realise that all those things were related. And it’s only as I stand around at the bus-stop, waiting to go to my next show, that it hits me: how special that little performance was. How sweet, how oddly romantic, how quietly beautiful it was. The only thing I could compare it to, emotionally, is The Smile Off Your Face – but in a muffled, joyous way.

Absolutely unforgettable.

[2011128] The Ridiculous Files

The Ridiculous Files

Accidental Productions @ CitySoul

6:00pm, Sat 12 Mar 2011

Sketch comedy gets a bit of a bad rap, I reckon. Whilst a single, well-realised central thread can create a satisfying comedy show, there’s something to be said for a collection of short, well-written pieces that appear, make you laugh, and then disappear again before you’ve had a chance to sit back and contemplate why they may or may not cheating you.

And The Ridiculous Files is a great collection of sketches.

Thinking back on it now, there’s a lot of cheap shots at big targets – telemarketing and home shopping coming to mind – but I laughed a hell of a lot at the time. And the pre-recorded stuff was brilliant: the piss-taking of the Snuggie was sublime. And the attention to detail in the cat-food bit was fantastic.

Look – it’s a collection of really funny skits, brilliantly performed by ACA graduates Jesse Butler, Rebecca Calandro, Todd Gray, Kyle Kaczmarczyk, and Nic Krieg. Here’s hoping that we see plenty more from them in the future; in the meantime, check out some of their promo sketches on YouTube. They’re well worth it.

[2011127] Over My Dead Body

Over My Dead Body

Adelaide University Fringe Club @ Sandford House

2:00pm, Sat 12 Mar 2011

It’s the penultimate day of the Fringe, and even though the weather is sticky and overcast, it’s entirely too bright outside. I stagger to Sandford House, guided by my iPhone’s GPS – I’d always thought it was a stupid feature for a phone, but I’ll happily concede that it proved to be invaluable today.

Sandford House is lush (and was the home the Braggs, Nobel Prize winning physicists), surrounded by gorgeous gardens on the edge of the East Parklands (and we spied an owl nesting in a tree on the way out!). Things aren’t exactly well signposted, but we eventually find ourselves in what must have been an old library or sitting room; it’s a lovely, wide space, but also uncomfortably warm. Luckily for us only about half the seats were occupied; more bodies would’ve made the room stifling, especially given the long (ninety-plus minutes!) running time of the play.

The wonderfully produced (except for the typo on the front cover) programme tells the story: the Murder League, a cadre of ageing crime-fiction writers, is suffering. The public are putting down their once-essential novels in favour of the flashing pictures of the cinema and television; their elegant plots and machinations are seen as obtuse; vision has taught the public what real murder looks like. Not only that, but a brash younger style of writer is coming to prominence, selling books that offer a combination of tawdry sex and violence. The death of a former member drives the Murder League deeper into despair.

The three remaining members hatch a plan to renew interest in their craft – they decide to stage their own murder, demonstrating just how clever the crime can be. They aim to be caught, of course, but their “life” imprisonment doesn’t seem like much of an impost; and anyway, the resulting fame will be more than worth it.

Of course, things go unexpectedly wrong; who’d have thought that committing such an ingenious crime would prove to be so difficult? The second act sees the bumbling writers attempting to steer the investigations of a star-struck detective investigating the case. It all gets a little hare-brained and slapstick, but it all comes together in the end…

Over My Dead Body is a bit of an odd fit for the Fringe; as I mentioned above, it’s looong (and the interval makes it even longer), and it’s got a curiously British feel about it. It also has a cluster of actors playing characters three times their age; they manage to put on a reasonably convincing performance, and there’s a tangible sense of camaraderie between the three Murder League members (though Alastair Collins’ irritable and doddering butler steals the show). But there are a lot of very drawn-out scenes in the play, especially in the first Act; too much sitting around reading newspapers, not enough plot development!

So whilst the story was amusing, the execution left a bit to be desired. Yes, I spent a fair amount of time being entertained, but I also spent a greater amount of time wondering how much water I had left… and when the performance would wrap up, so I could escape the hot-box.

[2011126] The Freak and The Showgirl

The Freak and The Showgirl

Mat Fraser & Julie Atlas Muz @ The Spiegeltent

11:30pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011

Having enjoyed the risqué standup comedy of The Freak (Mat Fraser) at Quake, Rattle & Roll, his full length show was chucked on The Shortlist. A late-night timeslot guaranteed it a look-see… and the Spiegeltent was pretty much packed out for the occasion.

Mat Fraser’s mother was prescribed thalidomide during her pregnancy; as a result, he was born with phocomelia of both arms. And whilst he has enough leverage within his arms to clutch a microphone, he still performs a lot of manual interactions with his feet – which leads into a spate of pretty funny masturbation jokes. He has a fantastic stage presence, and really knows how to work the crowd.

Julie Atlas Muz is The Showgirl – a dazzling dancer and burlesque artist who also works with… ummm… her genitals. In fact, during one of the duo’s costume change breaks, a video was shown that displayed a labial rendition of Hair.

Together, their act is overtly sexual in nature; neither have any problem getting their gear off, and some of their acts are a real sight to behold. But there’s pacing problems a-plenty, especially when we take a diversion into the history of the sideshow – in itself, it’s an interesting bit, but after what had come before it there was a noticeable drop in intensity. But that’s part of their presentation style, which relies heavily on sideshow psychology: right down to the description of a trick that they cannot show, because it once got them into legal troubles because of “accidental penetration” – yes, it’s titillating, but it’s cheap titillation.

And that’s largely my problem with The Freak and The Showgirl: it all feels a bit cheap, a bit exploitative of the audience… a bit like (dare I say it) the Wau Wau Sisters (though, to be clear, this was nowhere near as bad as that tripe). Some interesting points are made by Fraser about the sexuality of the disabled, and the role of the disabled in entertainment, but at the end of the day the bulk of the performance felt very much like a sideshow: a curiosity, without being substantive.

[2011125] The Problem With Evil

The Problem With Evil

Fish for Brains @ Mercury Cinema (Iris Cinema)

10:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011

“The Forces of Darkness are presenting a demotivational seminar,” said the Puppetry section of the Guide; “I’m there,” I replied. I bought my ticket, then happened to catch a bit of Leon Ewing’s masked performance at the TuxCat Staff Show; I loved that snippet of his aggressively political act, and spoke to him gushingly afterwards. He suggested that he’d give me a freebie ticket if I live-blogged his show; I declined the ticket (as I am wont to do), but promised I’d see him the following night.

And when I rocked up at the Mercury around twenty minuted before the allotted time, I knew that it was going to be an… ummm… intimate show. The Merc foyer was empty, and I was there a good five minutes before I even saw the bar-and-tickets guy. I had a bit of a chat with him, followed by a yarn with Leon… but, at 10pm, I was still the only punter there. Leon stood up, saying “let’s get the show started”; I offered him the opportunity to just chat about the content in lieu of the performance, if he preferred. “No,” he insisted, “this’ll be great”.

So I was positioned in the second row of the Iris, and Leon went off to put on his skull mask. Ewing portrays the embodiment of Evil throughout the performance, adamant that the end of the world is coming (on time, under budget). By “end of the word”, Evil is referring to economic armageddon… and he proceeds to explain how we (and by “we”, I hope he meant “society in general” and not “the audience/me in particular”) are contributing to the apocalypse.

Evil’s contention is that western culture is evil by proxy; usually, he posits, it’s mere apathy that increases the amount of evil in the world. He presents a local reference (the “proof” that Adelaide is inherently evil: City of Evil – the truth about Adelaide’s strange and violent underbelly), and then proceeds with a real mixed-media presentation: a lot of his material is delivered spoken-word style, roaming the set as he rants. There’s a PowerPoint and video accompaniment projected onto the Iris’ movie screen, and Evil has a series of cameras posted around the stage that he uses to screen the results of his puppetry.

Ah – the puppets. By burying The Problem With Evil in the Puppetry section of the Guide, Leon ensured that he’d be a bigger fish in a small pond; unfortunately, late-night adult contemporary puppetry doesn’t really seem to take people’s fancy. But Evil’s conversational asides to his puppets – Bruce the Evil Angler Fish, Elvis the skeleton, and a statue of Jesus with eerie eyes – allow him to break the flow of the performance up a bit, so his ranting and blame designation maintains its freshness.

But, as the TuxCat snippet showed, The Problem With Evil is a deeply political show; the core of his material surrounds the meltdown of the GFC, the pillaging of the environment, the seeds of terrorism and the western response, religion, and the inequalities between the First and the Third World. This content is curiously delivered in two tones: early lines may make you laugh, but then Evil will throw a line in that makes you feel very, very small… and responsible.

And that’s the real hook to this show; it’s entertaining and determined to put you in your place. But the other memorable hook (at least for me) was that Evil was adamant that I be involved in the performance, first by handing me a hefty camcorder and insisting that I “report” the show, and through repeated attempts to get me to live-blog the show. Evil occasionally also offered me the opportunity to choose the next chunk of material: I always said “you choose the stuff that will make me uncomfortable.”

And he always managed to so. And I loved that.

Look, I know that this is not a performance that many people would come out of and think “yeah… that was alright.” Any artist whose intent may have the side-effect of making you feel shit about yourself is always going to be treading a fine line. But I love that level of engagement, the mental challenge where you have to contemplate whether or not you’re comfortable with your actions in the world.

[2011124] Lou Sanz is Not Suitable For Children

Lou Sanz is Not Suitable For Children

Lou Sanz @ Adelaide Town Hall – Green Room

8:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011

Things weren’t really off to a good start; the volunteer staff who were controlling access to the Green Room seemed to have no idea there was a show scheduled for eight o’clock. Despite the presentation of a ticket that clearly stated the time and location of the purported show, belief was hard to come by.

No matter; eventually, the existence of the show was verified, and it initially looked like a small crowd would be present in the tiny Green Room (peak population maybe thirty. Forty, if everybody sucked their stomachs in). So, as usual, I sit down the front and put my smiling face on.

Now, I’d never heard of Lou Sanz prior to this Fringe, but there was something about her précis in the Guide that made me think that she’d present a series of dark, potentially smutty tales in a spoken-word (as opposed to stand-up) form. And my guess was right on the money; with little fanfare, in front of less than a dozen people, Sanz took the mike (then discarded it, favouring the more “intimate” room), and started reading short stories and poetry from her notebooks.

And she’s a bloody good spoken word artist, she really is. Her sing-song style of delivery would work wonders with the kiddies… but the content of her stories is most certainly adult fare, and the manner in which she sweetly enunciates words like “cock” and “fuck” in the middle of sentences was pretty bloody alluring. And with tales surrounding being jilted by homosexual boyfriends, golden showers, and a letter written to her own love-life, there’s plenty of opportunity to insert profanity into her performance. The arrival of a cadre of Sanz’s friends a third of the way through the performance seemed to spark a short improv bit, though that may have just been conversation; it’s hard to tell, and entertaining nonetheless.

Short and sweet, Not Suitable For Children was a delightful spoken word event; one quite unlike any other I’d seen at the Fringe this year. The only problem surrounding the show (besides the staffing of the Room) was that I bumped into Sanz (much) later that night, and thanked her for the show. “Oh great!” she sweetly exclaimed, gorgeous dark eyes glinting in the low light of the Fringe Club, “what did you think?” Clearly the discovery of the cocktails at the ‘Club had taken their toll on my mental thesaurus, because all I could respond with at the time was “It was really… different.”

Which is bloody insulting, really. Accurate, but easily taken to be something it’s not. Because I thought Lou Sanz was great.

[2011123] Sexytime!


Tessa Waters & Kai Smythe @ Adelaide Town Hall – The Prince Alfred Room

7:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011

Sexytime! had been a relatively late inclusion on The Schedule; luckily, having witnessed a snippet of its madcap buffoonery at the TuxCat Staff Show the previous evening, I rocked into The Prince Alfred Room confident of a good time.

Of course, the Room itself is completely unsuited to a production such as this – it’s a flat space, with no raised staging, which meant that anytime performers Tessa Water ad Kai Smythe got down on the ground – and, let’s face it, with a title like Sexytime! you’d hope that was going to be pretty frequent – anyone in the crowd more than three rows back would be afforded little in the way of a view. But I’d managed to snaffle an aisle seat, which meant I did get to see what was going on.

Waters and Smythe play Woman and Man, with pre-recorded voiceovers placing them in different scenes in an attempt to trace sexytimes through the ages. Opening with a ridiculous Garden of Eden piece – Woman and Man wearing their flesh-coloured leotards with appropriate leafy adornments – we’re also treated to laugh-a-second pieces at the Blue Light Disco (coming-of-age sexual explorations), and an interpretive dance battle of the sexes. The expected climax of the performance, the bed scene, is wonderfully silly – and completely familiar.

Both Waters and Smythe are superb, mute save for some whimpers and short exclamations (but their facial expressions say it all); Tessa manages to exude a divine furtiveness whilst still managing to veer towards the Madonna or the Whore, as appropriate to the scene. Kai’s seventies porn-star moustache and insecure snickers and chuckles make his Man work; his overt physicality is just bizarre and totally over-the-top, no more so than when he performs a dancing ode to manhood to Queen’s Flash. In fact, the soundtrack throughout was fantastic, and perfectly used – Foxy Lady, anyone?

In short: a wonderfully fun and silly and – yes – uproariously sexy show, only let down by the location.

[2011122] Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things

Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things

Talya Rubin @ Queen’s Theatre

5:00pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011

Despite the more temperate weather of the day, it’s still hot and sticky inside the Queen’s Theatre for this performance; I shudder to think what it would’ve been like in there on a really hot day. There’s a pretty decent audience in, which is great to see – I hadn’t heard much buzz about Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things, so that means that it’s either a friends-and-family show, or that people are taking a chance on something different. I hope for the latter…

…and I get it.

There’s nothing else quite like Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things; in very low light, Talya Rubin introduces herself in the guise of Aunt Esther, the care-giver of five children who have gone missing. As she describes the impact of the children’s disappearance on the rest of the small community, she introduces a small cast of other characters: the children’s real mother, Esther’s neighbour, a detective, townsfolk rallying for a talent show.

There’s something almost rustic and quaint about the environments and characters that Rubin creates, though the detective has a hint of noir about him; the town’s Talent Show is full of oddball characters that wouldn’t feel out-of-place at Lynch’s Club Silencio. Rubin has a sense of poise as she switches between each of her characters in turn. However, there’s almost no unique vocal characterisation: her presentation, focusing more on small hand movements akin to sign language, is more one of a storyteller… a narrator of proceedings. This is reinforced by her careful, methodical movements around the set, illuminating small sets for a moment to manipulate puppets within them, pointing the story in the right direction.

And the set… well, let’s just say that the set is incredible. Old gramophone record players, overhead projectors, lamps, elegant desks, mounds of dirt, boxes and fish tanks that hide intricate little scenes in which puppetry takes place… it’s elaborate. It’s also heavily wired; there are seemingly dozens of different lights available to Rubin from a control-board in the middle of the set. In fact, the opening minutes of the show consist almost entirely of her precisely setting up the lighting of the scene, only to act in it for the briefest glimpse, before moving onto the setup for the next scene. It’s like watching a very slow, deliberate strobe light.

But while the pacing of the story is incredibly slow, it’s also incredibly moody. Light plays a big part in that; Rubin uses her technical setup to focus our attention to one small part of the story at a time, shifting perspective between characters freely. And the audio accompaniment – also managed via her magic control board – is the stuff of eerie horror minimalism.

Of The Causes Of Wonderful Things is not just theatre; it’s more of an installation piece, with all the delicate dioramas and intricate set-pieces. It’s also wonderfully atmospheric… and dark. Very dark. And grim. Yet the mood conjured up by Rubin as she manages the entire performance by herself is almost dream-like… but we’re talking about five missing (presumed dead) children here. It’s more like a nightmare, but the gentlest nightmare you could imagine.

It’s compelling, yet I almost didn’t want to see what happened next. It’s an enveloping experience, but I don’t know who I’d recommend it too. I think I’m still trying to figure out whether I actually enjoyed it or not.

[2011121] Also A Mirror

Also A Mirror

Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ The Goodwood Institute Theatre

11:00am, Fri 11 Mar 2011

I’ve mentioned my father a few times on this blog, but rarely my mother. And I only mention her now because she’s so relevant to my interpretation of Also A Mirror.

See, my Mum has Alzheimer’s. We’ve only really known about it for the last five-or-so years, and she’s not too bad yet – while answering the same questions three times in a minute was pretty frustrating in the beginning, it’s not really noticeable now; it’s just part of who she is. Her long-term memory is fine; it’s just the short-term that’s swiss cheese.

Also A Mirror is a performance about ageing and, more specifically, about the loss of memory… of dementia. Using four different collections of characters, it puts on stark display different aspects of how this disease affects both the afflicted and their loved ones; there’s elements of pain, of melancholy, and – yes – of laughter. And through all of these scenes wander a careful Olivia Fareweather, listed in the programme as “Speaker” – she represents the disease itself, slowly creeping through the lives of everyone else on the stage.

I have to admit that, at first, I was a little put off by having such a young cast play the lives of the elderly, but – under Glenn Hayden’s direction – they make it work. As mentioned above, Olivia Fareweather was exceptional in her largely isolated, passive role, serenely wandering ghost-like through scenes. Sophia Simmons was the other stand-out as Helen (the european nurse), but that’s not taking anything away from the rest of the cast – despite my misgivings, they all proved to be convincing.

The sets and lighting of the production are superb – plain white furniture surrounds the stage and is used for occasional projection of images and video, helping support the mood. And the dominant mood is very bittersweet – there’s a lot there that’s familiar to me, some of which is pretty painful; but that’s offset a little by characters who inject a little humour into the piece (like the “cards of fate”). Again, it all rings true.

Hanging around for the Q&A session at the end was a bit of a treat, too; it was there that we learnt of some of the production choices of the show, where the young actors from Urban Myth co-operated with the folks of ECH and spent significant time with a number of real sufferers of dementia and their families. From these experiences came a lot of the dialogue; Sean Riley’s script, it turns out, contains very literal tracts of their conversations and experiences.

When I started Fringing like a madman, I always used to try and squeeze in performances by youth theatre groups; partly as a way of patronising them (without being patronising… you know what I mean), and partly as a way to see how young actors develop. Often, though, those performances were sub-par… and always given the benefit of the doubt; some leeway. But with Also A Mirror, Urban Myth have created a theatrical experience that is every bit as rich and rewarding as the best performances in this Fringe; it really is a credit to all concerned.

[2011120] Dr. Brown Because

Dr. Brown Because

Dr. Brown @ The Tuxedo Cat – Yellow Room

10:15pm, Thu 10 Mar 2011

So – Dr. Brown, yeah? After last year’s experience where I spent half the show onstage (yet had a really fun time), I kept bumping into the good doctor’s alter ego Philip Burgers around the place. He’s a wonderful bloke – very friendly, very happy to answer all my asinine questions as I try to figure out what makes a mind like his tick, and just an all-round good guy.

I was really happy to see him in the Guide again in 2011. I saw him a few times around the place, had a bit of a chat, and I was looking forward to seeing Because.

And then I saw his performance in the Ha Ha Comedy Late Show – and I wasn’t sure whether he’d still be performing by the time I slotted his show in. Because I half expected him to be remanded on assault charges.

Clearly, that wasn’t the case. And as I scurried up to the Yellow Room, I saw that the room was packed… and there were precious few seats left.

Except for a couple in the front row.

…You can see where this is going, can’t you?

But more about that later.

It was a bit of a change watching Dr. Brown’s act from the safety of the audience; with a stage littered with various amounts of crap, it really did look like he was ambling from piece to piece, applying wit and panache to whatever element of his act he elected to perform. He’s absolutely brilliant by himself onstage; his presentation to the audience is impeccable, with deadpan facial expressions and sparkles of mischief in his eyes… but when he pulled a member of the audience up onstage to use as a foil, the laughs came thicker and faster.

While his first audience mark was subjected to the same bits I’d previously seen in the Ha Ha Comedy Late Show, there was an incredible sense of fun about them; there was no aggression in the sitting segment (and the mark played along with a massive grin on his face), and the return slap was performed with a giggle. To be honest, I was staggered to discover that those ideas were part of his act; that he manages to pull them off and still get huge peals of laughter out of the audience (and participants!) speaks volumes of Dr. Brown’s personality… and the level of adulation in the crowd that choose to follow him.

Then it was my turn.

Plucked from the front row, I was introduced to the audience as a translator; Dr. Brown would spit out something that sounded like fractured Mandarin into his microphone, then hand the mike to me whilst surreptitiously whispering the “translation” into my ear, which I dutifully repeated… until there was a quiet heckle from the audience. Dr. Brown sneered at the heckler and produced a sarcastic laugh; seizing the moment for a bit of ad libbing, I grabbed the mike and “translated” the laugh.

See – that is why I’m not on stage.

There’s the odd snicker from the crowd, but Dr. Brown turns to face me with a look of faux outrage on his face. After staring at me in disgust for what felt like an eternity, he – almost imperceptibly – shakes his head a little and raises his hands, as if to say “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He was right, of course, and I was squarely put in my place – but the roars of laughter that followed his tiny gesture were phenomenal.

And that’s the amazing thing about Dr. Brown – for a performance that relies so heavily on the surreal mix of outlandish characterisations and broad physical humour, there’s so much finesse, so much refinement in each little action that it makes incredibly compelling viewing; you really cannot guess how he’ll make you laugh next. But make no mistake, Philip Burgers is an exceptional clown – and whenever Dr. Brown is onstage, you’re guaranteed of an exceptional clown show for adult minds.

[2011119] Fabulous Abs

Fabulous Abs

Abigoliah Schamaun @ The Tuxedo Cat – Blue Room

8:45pm, Thu 10 Mar 2011

I love the self-effacing pitch of Fabulous Abs – Abigoliah (yeah, I know… amazing name, right?) aims “to be the perfect vegan and pious sage, while living her reality of being a fast-food-eating, TV-watching jezebel.” That sort of approach is so wonderfully appealing to me; it tells me that she’s a comedian who accepts her own limits without judgement. Although “jezebel” could be considered a judgemental word. And, after seeing her appear on the opening night of Marcel Lucont Etc., I figured Fabulous Abs would be a reasonable part of my All-Tuxedo-Cat Day.

Abigoliah Schamaun has a really nice stage presence; she carries a bundle of enthusiasm, a lovely US accent, and ticks a fair number of “quirky” boxes (hey, she’s a yoga instructor! and a stand-up comedian!). And whilst there’s a lot of good ideas in her act, they seem to lose something in the telling – and unfortunately, in the world of stand-up comedy, that’s a bit of a bugger.

So while hearing a repeat of the menstrual blood episode (as heard in the Lucont appearance) still raised a smile, it didn’t get a guffaw. And there’s short snippets which delight – “I start the day with hope and wheatgrass and end it with tears and butter” – but too often they’re followed by material that drags. And when a large amount of Abigoliah’s material is based on sex & occasional lesbianity (with the rest coming from her search for health), material that drags should be the exception, rather than the rule.

There was a reasonable crowd in this evening’s show, but they weren’t won over. And I’m genuinely sad when I feel a comedian struggling against a sullen crowd… but I really struggled to show my support with audible laughter. But I know Abigoliah is brilliant in a short blast; maybe the material was just too thin.

[2011118] Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Interactive Goat Hour V2.0

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s Interactive Goat Hour V2.0

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza @ The Tuxedo Cat – Blue Room

7:30pm, Thu 10 Mar 2011

There’s not many people in the Blue Room that have responded to Dr. Professor Neal Portenza’s spruiking this evening – in fact, I probably saw more people pose for photos with the heavily made-up (and decidedly odd-looking) Dr. Professor Neal than were in the audience. As usual for small shows, I elect to sit in the front row; there’s a little bag of party favours there, with a Mintie, a plastic army man, and a party popper.

Dr. Professor Neal’s show is very reliant on his collection of digital material – PowerPoint slides, movies, and audio are all supplied via his laptop. And whilst the pre-prepared material is completely bizarre – the introductory singing goat video is just nuts – there’s a bit of a struggle maintaining the levels of zaniness when reverting to a live presentation.

Part of this, it must be said, was undoubtedly due to the audience… because there were people in the crowd that were clearly sitting there thinking “what the fuck?” (in a bad way). I could see them from my position onstage while I was up there for an uncomfortable couple of minutes… Neal is no Brown when it comes to audience manipulation. And the three loud-mouthed guys sitting in the front row on the other side of the aisle, inanely heckling in a boorish manner, fell stone silent when they were beckoned onstage… and were as stiff and awkward as a statue. Well played, chaps.

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza provides an attractive blend of pre-prepared and live humour, mired in surrealism and certainly WTF-worthy (in a good way). But it all feels a little bit shallow, a little bit false… like there’s no real confidence in the act. It’s almost like Dr. Professor Neal Portenza knows that he’s got a good character, but isn’t quite sure what to do from there.

[2011117] Eric’s Tales of the Sea: A Submariner’s Yarn

Eric’s Tales of the Sea: A Submariner’s Yarn

Eric @ The Tuxedo Cat – Red Room

6:15pm, Thu 10 Mar 2011

Eric is a quiet, but focused and earnest, chap; with his short beard and chunky jumper, he’s the very epitome of the salt-encrustened sailor. And he introduces the show by informing us that he joined the Royal Navy at age sixteen, and was a submariner for seventeen years – he checks that no-one in the audience has the same aquatic experience, then explains that he’d have to present a bit of background material to help us understand things.

Twenty minutes later, after telling us of his introduction into his life in the Navy, Eric announces “this is where the show would start if you were submariners.” But far from being filler, those twenty minutes are well weighted gold; he tells us of his initial training, of his near-death experience during escape tank training, and of missing out on his graduating group photo because he was at the dentist; he also lays the groundwork for building the sense of camaraderie between the men in his unit (which seems to be inspired by equal parts gallows humour and initiation ceremonies – the “who comes first” wanking competition for beer is a painfully wonderful tale). He also informs us that submarines are clearly safer than airplanes – “there’s more planes in the sea than subs in the sky.”

Once we emerge into the “proper” show, however, Eric presents a sense of the isolation to be found at sea, punctuated by shark attacks and the occasional R&R break hijinks. Throughout, he refers to a particular friend in his group: Dick had been through training with Eric, and the two had remained close friends over the years… Eric even makes an early joke about “his love of Dick.” But the central thread of the Submariner’s Yarn sees Dick with some serious health concerns; there’s a brilliant twist in the tale of the story, though, with Eric selling the ending incredibly well.

I loved Eric’s Tales of the Sea. It’s not really a standup show – Eric is more of a raconteur than a comedian – but his pacing of delivery really hits the sweet spot, and his characterisations are superb. Add on slideshow that’s equal parts touching and absurd, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining show.