[2015020] STOP START

[2015020] STOP START

Dawson Nichols @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

9:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

It was great to see Dawson Nichols return to Adelaide again this year… clearly, his return to Adelaide after fourteen years had proven to be a success (or at least self-sufficient), and may have been responsible for the return of TJ Dawe, too.

So that’s nice.

And, once again, the house is pretty full for this performance. And, once again, it appears to be a typical Dawson Nichols production: One man. One chair. Intensely lyrical monologue that twists and turns as multiple threads snake around each other. Occasional subtle lighting variations.

But there’s a relative lack of characters in STOP START. In fact, this performance only really relies on two (with a third – I think – making a relatively short-but-significant appearance).

Which, if you’ve seen Nichols’ previous plays, is a bit of a departure from the dozens he usually presents to the audience.

The fact that the two characters are quite different – and that one is currently being embalmed – creates an intriguing bedrock for the play. Harmond appears to be the more intellectual of the two, musing deeply about the mythical origins of coffee, interspersed with marketing spiels, childhood memories, and unanswered queries to the unseen doctor embalming him. The physicality of Harmond is divine: the nervous looks to the embalmer, the insertions of needles into his arms to drain his fluids, the lolling as he recounts Buddhist and Aztec myths.

Harmond’s brother, Chaz, is a less refined character. A nervous collection of poor choices, he waits and watches over Harmond’s transition from flesh-and-blood to just-flesh. The two characters don’t talk, as such, but between them (and their transitions) they tell a story of common characters – belle Nancy, son/nephew Orion – that weaves into the traditional lore that Harmond recounts. The contrast is engaging: refined spirit myths versus human destructive excesses.

Nichols’ transitions between characters, forever a hallmark of his performances, are more drawn-out and elaborate here, as compared to his usual flitting of personae: more a function of lyricism in the writing than physical nudges in the delivery (though they provide ample support). And the play itself is a gorgeous tome of text, with a denouement that is both unexpected and garishly neat; the script is a joy to read.

Whilst STOP START may lack some of the immediate wow-factors of Dawson Nichols’ other performances, it proved to be a compelling piece of theatre. The script is absolutely worth buying, if only to revel in its nuances after-the-fact, but Nichols’ performance (and stark direction) still make this a theatrical experience not to be missed.

[2015019] Medicine

[2015019] Medicine

TJ Dawe @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage

7:30pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

I was suitably impressed by TJ Dawe when he was last in Adelaide (all the way back in 2000!); both Tired Cliches and Labrador were wonderful pieces of storytelling, with Dawe’s likeable personality dominating the performances. Hence, Medicine was inked into The Schedule nice’n’early.

As with both the aforementioned shows, Dawe presents this monologue standing in the centre of an empty stage; there’s no fancy sets or trickery, just a man in a single spotlight. He launches into his story – a deeply descriptive account of his ayahuasca experience, expertly intertwined with (apparent) non sequiturs regarding the humble keyboard – in a manner which is instantly familiar from previous encounters… one might even suggest that his delivery style is one-note. But that rapid-fire delivery, combined with personal (yet approachable) writing, makes the performance utterly compelling.

When talking about his ayahuasca retreat – with all its colourful characters and mysticism – there’s a lot on insecurity and nervousness on display, and this helps make Dawe immediately engaging; but it also forms a wonderful contrast to the drier, more technical fact-deliveries surrounding the keyboard. And the performance is mostly played for laughs early on… but when we get to Dawe’s admissions about his visions, the audience falls silent in disbelief and anticipation: you could have heard a pin drop.

I seem to have come across a spate of ayahuasca-related media in the last few years – last year’s The Boat Goes Over The Mountain certainly sticks out in my mind – but the raw honesty on display here makes it stand out. I loved Medicine… but, then again, I love everything I’ve seen TJ Dawe present. His ability to present a compelling monologue, whilst dancing the line between the genres of pure theatre and standup comedy, is almost beyond compare; I only hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for his return.

[2015018] Trygve Wakenshaw’s NAUTILUS – a work in progress

[2015018] Trygve Wakenshaw’s NAUTILUS – a work in progress

Trygve Wakenshaw @ Tuxedo Cat – Perske Pavilion

After seeing the evolution of Trygve Wakenshaw’s Squidboy from 2012 to 2013, I resolved to check out his latest work – NAUTILUS – over the course of a single season. As a result, some of the first tickets I bought for the 2015 Fringe were those for the first and last performances of this self-described work in progress.

5:15pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

I’m assuming that the small audience in attendance at this opening performance were well aware of what they were in for… but there was still a hint of nervous trepidation in the air as we filed into the Perske.

After a (surprisingly) ordinary entrance, Wakenshaw started… well, experimenting. It became clear very early on that NAUTILUS was not scripted in the slightest: sure, Trygve may have brought some ideas into the room with him, but the expression of those ideas felt unrehearsed. His imagination – and, to a large extent, our imagination – was being put to the test.

But it totally worked.

Over the space of ninety-odd minutes (words chosen carefully, there), Trygve showered with paint, wrapped an audience member in a quilt cover and drew a treasure map on her face (along with a slightly more problematic “I love cock”), mimed a chicken-crossing-the-road joke, and involved everyone in a game of Duck, Duck, Goose (which resulted in some extremely competitive behaviour). The shower scene, in particular, was a messy moment of genius, due to Wakenshaw’s almost ridiculous feigned ignorance of the colour smeared across his face.

There was no real start, and no real end, to the performance… just a series of explorative vignettes, where the audience could genuinely feel the artistic endeavour taking place. Sure, not every idea worked – there were certainly moments where Wakenshaw would try to express an idea through mime, or pick up an object from the front of the stage, ruminate, then drop it whilst shaking his head and quietly muttering – but watching that creative process take place in front of me was immensely satisfying.

5:15pm, Sun 15 Mar 2015

So, a month had passed since I first saw NAUTILUS, and so – on the last day of the Fringe – I returned to see how it had developed… which ideas had stuck, which had developed, which had been jettisoned.

And whilst a few scenes were common to both performances – the chicken crossing the road, the audience participation of Duck, Duck, Goose – there were a slew of new (to me) ideas on display: a lascivious wall sex sequence. An excessively eccentric orchestra conductor. A bizarre extended saloon sequence featuring a bird, a cat, a horse, a sheep knitting a sweater, a racist, and Fukushima(!).

But whilst the bulk of the content of the performance had changed, one thing remained constant: Wakenshaw’s imagination. His rampant creativity. And the edge-of-your-seat anticipation that you could be present at the birth of something completely original.

And that, alone, is worth the price of admission.

[2015017] Anna Log – The Saboteur

[2015017] Anna Log – The Saboteur

Anna Log @ Austral Hotel – Red Room

4:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

It’s dead quiet as I approach the Red Room, and I assume that I’m the first to arrive. “How many pre-sales?” I ask at the door, and I’m surprised to hear “thirteen”; I open the door, and not only is the Red Room cool(!) but it’s half full of people. Very, very quiet people. Which doesn’t really bode well for a comedy show.

I had seen Anna Log perform all the way back in 2011, and remembered some great material… but also some massive gaps of between those good bits. And I was delighted to re-encounter those memorable highlights – Jim’s Abortions, Jesus Came In Me – but I was equally disappointed that there didn’t appear to be any new jokes that matched them.

In fact, most of Anna’s songs and standup material seemed familiar (apart from a few flat jokes around the thought processes of dogs in dog parks). I was called upon (of course I was the audience mark) to read a series of questions aloud for Anna to react to… but the responses were barely worth the audience embarrassment.

I still enjoyed Anna’s delivery and style… but I was really disappointed that most of her jokes seem to bail before they really go anywhere, leading to a feeling that the material is lightweight. And is it too much to expect that, after four years, that there would be a substantial chunk of new material?

[2015016] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger… Again!

[2015016] Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger… Again!

Philip Burgers & Stuart Bowden @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Le Cascadeur

2:30pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015

The last time I saw Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger was a bit of an adventure: I was well versed in Dr Brown’s clowning skills, but his very… adult nature had me curious as to how he could adapt his style for children. The end result was a bit of a revelation: Dr Brown’s rubbery antics (and incredibly endearing looks of surprise) translated incredibly well to a younger audience.

The 2015 version of the show – with Dr Brown accompanied by Stuart Bowden’s softly-spoken, ukulele-touting Tiger – bore a strong resemblance to my previous encounter with Brown: Philip Burgers begins by running in circles around the tight Le Cascadeur space, collecting shoes and money and food(!) from the audience, and performing magic tricks to conjure a larger suitcase. His physical antics whip the younger members of the audience into a high-pitched tizzy, but the biggest laughs are reserved for the audience member who is convinced to act like a ball.

Bowden’s Tiger gently cajoles the audience while Brown remains largely mute, his seemingly simple questions eliciting some glorious responses (“Why is Dr Brown looking for a donkey?” results in the astute “Because he’s bonkers!”). There’s familiar eye-rolling by the adults in the room as he creates a repetitive “But WHY?” prod that gets all the children yelling out in an incoherent rabble, before he wraps things up with an ending monologue that engaged the children in some (surprisingly) existential musings.

Having seen Dr Brown the previous evening, I can now categorically state that back-to-back Brown is barely enough. The addition of Bowden’s paradoxically cheery & melancholic Tiger remains a wonderful contrast, and this show remains a comedic clowning must-see for all ages.

[2015015] Dr Brown & Sam Simmons – Ceremony

[2015015] Dr Brown & Sam Simmons – Ceremony

Philip Burgers & Sam Simmons @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Factory

11:15pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

As I ambled towards The Factory at the top of the Garden, a mere 20 minutes before the allotted starting time of Ceremony, I saw Dr Brown scurrying towards the venue. He saw me, quickly waved hello, then disappeared back into his thoughts, a look of comical worry and deep thought blended upon his face.

This did not phase me at all. If anything, it caused my optimism to inflate.

Chris Taylor parks himself behind me in the queue. We chat up a storm – he was in town filming Plonk (with old acquaintance Josh Tyler) – and (eventually) we wound up sitting in the front row, musing what type of show it would be: Sam Simmons surreality, or Dr Brown WTF-ness.

What was that? Front row at a Brown (or Simmons, for that matter) show? We’ll come back to that.

The starting time comes and goes; The Factory is full and humming with nervous expectation, but it’s apparent that most of the audience was there because of Simmons. Finally, the lights dimmed, the intro music swelled… then Simmons stormed in (to exultant cheers), protesting “we’re not ready!” to the tech, before climbing to the tech desk to kill the lights and music himself.

More waiting. Taylor and I discussed whether Simmons’ bluster was part of the show or not.

Finally, our two heroes entered. Brown looked like a clownish shaman (with a bulbous lampshade on his head), and Simmons looked like… well, Simmons. With a bad wig. Simmons.

The two men began chanting together. The chant develops a physicality, eventually morphing into a chase as they ran laps around the stage; a latecomer enters The Factory and is dragged, confused, into the chase. He escaped by running up the stairs at the end of a lap; in doing so, he tripped and fell with a thud, and at that point I knew exactly what kind of show this is going to be.

Dangerous. And full of excitement. And potential lawsuits. And fun.

As Simmons lifted an eyebrow in recognition, my neighbour was dragged into the chase game; when it subsided, they stand him on a chair and present him with a medal. The chair buckles as he alights, broken… and I subconsciously started counting the number of potential OH&S hazards we’d encountered.

They disappear for several minutes, returning with fresh beers – they’d just wandered to the bar.

Name tags were handed out – everyone was David, except for a solitary “Cregg”. And (slowly) the Ceremony seemed to develop a central premise: the death and celebration of Cregg. Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches were brought out for Cregg’s wake, and a food fight quickly developed, catching much of the audience in the crossfire… my arms were sticky with jam as Brown & Simmons eschewed the battle with each other in favour of pegging sandwiches directly into the crowd. They dragged up another volunteer, June, and get her to make more sandwiches (cue another food fight, with Simmons surprising Taylor with a baguette to the face) before an almost lewd sandwich tasting incident involving Simmons, Brown, and poor June.

I’m dragged up onstage and sent out to get a Fanta. As soon as I left the venue, Simmons pulled me aside and told me to wait at least 30 seconds – “it’ll be funnier”. I talked to the tech (who provided me a Fanta), waited a while, and heard uproarious laughter within the venue – and wondered whether I was going to find a sandwich inside my bag when I got home (I did not). I ran back in with the Fanta to applause, but couldn’t help think that maybe I’d missed the joke… or was about to bear the brunt of it.

Brown teased Simmons with the Fanta in a deeply erotic manner; it’s Brown doing what he does best, conjuring pornographic thoughts in the audience from the slightest movements. An open mouth with trembling lips, chin lifting, eyes widening. It’s practiced and polished and supremely effective.

There were more hijinks as Simmons’ persistent cough worsens and he “dies” – Taylor was dragged up to help resuscitate him, beating him soundly in the chest in lieu of CPR (“that fucking hurt,” Simmons later complained). Taylor was then sent outside for some reason, and returned with another glass of wine, which Brown dispatched over his shoulder. Brown then expertly controlled the lighting cues to dive into Simmons’ pants with a Fanta-laden sponge as the lights hit black.

So they were my memories from a show which was clearly an embryonic exploration into what the combined imaginations of these two comic geniuses could conjure. I’ve never seen Philip Burgers do a bad show as Dr Brown, and his clowning skills are beyond compare; and whilst Simmons can run hot or cold for me (not least because of his audiences), some of his more dubious exercises in surreality seemed to be obviated in favour of Brown’s more grounded insanity.

And, despite the danger posed to the audience, it worked… it really did. Sure, there were times when it was hard to determine whether the show was just ninety minutes of don’t-give-a-fuck-edness or improvised genius, but it was pretty much exactly what I’d hoped for. And, hopefully, the Simmons fans in the audience may have had their eyes opened to the genius that is Dr Brown.

[2015014] Yana Alana – Between the Cracks

[2015014] Yana Alana – Between the Cracks

Yana Alana @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Deluxe

9:45pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

I had no idea who Yana Alana was before I entered the Deluxe this evening; several cabaret aficionados had raved to me about her work, but – aside from the “cabaret” genre – little else was known.

But as soon as a spotlight plucked Yana at the back of the room, starting the show with a record-scratching suddenness, I knew this was going to be… well, special.

Not least of all because of Yana’s appearance. Beneath the ebullient platinum-and-blue wig everything was blue. Here costume consisted of a blue merkin and a lot of blue body paint. She was… well, striking. And a little bit challenging, to be honest. I felt genuinely fearful for any potential audience interactions.

The second thing that hit me about Yana is her presence – she owns the stage and her audience, and her mighty voice doesn’t disappoint. Along with pianist Jo Abbott, Yana belts out some great tunes (including my second instance of Cohen’s Anthem for the evening) that are laced with comedy; at one stage, Yana produces an ab toning belt which – when applied – added an amusing (and fascinating) vibrato tinge to her voice.

But the main thread of the show revolved around the constant phone calls to accompanist Abbott from her manager, leading to Yana sacking her mid-show. Then came the worrisome audience interaction: a lucky audience member – dubbed Bert Bacharach – was plucked from the crowd to provide Alana’s backing. The resultant uneducated hand mashing was, of course, horribly discordant, leading to Alana using “Bacharach” to act as a mediator between herself and Jo.

The character of Yana Alana is wonderfully realised by Sarah Ward, with Abbott’s plain & deadpan nature creating a wonderful contrast to Yana’s brash blueness. Great sounds, bold sights, and an indomitable stage presence made Between the Cracks an absolute delight.

[2015013] WOMANz

[2015013] WOMANz

Tessa Waters @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Campanile

8:15pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

Tight planning bites me in the arse as I dash up to the Campanile from my previous show only to find access blocked by an over-zealous Gardener. “We don’t let in latecomers,” she said to me and another couple of people who turned up at the same time; “since when?” I protested, adding an unnecessarily snide remark regarding Garden shows actually starting on-time on opening night. “We’re pretty good at starting on time,” she balked… the statement left me mute with incredulity.

We were eventually allowed in after the opening musical number finished, and were greeted by a super-enthusiastic, heavily accented, and lycra-clad Tessa Waters, who declares herself to be “WOMANz”, a goddess of female sexuality. The accent is thick and hispanic(?), her dialogue sharp, and her control of the audience is superb: she quickly managed to coax the entire crowd up onto their feet to dance. I’ve talked before about my reluctance to dance, but WOMANz had me practicing the Running Man (amongst many, many others) with everyone else.

WOMANz has, at its heart, a strong feeling of empowerment. Behind the laughably bold and colourful presentation is a message of self-acceptance; however, the subtlety of this message may have been lost on the group of pissed women in the second row (seriously – who walks into an 8pm show with two bottles of wine?). But, as mentioned before, Waters keeps the crowd in check with her charm… even the recurring interstitial cries of “what’s happening?” keep their laughs going, and the “Art… In Your Face!” bit was sheer joy. Besides the crowd dancing, there’s a few other bits of interaction – Trudy in the front row allowed her breasts to be squeezed by an initially timid (then animalistically overjoyed) WOMANz, and a few other patrons served as good-natured marks throughout the show.

It’s a show that, in retrospect, feels light on content… but heavy on intent. And Tess’ exuberance and comic clowning abilities were superb, and she kept everyone in the crowd (which was a pleasing mix of young and old) entertained throughout. Sure, I felt uncomfortable (at times) – the dancing was terrifying before we got into it, and there’s always something a little scary about being a bloke on your own in a show so clearly targeted at women (though, it must be said, WOMANz contained something for everyone). But there were a lot of very happy punters leaving the Campanile after this show, and – hopefully – everyone felt just a little better about themselves.

[2015012] Camille O’Sullivan: Changeling

[2015012] Camille O’Sullivan: Changeling

Camille O’Sullivan @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Aurora Spiegeltent

7:00pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

I’d elected to do some ballsy scheduling on this, the opening night of The Garden: fifteen minute gaps between shows is not something I’d normally try to do, but I figured that the proximity of Garden venues would facilitate the tight changeover. Still, the planning decision weighed on my mind as I settled into the Aurora, so I took a seat towards the back on the aisle, with an eye to making a quick escape.

I’m in deep conversation with my neighbour – a Tasmanian artist here for a non-Fringe show – when i see her eyes dart upwards and behind me; suddenly I felt a hand lightly stroke the back of my neck as Camille O’Sullivan – soft white skin, flowing black hair, and enrobed in black – slowly walked down the aisle to the stage.

If there’s a better way to get my attention, I don’t know what it is.

Despite light and sound problems – her hands were almost constantly signalling her intentions to the techs – this was a truly captivating performance by O’Sullivan and her trio of keys/guitar/drums accompanists. Her voice – so husky, so deep, so strong – is like audible velvet, and she knows how to visually work a cabaret stage, too: her outfit morphed throughout the show, removing a layer here, adding a new accessory there between songs.

And the song choices were pretty damn good. In These Shoes is played for slinky laughs, and the richness of O’Sullivan’s voice seemed to make her penultimate song, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, her own: her insistence that there’s “a crack in everything” was almost heartbreaking, and – with one eye on my watch, beginning to question my poor planning decision – I figured it would have made a great closer.

Instead, Camille coaxed the crowd into the softest, most beautiful rendition of Nick Cave’s The Ship Song that I’ve ever heard… leading to me both singing and applauding as I scooted for the exit of the Aurora, trying not to be late for my next show. I hate being late for shows, but Camille O’Sullivan’s Changeling was worth it.

(And, as fate would dictate, I wound up seeing O’Sullivan absolutely smash it again a month later as part of a David Lynch musical retrospective.)

[2015011] Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

[2015011] Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

Offending Shadows Productions @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:00pm, Fri 13 Feb 2015

So: it’s the official Fringe opening night, and – as to be expected at this time of year – it’s bloody hot. The Bally, a by-now familiar domed tent in the heart of Gluttony, has some new food stalls as neighbours, the (lovely) smells of which drift into the humid tent as we wait for Eleanor’s Story to begin. The perfunctory systems of ducting and fans are trying their best to cool the interior of The Bally down, but they’re barely effective… and pretty noisy.

It’s fair to say that conditions did not bode well for a contemplative and deeply personal piece of theatre.

Ingrid Garner’s initial appearance was tentative, timid, and maybe a little unconvincing, as her character Eleanor cowered from the sounds of explosions that almost drowned out the air conditioning; any attempts at lighting effects were rendered moot by the daylight seeping in. But with her small suitcase and fearful eyes, she really sells the sense of danger surrounding Eleanor.

But there’s an initially disconcerting sideways step as we are brought back to Ingrid’s American accent, to Stafford Connecticut, and the backstory that leads to a young Eleanor and her family moving back to Germany from America via ship. The Second World War breaks out while they’re in transit, dropping the previously comfortable family into a country committed to violence… nine-year old Eleanor’s initial complaints about the change of surroundings are almost playful at first, but as the War intensifies her experiences become more harrowing.

The narrative flips back and forth from a wartime city under siege to Connecticut, creating moments of levity and contrast. Those moments are most certainly required: there’s moments when young Eleanor encounters her first dead body, or when Russian soldiers are ransacking homes (and women), that the content risks being almost unbearable. It’s only at the end of the show that Garner back-announces the show as being based on the autobiographical writings of her grandmother, the titular Eleanor Ramrath Garner, as she opens up to thank the audience for coming; it’s then that the emotional weight of the performance hits me.

Whilst Eleanor’s Story appeared to be a relatively straightforward (but weighty) tale told without much theatrical fanfare, it was delivered with enough personality and conviction to move the audience. I turned to leave The Bally feeling theatrically sated, but on my way out I observed the crowd: clusters of Media badge wearers hanging towards the back. A quick head-count lead to the conclusion that Garner probably had only half-a-dozen paying punters in that show, and I had one of those broken-hearted moments where I felt utterly gutted for the performer: that they had booked this venue, in this timeslot, in these conditions. That this may be their best chance for a decent crowd. The Fringe can be cruel.

But then I saw a couple sitting across the aisle from the media contingent: an older woman weeping, being consoled by her partner. And I figured that their response would have more-than-justified Garner’s efforts.

[2015010] Blood at The Root

[2015010] Blood at The Root

Penn State Centre Stage @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

9:00pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

Martha Lott’s Holden Street Theatres has managed to bring some hard-hitting theatre to Adelaide over the years (think Bitch Boxer, Fleeto, or Bound), and 2015 was no exception; the pre-season buzz around Blood at The Root gave the impression that this would be one of the gutsier productions this season.

And, in an era where systemic racism in America is becoming more widely recognised, Blood at The Root certainly delivers a topical punch: a high-school fight leads to six black teenagers being charged with attempted murder of a white student, with escalating tensions in the school (and the home of one of the accused) forming the basis of the performance. The cast of six really deliver the goods: Stori Ayers dominates the stage as sister of one of the accused, Kenzie Ross grounds the play in the south, Brandon Carter has an memorably explosive moment as editor of the school newspaper, and Christian Thompson straddles righteous guilt with aplomb.

Though largely predictable in its narrative (with the concession that I follow a lot of politically-progressive reporting from the US), Blood at The Root rattles along at a fair pace, rarely getting bogged down or failing to engage. But there’s two moments that are particularly memorable, when the ensemble forms a mob and sweeps the audience up in their emotions: the “we will not be moved” segment, and the “Free the Cedar Six” chant. These two scenes evoked that bitter why-is-society-fucked? response in me… not necessarily a joyous response, but certainly one that is respected.

Blood at The Root proved to be solid, emotional theatre, and a worthy winner of Holden Street’s Edinburgh Award. Strong performances, polished direction, and potent themes made this an easy recommendation to the theatrically – and politically – astute.

[2015009] King in Exile

[2015009] King in Exile

Nice Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

I’m always amazed by the artists who decide to throw their hat into the ring and perform at the Adelaide Fringe, especially those who don’t do comedy; I’ve often felt that staging a theatre piece must be an incredibly ambitious undertaking, requiring a level of blind optimism that the crowds will come to cover your costs. Sure, some venues (such as Holden Street) do tend to get a more theatre-savvy audience, but there’s something to be said for the cahones of those who – with very little backing – decide to book a long run for their show.

The respect (or concession to insanity) goes up a notch when you throw the word “abstract” into the mix.

It all starts so plainly for this Victorian company: King comes from another galaxy and attempts to settle in Australia. He’s a fish out of water, but attempts to use his intellect to determine the cultural patterns that seem to want to crush the spirit out of society. There’s also King’s Antagonist, the struggling playwright trying to make sense of his own meta-play, a fierce S&M couple, three witches… and a lot of nods to Shakespeare, with a series of contemporary themes (racism & immigration, sexuality, tall-poppy syndrome).

Sounds like a decent potpourri for an abstract play, right?

Unfortunately, the elements seemed to fight each other, resulting in a real mess of a production. Whilst the conflict between King and Antagonist had some decent verbal exchanges, and the Playwright’s inner demons provoked compassionate interest, interstitial scenes were far less compelling… and even downright infuriating. Any momentum built by other characters was dispelled the instant the needlessly shrill witches came onstage… and the over-the-top relationship of the ridiculously submissive Rob & overly domineering Jacqueline seemed completely out of place.

To be fair, the denouement of this muddle seemed really interesting… but then it just kept going and going, butchering any positivity it brought with it. The small opening-night audience – myself included – seemed to be more bemused than entertained – their applause had died out before the cast had even left the stage.

And, after I’d left the theatre and had a chance to sit down and reflect, all I could do is muse that this company had another week in this large space.

[2015008] Kinski and I

[2015008] Kinski and I

CJ Johnson @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Thu 12 Feb 2015

So… I knew precious little about the professional output of Klaus Kinski prior to this performance, but I was aware of his daughter… and of his legend. Of the ruckus that his unflinching lack-of-compromise seemed to create. Fertile matter, then, for a show that purported to lift the lid on Kinski’s life via his own memoirs… and, with a strapline promising “the banned writings of the world’s most depraved movie star”, expectations were high.

Expectations were not met.

Dressed in plain clothes – jeans, t-shirt, jacket – CJ Johnson did little more than read his script from an iPad propped in front of him; there was very little physical presentation to his performance. The script was little more than edited highlights of Kinski’s autobiography, All I Need Is Love, with occasional asides where Johnson drops back to his own fanboyish personae, espousing his joy at Kinski’s work. But the selection of Kinski’s text to be included was dubious, at best: it felt like a series of snippets selected purely for the shock of the sex they contained – and, let’s be frank, it’s pretty explicit.

And maybe that’s the point: Kinski’s own words conjure up the image of the man as a barely-controlled monster, unable to control his own sexual urges and unwilling to accept the impact of his actions. But when scene after scene devolves into clinical descriptions of his sex life, it all gets a little samey. One-note-ish. Bland.

The short interludes where Johnson drops out of his stern Kinski-esque accent into (presumably) his true self help break up the tedium somewhat; there’s certainly more variation of delivery in these moments, as he leaves the iPad and roams the stage, enthusing at the audience. There’s much discussion of the meta-narrative around Kinski’s autobiography – how the first edition, translated into English by Kinski himself, was pulped upon release – and he proudly displayed his own copy, after regaling us with details of its discovery. But the readings themselves were largely flat in tone, and the one occasion when Johnson attempted to try something different – an exclamation of disbelief from the tech as Kinski relayed the time he forced himself on a young teenager – felt like a wasted opportunity… I wish they’d done more with that.

Upon reflection, I found Kinski and I to be dull beyond belief, and – perhaps worse – a painful waste of my time. It was barely theatre, with an oppressive and single-minded intent to assault the audience with cold tales of occasionally unbelievable sexual conquest until all shock is subsumed by numbness. Maybe these highlights of Kinski’s life were too much for my little mind to take… or maybe the manner of their delivery sucked all the titillating spectacle out of them.

[2015007] Elvis Hates Me

[2015007] Elvis Hates Me

McArts @ Producers Warehouse

9:45pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

So – it’s the last show of four-in-a-row at the same venue, and I’m a little bit tired. And when Elvis Hates Me kicks off with a plain staging, with a young female nurse slowly – and somewhat wistfully – flipping through a magazine, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes open for the duration of the performance.

But then, almost as if I had dropped off to sleep, two wheelchair-bound Elvis impersonators wheel themselves onto the stage and start doing laps around the woman… they appear to be afflicted with some sort of disorder, and they leer unstably at the audience as they seem to drool in their chairs, and I feel like I’m some sort of a fever dream.

And I start thinking: hang on. Is this show using genuinely disabled people here? Are they being taken advantage of? (Or, put another way, being abused?)

But then one of the afflicted Elvises darts from a twitching, drooling mess into a perfectly weighted impersonation of the charismatic King… and I realise that this is going to be a strange trip. And as the opening setting morphs from a hospital, to a nursing home, to who-knows-what-else, the characters likewise change form: the Elvises become orderlies, the nurse becomes an inmate. And while the plot (as loose as it seems) appears to twist and turn upon itself, one thread remains constant: the (almost obscene) affordances offered by pop culture in pursuing our obsession with celebrity, as the nurse/inmate becomes Elvis’ belle and is hounded by paparazzi.

Philip Stokes’ script is a convulsing mess – but it’s also a compelling mess, which is to be expected coming from the same pen that brought us My Filthy Hunt and Heroin(e) for Breakfast. Indeed, the impressive Craig McArdle features in all three shows, playing the lead Elvis in this production (as well as directing): his range of characters, and his ability to convince you of each form with a moments’ notice is amazing. Aaron Broomhall lacks the same range, but still offers a regal charm with his Elvis (and associated celebrity cameos); Susan Cilento’s character(s?) swerves from loveably naïve to gleefully hateful, and she totally sells it.

Elvis Hates Me became my early must-see theatrical even during the Fringe: I loved its (potentially polarising) completely off-the-wall take on celebrity obsession. Tight direction, challenging dialogue (riddled with uncomfortable racial and sexual barbs), and a sparse-but-effective set created an utterly compelling production that made me happy that the Fringe exists.

[2015006] Geraldine Quinn – MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt

[2015006] Geraldine Quinn – MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt

Geraldine Quinn @ Producers Warehouse

8:30pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

It’s fair to say that I’m a pretty big fan of Geraldine Quinn: she has exactly the right blend of coarse ocker-isms, powerful vocals, and passion for wine. That she can create songs of such perverse comic intensity that are also musically adept is icing on the cake.

So… yeah. Love her work.

My big problem, of course, is that I turn into such a fucking fawning sycophant whenever I’m around Geri (dating back to an awkward bar incident at the Fringe Awards in 2010) that I wind up coming across as a super-creepy stalker… which is totally not me. Then again, maybe it is me, but I’m oblivious to the overt creepiness. Which is a bit more worrying.

Regardless, there was no way I was missing Geri’s latest rock-cabaret opus, Modern Day Maiden Aunt.

Whilst her previous shows have nearly always contained references – both heart-felt and irritated, but always comical – to her family, MDMA is an entire song cycle based around her child-free alcohol-laced singledom being a stark contrast to the lives of her siblings: breeders, every one of them, leading to Geri being an aunt many, many times over. Introduced with a rock-backed recording of her father bemoaning career choices, the show alternates songs with Geri’s wickedly acerbic musings on her siblings’ life choices, contrasting their familial decisions with her cabaret lifestyle.

The musical content is some of Geri’s best work yet: the show’s title track and The Great Invisible Woman seriously rawk, but there’s a lot of variety in the operatic overtones of The Kid Is Not That Cute, the AOR-love song of Don’t Call Me A MILF, and even some smooth beat poetry with The Cool Aunt. Lyrically, she’s also on-point: MILF features some blisteringly vicious putdowns in verse, the tail end of Remember You Can Talk To Me is sheer genius, and the closing reprise of the title track is beautifully touching… the recordings of her nieces’ impressions of Geri are also really quite beautiful.

Look – I just loved MDMA… I reckon it’s Geri’s best show to date, with a perfect mix of rock and comedy filtered through cabaret stylings. And, of course, at the end of the show I was anxious to tell Geri how much I loved it – but there was one rambling fan who just would not stop talking to her. After waiting a courteous minute or two, I eventually just leaned across to quickly offer my thanks – a little rudely, I suspect, but whatevs – and left her to deal with the fan (who, curiously, wasn’t even aware of her Sunglasses at Night shows). I kinda feel bad that I didn’t buy anything from her post-show, but I’d received my copy of MDMA (and some badges, and another copy of You’re the Voice) from Geri’s Pozible campaign literally the day before this performance.

Afterwards, Geri seemed somewhat satisfied with her performance… and – thankfully – pretty happy with my tweet. Which is nice :)