[2013005] 3 Tales of Woe

[2013005] 3 Tales of Woe [FringeTIX]

Professor Forbes @ Ayers House Museum – Loft

8:00pm, Thu 14 Feb 2013

After fretting about with Dad in hospital – chatting with doctors and whatnot – everything was as organised as it could be; I grabbed a lift back into the city and checked the Fringe App. 3 Tales of Woe was in the right timeslot, easy to get to, and – more importantly – on The Shortlist.

Down to Ayers House I trundled, and up (for the first time) to The Loft, a tiny little room above the Museum. In one corner, a shadow box; fanning out around it were twenty seats, three-quarters of which were full – pleasing for such an early show in the Fringe! I took my seat in the second row, only to chastise myself when two of the tallest people I’ve ever seen (slight hyperbole, there) arrived just before the lights dropped and planted themselves in front of me. Annoying, but completely my fault.

3 Tales of Woe lives up to its name in presenting excerpts from The Raven, A Christmas Carol (perhaps more an indictment of capitalism than a tale of woe, but whatever), and Azathoth. Amber Forbes’ puppeteering is reasonably good, with a great deal of care being put into the little movements – the angle of the head, the actions of the hands. But the setup time for each change of scene – though necessary – feels too long, and whilst the variation throughout The Raven was welcome, the single scene of A Christmas Carol (in which Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost) is almost static, with just the jiggling of Marley’s chains to create variation. Azathoth, on the other hand, is an almost conceptual piece that seems to have a bold driving force behind it… but I imagine that idea would almost be better animated, than limited but the scope of shadow puppetry.

With one exception, most of the puppets (and their frames) are pretty coarse; and unfortunately for this production, Adelaide has been blessed in recent years to see the creations of Mr. Bunk‘s shadow puppetry… and despite their junkyard origins, Bunk manages to imbue his performances with a charm and polish that wins the audience over. 3 Tales of Woe is sadly bereft of charm – only the male puppet used to spin in a mental maelstrom has any real character – and polish is sorely lacking; the readings of the three pieces were all quite flat and inexpressive, with A Christmas Carol sounding dull almost to the point of disinterest.

And that’s perhaps the biggest problem with this production; if the narrator of the works doesn’t sound interested, why should we – as the audience – care? Perhaps the idea was to create a sense of cold distance with the readings, to drench them with a detached sense of dread; but it didn’t work for me, and instead I felt like I was being forcibly held at arm’s length… less woeful than unengaged.

ff2013, Day 6

Awww yeah. Now we’re getting into the groove of things.

  1. The Art of Letting Go
  2. Low Hanging Fruit
  3. Sullivan and Bok
  4. Like a Fishbone
  5. 3
  6. Danny Stinson’s ‘Confessions Of A Psych Nurse’

I managed my first ticket snafu today, too. Silly Petee, you really must double check session times when booking tickets. Still, that little fuck-up led me to see Sullivan and Bok earlier than anticipated, who – despite the audience of two (the other of whom used to live in my building! Adelaide!) – put on a cracker of a show.

Mind you, with a breakfast of a Boost Juice and a late lunch of mojitos, it was always going to be a good day…

[2013004] The New Cabal

[2013004] The New Cabal [FringeTIX]

The New Cabal @ La Bohème

10:30pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

After arriving home from back-to-back theatre at Holden Street, I was feeling a bit beside myself: Dad was going into surgery tomorrow, it was to be my last day at work before holidays (necessitating a panicky handover), and… well, I was just feeling awful. Nervy, jumpy, unsettled.

But I knew that The New Cabal were on at La Bohème… so I figured that some jazz and a quiet glass of wine might help me calm down a little.

Off I trotted, arriving to find La B maybe half full. I grabbed a glass of pinot noir (no Alicante behind the bar now!) and sat at the cocktail table at the back of the room, by the door. I collapsed against the wall, sipping my red; this, I thought, is just what I needed.

And when The New Cabal started up, it was pretty much exactly what I was expecting – a standard double bass / drums / sax / keys combo meandering their way through half-a-dozen wandering numbers. Saxophonist Chris Soole wrote a couple of the pieces (and also looked familiar – was he part of Butt School?), Lyndon Gray’s double bass was amazingly quick, Chris Martin’s keys fleshed things out nicely, and Kevin van der Zwaag kept things moving along smoothly on drums.

Whilst my jazz knowledge is admittedly pretty shallow, it seemed like they played a full set of originals – Soole contributing a couple of tracks, and Martin’s contribution (One for the Road?) was a smokey, broody wonder. Sure, I forgot all my previous lessons from attending shows at La Bohème – sitting right at the back of the room, the bass and drums become muddy, overwhelmed by the sharp edges of keys and sax notes. But on the occasions they allow the bass to dominate – both upright and on the keys – it sounds amazing… and the band revels in it.

So I was thankfully chilling out, enjoying some tunes, thinking that this had been a brilliant idea… but the best was yet to come.

During their final piece (a solid bluesy Soole composition), a tattered individual enters La Bohème; his shoes were in his hands, and his white bandana (wrapped around his skull) shone like a beacon. After being instructed by staff to put his shoes on, he body-popped his way into a chair (that he removed and replaced with a flourish) and applied them to his feet; he then body-popped back to a standing position and started very physically grooving, eventually grazing one of the cocktail tables. Staff came over and suggested he leave; he listened intently to their suggestions, then body-popped his way out the door, yelling out “yeah… JAZZ!” as he left the building. But the truly great thing? Every pop, every noise, every movement was perfectly in time with the tune being played.

And that… well, that could be my Favourite Moment of the Fringe. And we’ve barely even started.

ff2013, Day 5

Busy day. Hospital-hopping, followed by seven shows.

  1. Drum Fiasco
  2. Ponydance
  3. Memoirs of a Pageant Princess
  4. Kim Churchill
  5. Tim Fitzhigham – The Gambler
  6. Dandyman
  7. Naked Unicorn Vomit – Nicole Henriksen

When I planned my afternoon out, I was under the assumption that the mid-week forecast of moderate weekend temperatures was accurate. With the benefit of hindsight, exclusively seeing shows in tents in the afternoon sun is not a good idea.

Sadly, the amazing promise of the Dutch pork from the Garden’s Pigs On Fire has given way to a sad reality. The pork is good, but not great, and their snags are disappointing. I’ve yet to sample their spec rolls, but I’m thinking that Gluttony’s burger place is still the best bet at the moment.

[2013003] Glory Dazed

[2013003] Glory Dazed [FringeTIX]

Second Shot Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

Returning to The Studio a mere half-hour after Angry Young Man finished, it was interesting to see the change in scenery: where the previous performance had just used the empty space with no backdrops whatsoever, the Glory Dazed crew had inserted the interior of an English pub into the space. And the play starts with a jolt: the lights snap on, revealing three characters fearfully watching the door to the pub; there’s a tangible sense of terror in their eyes as they hold the pose for tense moments.

They quietly confer amongst themselves – is He gone? – but their questions are answered by a violent banging on the door. The source of their fear is Ray, a British soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; his ex-wife Carla, her current beau (and Ray’s former best friend and workmate) Simon, and young barmaid Leanne are trapped inside the pub. Ray’s trying to find Carla – he’s got something important to tell her, he says – but she is adamant she doesn’t want to see him; physical abuse is implied and confirmed, but the emotional abuse is the focus of this play.

There’s tension aplenty as Ray manipulates his way inside the pub; he’s covered in blood, and is in Big Trouble, with the occasional passing police siren raising his hackles. And then the emotional battles begin: Ray attempts to convince Carla to leave dingy Donnington with him and their kids to go to Brighton, ostensibly to escape the police… but also for a New Start. But he also brazenly flirts with Leanne, introducing her to The Game in an effort to get her drunk, and the slight prickle between he and Simon comes to a head when it’s revealed that Simon and Carla are now dating. Most of the critical exchanges are two-handers, with the less-used characters drifting into the background; as the play tumbles towards its conclusion, there’s a lot of pain on display as words are used as bullets.

Glory Dazed lives and dies on the portrayal of Ray by Samuel Edward-Cook – and he provides a perfect portrayal of a shattered vodka-swilling hard-man, physically dominating the stage and snapping between the fractured elements of his broken psyche. When he roars, he’s genuinely intimidating; when he emotionally cowers, he comes across as fragile, brittle. But the transitions between those states are almost too sudden; sure, the script is trying to portray the nature of a PTSD-affected serviceman, but the result feels… exaggerated. Too big.

And these transitions end up making the performance feel two-paced; loud shouty soliloquies separated by quieter moments of almost desperate, struggling tenderness. And that would be great… if the tender moments didn’t contrast so markedly: it’s almost as if they don’t seem to fit.

But the biggest problem I had with Glory Dazed is that none of the characters are likeable – Ray constantly jars when switching from brute to pissed-giggler, Carla’s flip-flopping from restraining-order to consoling-partner irks, and Simon just feels like a weedy runt for most of the performance. But Leanne… oh, Leanne. Used as either comic relief or a battering ram for most of the performance, she delivers the moment in the last ten seconds of the play… a glance. Just a sideways look. But that look was so full of fear and cowering respect and… wow. It was just amazing; if one look alone could win a best acting gong, Kristin Atherton would win hands down.

Despite its well-meaning political inclinations, Glory Dazed had my mind grumbling for much of the performance. Yes, I know PTSD is a serious issue… but maybe that was at the heart of my problem with the show: the fact that I know that PTSD is out there, affecting the lives of thousands of people and families. Maybe I’m not the target audience; maybe other people are fine with the delivery that borders on blunt and episodic. But then I think back to That Look, and how that caused me to well up with tears almost instantly… and all else is forgotten.

ff2013, Day 4

I decided to man up and actually attend stuff in the Garden on opening/Parade night. Wasn’t as terrible as I’d expected.

Except towards the end. Drunk people get pretty messy, don’t they?

  1. On The Shoulders Of Giants
  2. Leo
  3. Tommy Bradson – Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre
  4. Frisky and Mannish – Extra Curricular Activities
  5. WolfWolf

As I grabbed a flyer (souvenirs, y’know?) from the producer of Frisky and Mannish, she looked at me strangely: “I remember you from last year. Aren’t you media?”

“Well… I blog,” I offered. “Would being media make a difference?”

“It’s preview night,” she replied, “We don’t want reviewers in on previews. Enjoy the show.”

So there you have it: blogs aren’t media. That’s a weight off my mind!

[2013002] Angry Young Man

[2013002] Angry Young Man [FringeTIX]

Mahwaff Theatre Co. @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

Way back in 2006, a little play called Angry Young Man ran away with a whole heap of plaudits from the Adelaide Fringe; it was a great little production, at once poignant and pointed and political and funny; a great bit of writing, wonderfully performed. So I was pretty happy to see it return to Holden Street again: enough time had passed that I’d forgotten the nuances of the production, but the memory of a solidly enjoyable show remained.

And as soon as the play started, with four men sitting in the centre of the stage gently grooving to Smooth Operator, the memories came flooding back: all four are identically dressed in grey suits and maroon ties, and all four take turns playing the central character, Yuri (both with a stuttering, East European-accented in-place delivery, and as a straight narrator). Yuri’s life as a surgeon in his (unnamed) home country is cut short by a force majeure (or, perhaps, an episode of malpractice); seeking to apply his medical skills in England, a poor choice of airports and an opportunistic cabbie leave him penniless and destitute pending an interview with a new hospital. As a result of a misunderstanding in a park, he meets Patrick – and from there he is swept along in a left-wing liberal plot which is derailed by lust, leading to an encounter with skinheads who object to his foreign presence in their country. There’s a hint of revenge, of reflecting the treatment of immigrants to Britain… and a heartfelt, feel good ending.

Beside the two voices of Yuri, each actor also takes on another role: Yuri A doubled as the dim-but-confident Patrick who offers Yuri a lifeline (and conspires to ruin him), the luscious Allison (played with great comic conviction by the smallest of the Yuris, B), and Yuri C dropped into a collection of various right-wing keep-Britain-for-the-British thugs. Much comic relief is delivered by Yuri D, writer Ben Woolf’s original role; mute for most of the performance, his alter characters included a urinating cherub “of small stature”, a set of antlers hanging on the wall, and a brilliantly performed old labrador.

The familiarity of the piece had me thinking that this was the same production that toured here seven years ago; a little lighter in tone, perhaps, but otherwise identical. So I was staggered (after chatting with Yuris A and B after the show) to discover that it’s an entirely new cast – and that this polished production was only a couple of weeks old. The group performance was superb, with a seemingly seasoned understanding – and impeccable timing – between the actors; character transitions are particularly neat, with a physical flourish – a twist, a turn – triggering the need to Spot the Yuri.

Whilst Angry Young Man deals with the dark nature of anti-immigration currents, and all the implied racism that brings with it, the contrasting cartoonish nature of Patrick’s seemingly liberal – but ultimately selfish and conflicted – character makes the performance far more comical than it really should be. And that, in my mind, is a hallmark of great writing – being able to wrap a serious motive deep within a layer of comedy, and still have both register with the audience. Combine Woolf’s wonderful script with some fantastic performances, and Angry Young Man is a winner.

ff2013, Day 3

The calm before the storm…

  1. 3 Tales of Woe
  2. The Blue Room

Why so quiet, Pete?

Well, in a move that harkens back to the familial panic of the Festival period two years ago, my eighty-four-year-old father is holed up in hospital again. Thankfully, the current diagnosis has his doctors using the words “five year view,” which is infinitely better to hear than the “five day view” that had been rattling around my head for the last few days. He’ll still be stuck in hospital for a few days yet, during which time he’ll be getting plenty of needle from me for seemingly always doing this during Festival Season.

That is, of course, a joke. Get well soon, Dad :)

[2013001] Stephen K Amos – The Spokesman

[2013001] Stephen K Amos – The Spokesman [FringeTIX]

Stephen K Amos @ The Gov

8:00pm, Tue 12 Feb 2013

ff2013 kicks off early with a new, earlier, pre-week – which I’m half-tempted to call pre-pre-week – but that’s essentially useless nomenclature, since very few people use the grammatically-poor phrase “pre-week” in the first place. Nevertheless, with a projected thirty-four days of Festivities this year, kicking off on a Tuesday night when I have to go to work the next day feels… well, daunting.

But a mid-week Fringe comedy gig – before the Fringe has officially started – obviously appeals to someone, because The Gov was pretty bloody chockers. Indeed, I got the impression from staff that the show was sold out – and whilst it wasn’t standing room only, there was barely a spare seat to be seen. As the house lights dropped, Amos’s unmistakeable voice came on from backstage, and he cajoled the audience into cheering for his Close Friend.

Now, I’d previously seen another of Amos’ “close friends”, The Prince, back in 2007. This time, however, Amos was introducing Adam Rozenbachs, who blasted through a ten- or fifteen-minute set. Rozenbachs delivers solid situational humour (with the exception of a slightly uncomfortable tirade targeting Matthew Newton); there’s some good jokes in there, but I’m not sure he could structure an hour-long set. I certainly wouldn’t object to seeing his work in an ensemble show, though.

After a quick booze break, Amos takes to the stage – and I was half-surprised, and half-wary, to see him carrying a clipboard when he arrived. After all, he did the same thing during last year’s show – and (again) announced that he was trialling new material for the show, complete with joyous ticking and grumpy crossing of jokes on the clipboard. But it really did feel like he was performing much of the act directly from his script on the clipboard… and that made me feel like a bit of a guinea pig for his new material.

But in Amos’ case, that’s fine – because he has more than enough raw comedic talent to carry the performance. After some introductory I’ve-got-a-massive-cock banter, he leapt into an occasionally uneven cluster of jokes surrounding the recent British horse-meat scandal. He quizzes the audience for strange phobias – one woman completely failed to explain her fear of scabs, a girl directly behind me said she was afraid of “touching my neck” (Amos cackled with glee at the mis-heard “touching myself”), and there was a token midget-phobia; these fears (as well as Cory the Grocery Manager) were constant callbacks through the rest of his set. He also asked the audience – with (retrospectively) cunning innocence – who was afraid of public speaking; the front-row woman (with the unfortunately billowy dress) got to face her fear at the end of the show, reading Amos’ prepared statement apologising for much of his prior material (in another litany of callbacks).

Some chunks of the show are most definitely rusty – there’s some short jokes that noticeably don’t fit in, with only tenuous connections to the rest of the material, and some of the local references feel like real throwaways – you know the sort of thing: namedropping Gillard and Abbott, and slipping in a derogatory reference to Salisbury. But his delivery is so good (his rubbery faced antics, his storytelling style) and his laughter is so infectious (his utter joy at finding something gut-bustingly bizarre in an audience interaction is great to behold) that it’s hard to hold anything against him. Hell, he even called-back to Rozenbachs’ melon jokes.

The Spokesman is (as Amos tells it) a response to the call for him to be a spokesperson for homosexuality (after he publicly talked about his own sexuality in a 2006 Edinburgh show); this is the first time I’d heard him mention it in Adelaide. And, in closing the show, he dedicated the performance – and his ongoing efforts to show others how to Find the Funny – to the memory of a British lad who recently committed suicide after being bullied because he might be gay; it’s a well-meaning dedication, to be sure, but it was a bit deflating for the end of the show.

I first saw Stephen K Amos completely by accident nine years agonine! – and he was astoundingly brilliant at the time. Since then, the talent hasn’t faded, but it feels like the polish of his performances has been tarnished somewhat – but (tonight, certainly) that could be my fault for seeing him so early in the season (or on opening night of a new show). But make no mistake: a Stephen K Amos gig will still have you laughing a lot… because no matter how undercooked the material may be, the delivery is nothing less than brilliant.