[20040052] Morphia Series

Morphia Series

Helen Herbertson & Ben Cobham @ Secret Location(!)

6:30pm, Tue 2 Mar 2004

Score: 8

Short Review: Exquisitely subtle

The description in the Fringe Guide was sooooooooo attractive: “You are taken to a secret location, eat and drink a small exotic treat, enter pitch black, silence, as light grows you see a figure moving in the distance.” How could I not attend this event?

After jumping in a mini-bus (driven by lighting designer extraordinaire Ben Cobham), we were taken well outside the CBD to a shed in suburbia. Inside, after letting our eyes adjust to the absolute, inky blackness, we were guided to a small seating area. A bite-sized piece of polenta & mango, a snifter of Brooks Brothers muscat, and the actual performance began.

As with Herbertson & Cobham’s production in ff2002, Delirium, the lighting is really the star of the show. Every aspect of the performance (both lighting and movement) was exquisitely paced, with an utterly unique mood being generated over the three acts of the piece. And a real surprise in store for the ending, too :)

Back out of the darkness for the mini-bus ride home, and the experience is complete. No aspect of this event was “sharp” – but everything about it was carefully calculated, allowing to subtleties of each element to collect into a single, wonderful experience. I’m so glad I took a chance on this one :)

[20040050] Canned Hamlet

Canned Hamlet

Sound & Fury @ Little Theatre

10:20pm, Mon 1 Mar 2004

Score: 5

Short Review: A ridiculous mess

Three men do a necessarily abridged version of Hamlet within about 40 minutes.

That’s about all there is to it, really.

Yes, this is another one of LA-based Sound & Fury’s Fakespearean plays, which works hard to get the juvenile and slapstick laughs running thick and fast. There’s a fair few amusing bits, and the trio worked well together, but I always felt one step removed from the action – a kind of overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t in on the joke.

Which is a shame, really. Sound & Fury are obviously talented – the timing between them is immaculate – but I just wish that power could be used for good, instead of evil.

[20040049] Music of Transparent Means

Music of Transparent Means

Music of Transparent Means @ Bakehouse Theatre

8:00pm, Mon 1 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Patchy noise-fest

Entering the intimate Bakehouse Theatre, the first thing you notice is the variety of drums, keyboards, saxes, digital gear, and even old tube amps that litter the stage. 20 musicians appear and, all utilising tom-tom drums, watch a single computer screen for cues on timing and rhythm.

Backed by a video projection of various images, Music of Transparent Means is a collection of interesting noise landscapes. The second piece, “Second Presencing”, was deep, murky, and sinister, with wonderfully controlled swells of volume. “Emerging Like an Infant From the House of Truth” was another cracker, essentially just groups of notes repeated over and over by the small ensemble of musicians at different frequencies, building to a brilliant crescendo.

Still, sometimes it all went wrong – “Husk” once again tried to attain a phasic swelling of notes, but too often the sax and bowed guitars clashed, creating a discordant mess. And the first piece after the interval, a reworking of John Cage’s “Fontana Mix”, reminded me of a D&D night – four guys sitting around a table, twiddling their knobs, doing something that may have been exciting for them, but not for us.

But the important thing to recognise is that Music of Transparent Means is not just random noise, but is in fact as ordered (if not more so) than “normal” music. That said, ordered or not, it can still be perceived as crap – “Fontana Mix” proved that point admirably. Still, MoTM should be applauded for presenting such a brave piece of work.

[20040048] The Blue Orphan

The Blue Orphan

Catalyst Theatre @ Scott Theatre

5:45pm, Mon 1 Mar 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Dripping

“The Blue Orphan”, a butterfly held in high regard in the storyline, is a very lush piece of musical theatre by Canadian group Catalyst Theatre. Lush. The costumes, the backing music, the songs all have a sweet weight to them – and this only exacerbates the overpowering feeling of melancholy that drowns the show.

First up – I was not expecting this piece to be a musical. That said, even with most of the story told in sing-song rhyme, it didn’t really detract from the show – save the effect of over-emotionalising the experience. Some of the characters were wonderful – Harold the paranoid child watching shyly over his love, Jim Tibue the town recluse, the bird-girl, the Robbie Coltrane-esque Sister of the Orphanage. Narrated by young Jonah, fleeing the Orphanage into town, there’s not so much a story, more a series of character pieces.

The lighting was superb – the back- (or front-) lighting of curtains onstage to hide or present characters was superb, and the projection of shadows was also used well – witness the bird-girl’s attempts to fly! Likewise, the sound was wonderful – as mentioned before, the instrumentation of songs were lush, voices (especially the singing narrator) strong – although the arrival of the storm wasn’t great for us tinnitus sufferers.

But in the end, the lack of plot and overly mournful feel of the piece was discouraging. A lovely spectacle in parts, but not a great show.

[20040047] Valeri and Gleb

Valeri and Gleb

VIP-Concert @ Scott Theatre

4:00pm, Mon 1 Mar 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Spandex-a-riffic!

An indecipherable, gruff accent barks out something akin to a welcome message, and Valeri Kaparulin & Gleb Ivanov take to the stage. Theirs is a very physical kind of comedy, mixing mime, classic clownery, and audience tomfoolery.

Opening with some simple mime, they rapidly moved through a imaginative bit of juggling ball-play (!), a rather risque tale involving Adam and Eve, and an excellent audience symphony. Throughout, Valeri’s rubbery face contorted in an audience-pleasing manner, whilst Gleb’s impossible gangliness sealed in the black spandex the pair wore raised many giggles.

The only problem with this show? The fact that there were just 13 people in the audience. In the vast expanse of the Scott Theatre, this was a tragedy. Valeri and Gleb, like most non-stand-up acts in the Fringe, deserve much better.

[20040046] Crazed


Vitalstatistix @ Eclipse

9:00pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Score: 4

Short Review: Couldn’t see what the fuss is about…

“A reinvention of the horror/slasher film genre from the perspective of the female victim hero.” A bizarre intro. Plenty of projected video. Lots of screams. Plenty of tacky effects. A pumping soundtrack. What more could you want?

Lots, actually. Whilst there was a bit of enjoyment to be had from the “sewing” scenes – especially the Alien pisstake – most of the rest of this piece left me cold. Even the presence of Angelo Badalamenti’s tunes (and plenty of them were used) couldn’t save this, in my eyes. Or ears.

And yet the rest of the audience loved it. Ah well, I’ll just be content to stick with the minority on this one.

[20040045] Plato’s Cave : Orpheus

Plato’s Cave : Orpheus

Vic Waclawik @ Cloisters Carpark

8:30pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Plato’s Cave is a neat little red-and-white-striped tent that sits in the Cloisters Carpark on certain evenings. Starting 8:30pm, short shadow-puppet shows with a pre-recorded soundtrack are performed every half-hour, up to 11:30pm.

The show I managed to catch was Orpheus (and the Underworld). The puppetry was fine, but it was the soundtrack that made it work – Orpheus, rather than emitting harp-like sounds when strumming his harp, tended to belt out Led Zep tunes rather proficiently. Class!

Plato’s Cave hosts four different stories; unfortunately, I only ever seem to be available when Orpheus is on, and can’t comment on the others. Well worth 10 minutes (and a gold coin or two when the collection goes around after the show).

[20040044] Danny Bhoy

Danny Bhoy

Danny Bhoy @ Nova 2

7:00pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Ummmm…

OK, it’s embarrasing confession time. I’m writing this “review” (snigger) a week after I actually saw the show. Slack, eh? Usually, in between shows, I’ll jot out a few sentences that form the basis of my review, used mainly as a memory jogger. I neglected to do so in this case; all I’ve got are the scribbles in my notebook that read “open madworld / quick on feet / cock jokes / beagle / alligators / snooker ref w tourettes / 7”. And you know what?

I remember bugger all about the show.

I remember that he used the Michael Andrews / Gary Jules cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” as entry & exit music. I remember that Bhoy looked almost cherubically innocent. I remember it took very little time for him to test the waters with the c-word. I remember that he was pretty sharp. And I remember laughing a fair bit.

But I’ll be buggered if I can remember what I laughed at. “Alligators”? “Beagle”? Hmmmm.

Still, I scribbled down “7”, so there’s a score for you. But if it’s memorable comedy you’re after, this may not be the right gig.

[20040043] Kaze no Requiem

Kaze no Requiem

La Mosaique @ Nexus Multicultural Arts Centre

5:30pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Score: 3

Short Review: Shakti-fied

Upon arrival at the Nexus to see Kaze no Bon (kaze means “wind,” while Bon is the Buddhist All Souls’ Day), I was handed a flyer that explained that one of the two members of La Mosaique had died late last year, and that the piece to be performed during the Fringe would instead be “Kaze no Requiem”, in her honour. Fair enough, and a touching tribute.

A word of explanation: after ff2002, I vowed to support the artists that Shakti (via The Garage International) brings to the Fringe (such as Tokyo Triangle), but necessarily not Shakti herself. So, after a decent first act (in which Tamae Sawa wore traditional Japanese robes, and appeared to pray reverentially at the fan of her departed friend), I was a tad apprehensive when Shakti appeared… for the rest of the show.

Let it not be said that Shakti lacks her own style, however – stomping all over the stage, inexplicable gestures and pointing, wiggling eyebrows in a manner that is disconcerting and probably only holds meaning to her. However, let’s not mince words here, I hate her dancing.

It’s a real shame she appeared in this dance. Shakti is a genuinely nice and articulate person to talk to. It’s just that she absolutely ruined this potentially touching piece for me.

[20040042] A Man, A Magic, A Music

A Man, A Magic, A Music

Movin’ Melvin Brown @ Union Hall

3:30pm, Sun 29 Feb 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Groovin’ Melvin Brown, more like ;)

The house lights drop. In the darkness, a gorgeous, soul-filled voice can be heard from far off-stage. It gradually comes closer, the house lights come up – and there is Movin’ Melvin Brown, 59 years of age, resplendent in his suit and silver tap shoes.

Melvin takes us on a tour of his life, along the way reminding us through song of the music of the times. This allowed him to belt out classics by Chubby Checker, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown – all mimicked with great aplomb. And when he’s not singing or recounting his life, he’s dancing – tap, the hambone, bounding all over the stage like someone half his age. And the stripshow act that he performs for one lucky lady in the audience… well, he really belies his age. Really!

Sometimes his singing gets buried in the mix, but this man (who once had The Commodores open for him!) oozes class – his storytelling banter and gentle laugh are genuinely affable. And the fact that he covered “The Great Pretender” and “Johnny B. Goode” didn’t do him any harm in my judgement, either. Movin’ Melvin Brown sure knows how to put on a show.

[20040039] Charlie Pickering – LIVE

Charlie Pickering – LIVE

Charlie Pickering @ Rhino Room (Downstairs)

7:15pm, Sat 28 Feb 2004

Score: 7

Short Review: Surprising

After the emotional battering that I took at Parrot Fever, I was initially hesitant even turning up to this show, thinking that it would need a quality comedian to lift me out of my emotional hidey-hole. However, Pickering was good enough to win some serious laughs out of me, and should be lauded for being able to do so.

Opening with a great bit about the sheer crapulence of his venue (not to mention the bad technological luck the show had been having), Pickering belted through a great set, which ended with a video presentation showing Pickering trying to reclaim Cook’s Cottage. Along the way, he showed his geekish tendencies by pulling out both a Simpsons quote and referencing the PlayStation, and at times tread a very fine line between decency and gross-out humour.

Throw in a bit of political satire, some great phrases (“bloodbath of Mums”, “throbbing arse candles”), and you have a quality comedy experience. Sure he borrows liberally – the aforementioned Simpsons quote, several Bill Hicks-isms – but he convincingly makes the material his own. Recommended.

[20040038] Parrot Fever – or Lies I’ve Told in Chat Rooms

Parrot Fever – or Lies I’ve Told in Chat Rooms

theater simple @ Little Theatre

5:30pm, Sat 28 Feb 2004

Score: 10

Short Review: Wonderfully emotive

I’m the first to admit that I tend to stay reasonably remote from any kind of art; it’s a rare piece of work that causes me to emote. Parrot Fever, on the other hand, had me weeping like a big blubbery mess… I can’t recall ever getting so emotionally sucked into a piece of theatre.

Using the premise of book research for the investigation of online relationships, Parrot Fever weaves three different sub-threads together in a gorgeous script by Keri Healey. Encountering multiple characters online, each portraying a concoction of their own personality as they deal with more personal problems, I saw many truisms from my own online life – the support networks that form about those in need being a particularly poignant example.

All the theater simpletons – Monique Kleinhans, Andrew Litzky, Llysa Holland – turned in superb performances, and Mark Fullerton’s smokey guitar provides a great background texture. Yes, there are laughs to be had at the expense of the antics of the chat-room inhabitants – but to a large extent, the humour is used as a foil for the sad, the tender, the wrenching sub-threads.

Parrot Fever is not to be missed. Simple as that, really.

[20040037] The Swindler… Catch Him If You Can

The Swindler… Catch Him If You Can

Patrick McCullagh @ Margaret Murray Room

4:00pm, Sat 28 Feb 2004

Score: 6

Short Review: Intriguing

Hmmmm, interesting show, this. Patrick McCullagh treats the audience to sleight-of-hand tricks, more trick shuffling than you can pole a stick at, and… not much else.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still an interesting show. It’s just that, in retrospect, there’s not much to it. Some of his shuffling is freaky; he frequently used an up-close camera to display the true meaning of hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye; and his tips on loading the deck in poker games were… useful ;)

So I guess that’s it… if you’re at all interested in the mastery of sleight-of-hand, you could do a lot worse than to catch this show. There’s also some great audience participation (as Michael found out… down $50 soon after the show started).

[20040035] Tyrannous Rex

Tyrannous Rex

company c NaNa @ Margaret Murray Room

11:00pm, Fri 27 Feb 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: A character-driven tour de force

After having chatted to the wonderful, quiet, polite Nicola Gunn, it was a real eye-opener to see her emerge onstage and play seven characters. Wrapped tightly in a cosy cardigan, she projects herself into the intimate Margaret Murray room so completely that it’s hard to remember that there’s only one person bringing these starkly different characters to life.

You can tell this is going to be a bit different from the outset – Gunn utterly convinces you that she’s a large cat (later confirmed to be a leopard) riding a bicycle (!). She then effortlessly sashays into Rex’s housekeeper, Winnie, and thenceforth through the rest of the characters in this simple, but effective, tale of love-come-treachery. The script is wonderful – the highlight being the appallingly good double entendres during the flirtation scenes of Rex and Irma.

But Gunn’s performance is the real star here – as I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to discuss, at length, to anyone willing to listen), her ability to create the impression of such disparate characters was incredible. One of the final scenes, as most of the central characters walk past Rex for the last time, was simply stunning. STUNNING. Yep, really, she’s that good.

I mean, Nicola Gunn makes you really believe a leopard can ride a bicycle. How good is that?

[20040034] Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Natland Theatre @ Worldsend Hotel

9:00pm, Fri 27 Feb 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Intense and confronting

A hot, steamy Friday night upstairs at the Worldsend. I sit in the front row, directly in front of a battered and bleeding Renato Musolino (Danny), drown in his pain and hopelessness before the show starts. Leaning at the bar, Danika Gael-Krieg picks at her pretzels, musing aimlessly. At the back of the room, a guitarist strums. The atmosphere is gritty, smokey, textured – there is a real feeling of the underclass that these people belong to.

And then the show starts – and it is brutal. The two characters verbally and physically attack each other relentlessly, each trying to get the upper hand. This scene is draining, moving, stunningly powerful. A short intermission, and the second scene commences in another room, a bedroom scene. At first the abuse seems to have ceased, that the characters have found solace in each others company; but then the assault begins again, on a far more intimate – and damaging – level.

Make no mistake, this is not flowery theatre. It’s harsh, abrasive – “brutal” is the best fit, but I’ve probably used that a dozen times already. But this is a thoroughly excellent piece of theatre – all the performers are excellent, and Casey Van Sebille’s set design for the bedroom scene – the audience views the performers through holes cut in the walls of their enveloping box – is inspired (I often found myself using the rectangular holes as a makeshift movie-camera, framing the action as I’d like to see it on-screen).

Excellent, excellent stuff. Well worth the trip out to the Worldsend.