[2014013] NOB HAPPY SOCK

[2014013] NOB HAPPY SOCK

Simon Keck @ The Producers Bar

7:30pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ff2014, Day 21

Only the one show today: the five-and-a-half hour long River of Fundament. Apparently there’s been a bit written in the press about this being “pornography” – and there’s certainly some segments that absolutely count as porn (if you’re into those particular acts). But there’s a whole lot more to it than that; in fact, the biggest fucking that goes on is in your own brain.

  1. River of Fundament

To make up for the single show, I darted out to see two visual art exhibitions that were closing soon. So glad I did: both Side By Side and Heart Nature were great, with Nigel Liefrink’s paintings in the latter being superb.

[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

Woodcourt Art Theatre @ The Coffee Pot

6:00pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

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

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

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

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

He starts reading. And keeps reading.

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

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

It’s all so identifiable.

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

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

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

ff2014, Day 20

All the hype (and hope, in my case) surrounding Roman Tragedies was completely justified; it was an incredible experience, even though I only spent a short amount of time onstage (whilst it was fun having the performers work around the crowd, I couldn’t find a spot that made the surtitles work easily for me).

And that means I’ve given two standing ovations in two days (for a total of four in my lifetime). So it’s fair to say that I’m pretty fired up about the Festival at the moment.

  1. Roman Tragedies
  2. WOODCOURT: Encounter
  3. Kraken

Having said that: River of Fundament is tomorrow. The most recent timing I can find is that it’s 5h52m long, with two twenty-minute intervals. Go durational entertainment!

ff2014, Day 19

So: Am I is easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. A stunning performance, gorgeous choreography, and sublime production: I was sitting in the middle of Row A, and The Blast at the beginning of the show nearly melted my face off. Phenomenal.

  1. Am I
  2. Mutual A-Gender
  3. Gabriel
  4. Decadence
  5. Late Night Comedy at The Producers Bar (#2)

Early night tonight; Roman Tragedies is tomorrow.

[2014011] The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana

[2014011] The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana

Jethro Compton Ltd @ The Bunker

4:00pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

ff2014, Day 18

More Festival opening hijinks tonight with the VIP opening soiree. A nice chat with some old friends, some fun accosting some of the more higher-up peeps in FestivalCorp, and – of course – a drop or two of Croser. And the prawn & avocado salsa things were fantastic.

I had tickets to Charles Barrington tonight, but Steve Sheehan and I were the only two in the audience; we wound up sitting around having a fascinating (for me) conversation about the art of comedy, likes & dislikes, and my current pet topic: Comp Culture. That discussion was worth way more than the price of admission; I feel a little guilty for having stolen their time.

  1. An Elephant in the Room
  2. Wizard Sandwiches: The Last Lunch
  3. Facty Fact Game Show: Are Comedians Good Lovers?

You know how I said “back into the fray tomorrow”? Yeah. Not so much. My head is in another place, socially.

ff2014, Day 17

And so the Festival begins. I toddled up to the opening of the Samstag’s chunk of the Festival’s Visual Arts programme, drank a heap of Croser (thank you Petaluma!), then scuttled off to squeeze in an acrobatic show at the Croquet Club, then back to Queens Theatre for my first Festival show of the year: the wonderful BigMouth.

Then down to the VIP preview of Lola’s Pergola, which is alright – not sure it’s worth wandering halfway across the city for, though.

  1. Elixir
  2. BigMouth

After we started getting pushed out the door at Lola’s (at 11pm!), I simply could not face another event. I felt a social weariness that I usually only feel in the last few days of a campaign; as a result, I was home by 11:30pm. Back into the fray tomorrow.

ff2014, Day 16

Another great day. Sat in on an early showing of a piece (and got to listen to artist Q&A-speak… swoon), and experience the mindfucking unreality of The Well. It may be unrecommendable, but it was bloody good.

  1. Show us your love.
  2. Miss K is… Wrong.com!
  3. Love & Other Acts of Theft
  4. The Well (Redux)
  5. Dave Campbell: Insanarchy

Almost had another AFD… almost. It’s just that I find it absolutely impossible to sit in La Bohème without a drink in my hand.

ff2014, Day 15

I tell you what – today was a pretty bloody fun day. Yours the Face deserves way more than the five people that were in the audience tonight, though the venue is going to be a nightmare come Clipsal time. I dashed in to see Ubu Roi tonight because I learnt that 5pound cancelled their final show (to which I had a ticket); sorry to the Love & Other Acts of Theft team, but I’ll see your show tomorrow. WAKE was a cracking find – a musical about grief – and it sounds absolutely gorgeous in Arcade Lane.

  1. Yours the Face
  2. 5pound theatre’s Ubu Roi
  3. WAKE
  4. Rhino Room Late Show (#1)

Oh – and today was my first Alcohol Free Day (AFD) of the season. Yeah – I’m livin’ healthy.

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

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

Ro Campbell @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

11:15pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

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

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

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

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

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

ff2014, Day 14

Finally got around to finishing my Festival planning – all but one show is booked now. Starting to get thoroughly excited for it, especially after a couple of recent (Fringe) shows that made me think they were trying to evoke ideas seen in previous Festivals.

  1. Now We Can Talk
  2. The Bedroom Philosopher
  3. MONO-

Mondays, eh? Crazy times.

[2014009] 36 Hours

[2014009] 36 Hours

Aidan “Taco” Jones @ Astor Hotel – Roof Top

8:30pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

ff2014, Day 12

Had a lot of fun today: chatted with one of the producers of In Canberra Tonight for aeons (catching the brilliant fun of the Out Of Print Book Club as a result), saw a bunch of oddball shows, and got mistaken for a woman no less than three times – once during a show.

  1. Door
  2. Out Of Print Book Club
  3. WOODCOURT: Spoils
  4. Stuart Bowden: She Was Probably Not A Robot
  5. Vicious Circles
  6. Late Night Comedy at The Producers Bar

Tomorrow is the big test: 10am start, running around the city, four straight theatre pieces on the back end. It’s currently 3:12am.