ff2014, Day 11

A weird old day: I caught The Magnets doing a short set at the Central Markets, was up on stage twice, fell asleep in a show, and got to see the masterful Jacques Barrett again. Dear lord he’s amazing.

  1. Gobsmacked
  2. CJ Delling – Reality Bandit
  3. Joel Creasey in Rock God
  4. Jon Bennett: Fire In The Meth Lab
  5. Shaggers

Bizarre discovery of the day: dumplings are not-so-good for preparing one for a significant drinking session.

[2014008] We’re Kind Of A Big Deal

[2014008] We’re Kind Of A Big Deal [FringeTIX]

Nick O’Connell & Joe Sampson @ Horner and Pratt

6:45pm, Fri 14 Feb 2014

It’s the first time I’ve been in Horner and Pratt as a venue, and it’s immediately reminiscent of a lot of my experiences in my first Big Fringe: the performance space is little more than a small room with makeshift bench seating on the first floor of the building. I take a seat at the back of the room – a nearby fan counteracts the humidity, and the wall provides back support. There’s a couple of Nick O’Connell’s friends (or family) in, and one wary looking couple; a clutch of young women turn up about five minutes into O’Connell’s set.

And, as the lead act in this show-of-two-halves, O’Connell doesn’t really have the big opening required to get the audience cackling early… to be fair, though, the Wary Couple (or the male half thereof) seemed to be physically unable to crack a smile. Opening with material that’d be immediately familiar to local comedy-goers, Nick engages in a bit of self-deprecation (comparing himself to Bieber, and showing off his impressive “guns”), and leverages his prime story thread: his habit of ruining his Mum’s birthday. There’s some good laughs to be found, but it feels like he doesn’t let the material breath… and his callbacks, despite seeming quite clever, somehow don’t seem to work (though the use of his strip-club material to tie it all together is pretty good).

There’s an immediate change in tone as Joe Sampson immediately gets the (growing) crowd onside – he possesses the laconic drawl of rural upbringing in his voice and material. He talks about the family inheritance – limited in his case to some kitchen utensils – before tackling (almost literally) Big Issue salespeople, and random stories about walking the Mall with his grandmother. There’s also some odd sideways references to his nature – he works at Roxby, and gives to charity.

Overall, Sampson acquitted himself as a comfortable performer on stage who lacks a little material; O’Connell felt like the opposite, nervously delivering the material he had. But whilst neither could consider themselves a Big Deal yet, it’s not hard to imagine that (with a bit more experience) they could both grow into solid comedians.

ff2014, Day 10

It’d be a lot easier to give artists money if they (a) scheduled shows outside the band of 7pm-10pm, and (2) didn’t cancel shows outside of that timespan. Just sayin’.

  1. Bekitzor
  2. Gravity Boots: Can you believe we’re in a forest?
  3. WOODCOURT: Carly and Troy do ‘A Doll’s House’
  4. WOODCOURT: Jackson! Le diner est prêt!

One of the dancers from Bekitzor (Bella?) came up to us in the Fringe Club this evening to thank us for coming; how lovely is that?

[2014007] Rhys Nicholson – ‘Eurgh’

[2014007] Rhys Nicholson – ‘Eurgh’ [FringeTIX]

Rhys Nicholson @ Rhino Room – Beer Garden

10:15pm, Thu 13 Feb 2014

I first encountered Rhys Nicholson at a Friday night Rhino Room session last year: his ten- or fifteen-minutes onstage was deliriously funny, playing up his outrageously amplified camp-ness with material that would make most comedians blush. But this was the first time I’d been to see Nicholson perform a full set of material… and there’s an element of danger to that.

The first week of Fringe is always a bit of a dicey affair when it comes to comedy: whilst some comedians with a wealth of experience are confident enough to take to the stage and cherry-pick the material that seems appropriate for the performance, younger comics tend to want to leave the writing of their shows to the last minute. And that’s fair enough – I sure as hell defer all my work to the last minute, too. But, as a result, the first week of Fringe is a potential minefield of jokes that haven’t really been tested in the wild, along with “I don’t care what you think, that’s my favourite joke and I’m leaving it in” quips.

And that’s pretty much where Rhys was this evening… but he has an incredibly compelling saving grace.

Because Rhys Nicholson’s stage presence is absolutely amazing.

From the moment he walks onstage and spunks glittery confetti all over the crowd, he utterly dominates the stage with a thick layer of campy makeup. You never get the feeling that this is a stage personae; Rhys owns that presentation, and when he trots out gay-laced material, it’s delivered in an almost matter-of-fact manner: it’s like he’s saying “hey, if it’s shocking, that’s your problem.”

There is a central thread to the show – the idea that people can be classified as “sheep” or “guard llamas” – that somewhat justifies the constant presence of an inflatable llama onstage; but the use of that thread as a constant story beat is tenuous at best, though the visual juxtaposition of an outrageously camp looking man next to an inflatable llama is delicious. And, as mentioned, the material in Eurgh is clearly still being fleshed out, and Nicholson seemed to have a habit of rolling straight on without pausing after a previous joke dies; whilst this keeps the audience bubbling along, it also leads to a few disconcerting moments where topics wildly shift.

But, in the absence of an end-to-end set of solid material, there’s still Nicholson’s stage presence to admire: and he is a magnificent specimen. For a loose five or ten, he is absolutely solid gold, dark and twisted and acerbic; when he builds up his material to provide a full set, he’ll be unmissable. This evening, though, he was easy to like and laugh with (and at), but I came away wanting a little more.

[2014006] Musical Skeletons in my Closet

[2014006] Musical Skeletons in my Closet [FringeTIX]

Alison Kimber & Emma Knights @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Thu 13 Feb 2014

Alison Kimber reckons there are some songs out there that we secretly love, but are ashamed to admit; the songs that have a cheesy sentimentality to them, or that we just love to dance to. And, as she takes to the stage to belt out a rendition of The Sound of Music, she introduces us to the song that inspired her interest in singing.

Accompanied by Emma Knights on piano, and with cheerful interstitial explanations between songs, Kimber then trotted out a series of her “embarrassing” favourites: from I Still Call Australia Home (inspired by an Australia Day spent in New York) through a collection of booming ballads and thence to two instances of Abba’s Dancing Queen (one in the encore), she justifies the significance of these songs to her.

Kimber’s voice remains strong and clean throughout, but perhaps a little lacking in emotion; luckily, the packed audience was more-than-willing to come along for the ride, enthusiastically singing along when asked. Knights (also musical director for the show) provided solid accompaniment, and there was even a smattering of roses from someone in the audience during the encore.

But here’s the thing: I love K-pop. Unreservedly, unabashedly, un-ironically. When Kimber was singing Duffy’s Mercy, a little voice inside my head was singing Girls’ Generation’s Dancing Queen – in Korean. And I realise that, as a bloke in his mid-forties, that is something that would normally be kept in the closet. So, whilst Kimber trotted out some nice songs, I wasn’t really impressed by her admissions: there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about here. These songs were populist crowd-pleasers in their day, and they’re populist crowd-pleasers now.

But that takes nothing away from the performance here: Kimber and Knights delivered an enjoyable set of songs that had the audience smiling – if not cackling – in glee.

[2014005] New Cabal

[2014005] New Cabal [FringeTIX]

The New Cabal @ La Bohème

10:00pm, Wed 12 Feb 2014

Once again, I found myself in the position of being able to sneak in a Wednesday night jazz session at La Bohème before the hurly-burly of the Fringe proper; once again, a glass of their pinot noir and a booth at the back of the room (where, thankfully, the acoustics seem to have improved markedly) supplemented The New Cabal’s original jazz stylings.

It’s the same lineup as last year – Lyndon Gray (appears to lead) on double bass, Chris Martin on keys, Kevin van der Zwaag on drums, and Chris Soole on smoky sax. Opening with a broody number in Aung San Suu Kyi, they smoothly cruised through their opening set (including a piece by double-bassist Marc Johnson), paring back for solos to show the talents of the group.

The second set kicked off with Martin’s One For The Road: it’s a magnificent track, dark and stormy and vivid, and it petered out with a glorious extended bass solo by Gray. The rest of the set was more smooth jazz goodness – it’s obvious that these guys have a great rapport, and the understated slickness of their performance is impressive.

As with last year’s show, The New Cabal (or is it just “New Cabal”?) was the perfect tonic for me; on this occasion, a super-shitty week at work (and all the stress associated with wrapping things up prior to Festival Holidays) needed a performance that I could just let wash over me… and, whilst the show wasn’t punctuated with any oddball audience hijinks like last year, this was still a wonderfully laid-back experience.

ff2014, Day 9

An odd day, really: planning was a real mish-mash, with last minute decisions and reversals. Still, it turned out to be a bloody entertaining run of shows.

  1. In Canberra Tonight in Adelaide Tonight
  2. Folly – A Miserable Yorkshire Poetry Musical
  3. Nath Valvo – Almost 30
  4. Sex with Animals

I was so totally not in the mood for heavy theatre today; light’n’breezy is what I needed. Three hours sleep on top of plentiful jelly shots does that to a person.

ff2014, Day 8

Hello! Just got back from the Fringe Club. Listened to DJ BottleRockets whilst occasionally sitting under an umbrella. Some guy who I didn’t recognise came up to me and asked how many shows I’d seen, then jokingly told me to pull my finger out.

It is late, and I am drunk.

  1. Square Peg
  2. Trash Test Dummies
  3. The Sheds
  4. The Darker
  5. Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure

I’m not sure, but I think that the $3-jelly-shot announcement was actually a warning. Will let you know tomorrow.

ff2014, Day 7

The first Monday. The Garden is closed, options are limited… but none of that matters, because Zephyr is playing.

  1. Radio Variety Hour
  2. Jazzflip – Zephyr Quartet vs 1.1 Immermann

Long story short: that Jazzflip session was fucking amazing. Not only did I get my jollies from watching Zephyr perform once more, but 1.1 Immermann may become another in the increasingly long line of bands that I will start following around like an affectionate puppy. That closing song brought the best type of tears to my eyes.

[2014004] Rachel Collis – Naked Dream

[2014004] Rachel Collis – Naked Dream [FringeTIX]

Rachel Collis @ La Bohème

8:00pm, Wed 12 Feb 2014

My endearing memory of Rachel Collis is that she was a quality cabaret performer somewhat restricted by her lyrical content; her show last year left me somewhat conflicted. So the opportunity to see her again – to confirm or dismiss my personal concerns & reactions – was locked in nice and early.

In front of a quiet audience of ten (of which two were reviewers), Collis sang and played piano (and, occasionally, ukelele) without accompaniment. Dressed in an inverse of last year’s ensemble – red hair and black dress, versus 2013’s black hair and red dress – Collis hunched over the keys and thoughtfully concocted her opening piece If I Could… it’s a beautiful piece, with contemplative and heartfelt lyrics that meld with the tone of the song.

And, unfortunately, it’s the highlight of the show.

Whilst Winter in Munich resurrects that kind of vibe later in the performance, much of the content feels like an attempt to create quirky numbers with comedy content. Many of her songs tend to have curious rhymes that capture the imagination (“heaven” with “devon”, “pina colada” with “cicada”) which delight the first time, but grate after the fourth or fifth repetition… because they’re the lead lines in the chorus.

And… there’s little passion in the lyrics. There’s songs about the Lebanese restaurant in her neighbourhood that exploded, there’s songs about her cats, and they’re delivered in the same style and tone. The closest she gets to passion (after the sterling opener) is singing about her husband… but, even then, only the words are there: singing a little softer, and bobbing your head a little lower to the keys, doesn’t completely sell it to me. And the encore, a tweaked version of her old favourite If the Germans Won the War, was disappointing: the change of federal government has stretched her capacity for political commentary to near breaking-point.

And that’s a massive shame, because I actually enjoy her performance. I love Collis’ voice – she manages buttery smooth transitions from low to high… though her highs can get a little shrill in extended stretches. And her playing is lovely – her left hand can really hammer those low notes out. And whilst the construction of most of her songs has an enjoyable appreciation of space, the lyrics… I just can’t get past the lyrics.

[2014003] Bitch Boxer

[2014003] Bitch Boxer [FringeTIX]

Snuff Box Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Tue 11 Feb 2014

With the London 2012 Olympics on the horizon, the IOC declared that Women’s Boxing will be an Olympic sport for the first time. Chloe, from suburban Leytonstone in East London, is determined to represent the UK in the ring – after all, the bouts are to be held in Stafford, just down the road… it’s fate, isn’t it?

But after her coach – and father – dies (hmmm… should you warn about spoilers if the event occurs in the first five minutes of the show? … not that anyone reads this!), the emotional turmoil – or lack thereof, as she bottles up her feelings – creates a sense of tension in her character. There’s focus, and lack-of-focus; doe-eyed schoolgirl crushes, and steely-eyed don’t-fuck-with-me determination.

There’s two sides to Chloe, played here by Holly Augustine: there’s the tough-as-nails athlete, a hero-in-waiting, who we’re introduced to in the opening moments of the play as she locks herself out of home and athletically engineers her way back in; but there’s also the cutesy, smitten version of herself, revelling in the adoration provided by her boyfriend. Augustine flits between the two personae with ease, and the transitions seem to be written so as to maximise their contrast; and it’s when the attributes of the two sides of herself get mixed up that the real tension occurs.

Despite the frugal staging – there’s little more to the set than a chair and a boxing ring sketched out in talcum powder – the direction is quite lovely; lighting is tight, and the manner in which the powder gets scuffed around the floor over the course of the hour seems to mirror the frantic nature of the play. The final scenes are a bit of a blur, as Augustine convincingly brawls with an invisible other in the ring; the physicality of her performance is impressive. And the Eminem break in the middle of the show? It’s near-on perfect.

The lovely Martha Lott has brought some cracking bits of theatre from the Edinburgh Fringe to Adelaide in the past; Bitch Boxer was the winner of the 2013 Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Award, and thoroughly deserves a decent audience. It’s a cracking story that, whilst maybe a little thin in exposition, allows for a wonderful performance by Augustine; she should certainly be featuring in any Fringe awards.

ff2014, Day 6

What a patchy old day this was! Crowds varied wildly throughout my five shows: near-sell-out, five, near-sell-out, half-full, and quarter-full-and-clueless. That last one was really fucking weird.

  1. The Iron(ic) Lady
  2. Roaring Accordion
  4. The Market
  5. Safety First

On my way to Bluebee Room I happened upon a young lass from Hong Kong trying to find the TuxCat’s Pultney Street digs; apparently Jon Bennett has a free ticket for couch-surfers things going at the moment. Since it was right on starting time when I met her, we jogged the block-and-a-half to Raj House, where Bennett’s show had been rescheduled; while I was there, I took the opportunity to check out the fancy Raj House (so much has changed since I saw Neil Hamburger there in December!) and have a lovely chat with Fee. So I reckon that’s karma at work.

[2014002] Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking

[2014002] Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking [FringeTIX]

Tangram Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Tue 11 Feb 2014

After the fun and intelligent take on Charles Darwin that Tangram Theatre brought to Adelaide in 2012, the mention of the same creative team taking on the life & work of Albert Einstein instantly caused a tick to appear in the “Must See” column of the Scheduling Spreadsheet; the fact that Holden Street allowed very early preview performances meant that this show was locked in.

But, initially, I was fearful: John Hinton’s appearance onstage as (a convincing) Einstein was accompanied by a pre-recorded introduction to the “lecture” he would be presenting… and it felt very – well, cheap. Forced, even. And when the first musical number came along (yes, there was exposition through song), Hinton’s clever lyrics were overwhelmed by the keyboards played by Einstein’s second wife (Jo Eagle, who remained mute throughout as she took on the occasional roles of Albert’s mother & both his wives).

And so, only ten minutes in, I was teetering on the edge of abject disappointment.

But then, to support the “lecture” that Einstein was delivering, Hinton embarks on his first physics lesson with the support of the audience: he arranges a love affair with an older woman and my old friend Dmitry to teach us about the inertial frame of reference, and uses another audience pairing (including a terrified young woman, a vacuum cleaner, and a light sabre) to add the constant nature of the speed of light to present the Theory of Special Relativity. There’s more songs explaining theorems and concepts, and it’s all pretty cleverly written – even if the musical descriptions of physical concepts weren’t always bang-on.

The highlight of Hinton’s script (and musical embellishment) is undoubtedly the appearance of rapper MC Squared: it’s a brilliantly pun-laden rap with a confusingly fun gesture-along exercise for the audience. And, rather than asking for audience volunteers (as per other interactions), I was plucked straight out of the thirty-odd crowd to play the role of Sir Arthur Eddington in conversation with Einstein… I’d like to think that I carried off the toffy English accent, gammy leg, and chicken clucking required of the character pretty well ;)

But when we start talking about the Manhattan Project – and the realisation that Einstein’s work (like Nobel’s) had been used to kill hundreds of thousands of people, there’s a definite poignancy in the script; introduced by a relatively stark piece of exposition through newspaper headlines, a slow and almost mournful song laments the outcome of his work. The denouement is a tricky thing, trying to clamber back some laughs and not completely succeeding… but there’s so much fun to be had in the middle that it’s easy to forgive the closing minutes.

Whilst nowhere near as polished as his previous show, Relativitively Speaking is still an entertaining – and educational – performance. Hinton’s performance is grinningly good (despite some dialogue being obscured by the over-hot music), and Eagle’s sparse character accompaniment was fantastic – the snarl from Einstein’s first wife was superb. The embedded physics lessons are pretty good – certainly more fun than the lectures I sat through at uni! – with the historical content being used for both comedy and emotional weight. And with a bunch of lovely subtle touches (like the application of T=Al^C to facilitate ageing), this became a show that satisfied on many levels.

ff2014, Day 5

So this was a nice way to ease into the Fringe: a gentle six shows in the day, rounded off with a Fringe Club investigation (which yielded a bunch of non-Artsy people – or, as Fez Faanana would call them, “boring bogan c#nts”).

  1. The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana
  2. WOODCOURT: Animorphed
  4. Claire Ford: ConsciousMess
  5. Chris Radburn – Breaking Rad
  6. Rainbow Rabbits with Rabies

It was a cracking set of shows today, with only one or two lesser lights. Despite its oddball name (and presence in the “Comedy” section of the Guide), Nob Happy Sock is my first sure-fire winner of this year’s Fringe: whilst it is funny, it’s also poignant and sweet and meaningful.

ff2014, Day 4

The “official” opening of the Fringe has been and gone; it’s time to get down to business.

  1. We’re Kind Of A Big Deal
  2. 36 Hours
  3. Ro Campbell: You take the High Ro, I’ll take the Low Ro.

The fully-opened Garden of Unearthly Delights? The Garden of Sandbanked Barkchips, more like. I imagine Gluttony would be a mudbowl by now; the ground was so sodden that my toe-shoes were sinking about an inch into the soil (and, hence, filling with water). The Austral Red Room is still a hotbox. And the Producers Bar Beer Garden looks like a fantastic late-night hangout spot – especially if The BottleRockets are playing.