[2015005] Angus and Demi are: Best Good Show

[2015005] Angus and Demi are: Best Good Show

Angus Brown & Demi Lardner @ Producers Warehouse

7:15pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

So: I’ve always been a massive fan of Demi Lardner’s comedy (creepy fanboy alert: I once bought her an Andrew O’Neill t-shirt), but I’ve never actually seen her do a whole show… just five- or ten-minute spots in line-up events. Angus Brown, on the other hand, had never really made an impression one way or the other: his enthusiasm onstage is palpable, to be sure, but his material hasn’t quite hit the mark for me. But the opportunity to see Lardner and Brown together presented itself as part of the Producers’ opening night shenanigans, and was pretty hard to ignore; thus, I found my way into a decent-sized crowd that was bubbling with supportive positivity.

Best Good Show presents itself as sketch comedy, tenuously linked together with an absurd storyline: the two comedians have decided to go to a school for morticians, in a storyline that occasionally threatened to go into zombie territory (one of my pet hates), but instead just veered into semi-demonic happenstances that… kinda… sorta… went nowhere. And then wrapped up almost unexpectedly. Besides Angus and Demi themselves, there’s a few recurring characters (indicated by the slightest of changes – a cap, a limp, a strangled accent), and – my favourite – the duck non sequiturs, in which a duck would waddle onstage in-between sketches/scenes to unleash irrelevant “facts” before disappearing again, no explanation given.

And then, of course, there was a bit of audience participation… which is to say, Pete participation. On went a pigeon mask (onto which I attempted to apply my glasses, to almost-condescendingly polite laughter), and wings were applied to my arms… I can’t even remember the point of that sketch, but I’m not sure that’s a problem in a performance that’s as deliberately ramshackle as Best Good Show.

Lardner and Brown play everything for laughs – there’s (brilliantly) awful puns aplenty, and a wonderful physical contrast between Angus’ physique and Demi’s impossibly flexible dancing. And whilst there’s a feeling that Best Good Show might be a work-in-progress, I’m not sure that this was as unscripted as they would like us to believe; I’m not sure the intent is for this piece to evolve over time. But the enthusiasm and interplay of the two performers makes up for any shortcomings in the script, leaving a positive and likeable impression.

[2015004] 3 Steps Ahead

[2015004] 3 Steps Ahead

Point & Flex Circus @ Producers Warehouse

6:00pm, Wed 11 Feb 2015

After a shaky start, 2014’s Temper was a thoroughly enjoyable show, and demonstrated that Point & Flex Circus really knew what they were doing; that alone had them pencilled into the Shortlist. The opportunity to go to the Producers Launch Party – and stitch together four shows in a row – sealed the deal.

But the Point & Flex numbers have halved since Temper, leaving just Marina and Taylor performing 3 Steps Ahead. And they reprise a lot of their strengths from last year’s showcase in solo pieces scattered throughout the show: Taylor displays the more traditional acrobatic skills of stretching, balance, and hoops; Marina veers towards the freakshow side of the circus, with glass walking, juggling, and a weird & wonderful segment where she inserts a paintbrush up her nose, blockhead style, and proceeds to copy a picture (itself selected through cleaver-throwing).

The spine of the performance is the random selection of timed games that the audience helps order (through the shuffling of cards); these games ranged from assembling and flicking paper frogs into a glass, to eating a cookie without using their hands, to balancing five die on a mouth-held pop-stick. Some of the games are terribly one-sided – blowing up ten balloons is much harder than picking up cotton balls using only your nose – but that just created a sense of good-natured fun between the performers and the audience.

After all the little competitions and games, Marina won this evening’s performance by the barest of margins: eleven points to ten. But (to horribly shoe-horn in a cliché) the audience were the real winners this evening: 3 Steps Ahead was a fun, personable, and entertaining display of Point & Flex’s abilities.

(Of course, the other notable memory associated with this performance was the fact that many of the Gravity & Other Myths crew (who mentor Point & Flex) were in the audience. I said hello, fawned over them & their work, and received some thankyous in return… surprising, to be sure, but super-appreciated!)

[2015003] Simon Keck: Eating Tiger Dicks

[2015003] Simon Keck: Eating Tiger Dicks

Simon Keck @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl

10:00pm, Tue 10 Feb 2015

Simon Keck’s Nob Happy Sock was one of the best surprises in last year’s Fringe: an absolutely brilliant show, discussing incredibly dark topics, that came almost unannounced and blew my mind. And with Keck only affording his new show a short run in Adelaide (prior to taking it to Fringe World), and the opportunity to create a nice three-show run on the opening night of Festivities, it was a no-brainer to slot this performance in.

Eating Tiger Dicks sees Keck delivering lines via two mouthpieces: Tug DeLabranska, a self-help guru, is the show’s central character, cajoling the audience with ludicrous and conflicting new-age platitudes. Keck himself essentially narrates Tug’s sudden descent from all-conquering guru, through drug episodes and blackmail attempts against him, in a clever script that uses the transition between the two personae effectively. There’s a few accompanying PowerPoint slides – you’d better like your arseholes to be anthropomorphised – and a plot-line that threatens to spiral out of control before coming together for a tight finish.

But this was opening night for the show (a world premiere!), and things… well, things did not go smoothly.

Not only did Keck regularly require line readings – awkward the first time, but genuinely comical and played-for-laughs by the tenth – but his tech at the Howling Owl also struggled: with lighting controls at one end of the bar, the laptop controlling the accompanying PowerPoint at the other, and the light by which he could check the script in the middle, the tech was running a confused track up and back behind the bar all show. Slides came up early, lights dropped late, and… well, it was a little messy.

And then there was a bit of crowd interaction. Which, of course, meant Me.

Initially (I thought) dragged up for a bit of scripted banter, Keck then turned and returned to his monologue with the audience… all but ignoring me onstage. I tried to creep back to my seat, and was roundly admonished; the conclusion of my involvement – which, we were all assured, would be “worth it” – was awkward for pretty much everyone. (Keck asked for feedback at the end of the show; I suggested that the audience participant bit was “too long on stage”. Keck replied that he wanted it to be really awkward for the audience member… Mission accomplished, sir!)

But here’s the thing: even with all the opening night mistakes – the line calls, the missed lighting cues, the premature PowerPoints – Eating Tiger Dicks was still bloody funny. Indeed, some of the line calls and early glimpses at slides made parts of the show seem almost cunningly prescient… like they were part of some elaborate design to subvert the audience’s expectations. Keck’s apologies and requests for feedback at the end of the show scotched that idea, but the fact remains that I had a lot of fun with this performance… even with my incredibly awkward time on stage.

[2015002] Gordon Southern – Long Story Short

[2015002] Gordon Southern – Long Story Short

Gordon Southern @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl

8:45pm, Tue 10 Feb 2015

It’s always a delight to turn up to a line-up or ensemble show to see Gordon Southern’s name on the list of performers; he’s always proven to be a ridiculously effective comedian, guaranteed to get a room roaring with gut-laughter within the confines of a ten-minute spot. But I was unsure as to whether he could maintain the mirth over a full set… but an early start to his season at the Rhino Room gave me the opportunity to find out.

Of course, the first performance of a new show is rarely the best time to evaluate such things.

Southern’s style is rapid-fire and occasionally pun-heavy, with the speed of delivery allowing potentially dubious material to pass by before secondary responses kick in; his northern suburb references would feel hackneyed if the delivery wasn’t so enthusiastic. But the bulk of his material revolves around his father, who suffers from vascular dementia – and, with my own father fading, and a mother who is beset with dementia, that material has a poignancy to it. But when Southern uses that thread to go other places – like a Costco ramble that is equal parts praising, damning, and fat-shaming – it’s pretty clear which parts of his script have had the longest gestation.

Long Story Short is clearly not fully-baked, yet. Southern is constantly referring to his notes, there’s a big sagging lull in the middle of the show from which he has to work hard to extricate himself, and his tech was still learning the “Fun Fact” and rap cues.

But Southern’s saving grave is the unflappable enthusiasm that he brings to the stage. That, combined with an audience of long-time fans (including Con the taxi-driver in the front row) who lap up every word, covers over a wealth of cracks in his material. And I have little doubt that, over time, the flatter parts of this show will be weeded out, leaving a more taut experience… but we’ll likely never see that in Adelaide. What I saw this evening was uneven and patchy; but it was also touching and funny.

[2015001] Greg Fleet in Ad Lib-Oration

[2015001] Greg Fleet in Ad Lib-Oration

Greg Fleet @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl

7:30pm, Tue 10 Feb 2015

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Greg Fleet; from the moment I first saw him (in 1998?), there was something about his style that I found compelling. But I’ve often lamented that I rarely found his shows to be the solid gold that I thought he was capable of delivering; but, many years after I last saw him perform a solo show (and after a podcast appearance reinvigorated my interest in the man’s work), I decided it was time to give Fleety another bash.

As soon as I arrived at the Rhino Room, I was accosted by Fleet’s manager: he was thrusting a six-question survey into the hands of the audience. The questions were simple: write the title for a play (“go crazy!” it suggested, throwing some of the eventual responses into eyebrow-raising relief). Name a superhero (“real” or made-up). A deity or mythical creature, a murder weapon. A vehicle. A household implement. I tried to walk a line between silly and solid with my responses, realising that these would be the fodder for his performance… it did not matter, in the end, as none of my ideas made it to air.

In a drawn-out process that screamed “opening night teething” (or “we didn’t quite think this through”), the six responses from each audient were placed into numbered jars; Fleet then took to the stage and, in his laid-back manner (whilst occasionally veering into his old-man voice), he explained the concept of Ad Lib-Oration: using responses plucked from the jars, he would improvise a story to link the fragments together. The idea, he joked, spawned from the desire to avoid the usual late-minute-show-writing panic that accompanies Fringe shows; he also assured us that it was equal parts inspiration and laziness.

And the first story – “The Merchant of Renmark” – demonstrated the potential of the idea; the title was supplemented by a Farmers Union Iced Coffee thread (laced with violent homosexuality) which drifted over centuries in a bizarre tale which Fleet somehow held together. Unfortunately, subsequent suggested titles – “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Homer” – didn’t provide quite the same depth of comic material, though “Earnest” at least had a murder being committed using the unconscious body of a best friend’s wife.

A show like this has the potential to live or die by the audience suggestions, and I was pretty disappointed by the “ideas” submitted by the room this evening. But Fleet supplements his short ad-libbed stories with segments of his standup material which, in these shorter bursts, worked really well; his fallback old-man voice was also used to great effect, and the open references to his previous addictions were refreshing. Most impressive of all was the theatrical nature of Fleet’s performance; his NIDA training comes to the fore with a great sense of presence and timing.

The show is capped off with a three minute flurry, where Fleet tries to connect as many of the remaining suggestions together in one narrative as possible. This was a bloody amusing – if completely incoherent – way to wrap up an amusing performance… with the right source material, one imagines that Fleet could improvise some fantastic tales. This evening, however, the laughs were present, but thinner than one would like.