[2007053] Kate Burr – Back In 30 Minutes (It’s @ Lunchtime)

Kate Burr – Back In 30 Minutes (It’s @ Lunchtime) (FringeTIX)

Kate Burr @ The Griffin’s Head

12:30pm, Thu 22 Mar 2007

I loved the premise for this show – a quick chunk o’comedy perched within lunch hour, enabling office-bound peeps the opportunity to get some giggles in during the day. And, apart from an over-zealous ticketing person on the door who didn’t mind invalidating my tickets to other shows, this was a pretty successful performance.

Kate Burr, originally hailing from Port Lincoln, has a typical country sense of humour – broad, easy to laugh with, just straight-up laughs. Always staying on the safe side of risqué, she rarely veers into anything overly political or controversial, sticking with giggles centred on wordplay (what do you call a woman in bed with four men? Forni-Kate!) and girl’s football.

And you now what? That’s just fine – she delivers with a massive friendly grin on her face and seems utterly committed to just getting the audience to enjoy themselves – which, by all accounts, they do. And she cleverly arranges a standing ovation for herself at the end of the set by getting the audience to sing The Alphabet Song, firstly to the tune of Advance Australia Fair, but then to Queen’s We Will Rock You. Fantastic :)

I’ll be utterly honest here – I went along to this show actually expecting it to be utterly shit, just hoping that my ticket helped indicate a genuine desire for this kind of event (that is, short-burst comedy in accessible times). Thankfully, despite an inauspicious start, it was actually a hoot – the room was packed, there was a really good audience vibe, and Ms Burr was really quite personable and – dare I say it – enjoyable. Hopefully, this season was successful enough that additional comedians see the opportunity to win some friends by getting out of bed a few hours earlier.

Quite why various reviewers deride the show solely for being country-bumpkin-ish is beyond me; for fuck’s sake, you either laugh or you don’t. And I did.

[2007052] No Vacancy

No Vacancy (FringeTIX)

Canberra College Drama @ Carclew Youth Arts (Ballroom)

11:00am, Thu 22 Mar 2007

Even though Carclew is relatively close to my home, I was still sprinting to arrive on-time for this show. I got nervous when there was no-one else waiting, and could only hear a loud voice from behind the ballroom door. The door suddenly opened, and out came the producer for the ensemble, Ian Walker. He asked if I had a ticket, looked mildly disappointed when I replied in the affirmative, then explained that he was still waiting on a party of ten – would I mind waiting a couple of minutes longer? No problems, says I.

Ten minutes past the allotted starting time, in whisks Matt Byrne. “Matt Byrne, Sunday Mail” he announces without looking at Ian, without making eye contact as they shake hands. Those magic words gained him free access to a show he couldn’t be arsed rolling up on-time for. Not that I’m one to poke ridicule at Professional Reviewers.

And so it was that Mr Byrne and I were the only two people sitting in the front row – nay, any row – of the Ballroom for this production that, as indicated by the programme, is the result of “a good-old brainstorm about what makes us mad, sad or glad”. And, to be completely honest, the issues – the environment, social acceptance, consumerism – are presented in a somewhat simplistic manner, but at least there’s no ill-advised veers into contrived political commentary.

As for the performances – well, for a young cast, they play it relatively straight with a huge amount of enthusiasm and heart. The young Alex (Amy Porritt) is fabulously wide-eyed and innocent; the smokily sultry pouts of Anika (Jessye McGregor) likewise. The set is a simple set of five vertical screens, and the direction makes adequate use of them. There’s a sudden stop late in the play, where the audience is offered a choice for the progression of the play; I wanted to go with the ending that returned essential services to the characters – you know, be nice – but Mr Byrne wanted to go with the Bad ending. Surprise, surprise.

In the end, this was a competent piece of work by a talented group of youngsters. It avoids most of the pitfalls that student productions seem to fall into, and should hopefully prove a great experience for all those involved. Hopefully their season yields more than one paying customer per show.

[2007051] Trouble In Mind

Trouble In Mind (FringeTIX)

Scrambled Prince Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres (The Arch)

10:00pm, Wed 21 Mar 2007

Just before leaving home for the day, I mentioned to my SO – a former psychiatric nurse – that I was seeing a show based on a psych hospital. “Watch out,” she warned, “the nurses are all crazier than the patients.”

Essentially just a collection of psych-hospital vignettes (with a love story tossed in for good measure), Trouble In Mind has little in the way of plot. Initially, we think that we’re going to be following the trials and tribulations of Student Nurse Sarah’s first days on the job, experiencing the inside of a psych hospital for the first time, but that thread soon falls by the wayside in favour of the aforementioned love story. There’s wacky asides to the patients, some philosophical meanderings with angelic plumbers, and plenty of bumps and inconsistencies.

There’s a few problems with Trouble In Mind, the most glaring of which is the (perhaps necessary) cast recycling, with most actors playing multiple roles. That’s all very well and good, but with a few notable exceptions (Brydie Draffin-Taylor’s dull Sarah is a stark contrast against the wonderful pouty scowl of Tiffany) the actors are too overt, too obvious, and require a fair suspension of disbelief from the audience.

The other major problem is the young cast. Whilst some characters come across well – the Owen Wilson-esque plumber of Scolaighe Morrison is great, Cassie Ewing’s pill-dropping patient is gorgeous, and Paul William’s psychotic Bob simply owns the stage – other characters fare badly. Shamira Armstrong just looks too young to be in University – let alone a psychiatrist – and, as the female in the clumsy love sub-story, is too weak to lend any credibility to the character. Smashing breasts, though.

But, in the end, I’m not sure whether any of that matters; believability and credibility can safely be ignored when actors play for laughs, as they do here. And, by and large, it works pretty well – maybe the dumb plumber is too dumb, and maybe the love story is too twee, and maybe the fact that there was nothing on the clipboards that the nurses wrote on annoyed me too much, but them’s the breaks.

In short, this show was about par for the course when it comes to a young company presenting a performance at the Fringe. No real depth, a fair few smirks, requiring a fair bit of imagination from the audience, and criminally under-attended. Watch out for that Paul Williams chap, though – great things are destined for him.

[2007050] Mark Watson – I’m Worried That I’m Starting To Hate Almost Everyone In The World

Mark Watson – I’m Worried That I’m Starting To Hate Almost Everyone In The World (FringeTIX)

Mark Watson @ Nova Cinema 2

8:15pm, Wed 21 Mar 2007

I’m perusing the Guide. I see a show titled “I’m Worried That I’m Starting To Hate Almost Everyone In The World”. I figure that I may have just found a kindred spirit. I add the show to the shortlist.

And yet, as I wander into my fiftieth(!) event of this Fringe, I know nothing about this like-minded soul, Mark Watson. Luckily, he helps us out by going through a protracted introduction and explanation at the start of the show; giving us a primer to the Welsh accent that he leverages so well (given that he’s not actually from Wales). Enlisting helps from the audience, Watson encounters his first instance of crowd-mindfucking – people down the back volunteering friends sitting down the front – which is then followed by the Cherry Ripe incident(s), with rustling and gummed diction a-plenty.

The core of Watson’s show is based around stories that are triggered off the Seven Deadly Sins – which, in turn, are inspired by objects in the colourful sack he brings onstage. He riskily asks for audience members to remove random objects from the sack which, of course, continues the tradition of people nominating others in the crowd – something that brings him great mirth. Recollections of his first mugging, beggars, and the manner in which his father informed him that Father Christmas didn’t exist all generate huge laughs, and Watson himself completely cracks up at one stage because of a statement from one punter – which, itself, was worthy of the price of admission.

Despite the fact that there was very little Hate to be found in the performance, I liked Mark Watson – a lot. He’s cheery, he’s amiable, and he appears to be very open and honest onstage; I definitely rank him as one of the better comedians this Fringe. Check out one of the oddest muted colour-combos in MySpace, too :)

[2007049] Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon

Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon (FringeTIX)

the Suitcase Royale @ Bosco Theatre

6:30pm, Wed 21 Mar 2007

Walking into The Bosco for Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon is a somewhat familiar experience; the precarious piles of junk on-stage is eerily reminiscent of The Ghosts on Ricketts Hill. Good job, then, that Chronicles is also performed by the Suitcase Royale, in what appears to be a show at the other end of the creative experiments that they seem to employ.

Plot? Newsman is chasing the mad Doctor and The Butcher for a story he knows is there, and gets dragged into a scheme to map subterranean Australia using a craft powered by the blood of cows slaughtered by The Butcher (who’s on the run after killing his wife and mincing her into sausages).

Pretty much what you’d expect, right?

It’s an odd production in a way – most of the set is junk, but their intricate use and quick timing demonstrates what can be achieved on a shoestring budget, and the elaborate set-piece for their subterranean vehicle is cleverly built, allowing for everything from shadow puppetry to a tiny room to an elevated stage. Mix this up with some lovely drunken music (drums, double bass & guitar) and lots of humour (thump… DEAD), and you’ve got a mirthalicious winner of a tall tale.

Chronicles benefits from being a (more) complete performance than Ricketts; and, what’s more, it’s an entertaining story told by entertaining storytellers. It’s far from the best tale ever penned (or evolved – it would’ve been fantastic to have seen the evolution of this piece), but the manner in which it’s told makes this memorable.

[2007048] Chopper – Harden the F*uck Up Australia

Chopper – Harden the F*uck Up Australia (FringeTIX)

Chopper @ Royalty Theatre

10:30pm, Tue 20 Mar 2007

First up – yes, FringeTIX did include the rather descriptive “F*uck” in the title of this show. Some might say that the asterisk is now essentially pointless, but I think it looks pretty.

Chopper, of course, is a character on late-night comedy show The Ronnie Johns Half Hour – a piss-take of real-life criminal (and author) Chopper Read. And, to be quite honest, I didn’t think many people would be showing up at Chopper’s Fringe shows; I figured the late-night slot kept the show – and Chopper – out of the public’s awareness.

So I was quite fucking staggered to discover that the initial run of shows at The Bosco had rapidly sold out, and that spill-over shows at The Royalty (and, later, Thebby) had been scheduled. A ticket was snaffled, and I found myself approaching the biggest congregation of bogans I’ve seen since my only trip to the Australian Grand Prix many, many years ago. That group conjured more fear in me than my last 2am trek down a drunken Hindley Street.

Anyhoo, we’re in and seated a mere 45 minutes late, and the show begins; opening with the original Harden The Fuck Up video snippet, Chopper plows through a blend of live recreations of previous TV spots (the Heimlich Maneuver springs to minds, along with the closing Weather Report) and a little somewhat-new material. Mini-Chopper makes an appearance, performing a little psych-analysis on a very reluctant audience member, and there’s a fuckin’ lot of fuckin’ swearing.

I like the character of Chopper; his prolific profanity makes me giggle in admiration, and the mannerisms of the character are lovely (and even the real Chopper doesn’t mind Chopper). Since I’d not seen all the Chopper snippets from telly, a lot of this was new to me, but I dunno whether you’d be happy having seen most of the material re-created in a live setting. Then again, the Little Britain crowds certainly didn’t mind, did they?

In short: I laughed a lot. A very enjoyable show…

except for the fucking mongoloid scraped-knuckle fucktard sitting next to me who thought it was a brilliant idea to discuss every fucking line of dialog with his female accompaniment (and no, that is not an exaggeration – they literally talked through the entire show). Seriously, after five minutes I turned to them to politely ask them to shut the fuck up, but noticed that he appeared to be fully capable of stabbing me in the head on the flimsiest of pretences – I chickened out. I later justified this (lack of) action to myself somewhat by figuring that I’m never likely to attend a performance with them again.

…and breathe. Here’s one last great bit of Chopper: Chopper’s Fuck Counter.

[2007047] Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (FringeTIX – one night only; sucks to be you!)

A whole bunch o’ comedians @ SA Writer’s Centre

8:00pm, Tue 20 Mar 2007

This collaboration of comedians, organised by local girl Jess McKenzie, managed to pull in a full-house for this one-night-only benefit gig (supporting underprivileged children in Vietnam).

First out of the gate was the only non-Girl, Mark Trenwith, who performed an enthusiastic bumbling act of half-laughs – with most mirth coming from the fact that he received little support from those behind-the-scenes (his musical gags arriving a good minute-or-so late in most cases) capped off with the first serious gut-laugh for the audience – a re-creation of the Crazy Frog, complete with crash helmet and no pants. And I’m talking about the non-English interpretation of “pants” here; not sure how well flashing Mr Happy would’ve worked in a show called “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, could go either way really.

Kehau Jackson was next up, and she was fantastic. Her bit was very similar in style to the last time I saw her, and that’s no bad thing; I’d heard tales of her tattooed son before, but the drooping breast diatribe was laugh-a-second stuff. If Titters! wasn’t completely sold out, I’d be recommending people to see it – just for Kehau.

Hannah Gadsby performed a good-sized chunk of her solo show, with no new material – not that that’s a bad thing in Hannah’s case, and the second look at some of her material helped me appreciate her delivery a lot more. It’s very measured, almost monotonic, but with a sprinkling of perfectly timed inflexions that are worth the price of admission alone.

Finally, Fiona O’Loughlin performed her usual “world’s worst mum/wife” thing, and her talent was evident from the get-go; she wandered in, sized the crowd up, and started ripping into story after self-denigrating story, tale after tall tale, leaving the audience gasping for breath because they were laughing too hard. Once again, I’m not sure I’d happily sit through an hour of O’Loughlin’s humour, but a 20-25 minute chunk is absolutely divine.

The big disappointment of the night was the organiser and emcee, Jess McKenzie. Previously, I’d confessed that I loved her style and that she’d be ace in a few years; she’s most definitely not there yet. Reusing a ton of material from last year’s show, she managed to somehow stifle all the goodwill and giggles in the air and create huge laugh-free zones in between each of the guests. To her credit, she never lost her cheeky grin; to her detriment, she stayed on way longer than she should have. Every single time. Still, the rest of the comedians were sufficiently excellent to make it all worthwhile.

[2007046] Holy Cow

Holy Cow (FringeTIX)

V.I.P. Magic @ Bosco Theatre

11:00pm, Mon 19 Mar 2007

It’s a Monday night, and the Bosco is packed for this magic show by a couple of young lads hailing from Amsterdam. They introduce themselves at the top of the show, and they’ve immediately got the crowd on-side; wonderfully personable, they work the evident enthusiasm perfectly with a bit of carefully stilted banter and a few rousing “Holy Cow!” yells.

We love them already. They’ve established their presence.

Their first trick seemingly comes from nowhere and almost knocks the audience backwards with surprise – bottles of wine appear from burst balloons, from behind handkerchiefs. They roll with the mood and launch into a protracted card trick that lasts – if I were to guess – twenty minutes; but at no time does it feel labored, never does it outstay its welcome, each successive part of the trick more incredulous than the last.

They then attempt to teach us the key to card tricks – watching cards during the shuffle, counting positions in the deck. This seemingly innocuous and humorous aside seemed to add a fantastic level of depth to the performance; for the rest of the show, I was carefully watching their eyes to try and figure out when they were peeking. Of course, this is part of their intent; watching them is an effective misdirection that they exploit later on to incredible effect.

There’s some head-scratching mind-reading and blindfolded antics, a minor lull when there’s a few simple Linked Ring tricks, but the finale was really something special. Another card trick with a theatrical bent, our magicians were plucking aces from a deck in ever more surprising ways. Misdirection was cunningly applied, leaving us dumbfounded to a man, but the final part of trick was so well built up, and the audience’s expectations so brilliantly manipulated, that when the final ace was flipped I thought the Bosco roof was going to be lifted, such was the rapturous explosion of delight.

“Thank you for coming,” they say, “but it’s hard for us to get an audience because no-one here knows us. So please tell your friends, but if you would like, please wait when you leave the theatre and we’ll all yell ‘Holy Cow!’ together outside to let people know about us.”

Everyone flooded outside, and – even though it was half-past-midnight on a Monday night – not a single person left. We all waited in a manically grinning huddle for the V.I.P. Magicians to cue us, and every one of us yelled “HOLY COW!” at the top of our voices, over and over and over. More cheers, more clapping, more slaps on the back, more grinning; everyone participated because they really, really, wanted to.

Because we’d all been privy to one of the most astonishingly gob-smacking displays of magic I’ve ever seen. Despite the ever-so-minor card slips and lulls, Holy Cow was simply stunning.

[2007045] Freakaphrenic

Freakaphrenic (FringeTIX)

Carnival of Hellucinations @ a little tent in the middle of The Garden

8:30pm, Mon 19 Mar 2007

Relatively frequently you happen upon a show that makes you think “WTF?”

Rather less frequently, over the course of the show that “WTF?” becomes a “WFB” – or Why Fucking Bother.

Freakaphrenic definitely falls into the latter category. It appears to be little more than an excuse for a trio of peeps to dress up in a collection of “crazy” costumes (quoted because I feel like giving them the benefit of the doubt) and poorly “acting” (again with the quotes) out a series of pointless “scenes”. It was like a really crapulent Jet of Blood with no production values. They enlist the help of an audience member who sits onstage for twenty minutes who managed to look bored (nineteen minutes) and confused (the remainder).

As far as cabaret goes, this is pretty foul. Theatre? Sub-par. Comedy? Ummm… no.

I mean, really – Why Fucking Bother?

Read the ad in The Guide again and learn from this mistake, kids. Not every short show promising cannibals, police, surgical manipulation, grotesque creatures, magicians, circus skullduggery, ghosts, heavy-metal vampire-nuns, religious freaks and pantomime-noir is going to deliver the goods.

[2007044] Dance of the Flame Retardant Monkey

Dance of the Flame Retardant Monkey (FringeTIX)

Dave Callan @ Fringe Factory Theatre

9:00pm, Sun 18 Mar 2007

This had so much potential.

Dave Callan has a likable presence on stage, and he seemed intent on producing a snappy AV-driven bit of surreal comedy. But something, somewhere, went somewhat wrong, so I find myself typing this whilst wistfully thinking about All That Could Have Been.

Dave relies on a pair of independent screens to scoot his performance along, controlling them with his oft-dropped remote controls. One of the screens was intermittently showing a “Technical Fuckup” slide, helpfully provided by some the constantly-crashing slideshow application on Callan’s Mac. Occasionally, the screens would slip out of sync, too – which was especially problematic, given since Callan’s act so heavily depends on his rapid banter with his pre-recorded self. Bits of this were often well done; but Sam Simmons performs the same tricks much, much better.

So – what’s the show about then? Well, given the disconnected and surreal nature of a lot of the content, it’s kind of hard to nail down… but at times, it can feel a little bit like a positivity-gushing self-help seminar; there’s eastern philosophy and World Vision promotions and anti-smoking messages and rants against consumerism. And, occasionally, there’s a laugh – though the only one I can really remember was Dacca Macca’s interview for The Arts Show.

In the end, Dance of the Flame Retardant Monkey just doesn’t feel at all cohesive; it’s a big mish-mash of ideas and sketches and rants. It’s not a competent piece of comedy, nor theatre, nor spoken word, nor multimedia production. I came away bemused, rather than amused.

Finally, I’ve got no idea what was up with the audience. The crowd reeked of that booze-mixed-with-sweat smell, and apparently audience participation was mandatory. Some woman kept blathering on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about her broken chair while Callan was trying to wrap up the show; he tried dealing with her interruptions once, but each subsequent pointless yelp from her led to a tiny bit of gleam being robbed from his eyes. By the end of the performance, he must have felt dead inside, wondering why exactly he was performing for people such as her. Congratulations, you fucking self-important smug bitch – you’ve potentially killed an artist.

[2007043] Bimbo

Bimbo (FringeTIX – but please don’t)

Phillip Riley et al @ Higher Ground (Main Theatre)

7:30pm, Sun 18 Mar 2007

There’s a decent premise behind this show; a politician facing an upcoming election decides to tell the truth about his womanising ways, rather than hiding behind denial. Initially, the move seems to pay off, but are there any hidden dangers to his ploy?

…and that’s the last non-negative thing I’ll write about this show because, quite simply, it’s fucking appalling. Whilst Phillip Riley had an interesting germ of an idea, there’s not enough there to fill thirty minutes, let alone an hour, and the filler material that’s used to pad the show out (the Bimbo dances, the “nation’s address” videos) is just embarrassing. Not only that, but Riley himself in the role of The Advisor is spongecake-soft and horribly unconvincing, and the kiss that ended the performance was plain ridiculous, no matter how you interpreted it.

“Embarrassed” is the keyword; I was embarrassed to be there, embarrassed for everyone else there, embarrassed for the people onstage, embarrassed for the press that didn’t give this the shithouse reviews this deserves. Bimbo is, quite simply, a stinker.

[2007042] Erosophy

Erosophy (FringeTIX)

New Jazz Underground @ Club 199

4:00pm, Sun 18 Mar 2007

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and there’s events all over the city – North Adelaide has their Food & Wine Fair (always a people magnet), and there’s the Fringe Family Day. So the fact that there’s only a dozen or so people gathered for a bit of jazz & spoken word is no real surprise; the sad jolt came later when I realised that, of the people I spied when I walked in, five of them were performing.

Shit. That makes me sad. Performers coming over from Melbourne for a single gig (well, Henry Manetta and The Trip had an earlier jazz show), and they only get half-a-dozen punters in. Oh well. Of course, after I sit down I realise I’m in Critic’s Corner, and wind up chatting with lovely ladies reviewing for two of Adelaide’s street mags.

Henry Manetta and The Trip open proceedings with some gentle jazz before Manetta performs a little solo scat singing; he’s great, alternately edgy and fabulously booming when required. The rest of The Trip were awesome, too, especially Ron Romero on sax. Matt Hetherington opens up the spoken word portion of proceedings, and I was initially unimpressed with the contrived rhymes in his first (of many) Love Poem; he hits his stride later with Some of Us, the gigglingly good Words I’ll Never Use In A Love Poem, and his choice of Ginsberg to close was solid. He also dropped the word “infinitude” into a poem, which earned big props from me.

Matt also played drums (bongos?) whilst Angela Cook read her piece Fucking, lending the performance the type of feel I always imagined the Beat Generation enjoyed. Angela was an ace performer – with a sparkle in her eye and a shy & knowing smile, her consonants linger and lead us gently through her lust. Fabulous.

Manetta and The Trip play a bit more either side of a break, kicking some solid grunt in at some point. Professional Lush almost trips over itself with its many distinct styles and solos, with Manetta lolling about the stage like a tripped-out skeleton. The sounds are great, and it’s entertaining to watch.

After the break, Helen Milte-Bastow takes to the stage – and she is awesome, though sadly her soft voice is a little overwhelmed by her backing music. But her words are great – vivid imagery, pop-culture references ahoy, and just plain beautiful. Kris Allison joins her onstage for the fabulous SMS Love Poem, before continuing with his own work – and he, too, rules the stage. Rambling yet tight, urban and insightful, one line etched itself into my skull – “You want to reach me, but I’m too universal”. Magic.

Hetherington returns to the stage to read some work by (the absent) Tom Joyce, accompanied by more Manetta scatting. The Trip come on for a great closer, with keyboardist Adam Rudegeair fronting up for some jazzy rap. And we’re done; I chat to several of the poets, quite possibly committing more of the faux pas that I’m renowned for. Bugger :}

One weird thing, though – there were two odd guys pottering around the venue throughout the performance with video cameras; one, accompanied by an obscenely bright light, had no idea what he was seeing. The spoken word performances left him completely bemused.

And that makes me laugh. And, hence, happy.

[2007041] The Ghosts on Ricketts Hill

The Ghosts on Ricketts Hill (FringeTIX)

the Suitcase Royale @ The Black Lung Theatre

11:00pm, Sat 17 Mar 2007

I’m still as impressed as fuck with the vibe in The Black Lung Theatre. Half-an-hour before the show, there’s groups of people huddled around playing cards, lounging around reading novels of weight, quiet stupors at the bar. And yet, conversations that float in the air contain words like “desktop widgets”. Then again, I’m sitting here in gaudy Okanuis with my laptop… it obviously takes all sorts.

Somone’s just yelled out “Does anyone have a CD of The Pogues?” The next song is AC/DC’s Back In Black. The stereo makes it sounds slow and sick. Maybe The Pogues have commandeered the CD player after all.

Thomas looks haggard. Shoulders drooped and cigarette clinging to his fingertips for dear life. Genevieve looks tired and ready for a break, but that smile’s still there. She says that the ‘Tiser review had a bit of an impact. I told her to seek out Nick Sun’s posters for a bit of anti-Advertiser inspiration.

The house, once again, seems full. I snaffle a deep and comfy lounge chair at the very front, from which I watch the Suitcase Royale perform The Ghosts on/from/of Ricketts Hill. And it’s a ramshackle affair; plenty of improvisation, plenty of bickering between the actors, plenty of off-script comedic asides. But, unlike the “fluffed line” asides that (say) the Three Canadians would perform, these are utterly convincing, totally natural.

Because they are.

Chatting with one of the Suitcase Royale after the show, my suspicions were confirmed: The Ghosts on/from/of Ricketts Hill is very much a work-in-progress, with the script being improvisationally developed in front of the audience every night, with the aim of having a “complete” piece at the end of the season.

This essentially means that, as a punter, you’re viewing a part of a much larger work of art; you’re watching the painter paint, watching the songwriter tinker with their instrument. And I, for one, find that strangely compelling; others, however, might be a little perturbed that they’re seeing an “unfinished” piece. But what you will see is a talented (and bloody funny) trio playing for laughs – some bits work, and some really don’t… and characters don’t mind commenting on the success of each bit as it’s put out there. The audience this evening loved it.

The show is rounded out with ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” – which is, of course, both entirely apt and a bloody great song.

[2007040] Percussion Spectacular

Percussion Spectacular (FringeTIX – too late)

Nick Parnell @ Flinders Street Baptist Church

9:00pm, Sat 17 Mar 2007

It’s a surprisingly big crowd for 9pm, for a Saturday night, for St Patrick’s Day. Of course, this performance is in the Flinders Street Baptist Church, so I can’t help thinking that a fair percentage of the crowd are good church-going folk.

Nick Parnell takes to the stage and hides behind a small collection of exotic drums. His opening is very low key, but quickly builds up with obvious African tribal influences & variable tempo. The rain sets in, Nick moves across to the marimba and glockenspiel. These sounds are not what we’re used to from typical Fringe percussion – they’re rich, vibrant, imbued with a sense of significance. Parnell controls the volume wonderfully well, raising us up and down a number of times until the rain finally peters out of “Marimba Song”.

It was a really, really good start.

Unfortunately, the performance then took a turn for the worse; Parnell was joined by his piano accompaniment (that’s not the bad bit), and he shifted across onto the vibraphone. I won’t beat around the bush – I don’t like the vibraphone. It sounds too clean, too pure. So when they proceeded to churn through three Gershwin Preludes and a chunk of Chopin, followed by a bit of Bach, I was just wondering when the vibraphonics were going to stop. With every piece, I was thinking “this would sound much better if that was played with the piano.” Sure, the actual act of playing was physically impressive, but the resultant noise was… less than wonderful.

Luckily, we return to the drums eventually for a self-penned piece – and things immediately begin to look up. Over to the marimba again, with a humorous aside for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, before finally returning to the fucking vibraphone.

Unlike (say) Ben Walsh’s shows, the unfortunately mis-named Percussion Spectacular isn’t a exhibition of raw speed, but more of passionate and measured precision. Even more unfortunately for me, then, that so much of the performance leant on the vibraphone.

(Don’t know your glockenspiel from your marimba from your vibraphone from your xylophone? Good thing Wikipedia’s here to help…)

[2007039] Selections from LCUK and Death to Your Dreams

Selections from LCUK and Death to Your Dreams (FringeTIX – sadly, one show only)

Sean M. Whelan and The Mime Set @ Jade Monkey

6:15pm, Sat 17 Mar 2007

I’ve never been to Jade Monkey before; it feels very much a club for the artistic – gritty tabletops, a mishmash of seating options, dim lighting assisted by high skylights, rough walls and ceilings, lime-green and black interior… far from the clean and polished and designer-cajoled feel of recent discoveries such as (say) the Duke of York. Very friendly atmosphere, though; and the beer garden is really… odd. Great view of the back of Toys’R’Us.

As the lengthy title somewhat suggests, this performance was a collection of snippets from two previous Melbourne Fringe shows, LCUK and Death to Your Dreams. The Mime Set were fronted by Sean M. Whelan, who recited fragments of his writings very much in the manner of a spoken-word performance, with a few concessions made to the timing of delivery. The first track is exactly what I was expecting; nice tense musical noodlings, gentle words evoking familiar emotions over the top… very pleasant.

Throughout, members of The Mime Set scoot between instruments with gay abandon; Seven Dead Astronauts, Seven New Stars sees Sam and one of the other guys (sorry!) spinning whirly noisemakers as appropriate, whilst the drummer handles keys (and a glass of white wine). Hey, The Mime Set are different.

But… but but but. The second track, LCUK, had me wide-eyed and agog. Wonderful music, gorgeous text. Later, Paper Skin is at once brooding and punchy, like the best bits of Radiohead and The Birthday Party all blended into one, reminding me of Nicole Blackman‘s stint with The Golden Palominos.

And the finale, Other People’s Houses… jesus. Stunning, one of those utterly brilliant Rock moments. All rock and power and weight and majesty. And it’s a song/poem about being a cat. Or something. I was too busy being gobsmacked by ROCK. It’s safe to say that was one of the moments that makes me glad to chase the Fringe, glad to be ALIVE.

I had the chance to squeeze in another event straight after this – I opted not to. I wanted to savour – no, revel in – the feeling this show left me with.