[2014105] Story (Whore)

[2014105] Story (Whore)

Jon Bennett @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2

8:30pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

That Jon Bennett, eh? He’s a bloody good storyteller. He can conjure humour and empathy simultaneously, and from his brother’s meth addiction, to his Dad’s brushes with death, these stories are grounded in familial love and respect, and deeply mined for laughs.

But that’s not what this show is about. In fact, there’s very few mentions of his family at all.

Because, whilst Bennett’s usual storytelling style is there, he admits up front that Story (Whore) is a work-in-progress. Framed by an interaction with a Montreal airport security guard, Bennett takes a ramble through his life, reminiscing on his loves… and his pursuit of them.

Sure, some of the short tales that he dives into are a little clunky, occasionally causing me to wonder where the joke was supposed to be. And sure, the transitions between the stories sometimes were a little strained. And certainly, his PowerPoint accompaniment was not up to his usual polished standard.

But you know what? Jon Bennett still has that wonderfully befriending style that welcomes you instantly as a friend, and there are still plenty of laughs to be had. And again, he demonstrates his ability to conjure humour from strife: his tangent explaining how he’d been mugged multiple times was bloody good fun. And, in the end, that’s enough to carry the show… and it demonstrates that a great storyteller can turn anything into rewarding entertainment.

[2014104] Notoriously Yours

[2014104] Notoriously Yours

five.point.one @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

6:30pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

Prior to Notoriously Yours, I’d only seen a pair of five.point.one productions – both out-of-Fringe season. One – The Lake – was a fantastic production, and the other – which will remain nameless – really, really rubbed me the wrong way. It received plaudits from people I respect, but… well, I hated it.

So there was a little bit of trepidation when I saw the five.point.one name at the top of the billing for this show in the Fringe Guide; but the early buzz had sounded better-than-positive, and it only had a short run, so I found myself in another cab dashing out to North Adelaide on Sunday evening. A quick stop to pamper myself with some favourite junk food (dirty dim sims from the Blue’n’White), and I scurried in to join somewhat disappointing crowd in the wide expanse of Kev’s Studio.

Notoriously Yours is thick and heavy with the tropes of a spy thriller – there’s an evil villain, exotic locales, and steamy seduction. But it starts out (not-so-) innocently: in need of some companionship, a woman (known only as “Her”) meets a man via Tinder. It’s a taut and arousing opening scene as the two characters aggressively flirt before tumbling into bed, but it soon becomes apparent that Him is under surveillance; Her is brought in for questioning, with the details of their brief relationship being bluntly presented. Their watchers, apparently, know everything… a message that is rammed home throughout the production. By leveraging her father’s shady past (as an Eastern European war criminal), she is effectively blackmailed into spying for her watchers.

A large screen dominates the centre of the stage; throughout the performance it shows scene titles, snippets of film, snatches of text that border propaganda, and video being captured by the actors’ mobile phones. Phones play a significant role in the play, acting as conversation conduits and tracking apparatus; being used for good and for evil, as well as for impromptu lighting sources. Dialogue is often clipped and blunt, mirroring abbreviated SMS-speak, but it’s fast paced and surprisingly gripping.

But it’s a shame that the tech-heavy opening is written out of the script – what started as a contemplative narrative on the data that we freely give to Facebook and Tinder gradually devolves to the point where there’s no technology in the story anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the action-heavy scenes are an entertaining distraction… but I’m left wondering what the point of Notoriously Yours was. Is it really – as the coda so bluntly expressed – a comment on the surveillance state? Or a suggestion that technology is more (or less) dangerous than real life?

Notoriously Yours picked up a cluster of Fringe Awards, and it’s easy to see why: it’s slick, stylish, and impeccably produced, with strong performances (Claire Glenn’s Her is a standout) and a decent script. If it wasn’t for the last minute (or so) of the piece, I’d have been singing its praises a lot more loudly; the all-too-neat resolution and escape led to a blunt textual flourish, reminiscent of a “see you next time” action-series send-off, and it all felt a little… well, garish in comparison to the rest of the production. Whilst there’s no doubting the engaging entertainment to be found in the first fifty-five minutes, the denouement left a cheap and sour aftertaste.

[2014103] A Simple Space

[2014103] A Simple Space

Gravity & Other Myths @ Royal Croquet Club – The Panama Club

5:00pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

A quick dash (or rather, comfortable cab ride) sees MJ and I arrive at the Royal Croquet Club to find the queue for A Simple Space snaking around the dry and dusty bowl of Victoria Square; it’s hard work for the buskers trying to wheedle some cash from the queue-dwellers, and the humidity and lack of shade only add to the discomfort. But I find myself feeling absolutely, genuinely, amazingly happy that all these people are here to see Gravity & Other Myths weave their magic… but I’m also a bit jealous, too, because some of those people are probably seeing them for the first time.

I’ve linked to my first time many, many times before. And I’ll do so again, because just reading those poorly-assembled words makes the memories of that first Freefall show come flooding back, and I – quite literally – well up with tears of joy. But I’m deeply, deeply envious that all these people are coming into this performance fresh… because I know what awaits them.

By the time MJ and I get inside the Panama Club, most of the seats in the front two rows around the performance space are taken… I manage to snag a single in the front row at the front of the stage – almost perfect, really – but I soon change my mind and insist that MJ takes the optimal view instead… hey, it’s her first time too, and as a Honey Pot producer I want her to get the best possible look at my favourite acrobatic troupe. So instead I wind up in an aisle seat on the second row, my view a little obscured by a lighting rig… but I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be in that tent, at that time, on my birthday, surrounded by all these people… my expectant giggles led to enthusiastic conversation with my elderly neighbour, and then the lights dropped.

And I was back in that magical Simple Space.

Kicking off with their strip-skip routine again, many of the routines were familiar from last year’s performance – but it almost feels dismissive to type that, because the G&OM team have an organic fluency onstage that blends one trick into another in an almost seamless display of physical performance… but there’s no glitter, no flash, no distractions. Just raw, physical talent… straining muscles. Pouring sweat. Quiet grunts. Complete commitment. And yet the smiles and obvious understanding and camaraderie remain.

I had an epiphany early into this performance: A Simple Space is actually a collection of games and challenges that the G&OM team play with each other (that we’re lucky enough to witness). The strip-skipping, the boys’ backflip contests, the holding-breath-handstands, the handstands-while-the-audience-pelts-them-with-balls… even the Rubik’s Cube headstand had a competitive feel to it. But there’s still balances galore, bodies being thrown around, Jascha’s ascension from floor to three-high as she balances on a roaming circle of body parts. The clambering of Jascha around Triton and Lachlan in the no-floor-touch routine; the paired throws of the girls, with the pops of the the girls as the lads suspend them over each other in a tight formation… it’s one amazing experience after another.

And then I was dragged up on stage.

I’m pretty sure Triton – G&OM’s senior statesman – sought me out; regardless, a number of audience members were invited onstage. We lay in a circle, heads towards the centre, whilst Rhiannon carefully walked around the circle, balancing on hands… it’s a bizarre – and thrilling – way to view part of the performance, and as Triton guided me off the stage, I whispered “thanks so much for that… on my birthday, too!” “I know,” he replied with a smile, and my grin widened even further.

If you hadn’t gathered, I still unreservedly adore this show. Once again, Gravity & Other Myths left me a weeping and blubbering mess, hopelessly overcome by positive emotions. And those tears of joy, as annoying as they are (after all, they blur and obscure the action I’m so desperate to see!), represent all that is possible in a show with so much heart… that feels so completely honest and genuine. That it also happens to be a spectacular example of physical ability is just icing on the cake.

But the biggest joy-tears were yet to come… because, in response to the above tweet, this is what the Gravity & Other Myths crew replied:

Ah man. I’m having a little dance and toothy-grinned cry just pasting that tweet in.

[2014102] Pants Down Circus – Rock

[2014102] Pants Down Circus – Rock

Pants Down Circus @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Little Big Top

3:30pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

I was in the Garden a bit early, ostensibly to try something new from the myriad of food options available, but most of the food stalls were shut… and it’s also pretty uncomfortable, weather-wise. It’s hot, but the sun was well hidden behind thick cloud cover, with the humidity making it more uncomfortable than the temperature alone would dictate. I grabbed a quick (and unsatisfying) bite to eat, and then noticed that the queue for my next show had already started forming; I joined it early enough to be afforded some shade.

MJ turns up a bit later, and we chat a bit more about the shows she’s got lined up; she’d heard great things about Pants Down Circus, and I (using the power of my recollection of their 2012 show) tried not to spoil the surprise and hype them too much. But I also knew that she was heading over to see Gravity & Other Myths with me after this show, and the self-control required to not over-hype them almost caused me to burst.

Eventually, the crowd piles in to the Little Big Top and the show kicks off ten minutes late – I know the tight changeovers I face today, so I’m a little nervous to be wodged in the middle of a (near-?) sell-out crowd, surrounded by families. But with a thumping rock opening, the four members of Pants Down Circus take to the stage and deliver an hour of non-stop spectacle.

There’s plenty of acrobatic flips and spins and balance work – during a three-tube balance attempt, a kid sitting behind us yelled “I hope you don’t die, lady,” his voice laced with skepticism. There’s ladders and hoops and leaf-blowers, a consistent callback to some tennis racquet shenanigans, and it’s all accompanied by the perpetual smiles and humour and hair-metal stylings of the Pants Down crew.

Thankfully, their approach to gender “norms” in circus tricks hasn’t changed; Hannah Cryle still performs the bulk of the strength work, and the two guys in the group (Joshua Phillips and Idris Stanton) are far more likely to strip down than Cryle or Caz Walsh. There’s a wonderful sense of understanding within the troupe, and a tangible sense of enthusiasm emanating from the stage. And whilst the trapeze act somehow felt like a last-minute addition to the show, that’s the only time there wasn’t a wonderful flow from one segment to the next… and the trapeze act itself was still great.

There’s simply no denying that Pants Down Circus is brilliant entertainment. It’s loud and brash and exuberant and funny and exciting; you’ll gasp and laugh and applaud with gusto. And it’s all totally deserved.

But then, as I did on this day, you’ll go and see another show…

[2014101] FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

[2014101] FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

The Present Tense Ensemble @ Radio Adelaide

1:00pm, Sun 9 Mar 2014

As I sink deeper into my midlife crises (evidence of which I carried into this show – a quick stop at Morning Glory to buy myself a birthday present yielded Girls’ Generation and f(x) CDs), my inability to manage time effectively across my broadening range of interests leaves me more and more on edge… unable to completely immerse myself in one passion, I constantly feel like Something Important is going to slip under the radar. I – quite literally – have a Fear Of Missing Out.

But that’s not why I elected to see FOMO; instead, I was drawn by the association of Bryce Ives and the Present Tense Ensemble (who were responsible for the amazing Chants Des Catacombes). Bryce had raved about writer/performer Zoe McDonald in the weeks leading up to the Fringe, and… well, I would’ve felt like I was Missing Out if I didn’t see the show (especially with a birthday matinée).

I arrive at Radio Adelaide a bit early, but there’s already a crowd of people waiting in the foyer; I bump into Jane, who promptly whips out her iPad and records a few questions for her Adelaide Fringe diary for the Guardian – how cool was that? Impromptu interview over, we’re accosted by Maureen, the station security guard – one of Zoe McDonald’s ten characters – who insists on recording everyone’s details and then promptly ignores them: thus, I end up wearing a name-tag that labels me as “Steve”.

Maureen corrals us into a broadcast booth in the Radio Adelaide studios – it’s a sold-out show, and a tight fit, and there’s a few awkward moments as wireless headsets are handed out. Then into FOMO proper: a largely comical look at the callers and creators of talkback radio, of the culture of information overload, and of Zoe McDonald’s Fear Of Missing Out. Pamela – program manager for the radio show, played by McDonald with a deep soothing voice – drags in Anita (an irritating feeble-minded beauty consultant), Dina (whose One-Minute Mantra For Women On The Go is a perfect blend of new age and power-consumerism), the aggressively butch lesbian Jessica, and a smattering of other “guests” (both callers and surprise physical visitors) to the radio show that the audience watches unfold.

But in the face of these guests (and even Pamela, with her poetry that ranges from Bad to Aerosmith), Zoe seems positively normal – it doesn’t feel like her FOMO is affecting her in any way. In fact, it’s her even-handed FOMO that ensures that she lacks the obsession that consumes the other characters.

FOMO harkens back to a time where multi-character solo performances were all the rage – and it compares favourably to those shows by virtue of its strongly woven script. The manner with which McDonald skips between discernibly different characters – the ditziness of Anita, the raw macho aggression of Jessica, the placating Pamela – is a treat, with each personality afforded its own physicality.

And whilst I’m not totally convinced that the quirky presentation – within a broadcast booth in a radio station, with wireless headphones creating a more tangible sense of radio broadcast – was absolutely necessary for the work, FOMO still provided an entertaining experience… sure, it didn’t live up to the expectations of Chants Des Catacombes, but let’s be honest: not many shows do.

After the show, I hang back to see if I can chat with Bryce, who I’d briefly seen before the show; alas, he’d already left to return to Melbourne, but a woman came up to me with the most interesting opening line I’ve ever been party to: “You look like someone I should talk to,” said MJ, and thus began a conversation about Honey Pot and central Australian arts management that spread over many more shows and the remainder of the day…

[2014100] EUROWISION Adelaide 2014

[2014100] EUROWISION Adelaide 2014

CARCON productions @ Gluttony – The Peacock

11:45pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

Another year, another Eurowision, and another opportunity to openly confess my (only somewhat ironic) love of Eurovision (seriously, how good was Margaret Berger’s pulsing neo-industrial I Feed You My Love last year? And Conchita Wurst’s phoenix stageshow this year? Amazing.) Not only does Eurovision provide the music and the spectacle, but it provides comedic fodder for this event: parody and mimicry in one. And after the success of first two Eurowisions (in 2012 and 2013), with the event timed to spill over into my birthday, wild dogs couldn’t keep me away from this one.

But the previous event in The Peacock runs long, so I’m able to claim one of my most treasured presents (a Birthday Kiss!) before our hosts take the stage. And, from the outset, it’s obvious that the formula hasn’t changed much: the gorgeously curvy Carla Conlin and The Golden Phung’s Andrew Crupi return as hosts Heidi and Uri, Mark Trenwith provides his interstitial postcard segments through black-bodysuited comic mime, last year’s country flag bearers and dancers reappear, and even the Pyrotechnic Team Teen comes back for another bout. Sure, a lot of their “jokes” return, too, but the mood in the room overcomes both the familiarity and the corniness.

I’ve no idea who performed for the smallgood-assisted Italy (female vox with male accompaniment), but Sparrow Folk performed a fun bilingual translated song (Mais Non?). The Golden Phung presented a sketch demonstrating the process of conflict resolution through spit-roasting whilst representing the UK; I’m not sure what the connection to the country was, but it was well worth a giggle.

James McCann once again provided a wonderfully overacted effort, this time for Spain; his spanish version of Faith was brilliant fun, as was the teacup-inspired effort by Gravity Boots for a new “country”, Planet Seedling. Bridget Tegdirb’s drinking song required crowd interaction, but I’m not sure we were up for it; as a result, Scotland’s entry felt a little flat. The Lords of Strut represented Ireland by slaughtering Total Eclipse of the Heart whilst performing a balancing routine – a wardrobe malfunction leading to testicular exposure kept the disbelief and laughs high.

Thereafter, the quality really picked up: the amazing Anya Anastasia provided France with another(!) great entry, playing keys and singing about the many ways Marie Antoinette could lose her head. Then Gerry Masi provided the undoubtable highlight of the show with his classic Toilet Song – again, I’m not sure how that relates to his chosen country of Moldova, but whatever – that man can deliver! Who knew he could sing? Bazinga Burlesque wrapped up proceedings for Russia by performing a rocked-out version of Rasputin.

Masi rightly “won” Eurowision for Moldova, and I left The Peacock a pretty happy man. But a niggly little voice in my head seemed to suggest that, whilst I had been entertained by Eurowision Adelaide 2014, maybe the joke was starting to wear a little thin with me…

[2014099] Jacques Barrett is The Contrarian: Part Deux

[2014099] Jacques Barrett is The Contrarian: Part Deux

Jacques Barrett @ The Producers Bar

10:15pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

So – Jacques Barrett. I’m a massive fan. Always have been, since the first time I saw him perform (opening for the Tokyo Shock Boys), and I specifically picked this evening to see his full set during this season… I wanted to share his genius with a substantial audience, and a Saturday night is usually the best chance for a decent walk-in crowd. That it also happened to be show ninety-nine for this year was a bonus.

The massive crowd I wanted? It didn’t really happen. I can’t remember how many were there, but in the end it didn’t matter… because we all laughed loud and hard and long. Oo-er.

Barrett’s material is still amazingly solid – the gold far outweighs the less-precious – with the only flat spots being the moments where he chases a thread, gets disheartened halfway through a joke, and bails on it… but even then, Barrett’s self-admonishment has the effect of making him appear more identifiable, more human. Cats & Dogs, such a benign and hacky concept, has become a sterling opener, the full Australians Abroad bit (which morphs into the ecstasy of Blueberry Muffin) is as good a routine as any, and I’d forgotten how good his drug-addled Home Alone piece was.

Throughout, Barrett’s delivery veers from confident to frail in a completely organic manner: the show almost feels like an emotional roller-coaster that you ride with Barrett. And whilst the more enjoyably misanthropic elements of previous shows have been whittled away over the years, they’ve been replaced by fantastic introspective humour… and there’s still plenty of self-denigration to go around.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy Jacques Barrett’s comedy? Why yes, yes I have. He’s still my current favourite touring Australian comedian, and this show did absolutely nothing to convince me otherwise. In fact, it only further highlighted how much daylight there is between Barrett and second place in my mind: I fear for my (ample) gut if a challenger comes along, because it will most certainly be busted.

[2014098] Sadeh21

[2014098] Sadeh21

Batsheva Dance Company @ Festival Theatre

8:30pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

Once again, I feel obliged to trot out my usual admissions regarding Dance: moreso than any other medium, I feel completely lost when it comes to explaining my response to a piece of dance. After all these years, I still feel like there’s a massive disconnect between how dance makes me feel, and the words I struggle to associate with them… and, more perplexingly, I still lack any ability to “see” real talent or excellence. Hell, I’m convinced that some of my favourite k-pop performers are great dancers, a statement that I suspect any real dance aficionado would scoff at.

A side-effect to that blindness is that I wouldn’t know a “good” dance company if they performed in my lounge room; but I sure do know what excited Festival Patrons sound like. And so, during the Festival Launch last October, when David Sefton announced that Batsheva Dance Company was returning to Adelaide (their previous visit was just before I became intoxicated by all things Festivalian), the cooing of the audience told me all I needed to know: Sadeh21 was going to be a must-see.

A mad dash across town saw me approaching the Festival Centre a comfortable handful of minutes before the scheduled start of the performance; there were very few people milling around outside the Theatre. Odd, I thought, given the strict lockout policy on the performance… but then I saw a pair of protesters, quietly holding pro-Palestinian placards and gently proffering information leaflets. The few people in front of me turned their shoulders and shunned the protesters as they shuffled by.

Inside the Centre, I quickly cool and de-sweat before taking my seat; there’s two women in the seats to my right, and I offer a quiet greeting as I sit down: they stared icily at me in return, returning to their conversation in what I assumed was Hebrew. A moment later, two young men sat to my right, also speaking (what I assume to be) Hebrew; again, a frosty greeting, and they mutely stared at their phones until the lights dropped.

Surrounded by people, and with the friendliest of intentions, I felt alone. But then Sadeh21 began.

The staging is simple: a featureless wall spanned the stage at about half the depth; upon it flickered the phrase “Sadeh 1”. A woman strutted across the stage, breaking stride only to toss her head back. More people start crossing the stage; they all have physical ticks, jerks, or impossible bends, before returning to their measured paces.

Minutes into the performance, and I was astonished: bodies aren’t supposed to move like that.

Subsequent pieces also confound: after “Sadeh 2” appears projected onto the wall, I realised that we were going to be watching twenty-one fragments of dance. The gorgeous low funk choreography of Sadeh 5 was tempered by the prolonged and painful illegible babbling of a man in Sadeh 6; as a result, the skipping of Sadeh 7 through 18 felt like both a disappointment and a relief.

But then came the rigid lines and militaristic overtones of Sadeh 19, and my mind immediately went back to the quiet protesters outside the Festival Centre; back to the dancers, and there was no glory to be seen in those lines, no joy in the choreography. And then, as if for the first time, I noticed the wall: ominous, foreboding. Sadeh 20 slapped me back into the moment, with the constant sound of screaming in the accompanying music unsettling me, drifting focus away from the physical performance… and willing this episode to stop, taking the music with it.

Then to Sadeh 21: as credits rolled up the wall, the performers clambered to the top of the wall, only to fall off (to the back of the stage) and return again. There’s an odd moment when someone in the audience starts clapping in the middle of the credits sequence; it’s not until we see “the end” projected on the wall (after the dancers fall for the last time, never to reappear onstage) that the rest of us started applauding, realising that person had the right idea.

Sadeh21 was a bloody amazing experience: each of its nine pieces had something different to offer (both physically and aurally), and most of the movement was just stunning… the flexibility and balance and everything on display was really something else. But those two pieces that didn’t work for me – Sadeh 6 and 20 – really upset the balance of the performance… and it’s interesting, in retrospect, to realise that it was the aural accompaniment that triggered my negative reactions.

Those other seven pieces, though? Fucking brilliant.

[2014097] Em Rusciano in ‘Divorce – The Musical’

[2014097] Em Rusciano in ‘Divorce – The Musical’

Em Rusciano @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Paradiso Spiegeltent

7:00pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

It was a bit of a mad dash after the previous show, and while my friend was parking her car I snaffled her ticket from the Garden box office. Then to the bar, where I acquired the requisite drinks and thence waited for her to arrive… and waited. And waited.

The rest of the crowd had already entered the Paradiso and I’d progressed to chatting amiably with the ticketeer on the door when my friend arrived; in the hurried flurry of limbs and objects that follow, a piece of chewing gum arced through the air to land perfectly on the ticket being brandished to facilitate entry. There’s much laughing and apologising and blushing and laughing before we scurried in, miraculously finding two seats near the front on an aisle (a fortuitous bit of pre-planning, as I knew I needed a quick escape at the end of the show).

There’s a frenzied cloud of fabric as Em Rusciano takes to the stage, glittering white wedding dress cut very short, greeting the crowd with a gleeful “What’s up, Bitches?” She pokes fun at the gender inequality of the crowd – “It’s Spot-the-Cock in here tonight, isn’t it?” she quipped, before pointing to a man sitting in the front row and declaring “Homo.”

Now, I knew nothing about Em Rusciano prior to tonight’s show… but it was clear that there were a few hundred people who were quite familiar with her. Still, there must have been a little pandering in her material to people like me: the odd mention of appearing on Australian Idol, of having worked on (and sacked by) the Austereo Network, and – most importantly – there was a lot of talk around her titular divorce. And she creates a real sense of connection as she describes the breakdown of her marriage – the frustration and anger – and then (to the pained gasps from the audience) how her expectations of reconciliation were shot down. The moving-back-home stories that followed were pure gold, and there were plenty of other humorous asides: nipple hair, kids’ school performances, and her return to the dating scene all provided solid laughs.

Divorce! was most certainly entertaining – Em’s well-paced storytelling, uproarious personality, and legion of screaming fangirls certainly saw to that. And she’s certainly got a singing voice (ably demonstrated by a P!nk song – “for all my lesbian fans”), though her songs were more often snippets – except for Wrecking Ball, which stood out in that it felt way too long. But the heart of Divorce! is the interaction between father and daughter onstage: Vincie, Rusciano’s dad, provides guitar accompaniment (and the odd mumble of support) for most of the show, and Vincie’s responses to Em’s onstage antics seemed to be equal parts pride and begrudging acceptance. And that made for a bloody fun performance… maybe not one that I’d choose to re-visit, truth be told, but one that I’m certainly glad I experienced.

[2014096] Blackout

[2014096] Blackout

Stone/Castro @ AC Arts Main Theatre

5:00pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

I’ve never really gotten on with Paulo Castro’s productions… and I’ve certainly never been as convinced by his work as popular opinion suggests I should be. He’s lauded by people I respect, but… I just don’t Get It. But Blackout was commissioned by the Adelaide Festival, my faith in David Sefton was swelling… and a friendly timeslot beckoned. Larissa McGowan and Steve Sheehan in the cast. Deep breath… and commit. Tickets bought.

But warning lights (and klaxons, and a flight response) should have gone off when a hand-scrawled note to the side of the Main Theatre’s entrance indicated that the performance would be much longer than the seventy-five minutes suggested by the Festival Guide… a sure sign that Blackout was still a work in progress. But, upon entering the space, I was actually sucked in by the stage: wide open and deep, it was an exercise in refinement, with a curious clear canopy overhead and a ring surrounding the stage centre.

But then the performance itself starts… and, well, it’s a bit of a mess.

Blackout is ostensibly a mixed media performance, mixing a theatrical narrative with dance-based movement, which follows a cluster of people celebrating a wedding on a boat; later in the piece, a storm hits the party, and a sense of doom pervades proceedings as the characters fight amongst themselves. And that all sounds interesting enough, but…

The Good Bits first: the direction of the cast is wonderful, making full use of the stage and (on the few occasions that they’re allowed enough space to be noticed) the dance-inspired movements are really quite lovely to behold. The stage itself was cleverly done, with a semi-circular buffer allowed to fill with water and create a gorgeous shimmering effect underfoot; the canopy served multiple purposes, catching the light in an almost ethereal way, and creating a lovely aural texture when rain started falling upon it.

As for the textual content of the piece… well, I didn’t get along with it at all. Whilst there were some interesting characters – and Stephen Sheehan brought some comic gravitas to his role – none of them were overly likeable, and the bulk of the (poor) dialogue took a back seat in my memory in favour of one ranting soliloquy by an angst-ridden guitar-wielding emotional wreck. The fish falling from the roof? Yawn, bore, seen it all before (in Brink’s 2008 production When The Rain Stops Falling, when it actually meant something), and – just to tick all the boxes on this year’s bingo card – there was a bit of penis performance art.

But it’s the caring that I missed most in this piece, especially for something set at a wedding; surely I should give a shit about someone? Surely someone should tug at my heartstrings, or make me laugh (in a non-ironic manner)? Surely I should find some reason to empathise with someone? But no – instead, I dispassionately watched a bunch of people wander around a clever set, and wondered where the story was going… and when it was going to end.

I didn’t leave Blackout angry at the performance that I’d witnessed… annoyed, maybe. Disappointed, definitely. But, even as I tried to focus on the positives as I scurried to my next event, I chastised myself for not following my initial instincts. A mistake that I hope I won’t make again.

[2014095] SNUG & VENT

[2014095] SNUG & VENT

PUMP Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

2:00pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014

Theatre section of the Fringe Guide? Overtly in support of White Ribbon? Intriguing line buried in the middle of the précis? Extremely short run? Matinée?

SNUG & VENT checked all those boxes and drew me, like a moth to a flame, out to Holden Street on a Saturday afternoon. But there’s barely a handful of other people in the audience, and even in the relatively tight confines of The Arch the gaps feel enormous.

SNUG is the first play of the pair on offer, and it explores the idea of feeling “safe” through seven short scenes featuring three featureless characters. By approaching the topics in an abstract way, freed from the expectations that gender could place on the characters, SNUG is a thoughtful (though too earnestly straightforward to be thought-provoking) piece whose message is unavoidable, yet not forced upon the audience.

VENT, on the other hand, forgoes SNUG‘s abstraction in favour of a more literal staging of an abusive relationship: Rosa and Dan’s relationship is disintegrating as their uni-student daughter struggles to hold things together. Dan’s inability to deal with pressures external to the family is clearly the root cause, and there’s uncomfortable scenes as he lashes out and threatens the two women. Resolution is… well, it’s not a feel-good ending.

But suddenly – with only about half of the expected hour duration elapsed – the performances were done. The house lights came up, and one of the production crew – Production Manager Karen Van Spall, perhaps? – addressed the audience; she asked us to suggest alternative actions that the characters could have taken at any point in the play. Met with a wall of silence (I struggled to come up with something valid, but was also taken aback by the requested interaction in such a loaded atmosphere), she threw a few suggestions out; the actors performed the changes, taking them through to their conclusions.

And that’s an interesting idea… but it comes across feeling quite forced, and a little bit unrealistic. And – worse, in terms of “entertainment” – it made me feel uncomfortable as an audience member… and that’s the unfortunate memory that lingers.

It feels awful to say that, especially in conjunction with a show that’s got it heart in absolutely the right place. And let’s be quite clear: both short plays are earnest in their message… it’s just that the audience interaction felt forced and unnecessary. In a school environment, it may work a treat; in a Saturday matinée session, not so much.

[2014094] Pete Johansson

[2014094] Pete Johansson

Pete Johansson @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl

10:00pm, Fri 7 Mar 2014

It had been a bloody good day for comedy so far – starting good and building to brilliant, I had wondered whether one more comedy act would be pushing the theme of the day a little bit too far. After all, I knew nothing about Pete Johansson (other than his wacky Guide précis), but SA Comedy superhero Craig Egan bigged him up, so… I wound up back in the half-full Howling Owl. And I must admit that there was a moment of fear when Johansson – after gently rolling through his Canadian introductory spiel – warned us that he was trying out some new material… that we might miss some of his top-flight jokes.

But if that was his “in progress material”, then I can’t imagine what it would be like when it’s polished. Because I just about wept tears of lunacy for much of his set.

Johansson’s style initially appears to be unremarkable – accent aside, he’s got a very familiar stand-up delivery. But you’re soon getting caught up in his enthusiasm, which he drives with his variations in pitch – his little-girl-woman voice has just enough heart to not be disrespectful, and his emphasis tones are golden. But the variations of his delivery speed really suck me in – he’ll drop from regular joke-merchant to high-speed data pummeller at the drop of a hat, and it’s an utterly bewitching effect.

In terms of material, it seems like pretty standard fare – sex, drugs, travel, and the occasional gentle (well, he is Canadian) political statement – but two jokes alone were worth their weight in gold. The first addressed a muslim-hating friend, which devolved into a fantastic bee-inspired rant; the second was a tiptoeing-on-the-edge discussion of his wife’s rape fantasy, which featured an angry use of the phrase “you’re not a very good rapist.”

But even if those two jokes hadn’t been in the set, Pete Johansson still would have been well worth the effort. Jokes that are deep and creative and a little more obscure than the average fare, delivered by an incredibly likeable chap with an appealing delivery… what’s not to love?

[2014093] Chris Wainhouse – The Anti-Chris

[2014093] Chris Wainhouse – The Anti-Chris

Chris Wainhouse @ Gluttony – The Piglet

9:00pm, Fri 7 Mar 2014

So… I love comedy that pokes fun at religion. Like, really love it. And that’s a little odd, because whilst I’m a happy agnostic, I’ve got no problems with people who do follow a religion (as long as they don’t force that it anyone else). You know, each to their own, as long as they don’t hurt anyone. That kind of thing.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m not a militant atheist.

Unlike Chris Wainhouse.

And Wainhouse is a comedian. A hilarious, cutting, vicious comedian. He has no time whatsoever for religion – especially of the Christian fundamentalist varieties.

Which is super funny, since he was raised in a religious household… a full-on orthodox household. Like, no-doctors-God-will-fix-you-up creationist parents and siblings.

Which made the story of the time he broke a bone (his leg?) as a child unbelievable. That Wainhouse made the story both uproariously funny and an acerbic attack on fundamentalist beliefs was the work of a genius.

He treated us to an edited highlights package of his upbringing, including those moments that turned him into the staunch atheist he is today. And whilst religion is frequently his comedic target, there’s plenty of other material of equally good quality: at one stage, we didn’t laugh enough at a joke he thought deserved better, so he took an aside for an incredibly filthy story that did make us all laugh… “See what happens when you don’t laugh? It goes downtown.”

I’d tried to see Wainhouse the previous night and, as I was being turned away from that cancelled show, I’d explained that I couldn’t guarantee I would be able to squeeze another session into The Schedule… but I’m so very glad that I did. As far as I’m concerned, this was one of the best shows I saw at the Fringe this year: this is the type of comedy that could sustain me unto death. Loved loved loved it.

[2014092] Chris Turner: Pretty Fly

[2014092] Chris Turner: Pretty Fly

Chris Turner @ Royal Croquet Club – Shanty Town

7:30pm, Fri 7 Mar 2014

I’ve no idea who Chris Turner is, but his cherubic face peering out from his posters is a curious contrast to the “Pretty Fly” show title. Tomás Ford’s name attached as presenter is the sealer: I’ve got massive faith in that man.

That’s why I decided to turn up on this Friday night. As for the rest of the nearly-sold-out show? I’ve no idea, but I suspect it may have been a combination of (a) alcohol, (2) the ‘Croquet Club being the boozy trashy hangout du jour, and (iii) more alcohol. Still, an inebriated crowd is sometimes a willing crowd for a comedian, so – as I took my place in the middle of the second row, between two cheery men whose gym routines crushed what little space my seat afforded – I hoped for the best.

And whilst I didn’t get The Best per se, what I did get was pretty bloody entertaining.

Turner is every bit the weedy, unimposing physical specimen suggested by his poster… but there’s a confidence, a swagger, to his stage presence that is at odds with his appearance. His voice carries a certain command, too, as he ably deflects hecklers before they get too rowdy.

Turner opens by taking the piss out of his own appearance, before launching into treatise about his love of gangsta rap. He tinkers with the ludicrous nature of his admission – that a weedy white guy could be obsessed by bling, misogyny, and violence – before juxtaposing the culture around the music with his own relationships: the love and conflict experienced with his parents and girlfriend feature heavily alongside sample lyrics. It’s a neat central narrative thread that really holds the show together.

Turner’s style is very much of the hit-and-run one-liner variety: a short build-up before a witty punchline, with the subject of the build-up often left for dead. But there’s enough continuity that the show doesn’t feel like a disparate collection of gags… I felt like the show was a tumbling evolution, and the occasional callback (the Roman numeral jokes were fantastic) never felt forced.

But the pièce de résistance was Turner’s closer – a freestyle rap using a handful of audience-selected words; not only was it a great bit of free-styling, but it also gelled the audience together: after the inclusion of every key word, a big cheer would go up, and the grins were evident. Sure, it may not have been as good as the one at the end of this video, but it was pretty bloody good (even if he did forget one of the words, requiring a check-in with the crowd).

I had a lot of fun with Pretty Fly: rap isn’t anywhere near my favourite musical genres, but when the most un-rap-looking guy ever is talking about it – and talking about it with deft humour – I’m all ears.

[2014091] An American’s Guide to being like totally British

[2014091] An American’s Guide to being like totally British

Alexis Wieroniey @ Astor Hotel – Astoria Room

6:00pm, Fri 7 Mar 2014

In my experience, audiences at early-Friday-evening comedy shows can be either embarrassingly non-existent, or boisterously buoyant for the performer. However, this Fringe seems to enjoy throwing plenty of curve-balls my way, and so it was that I discovered a new form of audience: the Friday-night-drunken-fuckknuckle.

To be fair, there was only really a trio of said FNDFs in the crowd (of maybe two dozen), but unfortunately they occupied a table just in front of the stage, with two of them freely chatting to each other throughout the show. Or sitting there, not laughing, arms crossed high – which I’d imagine to be almost as useful to a performer. But the brazen nature of their conversations – often starting in the middle of a joke – was just flabbergasting.

But anyway…

I’d arrived a little early this evening and fallen into conversation with Ross Voss, who was running the Astor venues; however, I was somewhat surprised to see him open up the show with a loose five minutes. His wry wordplay always seems at odds with his quirky delivery, and that makes me grin like a loon… but the rest of the audience was a little unsure. That didn’t faze Ross, though, and he hammered through some decent gags before introducing Alexis Wieroniey.

Alexis introduces herself as an American who chose to settle in the UK; there’s a few jokes about her citizenship test, and some expected comparisons between the two cultures… but the show soon devolves into material around her relationships, her breakups, and – more prominently – her sex life. And she’s pretty open about what she chooses to tell the audience – there’s a great story of a pickup-gone-wrong that ended with the phrase “too be less slutty, I had to have sex with him” – and plenty of penis-related material (hey – penises seem to be the In Thing this Fringe) gained through experience. But there’s also less bawdy material – a couple of jokes tinker with statistics (including a fantastic rapid-fire rant about Facebook response times), and a great rumination on the nature of Americans: “we’re raised on blind optimism and hydrogenated corn products.”

Wieroniey’s delivery wavers between two styles: charmingly awkward (where pregnant pauses and wary eyes carry as much comedy as her monologue), and charmingly motormouthed (where facts and figures spill from her like an unstoppable torrent, only to be punctuated with a flourish worthy of a mike-drop). Either way, she exudes confidence: even the front-table fuckwits couldn’t knock her off her game, despite their discussion of her stage-worthiness.

I really enjoyed An American’s Guide to being like totally British, even if it didn’t really deliver on its title: Alexis Wieroniey proved to be a quality comedian who has no qualms belittling herself for the audience’s benefit. A tempered confidence in both her material and delivery shines through, giving her a charm that’s great to watch… I only wish she had a better audience to work with.