[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.

[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.

[2014074] Decadence

[2014074] Decadence

A Priori Projects @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

9:00pm, Sat 1 Mar 2014

There’s a bit of a history behind Decadence and myself: it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first Adelaide Fringe show I ever attended. Alison Whyte and Rhys Muldoon performed Berkoff’s play at the Arts Theatre in 1996, and I – as a Frontline fan who lusted after the powerful Emma Ward character – felt compelled to attend with a couple of like-minded friends (who subsequently created an accidental front-row fracas).

I’ll never forget Whyte riding Muldoon like a horse, whipping him into a shared frenzy.

So – that was a magical (and significant) moment in my Fringe-going life, and – as a mark of respect – I felt duty-bound to see this performance, despite any concerns that it may not live up to the memory.

But Berkoff’s source material is a strong basis for any performance. Scenes switch between two couples: a working-class husband and his socialite lover, and his socially aspirational wife and the private investigator she’s hired to follow him. Much of the dialogue is dialogue delivered in rhyme – the lower-class slang of the PI being particularly well-suited, though the mutton-dressed-as-lamb speech of the wife is also beautifully formed – and is plump with profanity and filth.

And, as mired as the script is in the class warfare of Thatcherite Britain, Decadence is funny… and performers Katherine Shearer and Rowan McDonald revel in it. Whilst McDonald’s accents felt a little iffy at the top of the play, he warmed into the two roles nicely… and Shearer was absolutely divine throughout, with both her characters consistently displaying their own physical and vocal quirks. Direction was effective, but without any real flair; there’s no real need with this piece, though, since it’s very much carried by the dialogue.

Whilst the horse-and-rider episode didn’t quite elicit the same degree of excitement as when Ms Whyte gyrated wildly, I still really enjoyed A Priori’s production of Decadence: it nailed the tone of the sharp satire inherent in the script, and delivered two (four?) fine performances. Mix in a bit of political snark, a lot of crude language, and some not-so-subtle innuendo, and I was pretty bloody happy. And, considering the personal niggles and strife that were unfolding outside the theatre walls, that was just what I needed on this evening.

[2014073] Gabriel

[2014073] Gabriel

Melbourne Dance Theatre @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

7:30pm, Sat 1 Mar 2014

Sometimes I think that I have a blind allegiance to a particular performer; an unwarranted – maybe bloodyminded – insistence on seeing their new works, even if I’ve long since stopped appreciating them.

That’s how I feel with the Melbourne Dance Theatre. Despite initially challenging me (in a good way) with the powerful Heroes in 2011, 2012’s Angels’ Eyes sowed the seeds of discontent with a mishmash of styles, combined with a lack of narrative thread. Gabriel seemed to go in completely the other direction, with a presentation so uniform throughout that it conjured boredom, and an overt narrative that threatened to ruin any goodwill.

With nine pieces thematically linked by biblical tales of the Archangel Gabriel, the cast (all dressed in white) performed with the unnecessary addition of a pre-recorded narrator. When the tempo was up – when there was a chance for the cast to dazzle with their whites against the inky black backdrop of The Studio – the action was great: the choreography was dynamic and engaging, with decent sync between the performers.

But when the pace slows to melancholic… that’s a much tougher proposition. There were a lot of instances where one (or more) members of the troupe (of nine) were unable to hold a balance, or control a bend… as a result, the ensemble looked sloppy. Worse, though, was the fact that the slower pieces just weren’t as appealing to watch; in fact, the movements were often so lacking in interest that I spent much of the performance lecherously peering at the dancers trying to determine whether my eyes were failing, or whether there actually was a lot of camel-toe on display.

And – once again – the cast fell into the old trap of getting cramped on the left-hand side of the stage… will MDT never learn? They’ve performed in The Studio enough to have learnt this lesson, surely?

Still, there was a massive crowd in for this performance tonight – and a lot of them clapped and cheered up a storm when the performance was over, making me think it was a friends-and-family gathering. But for me, I think this will be my last blind venture to support the Melbourne Dance Theatre… if it doesn’t sound like a strong concept, I’ll be steering well clear.

[2014072] Mutual A-Gender

[2014072] Mutual A-Gender

1835 Creative Inc. @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

4:00pm, Sat 1 Mar 2014

The problem with seeing something almost life-alteringly good is that the next show is almost certain to be a let-down. There’s something to be said for being prepared to bail on the following performance, allowing yourself to bask in the afterglow of brilliance… but that’s not how I work.

Besides, Mutual A-Gender was a bugger to schedule. Despite being attracted by the promise of double-headed crotch-throbbing hyper-sexualised dance solos, the show was listed at a robust ninety minutes, with timeslots tending to be real Schedule-breakers… as a result, I took the opportunity to use its North Adelaide appearance as an excuse to walk out to Holden Street for the rest of the Clipsal-avoiding evening. Clever planning, I thought.

But there’s only a handful of people who’ve made the trek out to North Adelaide for this matinée, and we look terribly antisocial – and lonely – as we spread out across the wide expanses of the Kevin Crease Studio. There’s a screen somewhat awkwardly placed in the centre of the stage, and as the house lights drop it serves as the projection surface for the first piece on this double-bill, Sarah Ling’s Milkshake.

Ling’s short movie is a mishmash of images interspersed with videos of contemporary dance – albeit wrapped in curious threads. There’s some interesting juxtaposition between the heightened sexuality of nightclubbing and more staid forms of dance, but the frequent cuts make it abrasive to watch; it’s reminiscent of Rage’s interstitials (without the quality music – Simple Minds’ Speed Your Love To Me, anyone?). With a visual quality that evoked the idea that it had been shot on VHS, and subsequently suffered many generational degradations before being uploaded to YouTube, it’s almost as if Ling was doing everything in her power to keep the audience at arm’s length.

But then comes the second piece: Nick Walters’ Gay By Nature.

Walters takes to the stage in a tacky Batman suit, muscles enhanced by balloons. He lays on a weights bench and pumps iron to the beat of the tunes being played… but either his strength or timing was way off, because his rhythm wavers terribly. Exaggerated poses lead to the balloons being popped; some take more than one attempt. The Batman suit is removed.

At this stage, I’m equally bemused and curious; I can’t quite figure out what Walters is trying to get across. Or why.

Gay porn is projected on the screen, the rude bits blacked out. Walters – this time clad in casual dance wear – uses balletic poses to mimic the actions onscreen… his movements are smooth and elegant, and it’s obvious that he’s had some ballet training. But again, I found myself wondering what the connection between his movements and the porn was… Some statement about ballet being the bastion of gay men, perhaps?

And then the barrage of images that I like to think of as a “Torrent of WTF” started.

Walters literally asks “what is masculine?” He hangs himself with a chain. He dribbles honey(?) on himself, sprinkles glitter on top, then wankspunks a party-popper tube.

He then emerged from the darkness to take an unexpected bow. At least, the audience wasn’t expecting it.

I’m still flummoxed by Gay By Nature. Even if looked at as pure performance art, it still leaves me scratching my head as to what the point of it was. Was there discussion of sexuality? Maybe. Was a mirror held up to society and its pressure on gender normalcy? Could’ve been. But all I really saw was a young man (who, once again, really can dance when he allows himself the opportunity) who threw himself into a variety of costumed scenarios with little cohesion. And the hanging sequence… that was really quite disturbing, but not in a making-me-think kind of way; I wondered whether it was a genuine cry for help.

I escaped from the Channel 9 studios after forty-five minutes had elapsed… not the ninety that had been suggested. After basing much of the day around Mutual A-Gender, I started to really resent the scheduling shitshow this day had become… had I known the true length of the performance, I’m sure it would have worked much better in the city. Then again, if I’d known the content, I wouldn’t have seen it at all – because this felt like over-wrought, under-thought performance art.

But at least the extra time in North Adelaide afforded me the opportunity to grab some delightful pork belly for dinner, and contemplate – once more – the incredible Am I. So it wasn’t all bad.

[2014070] Facty Fact Game Show: Are Comedians Good Lovers?

[2014070] Facty Fact Game Show: Are Comedians Good Lovers?

Dave Warneke, Danny McGinlay, Lauren Bok, Stuart Daulman @ Tuxedo Cat – Room 5

11:00pm, Fri 28 Feb 2014

I was on a boozy Friday night roll, so – after the riotous Wizard Sandwiches – I’d planned to go straight into the new Charles Barrington show… but unfortunately only Steve Sheehan and myself were in the audience. Steve’s attempt to drum up more audients was in vain, so I happily traded my ticket for a great chat with Sheehan and Andy Rodgers, drinking in their experiences on selling their craft.

During the chat I received my nightly updates on the late-night show lineups, and none really appealed… so, based on the enjoyment gleaned from last year’s Facty Fact, I decided to dash across to Hyde House to see Dave Warneke’s latest creation.

Joining the dozen-or-so people in the audience, I was a little disappointed to see that this edition of Facty Fact was obviously a different format to last year’s team battle; instead, three contestants tackled the questions thrown at them by Warneke focussed on the topic Are Comedians Good Lovers?, usually through personal anecdotes.

The contestants were a great bunch, too: the inclusion of the (wonderful) Lauren Bok alone was enough to win me over, and – despite not scoring heavily on the earlier rounds, she absolutely dominated the Google Image search competition (where the panel had to fabricate a non-porny image search term from a list of suggestive words) with “blowing ass”. Stuart Daulman (who I’d only just seen for the first time in the Wizard Sandwiches) surprised and impressed with his eccentricities, hang-dog mugging, and weird vocal presentations.

But the surprise of the night, for me, was Danny McGinlay. Whilst I appreciated the man’s efforts, I can’t really say that I got along with his domineering, alpha-male style in the past; however, in this edition of the show he was an absolute star. In particular, his impromptu serenading of a (male) audience member to the tune of Two Princes was either a product of an incredibly quick wit, or a brilliantly used set-piece; either way, it was a bloody brilliant laugh.

Add in the usual technical difficulties, Warneke’s amiable banter and sly slideshows, and the return of the brilliant Is It Porn? segment, and this episode of Facty Fact turned out to be a bloody good bit of fun. It didn’t really answer the question at hand, but there was a lot of dancing around the point that entertained… and Ms Bok’s victory was well deserved.

[2014069] Wizard Sandwiches: The Last Lunch

[2014069] Wizard Sandwiches: The Last Lunch

Wizard Sandwiches @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 2

8:30pm, Fri 28 Feb 2014

With my mood positively buoyant after a boozy VIP function in the Banquet Room to celebrate the opening of the Festival (including a rush or two during the set changes of opening-night Roman Tragedies), I trotted back to the delightful new TuxCat to avoid the hordes gathered for the free concert in Elder Park. My goal: the Wizard Sandwiches, whose précis promised that there would be no potato salad absurdity in their show… just as well, really, since I was well-and-truly carb-loaded from the VIP drinkies.

(A slight fib, that, since champers contains about half the carbs of beer, and I tend to drink Croser at Festival events. Long may Petaluma’s sponsorship continue!)

Regardless, I find myself quite cheery and in a seemingly cheery-minded crowd – not all of whom, judging by their accents, had English as their first language. And as the Wizard Sandwiches – a five-member Victorian troupe – open with their Mexican bandido airline safety announcement, there’s raised eyebrows and nervous laughter amongst some in the crowd as they tried to pick the words out from the hilariously thick accents.

Not that they had to, really: the physical presentation alone was chortle-worthy.

The Last Lunch is a brilliantly paced collection of sketches, and whilst there’s no consistent narrative throughout the show, there are plenty of repeat characters and callbacks: sure, the cold light of day may not make strokes seem funny, but having characters flop out of a sketch as a result of a cerebrovascular accident worked incredibly well on the night, and the poncey pith-helmeted hunter was a sure-fire hit.

And, really, that’s all there is to say about the Wizard Sandwiches. They do sketch comedy really well, they have a wonderful stage presence, the writing and presentation is spot-on, and they’re all lovely chaps to talk to at the TuxCat bar. I may have been a little drunk coming into The Last Lunch, but I’m pretty sure I would have laughed just as much sober.

[2014068] An Elephant in the Room

[2014068] An Elephant in the Room

John Legg @ Directors Hotel

5:00pm, Fri 28 Feb 2014

It’s the official Opening Night of the Festival, and the associated fancy shindigs (I made a point of turning up to the VIP opening of the Festival in my usual shabby I’ve-got-another-four-shows-to-see clothes, but that’s another story) meant that time was tight this evening; so a short-run comedy show at 5pm fit the bill nicely, even if it was on at the Directors.

But every time I’ve been to the Directors in the past, the show has been held upstairs… so I grabbed a beer and took a seat near the bottom of the stairs, expecting the show to be called at any moment. A few other people were milling around down there too, so I just figured that it was going to be a light crowd; but, with five minutes to go before the alleged starting time, no-one had opened the door to the stairwell. I checked with the bar-guy: there’s no show upstairs, he informed me, it’s out the back of Directors instead.

By the time I found the room at the rear of the hotel, it was nearly full… and I was, with the exception of some pre-teens sullenly sitting with their parents, the youngest person in the room. I found a seat (which had recently been a footstool) and, no sooner than I settled in, John Legg took to the stage with his double bass (and head-worn wireless microphone).

Legg – or Wee Leggie, as he likes to refer to himself – is a spritely silvertop, and targets his material squarely at those in his own age group. He pokes fun at incontinence, urges the parents in the room to spend their children’s inheritance, and even makes some half-hearted attempts at ribaldry. There’s some curious jokes about naked bushwalking, too, as well as some slightly darker bits on heartbreak and death.

And the material was… fine, I guess. A smile here, a chuckle there – that’s okay by me.

But the problem is that he delivers half his jokes through song – it is a cabaret show, after all. And, whilst he is clearly a competent bassist, he often seemed to be playing bass-lines that were at odds with the tune he was singing, creating a dissonance that the humour wasn’t able to overcome.

Not that the rest of the crowd seemed to mind: there were plenty of audible guffaws and hearty congratulations (following the singalong) at the end of the show for Wee Leggie. And, to be fair, this audience probably wouldn’t find the humour in any of the surrealists (or profane rants, or filthy innuendo-laced cattiness) that I love… but it’s fair to say that An Elephant in the Room is certainly not the type of cabaret/comedy I’ll be settling for in my later years.

[2014066] Elixir

[2014066] Elixir

Thomas Gorham & Callan Harris @ Royal Croquet Club – Ukiyo

6:30pm, Thu 27 Feb 2014

I was a little bit tipsy when I appended myself to the line leading into Ukiyo – there were Festival visual art openings earlier in the evening, at which plenty of Croser was begging to be drunk – but I was still wary enough to realise that it was a long line. And being at the end of it meant that we should have been struggling to find decent seats… but surprisingly we found ourselves to the side of the stage with a decent view of pretty much everything.

Elixir proved to be a reasonably standard circus act, themed around the idea that the two performers – Thomas Gorham and Callan Harris – played scientists evaluating a series of elixirs, each of which imbued the men with certain abilities. With pre-recorded narrative accompaniment, the men returned to the premise only long enough to prep the next trick, but a few of their stunts had really tenuous links to the laboratory setting.

And most of those strength and balance tricks have been seen elsewhere before – not that the crowd seemed to mind, especially given (a) the high ratio of women in the crowd, and (2) the physique of the performers on display once they decided to lose the lab coats. The guys really hammed it up, too; there were some coy winks to the more excitable sections of the crowd.

And whilst the (excellent) ladder work was on the more exotic side of things (and even that has become more common in circus acts these days), their standout piece was most certainly not something seen in a venue so small – a dynamic and exciting see-saw experiment which seemed genuinely dangerous within the tight confines of Ukiyo. The other exceptional moment was a neat sand-drawing piece, projected for all to see; again, not something usually seen in a themed circus show, and an interesting way to create a welcome breather for the guys.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m finding it harder to see shows like this: but that’s my problem, I’m certain, because I see so many shows. Objectively, Elixir provided solid entertainment and plenty of thrills, and most of the crowd went away utterly happy; unfortunately, it takes more than a new theme (or see-saw, or sand-drawing) to get me raving about something.

[2014065] Dave Campbell: Insanarchy

[2014065] Dave Campbell: Insanarchy

Dave Campbell @ Horner and Pratt

10:30pm, Wed 26 Feb 2014

The last time I saw Dave Campbell during a Fringe, I loved the intent, but not necessarily the content… nor the execution. But I’ve seen him performing locally a few times since then, and have developed a familiar respect for his work; chance meetings with Campbell throughout this Fringe resulted in some enjoyable conversations, so I promised him I’d see his show if I could squeeze it in. And this evening, on the final night of his Fringe, I dashed across the road from Tandanya and made it upstairs just before the show started.

Dressed in his usual goth-rock attire (an oddness in itself, with his extravagant boots and belt almost dwarfing his scrawny frame), Campell confidently covered a collection of familiar material: yes, his spectacular family tree stump is still covered, because it’s a bloody brilliant story. But Campbell’s toned down the more abstract parts of his act since 2011, and it feels like this show had been well honed during its run; whilst not every joke was a winner, they were short and sharp, so misses rolled by before I had a chance to recognise them.

And sure, a lot of his laughs come at his own expense, but there’s an awful lot of heart in his show too… with his honesty comes warmth, so whilst we’re laughing at tales of his own insecurities, twitchily delivered, we’re identifying with him, too. Time may have mellowed Dave Campbell somewhat (and he’s still but a youngster), but it’s also done good things for his comedy.

[2014064] The Well (Redux)

[2014064] The Well (Redux)

The Well Collective and Monash Uni Student Theatre @ Tandanya – Firefly

9:30pm, Wed 26 Feb 2014

So – it’s time to preserve my memories about The Well (Redux), and I’ve kinda been looking forward to this bit of writing… and I’m sorta terrified of it, too.

Because it was, without a doubt, the strangest theatrical experience of the season… but also, by far, the most invigorating. And it was awesome.

But, with regards to the text of the performance, I had no idea what was going on… but more about that later.

As we walked into Firefly, it’s hard not to be taken aback: with the exception of a few large blocks scattered throughout, the venue was empty. We’re encouraged to leave out bags at the door, and were told that we can move where we like throughout the performance… and straight away, I was reminded of Stau.

And that is a very, very good thing.

The cast (of ten) were already slowly circulating in the room, and – with the burbling amongst the audience hushing with an expectant closure of the door to the venue – they leap into weird tale. And I literally mean leap: the show opens as one member leapt onto one of the blocks and launched into the opening monologue. As they float around the space, the cast will engage in short scenes wherever they happen to stand; other members may gather around them, or just yell their lines from the other side of the room; the entire production has a very organic feel. There are undoubtedly a few set pieces, but they feel in the minority; it feels like performances from night to night would be affected by the movements of the audience.

And how liberating it was to wander freely throughout the production! As with the aforementioned Stau, I found myself seeking counter-crowd angles, trying to see the performance from an unexpected point of view. On a few occasions I was gently guided back into the fold by a cast member, but much of the time I directed my own play.

As for the content… well, it was fucking mental. There’s two threads (I think): one that follows the flight of Montezuma, and the other a modern-day apocalypse scenario caused by a flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles. There’s a couple of constant characters: a farmer, a mother and daughter, and Gareth, who hits the daughter with his car after her mother throws her into traffic. The narrative is broken into many segments, told in a seemingly random order… though the exposition of an angel hitting the Earth (complete with a sparkly confetti snow-angel on the floor) is a fantastic denouement.

The ten cast members exhibit wonderful control, though they tend to stick to the two extremes of loud-and-brash and quiet-and-earnest… but it all totally works, and their physical corralling of the audience feels almost natural. And the complete mindfuck of a text revels in the presentation… and, as a result, I walked out of The Well (Redux) breathless, my mind awash with possibilities.

And that, as I mentioned above, was awesome.

[2014063] Love & Other Acts of Theft

[2014063] Love & Other Acts of Theft

F I N T @ Tandanya – Firefly

8:00pm, Wed 26 Feb 2014

After ditching last night’s performance of Love & Other Acts of Theft, I was keen to make sure I didn’t miss out again; so there I was, nice’n’early, claiming my optimal seat in a pretty full room (though, again, that’s probably only around thirty people in Firefly).

As the rest of the audience filed in, the bulk of the cast – all wearing bright pink t-shirts – meandered around the back (and wing) of the stage, as one of their number serenaded the attendees on the ukelele. With the crowd seated, there’s a rabble as the cast hunt through the cardboard boxes that line the walls of the stage – one finds the box containing the props for the first (of four) one-act play, and we’re off.

The opener – “The Plight of the Stage Manager” – is a solid affair, with Jen the stage manager dealing copping the ire of her director and egotistical starlet, all whilst trying to discover why leading man Max has no personality. In a search for his missing father, there’s some giggles to be had from the portrayal of Sydney’s hip-hop viciousness, before a curious ending. The second piece – set inside a man’s brain, with bureaucratic neurons squabbling for control – was the weakest of the four plays for me, but still had its moments – the idea of (literally) backstabbing ambitious minions fighting in one’s brain has great appeal.

Then comes the gem of the show, Spitefucking and You: A Guide to Mental Betterment. A glorious trapped-in-a-car monologue, in which the female awkwardly drives her relationship-rebound one-night-stand home after a gloriously chaotic everything-went-wrong fling; the palpable (but amusing) tension at her outpouring is contrasted as the inadvertent couple find their common ground – a singalong to Toto’s Africa. The final play, which sees a high-school “wizard” and his friend attempt to use a love-theft spell, is less impressive, but – with a saccharine sweet ending – wraps a tidy bow on proceedings.

Despite the variable quality of its constituent plays, I genuinely enjoyed Love & Other Acts of Theft; tongues were firmly wodged in cheeks for the most part, but there were still a few well-weighted tender moments. And that scene featuring Toto – absolutely brilliant.

[2014062] Miss K is… Wrong.com!

[2014062] Miss K is… Wrong.com!

Klara McMurray @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Wed 26 Feb 2014

Technology, eh? Love it. Cabaret, yeah? I can dig, I can dig. Précis promising sly digs at reality TV? Alright, you’ve won me over.

That’s pretty much the thought process that led me to LaB on this Wednesday evening (in what was becoming a hotly-contested timeslot). I’ve no idea why the half-dozen other people had elected to be there, but I suspect that there may have been a few media freebies amongst them. No-one – except for me, with my perennially optimistic smile – seemed super happy to be there… not even after being given a free copy of her Miss K’s previous CD, IL Mio Amore.

Which, now that I think about it, should’ve been a hint.

Klara McMurray’s alter-ego, Miss K, arrives in a tizzy: she’s fresh off a plane (after her “spiritual” trip to India – cue food & faecal jokes), and the batteries in her phone – her lifeline to the world – are dead. She’s desperate for a drink and – more importantly – to let others know she’s desperate for a drink… She wants to be seen. To be noticed.

To go viral.

And there’s the core of Miss K is… Wrong.com!. A handful of songs – some amusing with clever wordplay, some cringingly poor and misguided – are interspersed with some banter about her travels and travails; her problems are most certainly from the First World, however, and fretting about not being able to Instagram her lunch is as perilous as it gets.

And whilst one or two jokes about Facebook or Twitter work well, too many were contrived and hackneyed, leading to the feeling that Miss K wasn’t really as au fait with her subject matter as she’d like you to think. While Miss K’s vocals are strong enough on their own, there was also an audience singalong segment: with such a small audience, this was as awkwardly bad as could be expected. But there wasn’t not enough content here to justify the effort (or, more importantly at this time of year, the time); needless to say, I left this show a little bit sad that I hadn’t seen something else instead.

(Also: I find it quite amusing that Miss K’s Wikipedia Page still exists; I’d have expected that the Wiki Police would have ripped down that autobiographical advertising almost immediately!)