ff2013, Day 24

Another quiet day oh wait that’s another six shows am I ever going to write about all these things?

  1. Internal
  2. My Piano and Me
  3. Chris Knight’s fUNCOMFORTABLE
  4. Danny McGinlay: Hypertonic
  5. Play Actually – A Non Rom Com
  6. FACTY FACT – A Late Night Comedy Game Show

So – Internal, then. Every bit as personal as The Smile Off Your Face, but a little more… pointed, maybe? At various stages I felt uncomfortable, completely at ease, jealous, proud, and amazed. Quite a bizarre experience, made only more odd by my re-telling of the experience to friends late this evening… their questions really made me stop and consider all that had happened.

And I love that kind of challenge, I really do.

ff2013, Day 23

So… that’s the ton up for this year, then.

  1. One Man, Two Guvnors
  2. Echolalia
  3. Children / A Few Minutes of Lock
  4. Murder
  5. Wolf Creek: The Musical

One Man, Two Guvnors was an utterly bewildering experience. I laughed my arse off in the first half, right up until the “audience interaction” that preceded the interval; at that point, I genuinely thought that the production had crossed the invisible line that separates the audience from the performers, and I actually started feeling angry towards the production company… and myself. Whether or not that “audience” member was a plant makes no real difference; any goodwill towards the play evaporated at that point. Harrumph.

Murder, on the other hand, is worth it simply for the puppet-fucking.

[2013017] Dandyman

[2013017] Dandyman [FringeTIX]

Daniel Oldaker @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Spare Room

9:45pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

Occasionally you go to a performance that feels… well, unfinished. Like the performer is trialling some material out, evolving the show somewhat, with an eye towards delivering a more coherent experience at another Festival. This is usually most evident with comedians, who trial material and shape their show in Adelaide before migrating to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

But it’s somewhat rarer to find other performance pieces in such an embryonic form. Sure, when I saw last year Dr Brown admitted he was starting his show from scratch, but Dandyman felt even less prepared than that.

Daniel Oldaker’s character, dressed in a sky-blue suit with a bow-tie made of pink drinking straws, is certainly charming enough as he bumbles into The Spare Room and, through shoulder shrugs and smiles and quirky non-lingual vocalisations, tries to drag us into his somewhat vaudevillian world. He juggles balls and clubs; he fashions more straws into odd objects; he attempts to perform with a diabolo.

But Oldaker is clearly not at ease in the venue. He’s constantly looking upwards, unsure whether the stage has the height to permit the tricks he wants to perform; he even takes out a light globe during one constrained juggling attempt. It’s also evident that he’s not quite sure what he’s going to do next; this leaves the audience restless and uncomfortable, doubly so once the Dandyman decides to partially strip.

And maybe that’s the point – to make the audience feel out-of-sorts whilst being distracted by simple carnival tricks. But I can’t fathom what the deeper motivation behind such a decision would be; as a result, I left The Spare Room thinking that I’d just paid good money to watch someone else experiment with ideas of what could possibly, one day, be entertainment.

ff2013, Day 22

Whoops. 4:44am on a Tuesday night, and I’ve got a lunch catchup with friends and a matinée tomorrow. Erm, today.

  1. Thursday
  2. No Moral Compass
  3. Homage to Uncertainty
  4. Michael Hing – Occupy White People
  5. Nik Coppin is Not Racist
  6. Künt and the Gang

A surprisingly big day, in retrospect. It’s not often you can say “let’s crack out six shows today” on a Tuesday.

[2013016] Tim FitzHigham – The Gambler

[2013016] Tim FitzHigham – The Gambler [FringeTIX]

Tim FitzHigham @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Cupola

8:15pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

Plucked from the Fringe Guide for my Shortlist – a decision later validated by the recommendation of an old family friend – I admit to having had no idea who Tim FitzHigham was prior to entering The Cupola. With a quirkiness about the text of his précis, I figured he’d be a pretty safe bet.

After a long and amiable chat with people at the tail end of the queue, I wind up being the last punter in the tent, and take a seat in the penultimate row next to the tech’s desk. It’s a pretty bloody good crowd, and there’s no problems with visibility at this venue – FitzHigham regularly projects images and movies onto an elevated screen, and the man himself purposefully roams the width of the stage, directly addressing as many people as possible.

The Gambler focusses on FitzHigham’s fascination with the habit of gambling… but not normal gambling. He’s more interested in the wagers that people make with each other: that one man can cycle from London to Dover and back again before another can draw a million dots, for example. Weird betting – the types of wagers that you’d expect from eccentric Englishmen.

And that very much describes this show: it’s eccentric in the extreme. FitzHigham’s quirky personality – and passion for doing silly stuff (rowing the English Channel in a bathtub, for example) – certainly helps, but as he revisits his Top Ten Greatest Bets in History there’s plenty of eccentricity fodder.

FitzHigham races (on foot) a racehorse over one hundred yards; he wheels a barrow over 20 miles from Ware to Shoreditch; he reels in a mile of rope to facilitate access to the land he needs to attempt to roll a cheeseboard four miles in less than a hundred rolls. And, yes, the dots-versus-bicycle bet is tackled as well.

The Gambler is an enjoyable excursion, and it’s pretty easy to get swept up in the excitement as FitzHigham struggles to attain his self-imposed goals. His storytelling style is great, though I must admit to getting irked by his tendency to repeat small phrases for emphasis. But it’s a show that remains in the “quirky” bracket, rather than being “compulsory”.

ff2013, Day 21

Due to the Kronos show at Thebby, today was a bit tricky to schedule… it was a long show, awkwardly placed, and overran, too (with the same problem likely to occur with Van Dyke Parks on Friday). So just the three events today… a quiet one!

  1. Festival Fishbowl
  2. Kronos Quartet
  3. Sam Marzden’s History of Rock’n’Roll (1962-1989)

To be quite honest, I’m currently contemplating becoming a professional groupie for Zephyr Quartet; their performance with JG Thirwell’s Manorexia this evening (as “special guests” for Kronos) was quite amazing.

Also: it nearly broke my heart to be the only punter in Sam Marzden’s show this evening (along with two reviewers, a judge, and their comp partners). Please: if you’ve got any interest in rock music or folklore or storytelling, go see the show – it’s a really great script and a lot of fun.

[2013015] Kim Churchill

[2013015] Kim Churchill

Kim Churchill @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Paradiso

7:00pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2013014] Memoirs of a Pageant Princess

[2013014] Memoirs of a Pageant Princess

Emma Khourey @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:30pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

ff2013, Day 19

Ahhhhh – a decent night of sleep, I thought… wrong. Security alarms on a nearby building went off at 7am. Not pleased at all.

  1. The Breakfast Club – Stand Up for the Early Risers
  2. Itsoseng
  3. Agnes of God
  4. KnickKnack
  5. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet
  6. In Defence of Hipsters
  7. Snow Fright & the Apple of Temptation

I’m really not sure what I thought of the Anderson/Kronos gig yet. It was all so odd to me…

[2013013] Ponydance

[2013013] Ponydance [FringeTIX]

Ponydance @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Romantiek

4:00pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

ff2013, Day 18

So – after getting to bed at around 4:30am this morning, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed awake at Laurie Anderson’s performance of Duets on Ice at 10:30am. And then I decided that, on top of being TiredPete, I should engage in a feat of planning that would normally scare me silly – hey, any day that requires two cab rides and still results in me rolling up to a show late is clearly the result of over-optimistic “planning”.

  1. Huggers – The Family Friendly Comedy and Cabaret Show
  2. Stuperstition
  3. 6000 Miles Away
  4. Charles Barrington in one character or less
  5. The Giovanni Experiment

The Festival Opening Night cocktail party was a classy affair – despite being a “VIP” event, the Festival crew still saw fit to let me in, giving me just enough time to neck a couple of glasses of Croser before Sylvie started. And again during the interval. And the food… delicious!

[2013012] Drum Fiasco

[2013012] Drum Fiasco [FringeTIX]

Seneoz @ Gluttony – Pig Tales

2:30pm, Sat 16 Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

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

ff2013, Day 17

It was, most certainly, a Festival Day today. Three Festival shows, plus an opening party for Barrio (which feels much more open and communal as a result). The cocktails as just as I remember them… delicious.

Once upon a time I’d never have given up shows for a party… apologies to any shows on my Shortlist that were in the 10pm-to-midnight band.

  1. The Smile Off Your Face
  2. Skeleton
  3. Doku Rai

Short and sweet: go and see Skeleton. Only the second show ever that I’ve felt compelled to give a standing ovation to. An astonishing piece of contemporary dance.

[2013011] Wolfwolf

[2013011] Wolfwolf

Wolfwolf @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Romantiek

11:15pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

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