[2014090] GLORY BOX!

[2014090] GLORY BOX!

Finucane & Smith @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Paradiso Spiegeltent

10:30pm, Thu 6 Mar 2014

“Seductive Spectacle, Live” says the subtitle of this show, but before even entering the Paradiso I’ve got a pretty good idea what Glory Box! is going to be about: burlesque acts and physical comedy, half performed by Moira Finucane, half by her colleagues. It’ll be well-produced, well-polished, and – thanks to the positive word-of-mouth evident around the Fringe – well attended.

But upon entering the venue, I discovered that my preconceived notions may be wrong: the crowd was surprisingly light for this performance, and I easily found a front-row seat, sharing a table with an older couple (who, unfortunately, included a piercing whistler who was perhaps a little to keen to show off her own talents). Expectations were satisfied, however, when Finucane took to the stage; all her staple performances (the macho man strip, the Dairy Queen, the red sauce dribbles) were presented throughout the night… as was the brilliantly literal (and tortured) interpretation of Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Some high-energy dance twins tried to rock the stage: sure, it looked good from the outset, but I’ve been watching K-Pop for eighteen months now… and, by comparison, their moves need some work. Also lacklustre was the trapeze act, which was notable only for the fact that the performer was wearing tight bands around her limbs and torso that made her look like a svelte Michelen Man.

In fact, the only act that struck me as creatively new was a piece where the performer worked with fabric “wings” that were routed through the top of the stage; it’s an impressive visual effect, but whilst it didn’t outstay its welcome, that injection of something different was sadly too brief. Acts were broken up with an occasional disco-inspired singalong (though the “pussy wussy pussy” song came across as low-bar and infantile), and there was even a get-another-drink-in interval.

Whilst my front-row seat afforded me a great view of the action (and it was the first time I’d been so close to the action that I needed the splash guard for Finucane’s milk spray routine), it wasn’t really of any benefit to me – I’d seen most of the acts before, and the new pieces didn’t benefit from the proximity. What I did see, though, was that the audience was mostly men – maybe eighty percent, I reckon – and there were an alarming number of men hopping on Facebook in the middle of the show. There could be a vibrant hoop act or naked woman dousing herself in liquid on stage, but the familiar blue glow of Facebook would be front-lighting their faces. To which I can just shake my head and say: what the fuck?

Look – Glory Box! was an undoubtedly entertaining show… but due to the familiarity of its content, it has little to differentiate it from other ensemble burlesque acts. As a result, I left the Garden this evening feeling like I’d been appropriately entertained… but a little part of me felt as if I’d wasted the timeslot. It’ll take a bit more than good word-of-mouth to convince me that I need to see another such show, I think.

[2014089] Red Bastard

[2014089] Red Bastard

Eric Davis @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

9:15pm, Thu 6 Mar 2014

So – I’m waiting outside The Piglet, chatting to the lovely woman running the Face Your Selfie exhibit, eagerly waiting to see Chris Wainhouse… but Gluttony is looking dead, with precious few punters in attendance. I check at the door, and Wainhouse has sold all of one ticket – mine – and, about ten minutes past the nominal start time, I’m told that the show is cancelled. I’ve already got a ticket in hand for later in the evening, so I quickly look for something nearby that was on The Shortlist to fill in the gap… a quick dash across the road led to the discovery that Nunopoly was also cancelled, so back to Gluttony I went: Red Bastard fit perfectly.

It was only after I’d hurriedly bought the ticket and scurried towards La Petite Grande that I thought about what a light audience might mean to Red Bastard – after all, the first time I saw him perform (when he was all but the poster-child for the 2010 Fringe), the audience were as important as the performer. When I tentatively stepped inside the tent, I discovered there were only about twenty people there waiting… my heart sank a little, and I began to wonder how this show could possibly work. The feeling that I could be in for an uncomfortable hour was only exacerbated when I discovered that most of those twenty people were either (a) drunk, (2) not native English speakers, or (iii) both.

Eric Davis’ alter ego strutted its bulbous way onstage (I noticed, for the first time, that he wears red FiveFingers) and started barking instructions at the audience. Initially, the performance panned out in a similar manner to my first Red Bastard experience: we exercised our voices (“FIVE… four… threetwoone”), we’re taught the Space! and Displace! and Suspend! exercises (there were no theatrical performers with prior experience this evening), and we’re psychologically prodded by Red Bastard.

And it’s the questions that make you think that provide the most reward from this performance; in creating a shared space (rather than an artist-over-here, audience-over-there regimen), Red Bastard gives us permission to be a bit more open… to give a bit more than we normally would. Indeed, one of the (handful of) latecomers accepted Red Bastard’s probing with a focused sincerity; when we were asked to come up with a phrase to address a personal pain-point, he proudly stated “My choice is mine” – and when Davis half-goaded him into committing to tell the target of that phrase, he pulled out his phone and rang his Dad. It was pretty uncomfortable watching one side of a deeply personal conversation take place (we essentially watched a blue-haired, shoeless young man receive an emotional battering from his father for five minutes), but once he’d reached some kind of resolution and hung up the place erupted in applause.

(Incidentally, my phrase was – rather petulantly in hindsight – “You only care about yourself.” Sigh.)

I didn’t think Red Bastard would work in a crowd of 20 – I was completely wrong. If anything, this performance was better because of the small audience; there was a humorous repeat of the first couple of minutes when a group turned up late, and the number of people for whom English was not their first language was also a cracking accent to the show. And whilst it didn’t feel as revolutionary as it did the first time, there were still some genuinely moving and inspiring moments: even the Red Bastard façade of Eric Davis melted away as he looked emotionally moved (and somewhat concerned) by the blue-haired guy’s phone call.

[2014088] Sam Simmons – Death Of A Sails-Man

[2014088] Sam Simmons – Death Of A Sails-Man

Sam Simmons @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Idolize Spiegeltent

7:45pm, Thu 6 Mar 2014

Every time Sam Simmons brings a show to the Fringe, I try to squeeze it in; but, as I seem to write nearly every year since my first (glorious) Simmons experience, there’s a significant chance that it could be a show that completely fails to connect with me.

And what I should have recognised by now is that I don’t get along with Simmons’ narrative-driven pieces; the central narrative thread makes the abstract asides feel somewhat forced, with the entire performance feeling less cohesive as a result. That seems like a pretty weird thing to say, especially when compared to a collection of surreal sight-and-sound gags, but that’s what it feels like to me.

Unfortunately, Death Of A Sails-Man is a narrative piece: in a fanciful flashback, Simmons is a successful corporate man who also happens to be a keen windsurfer. Blown out to sea one day, he suffers a bout of panicked existentialism; “antiquated” technology, delirium, and undersea expeditions provide most of the familiar rants and excursions into surreality.

But also familiar are Simmons’ chuckles of disbelief to himself; but I’m now cynical enough to think that they aren’t necessarily a response to “I can’t believe I thought that would be funny.” There’s an element of self-indulgence creeping in now, and it feels like a backhanded mocking of the audience: “I can’t believe these people give me money for this shit.”

To be fair, the audience itself probably put me in a bad mood for this show: from the moment I realised I was sharing the line with people who were double-fisting beers, I started moping: these were not the people I want to be sharing a show with. Mind you, Simmons’ willingness to bite the hand that feeds him is commendable: the lights dropped to black for a scene change, and a woman two seats down from me started using her phone, her face illuminated by its glow. Simmons saw it from the stage: “Stop using your fucking phone!” he yelled in the darkness, and as the lights come up he’s pointing directly at her.

But corralling the audience is not why I turn up to a Sam Simmons show. I want to see surreality delivered with confidence and conviction; I want to see inside the mind of a professional lunatic. I want to see a tightly-wrangled audio-visual Erotic Cat-like experience again without zealous sound guys causing tinnitus (Simmons’ voice was so dominant in the mix he had to keep asking the tech to bump the volume on his backing track). And whilst I know that Simmons can write a narrative – Problems showed that, with each episode proving a self-contained delight – it’ll be awhile before I commit to another such show from this once-inspiring man.

[2014087] Maybe you could crack my sternum

[2014087] Maybe you could crack my sternum

Emma and Emma @ Tandanya – Firefly

6:30pm, Thu 6 Mar 2014

I’m smitten the instant I walk in the door: two beautiful women dressed in white, in front of a white geometric backdrop, quietly chatting to themselves. I wodge myself between Jane and an elderly gentleman (who quietly dozed through most of the performance) in an optimal seat and prepared to be wowed.

The only problem is that the wows didn’t come.

The beginning of the performance smoothly emerged from the prelude: the two Emmas (Hall and Smith) introduce each other to the audience, prying apart the ways in which they aren’t alike – in fact, they’re quite different, in age as in personality, and I’m left wondering how they came to be working together. Intriguing!

But from there, they bounce from one seemingly unconnected non sequitur to another. The “conversations” between the Emmas were little more then jagged fragments of text, any of which alone could conjure an intriguing response; but when those fragments are rapid-fired at the audience, there’s little opportunity to take stock. It’s overwhelming, but not necessarily in the nonsensically blissful way that one can feel swamped in (say) a Lynch movie.

And I think my lack of engagement with these phrases and proposals was at least somewhat related to my distance from the people onstage. Despite their quirky introductions – and the fact that the Older Emma (Hall?) has ribs like mine – there was no real connection between them and me. No empathy. No reason to chase the meaning of the text.

In the end, their backdrop – a lattice-work of pins and string creating geometric shapes created by Taryn Dudley – actually was of significantly more interest to my brain than trying to figure out where their dialogue was going. And there’s a little bit of shame associated with saying that… but sometimes I’m asked to put in more than I can give. A stream of oddities is all very well and good, but there has to be a reason to care.

[2014086] Jamaican Princess

[2014086] Jamaican Princess

Nicholas Capper @ Gluttony – The Piglet

10:10pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014

I first saw Nick Capper during a Rhino Room Late Show last year, and his material was incredible: in front of a drunken Late Show crowd, he managed to win friends with desert-dry and depressed self-deprecation, coupled with a delivery that positively revelled in the power of his pauses. Unfortunately, when I went to see his show there was a tiny “crowd”, and – whilst I could still see the quality of the material – the experience was… well, less wonderful.

But, as I said at the time, I hoped that he’d return to Adelaide. And he did. So I bought a ticket. And a few other people bought tickets too. And some people, who I suspect don’t really go to a lot of comedy shows, got given freebies by Capper as we waited for The Piglet to get reset.

So – Nick Capper had a crowd. But what he didn’t have was the darkness that made his efforts last year so memorable.

Sure, there were stories about an ice-smoking girlfriend: “[ice is the] best thing ever”, she had said, leading to a little bit of self-deprecation that hinted at glories of old. But that was the undeniable highlight of the show. The crowd singalong to his “hit” song Chubby Wubby? Dressing someone up as ramen? Inexplicably trying to milk the “Bacon’s not Jamaican” couplet for (undeserved) laughs? Sure: I smiled, I laughed, but… it was tough going.

Look, after Capper smashed it at the Late Show last year, I’ve been really looking forward to seeing his work flourish. But his inability to maintain momentum in either of the two full shows I’ve seen him perform leaves me frustrated. Because I remember a chap whose comedy was dark and personal, who knew how to pace his delivery… who gave us peals of laughter from his misery. This newer, happier, bright-as-a-button Nick Capper? I’m not sure I like him very much.

And it feels awful to want to revel in someone’s drama (doubly so when I discovered that he’d quoted this blog for his flyers)… but Jamaican Princess was a real let-down for me. Maybe Capper can slay a big crowd of comedy-lovers who are up for it, but on the evidence of this performance he’s going to struggle with the less adventurous audience.

[2014085] An Iliad

[2014085] An Iliad

Homer’s Coat / ArKtype @ Dunstan Playhouse

7:30pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014

For no particular reason, An Iliad wasn’t high on my list of priorities when booking Festival tickets… yet my (relatively) last-minute planning decision still yielded a remarkably good seat, and the grapevine was bubbling with praise after the opening-night performance. Needless to say, I was looking forward to see what this production would deliver… even if my knowledge of Homer‘s Iliad was shaky, at best.

Co-creators of An Iliad, Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, were driven to explore theatrical texts around war after the US invaded Iraq in 2003; eventually they arrived at Iliad, deriving this production from Homer’s text – and rolling in modern influences. O’Hare plays The Poet, who (as the programme points out) is doomed to continually tell the story of the Trojan War until the human race loses its fascination with addiction to war. It’s performed largely as a solo piece, though double-bassist (and occasional percussionist) Brian Ellingsen (listed in the programme as “Ellingson” – oops) is also onstage much of the time, underpinning and punctuating O’Hare’s narration.

The Poet initially appears a sozzled bum, gruff and perfunctory in dress and presentation, on a darkened stage bereft of scenery, and initially leads into the tale of the Trojan War with a weary reluctance… but, once the text livens up with the cut and thrust of battles both political and physical, O’Hare starts roaming the stage with a presence that is extraordinary: every character has their own voice, their own physicality. The text is packed with sideways glances to modern events, and The Poet is unafraid to take the piss out of everyone; there’s a glorious moment where he compares a ten-year war to waiting in line at the supermarket, only to discover the other line is moving faster. You could change lines, but that would mean accepting the time wasted in your queue… The wink and nod is not necessary for such an overt political statement.

For some reason, An Iliad evoked memories of last year’s production of Beowulf by BBB – though I can’t quite put a finger on why. I don’t think it was in response to the obvious deconstruction of their source material (An Iliad felt very much like a response to Homer’s play, rather than an interpretation of it), and it couldn’t be the staging – the two are like chalk and cheese, with director Lisa Peterson keeping the stage largely empty, as opposed to the constant visual hubbub and surprises of BBB’s efforts.

And, stranger still, O’Hare’s performance also caused me to reflect on Stephen Dillane’s one-man Macbeth in 2006. This felt more explainable, though: (largely) solo performances of epic pieces of literature featuring tremendous stage presence. But whilst Dillane’s piece left me feeling a little empty inside, O’Hare manages to conjure a performance that was technically articulate, poignant, and entertaining… and that finale! The closeout is magnificent theatre: as a spotlight closes in around The Poet, he starts listing off the conflicts that have consumed mankind ever since the Trojan Wars. The light tightens and grows weaker, the names become more familiar, leading to current battles… then darkness.

To be honest, I can’t justify why I didn’t leap to my feet at the end of this performance to deliver An Iliad the standing-O that hindsight tells me it deserved. Because it was one of those memorable performances whose only distraction was the Squeaky Row of seats in the Playhouse… yes, we’ve all been stuck there at one time or another, but there was no need for this evening’s “lucky” patrons to rock back and forth in celebration (especially during the quieter moments).

[2014084] Mama Alto: Countertenor Diva

[2014084] Mama Alto: Countertenor Diva

Mama Alto @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014

Over the years I’ve come to accept that early weeknight shows at La Bohème usually struggle for an audience; and, whilst there were sufficient people present at this show to ensure that most of the tables were occupied, the head-count was still sufficiently low that I wondered – yet again – how this can possibly be sustainable for performers… especially when I can spotted a handful of media peeps in the crowd, drinking water to match the cost of their complimentary tickets, notebooks at the ready.

To take my mind of the sadness and disappointment and seething that usually accompanies those thoughts, I attempted to skate over the programme I was given at the door… only to discover that it was dense and heavy with text. Only after the performance did I get to truly appreciate the content on that sheet of paper: not only was there a comprehensive set-list, but a deeply personal narrative written by Mama Alto herself, explaining her journey through song, her influences, her responses. It’s a wonderful read, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t get to read it prior to the performance… because it made the next hour-or-so a glorious surprise.

Mama Alto (Benny Dimas) managed to remain elegant as she negotiated La Bohème’s stage in her tight full-length gown and – along with pianist & musical director Tiffanni Walton – gently slid into the first of five acts, each a collection of songs (or snippets) around a theme. Dimas’ countertenor voice barely wavers throughout, with almost foreign-sounding notes turning familiar songs into completely new experiences; but whilst there’s not much variation in the frequency of her range (there’s no multi-octave ranges here), the control of her volume is exceptional.

In particular, her version of And I Am Telling You was nothing short of stunning (and was then followed by a lovely rendition of Wild Is The Wind). And her I Will Always Love You was proper lump-in-throat stuff… and that’s coming from someone who hates Whitney Houston’s version. As far as I’m concerned, that song belongs to Mama Alto now.

Mama Alto’s movement onstage was hampered somewhat by her inability to move freely (that dress was tight), but that didn’t stop her from having an almost spotlit screen-star presence. In between brackets of songs she chatted amiably to the audience, and – in thanking the audience for being so welcoming – delivered a beautiful speech about acceptance (stemming from an incident where she was verbally abused on Gouger Street). But far from being an exercise in gender terms, there were also moments of humour in her actions: the understanding between Mama Alto and pianist Tiffanni Walton as she struggled with the page turns of her unruly music sheets brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

Mama Alto is certainly a unique performer… but, most importantly, she’s incredibly entertaining. Her Countertenor Diva show was an emotional roller coaster, chock-full of great tunes and music, and I walked away from La Bohème wishing only that more paying punters had been at the show.

[2014083] The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

[2014083] The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean

Shona Reppe @ Odeon Theatre

1:30pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014

When you’ve got something like Roman Tragedies in the programme, the rest of the shows in the Theatre category can look a little… well, underwhelming. But faith in David Sefton – and the opportunity to squeeze in a matinée – drags me out to the Odeon, where I leech some free Wi-Fi and chat with Jane after I mis-judge my travel times.

Thankfully for a show ostensibly targeted at children, there’s a healthy percentage of youngsters in the otherwise light audience for this performance; we’re ever-so-gently encouraged to crowd the front couple of rows to generate a bit of atmosphere. Onstage is an elaborate frame of possibilities: small objects in plastic bags hang around the aluminium frame that reminds me of a puppet theatre, with a table in the middle angled so as to present objects on the surface to the audience.

Shona Reppe purposefully strides on stage, appearing every bit the focused scientist in her white lab coat; she announces herself as a doctor of Scrapology, working for SCRAPS: the Society for the Care, Repair and Analytical Probing of Scrapbooks. As the name entails, she gently explains to the children (or, as she adorably calls them, “Scrapettes”) in the audience, this involves her analysing the contents of scrapbooks to unlock the clues to their stories.

This investigation’s scrapbook is introduced as Reppe dramatically blows off a layer of dust; she then plays rustic CSI on the book, investigating it with magnifying glasses and tweezers, occasionally projecting the contents on a video screen. She also presents the book to the audience in a very story-time reading style, but rarely talks down to us as she discovers the story of Artemis, a lonely man who (eventually) meets and falls in love with the mysterious Josephine Bean… but whilst photographic evidence of Artemis is found, Josephine is notable by her absence.

Yes, it’s pitched at a younger audience, and yes, the performance occasionally drifts towards the twee; but Reppe is utterly charming in her role, not to mention convincing: the scenes that involve her stretching out paths for Josephine Bean to follow were wonderful. The direction of the play – though perhaps not best suited for a wide space like the Odeon – is imaginative, with great use of video overlays and shadow play to trigger the audience’s imaginations.

Whilst The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean wasn’t the most compelling theatre to be shown as part of the Festival, it was totally worth the effort to squeeze it in. It’s carried by Shona Reppe’s charming (and direct) performance, but I suspect the real art of the piece lies in the sparks of imagination that the audience carry with them once the show is over.

[2014082] Wendy House

[2014082] Wendy House

Pixel Theatre @ Salad Days Inc.

10:00pm, Tue 4 Mar 2014

Wendy House starts building its world while we waited outside Salad Days: we’re presented with a flyer that details a set of Law Reforms instigated “[i]n response to recent violence”. The mandatory 7pm-to-7am curfew, and the monitoring of all communications, caught my eye… and thoughts inspired by those words were simmering in my mind when we were permitted entry into the performance space.

The room is trashed. The windows are covered, there’s newspaper strewn everywhere, and there’s a torn sofa, foam rotten and oily, along one wall; audience seating is on crates and broken chairs and tatty cushions. On one side of the room, waiting for the audience to quietly file in, is a young man teenager, pensive and nervous and nail-biting; on the other, a similarly aged girl, oblivious to the mood around her, happily kicking her legs as she sat, probably singing softly and sweetly to herself. With the audience nervously seated around the edge of the room – I was “lucky” enough to get a spot on the sticky sofa – the guy started checking the room, roughly searching for… something.

The girl (Carla, seventeen years young and far more naïve than that due to her privileged upbringing) and the guy (Sebastian, punkish and angry, his perpetual distrust seemingly a product of his tougher youth under a struggling single mum) constantly bicker as he performs his check, but the animosity is terribly one-sided; Sebastian’s anger is fuelled by the Law Reforms and, as they hide out in this house together to escape the curfew, his anti-authority ranting is of little interest to Carla, who continues to believe that everything will Just Work Out.

Suddenly Sebastian finds what he was looking for (but hoping not to find): tomboy Peter (Peta?) is discovered hiding at the back of the room, and the yelling and accusations and mistrust amps up between the two (as Carla blissfully waits). A thump at the door startles them; after much pleading, the trio allow another two country boys a place to hide from the curfew. Will and Luke – brothers-in-law through Will’s now-dead sister – are easily the most likeable characters (and strongest actors) in this Wendy house; Luke’s morose wallowing over his dead wife was the most believable grounding of the quintet.

With five people in the room, all struggling to deal with the invisible dystopian pressure outside their ramshackle hide-hole, things get pretty… well, shouty. There’s a few occasions where two groups of characters – with parties standing in opposite corners of the room – will be having concurrent conversations, with the resultant barrage of words creating a confusing mess. And that works against Wendy House, because much of the dialogue that forms the bulk of the play seems heavily stereotyped and predictable; it’d probably feel revolutionary if I was a teenager, but I’m very far from that.

But if there’s one thing that the cast of Wendy House do well, it’s generate tension: there’s many instances of potent stares across the room, glowering suspicion, festering resentment. But the dialogue feels too obvious, too forced, and rarely provides any real insight into the characters; too much is left to the imagination. And whilst my imagination is great when it comes to extrapolating the tension, it’s not so great at creating drama and plot.

As a result, I left Wendy House feeling… well, a little unfulfilled. Like I’d been shown a glimpse of an interesting dystopian future, full of flawed characters… but those characters were left to fend for themselves with little clear direction. It’s a shame, really, because there’s clearly been some work done on developing this unsettling future.

But the worst Wendy House memory came much later in the evening. After some… people problems following the show, I was leaving the Fringe Club to head home when I passed one of the cast members. She recognised me(!), and asked me what I’d thought; I was in quite an angry state of mind when I asked her, “Honestly?” She had nodded with a smile on her face… a smile which quickly disappeared when I unloaded a far less tempered (and entirely unfiltered) opinion unto her before catching myself. I felt absolutely awful after that, so… well, if you ever read this, I’m really truly sorry :{

[2014081] Lindsay Webb in ‘What’s Your Name? What Do You Do?’

[2014081] Lindsay Webb in ‘What’s Your Name? What Do You Do?’

Lindsay Webb @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl

8:30pm, Tue 4 Mar 2014

I can tell it’s the back half of the Fringe when I start getting grumpy in queues listening to other people. “So… who is this guy?” one of a group of three asked the others, to which the reply was “I dunno… but [someone] reckons he’s alright. What else are we gonna do, anyway?”

And apart from wanting to forcefully point out that there’s a whole fucking Fringe – and Festival – on at the moment, it took every ounce of self-control I had to not start screaming at them: “How can you not know who Lindsay Webb is?”

Webb is easily one of the best comedians working in Australia right now, and he manages that without any real tricks or hooks: he’s not overtly political, he’s not self-deprecating, and he’s not aggressive. But he is an incredibly likeable comic… and he’s also incredibly quick with his wit.

Which is just as well, really… because this show (as the name suggests) is all about audience interactions and, more importantly, Webb’s ability to conjure comedy from the material provided by the crowd.

Very little seems to be scripted as Webb picks people out of the room – “What’s your name? What do you do?” becomes a very familiar rhythm – and starts twisting the responses into laughter. The northern-suburban mother and daughter provide plenty of jokes about the Adelaidean class divide, and Matt – “One ’T’ or two? Two? Don’t you think you’re being a bit greedy?” – copped a lot of good-natured stick. There is some fall-back material that Webb weaves seamlessly into his set – he’s recently turned forty, and his work with Forces Entertainment delivering comedy to serving troops – and his “getting fit” material (gym junkies, personal trainers) could find a home in any five- or ten-minute spot.

Names and jobs are overrated, Webb surmises at the top of the show; they define too much about us. And whilst there could be some debate about whether that argument is made (or even coherent), there’s no denying that Lindsay Webb is a bloody brilliant, straight-up comedian. That he performed so sharply in this show when he was so clearly under the influence speaks volumes about his comic skills.

[2014080] Alexis Dubus – Cars And Girls

[2014080] Alexis Dubus – Cars And Girls

Alexis Dubus @ Tuxedo Cat – Room 1

7:15pm, Tue 4 Mar 2014

Alexis Dubus is one of those familiar faces around the Fringe that’s always ready to give a smile and have a chat; since I first saw him perform in 2009, I’ve always tried to make plenty of room for Marcel Lucont. The discovery that he can also do a good show without his alter ego left me full of confidence that Cars And Girls would be great entertainment.

True to its title, Cars And Girls involves plenty of autobiographical stories about… well, cars and girls. Sometimes both feature in the same story – the first major tale involves Dubus hitchhiking to Morocco with a girlfriend – but the two themes remain largely separated… not that the script suffers in any way.

Bookended by an adorable story surrounding the World Naked Bike Ride (a tale featured in embryonic form in Dubus’ previous show about Nudity), there’s plenty of hitchhiking and drugs and odd circumstances: Alexis’ experiences at Burning Man rightfully own the middle of the show, with chance encounters on the Playa that seemed almost Adelaidean in nature (and the Imperial March being a bizarre highlight). The content alone, though occasionally venturing into twee territory, is worth its weight in gold…

…but then there’s Dubus’ performance. The entire monologue is delivered in rhyme, with an effervescence that makes you feel as if the stories are racing along. But he’s so sure-footed on stage – and his style is so charmingly casual and relaxed – that I remain convinced that Alexis could converse in rhyme all day, if he so chose. Even the few stumbles during the show – he had forewarned that he’d had a big night, and an even bigger day – were well handled.

Cars And Girls was a lot of fun, to be sure; but Dubus also manages to inject a lot of heart in there, too, without getting soppy or melodramatic. And that, coupled with a friendly and engaging presentation, made this a real treat.

[2014079] They Saw a Thylacine

[2014079] They Saw a Thylacine

Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell @ Tuxedo Cat – Room 4

6:00pm, Tue 4 Mar 2014

After the visual excesses of the previous evening, I was keen for something a little more refined… a little more subdued. A little Fringe-y. And with a quirky title, a one-line précis, and a great timeslot, They Saw a Thylacine got the nod… even though I had little idea what it was going to be about. I was hoping for a thylacine, to be sure, but one can never assume anything with Fringe theatre.

And first impressions were… curious, to say the least. There’s music pumping as we enter the room, with the stage dominated by a large cage; there’s half a mirror ball in one corner that seems in keeping with the tunes, scattering light around the room, but the two women eating fruit in the cage (daubed in dirt and wearing short, pale, clingy dresses) are at odds with it. The (presumably tiger) skulls sitting in the cage offer portent.

But when the house lights drop, the music and mirror ball is forgotten, and we’re drawn into the separate worlds of these two women. Their stories both take place in Tasmania, in the 1930s: each woman is amongst the last people to see a living Tasmanian Tiger, but there the narrative commonalities end.

The woman on the left is Beatie (Sarah Hamilton), a female tracker who senses the “tige” and follows it through the bush in an amiable battle of wits. Hamilton’s monologue is broad and gloriously ocker, with wonderful physicality in her performance as Beatie interacts with the simmering threat of another (less capable) hunter, whose only intention is to kill the Tiger… a thought that horrifies Beatie.

The other woman, Alison (Justine Campbell), is a less threatened but more tragic figure: a daughter of a zookeeper, her knowledge and understanding of the animals in the zoo’s care (including their thylacine, Ben) is beyond compare… but, because of her gender, no-one takes her skills seriously. The death of her father sees bureaucrats take over the operation of the zoo, with it – and its animals – falling to ruin and neglect; the description of Alison’s attempt to rescue the animal on a stormy night is chilling.

It’s no spoiler to mention that both Beatie and Alison’s tigers die; they solemnly leave their cage once their story is told. And make no mistake: the two tales are fantastic: seemingly simple with undercurrents of broader issues (animal rights? feminism?), the characters are wonderfully constructed, and Hamilton & Campbell are both superb. The script – also written by Hamilton & Campbell – is a wonderfully poetic and lyrical treat, with Alison’s more traditional rhyming couplets generating a ferocious pace. The direction – though sparse – is spot-on, with the cage creating an atmospheric ambience, and the way the two performers dealt with disturbances (a latecomer, a massive moth buzzing the stage) was so cohesive, so natural, so in sync… well, there’s clearly a wonderful understanding between them.

I loved They Saw a Thylacine. It turned out to be one of those surprising productions that is so complete that it’s impossible to imagine it existing in any other way: great script, great production, and great people. Lovely.

[2014078] River of Fundament

[2014078] River of Fundament

A film by Matthew Barney and Jonathon Bepler @ Capri Theatre

5:00pm, Mon 3 Mar 2014

So – a bearded middle-aged man emerges from a river of shit and wanders through an apartment in a bizarre house to the bathroom where he plucks a turd from the toilet bowl and wraps it in gold foil and returns it to the toilet whereupon it transforms into an old man with a gold foil condom and wheezing colostomy bag that proceeds to anally fuck him with the resultant juices appearing as mercury which rolls into the next room to a girl with two prosthetic legs who then starts carving away at her stumps with a knife.

And then the title of the film appears.

I wrote the above during the first interval of River of Fundament, and I’ve read it to a number of people since; they have all nodded their heads and said “Yep. That nails it.”

Which is nice, because it’s one of my favourite bits of writing ever. It just poured out of me as an immediate response to the first third of this movie, presented by Festival Artistic Director David Sefton as a challenging durational work… in fact, he all but dared people at the Festival launch to see it. But not many seemed willing to take him up on that dare: there was maybe only around a quiet hundred or so in attendance at the Chelsea for this screening… and maybe a third of those departed during the interval prior to the second Act.

Maybe they left because of the knowledge that the movie was supposed to be five hours long (and ran about ten percent over)… or maybe they left because the first Act was fucking bonkers… but it’s only in retrospect that one can truthfully say that the first Act was the (relatively) Sane Act.

But let’s take a step back: River of Fundament is very much an art-film, written and directed (and, occasionally, performed) by Matthew Barney, with a musical score by Jonathon Bepler. The two had previously worked together, most notably on The Cremaster Cycle… whose Wikipedia entry I wish I’d read before seeing Fundament. “[S]ome consider it a major work of art, on a par with …The Waste Land, while others dismiss it as vapid, self-indulgent tedium” says the Reception section on the page, and I think the same reception could befall this work.

It’s essentially performed as an opera (reading the libretto now is both enlightening and disturbing), with significant portions of dialogue-heavy narrative, such as the wake of Norman Mailer… but even that proves to be an opportunity for the bizarre, taking place in a house on a river barge with all manner of guests from fact and fiction. Mailer is reincarnated several times over the course of the movie – evoking the overarching themes of regeneration and rebirth – and there’s repeated motifs involving cars and steel and rivers and…

Oh, and there’s a distinctly Egyptian flavour to the text, too.

But that’s about the limit of my understanding. I remember gently mocking someone who was perusing the libretto prior to the film starting, jokingly accusing them of self-spoiling; but they most certainly were on the right track: I joined the bulk of the audience who furiously studied the text in the intervals. Not that it helped: Barney’s visual presentation gives the impression that it is drenched in metaphor, but you’re not quite sure for what. It’s kind of like a dot-to-dot puzzle where you think you know what the picture is supposed to be, but the dots are numbered in such an order that all you wind up with is a big messy squiggle.

Whilst Barney certainly has an eye for colour and spectacle, his writing is the type of inspired lunacy that befits the partner of Björk. That opening sequence – a pastiche of discordant images and actions – is bookended by a similar closing sequence that went on and on and on… but it was impossible to look away. For all the impenetrable subtext behind the butchery of a golden car, or the rivulets of molten metal, or the choral battles in a dry dock, there’s no denying the visual beauty of the movie; this trailer shows about one four-hundredth of the content, and it’s gorgeous. The sound, too, was wonderful, with rich orchestrations accompanying the operatic portions and contemplative quietness when required (though things were a little murky early in the second Act).

But Oh! the memories I will treasure from River of Fundament: the non sequitur montage of someone biting into a lettuce (à la Iron Chef) made absolutely no sense at all… until the third Act, where a lettuce is used as a masturbatory aid with the resulting semen-sodden fibre eaten. And then there was the graphic – and I mean graphic – sex scenes. Despite what my friends may think, I’m no porn connoisseur, but I doubt there’s any content online that matches the graphic intensity of these scenes… because this stuff was shot well. That manic sequence featuring a frantic drum solo behind a lovingly shot rimming sequence with a naked woman bent over backwards pissing on a dinner table, cut with two men fighting and mutilating each other’s genitals… bizarre. There was a pregnant woman involved there too.

So… prior to seeing Annie Sprinkle in 1996, I couldn’t believe that an “arts” Festival could essentially advocate someone masturbating onstage, let alone label it “art”. But whilst River of Fundament has no problems whatsoever with inserting scenes of sex, violence, and depravity into the work, they’re jumbled up and mixed into the broader work. They may lack context in the piece (something which Sprinkle’s act could never be accused of), but such is the nature of the film that pretty much everything lacks context.

Is it Art? Most certainly. Is it good Art? I dunno… probably: it looks and sounds pretty, and certainly gives cause for one to reflect on that which has been presented. Would I see it again? Oh hell no.

[2014077] Kraken

[2014077] Kraken

Trygve Wakenshaw @ Tuxedo Cat – Room 5

9:45pm, Sun 2 Mar 2014

After having seen Squidboy in 2012, and again in 2013, I felt that I had a pretty good idea what I was in for with Trygve Wakenshaw’s new show. And whilst audiences that I’ve been part of have always been small, I was delighted to hear that Kraken was doing well: word-of-mouth must be getting around, and Trygve’s an amazingly likeable chap.

But whilst the previous evening had been a sell-out, there was a more frugal audience in tonight… still a respectable twenty-odd people, though, and the mood was positively bubbly before the start of the performance. And from the moment Wakenshaw takes to the stage – or tries to take to the stage – it’s clear that Kraken is going to be every bit the screw-loose comical extravaganza that Squidboy was.

You see, as Trygve tries to walk onstage, elastic bands tied to his clothing hold him back. Without words, it’s immediately conveyed that his goal is to reach a small pile of objects on the other side of the stage… but the elastic prevents him from doing so. As he strains against its constraint, you can see the lightbulb go off – he can just remove the item of clothing to which the bands are attached! But then there’s more bands, and more removals… eventually, a naked Wakenshaw reaches his objective, and his delight is palpable as he shows us what’s in the pile: an identical set of clothes.

And fuck me if that opener wasn’t the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. Tears of laughter, I’m telling you. Tears.

But it doesn’t stop there, as the audience gets involved: a paper boat (a folded Kraken poster) is whooshed around the room by the crowd; he uses a spray bottle to create stormy weather. Wakenshaw’s miming skills come to the fore with the pathos of The Archer; the sheer lunacy of The Juggler evolves (or devolves?) into an excuse to (gently) kiss most of the crowd.

And, somehow, those moments where Trygve softly wanders amongst the crowd are almost achingly tender.

But there were moments that felt… well, unplanned in Kraken, the most obvious one being when Wakenshaw decided to balance a stool on a chair in an effort to touch the roof. Once it became apparent that was his goal, the crowd egged him on, incredibly unstable structure be damned; but once he eventually touched the roof, a flicker of “…now what?” crossed his face, like he hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Then again, I thought Squidboy was largely unplanned the first time I saw it, too… maybe Wakenshaw’s just a fucking amazing actor.

There’s definitely less whimsy in Kraken than in Trygve’s previous work, but the physical humour has certainly gone up a notch or ten. His presence onstage is simply amazing, and he’s as adept as (the brilliant) Dr Brown at imparting emotion or evoking laughter with just a single raised eyebrow. There’s something softly anarchic about his creations: whilst his mannerisms and physical performance appears ever-so-gentle and (family-)friendly, his ideas – and, more cunningly, the ideas that are conjured up in your mind as a result – are dangerous… in the very best way possible.

The audience – myself included – left this performance of Kraken deliriously happy, still chuckling at the memory of events from the previous hour. Even though it was clearly an embryonic work-in-progress, Kraken was bursting at the seams with imagination, creativity, and heart… and, most importantly, it’s another outlet for Wakenshaw’s physical comedic genius. I was completely stoked to see it pick up a touring award here, and get big-arse nominations in the Melbourne and New Zealand comedy festivals… it’s utterly deserved recognition for a thoroughly brilliant performer.

[2014076] WOODCOURT: Encounter

[2014076] WOODCOURT: Encounter

Woodcourt Art Theatre @ The Coffee Pot

8:30pm, Sun 2 Mar 2014

If ever a show was going to suffer from (my) scheduling issues, Encounter was in line to cop it pretty bad: after six wonderful hours with Roman Tragedies, I figured I was still going to be mentally able to squeeze in another Woodcourt adventure. And, whilst maybe I wasn’t in the most… accepting frame of mind for distinctly lo-fi theatre after the brilliant production values of the Festival flagship, Encounter still provided a great deal of enjoyment.

I distinctly remember a sense of relief coursing through me as I sat on the milk-crate seating (on the opposite side of Woodcourt’s room than usual) once more: “I’ve collected the set,” I thought to myself as my OCD neurons fired off their satisfaction, “all five shows.” But the four of us in the audience only just outnumbered the performers – two male, one female – who all sported white face paint while they leant against the wall, chatting, as we entered.

The chat ambles to its conclusion, and the female and one of the males exit the room, leaving the door open; the other chap goes to a small mixer sat atop a milk-crate on the right of the room and, with a few button presses and tweaks, starts a pre-recorded narrative playing… and then leaves.

And there we – the audience – sit for the next (maybe) ten minutes: listening to a pre-recorded narrative, with nothing of note taking place on the “stage”.

And a part of me thought, “well, this is cheap”… but the other part of me got absolutely drawn in by the story being told.

The narration is by a female reporter who – whilst sitting on a park bench – encountered a running man. Conversation reveals that he had been running for twenty years, constantly in fear of a monster that trailed him. The reporter’s voice describes her wavering levels of incredulity and belief; the latter becomes more prevalent when she sees the beast herself.

The two male actors re-enter the room; one sits at the lighting desk / sound mixer / crate, the other stands and stretches as the recorded tale about the Running Man unfolds. Suddenly, the narrative switches – the recording ends, and the stretching man is telling the story from the perspective of the Running Man.

After a bit of exposition, the female re-enters the room to join the Running Man for another perspective on the tale; they then both leave, only for her to re-enter as the Monster, who reveals that they are being pursued by an Old Man. The Old Man arrives, loud and blustering and full of bigoted venom, and explains his hunt of the Monster (or is it, from this perspective, a burglar?) and then – with little warning – we’re done.

It’s a bit of bumpy ride, but Encounter is a creative bit of theatre, constantly shifting the meaning of the story by forcing the audience to observe multiple perspectives consecutively. It’s probably just a happy accident that the perspective shift begins early, with the unfamiliar layout of Woodcourt’s performance space (to facilitate one actor hiding behind the door), but it nevertheless manages to satisfy. And whilst the contrast with the show I saw immediately before it couldn’t be more vast, Woodcourt ably demonstrate that creative direction with a lo-fi aesthetic can still create compelling theatre.