[2009043] Facing Death

Facing Death [FringeTIX]

Mary Walker Productions @ Mercury Cinema

1:00pm, Fri 6 Mar 2009

Facing Death is a mixed-mode performance inspired (not quite the right word, given the subject matter at hand) by the Kübler-Ross Model of dealing with tragedy. The Model’s Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) form the basis of this performance, with explorations of the stages in the form of dance, expressionist theatre, with live music backing.

In keeping with the Stages, the performance was broadly broken into five Acts. Each had its own tempo; the live drummer provided constant percussion throughout: from a slow, almost inaudible throb to driven, aggressive pulses. Lighting, though simple, was effective; limited strobing provided impact, and the use of shadow was divine. As for the physical components of the performance… well, it varied. It was, of course, focussed on the intent of the Stage in question, tied to the tempo of the drums, and was largely successful in terms of expressive movement, successfully able to evoke emotion – loneliness and the fragility of relationships were clearly evident. The nature of the movements allowed certain motifs to be easily identified, and subsequent use of these signature moves allows for the cross-pollination of the Stages in the audience’s mind.

All went well with this performance: it was moody, emotive, and turbulent… until a punter’s mobile phone rang. Rustle, rustle, rustle… ringing stops. Then starts again, rustle rustle.

Thereafter, the mood was vanquished.

Which was a real shame. I had been really enjoying myself (hey, I can joyfully wallow in grief – I’m a depressive bugger), but that innocent little ringtone of a fucking disrespectful, dickheaded so-called audience member (emphasis on the “member”, there) shot it down for me. I can only hope that it wasn’t one of the teachers present that transgressed.

Ah yes – “teachers”. Since this was a matinee, there were a few school groups in, and Mary Walker led a Q&A session with the rest of the cast at the end of the show. She highlighted the individual contributions of the actors, and provided a very straightforward breakdown of the performance; but that raised more questions in my mind than were answered. What meaning was injected, what intent was interpreted after the fact; and what was inserted into the writing? I like these questions popping into my mind because this type of creativity is utterly alien to me.

I also find it pretty cool that, when I peeked on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘s Wikipedia page, there’s a very simple quote (which I’ve taken horribly out of context): “half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture.” And that’s kinda what’s been delivered here – half-dance, half-theatre. Half the performance is handed to you, and half is in your head.

And I like that.

[2009042] Ava’s Grá

Ava’s Grá [FringeTIX]

CC Drama @ Carclew Youth Arts (Ballroom)

10:30am, Fri 6 Mar 2009

This is the second production from CC Drama that I’ve seen; back in 2007 I caught No Vacancy, where I was the only paying punter in the audience (and joined that day by the not-seen-much-in-2009 Matt Byrne). When I rolled up to my originally scheduled session at 10:30am on Thursday, I was the only punter – period.

As I walked in the door, Ian Walker (Teacher / Producer for CC Drama – lovely chap, friendly and honest and committed) greeted me… right away, I knew that I was the audience for the day. He graciously offered me a series of options: come back for another, hopefully more populated, session; a refund (but the show was only $5! It’d seem rude to accept); or he’d get the kids to put on the performance for me anyway. “That’s a very nice offer,” I said, “but last time I was in an audience of two, with a cast of eight. That was a bit uncomfortable, so I’ll just comeback tomorrow.”

“Good idea,” said Ian, “there’s a cast of sixteen this time.”

So I returned to Carclew the next day – hell, it was almost on my way to the next show – to discover that the audience size had swelled from one to six. But that was fine; inside the Ballroom, the sound was bright and echoey and required some acclimatisation. But, with the “stage” to the south of the room, the little alcove down there was used as a holding area for the ensemble of actors when not engaged in the scene, leaving them in plain sight for much of the performance – a neat touch.

Ava’s Grá deals with Irish immigrants during the Victorian goldrush, but the central love stories could be transferred to just about any backdrop. But the production feels more a collection of disparate scenes and vignettes, rather than a cohesive story – a product of committee, rather than a clear, concise vision. And, given that the piece was indeed group-devised and student-directed, that’s pretty understandable; but the brief scenes and abundance of characters don’t really allow time for any issues to be investigated to any satisfactory depth, nor allow any characters to really develop – the exceptions being William (sadly played way too young and immature) and Ava. And there was a few grating bits in the script – too many modern idioms for my liking, and did they really say “three-thirty” back in the 1850s?

But there’s still a fair few positives to take away; Melissa Dodd and Lachlan Edwards both show huge promise, as well as the actress who played the grandmother (I’m quite annoyed I didn’t grab her name, nor manage to derive it… she was ace). And, as experience performing in front of different crowds (both small and large – they had a couple of 50+ seat sessions), it was undoubtedly useful to the CC Drama students.

[2009041] Long Way To The Top End

Long Way To The Top End [FringeTIX]

Red Plum & Snow, Country Town Collective, The Aviators, Jess Ribeiro & The Bone Collectors, Jigsaw Collective @ Wheatsheaf Hotel (Tin Shed)

7:00pm, Thu 5 Mar 2009

The first person I see when we arrive out the back of the Wheatsheaf (and obtaining my obligatory stamp, of course) is Powerfunk’s Jack Tinapple. A warm greeting, then “awww, man, you should’ve been here last night; The Neo did a set, and we played a whole heap of new material. You would’ve loved it.”

Ummm… you mean The Neo aren’t playing tonight?

“Nah – different bands each night.”

Bugger. The Neo – bless ’em – were the principle reason for me slotting this show in; so it’s with a bit of a heavy heart that I drop into my fave sofa at the Wheatsheaf and settle in for a night of suprises.

First up were Red Plum & Snow featuring gorgeous, frail, little-girl-lost vocals, textured bass, and way too much feedback from Kris (who also resorted to “look at me, I can hit things too” drumming all too often). Not bad, but I think Gretchen would be better off in a band with less texture (alright, noise). Next up: Country Town Collective, a bunch of musos from Adelaide & Darwin (hence the name) who produced… well, country-laden tunes. The first track was a standout, tough, a brooding affair that thankfully lacked that country influence.

The Aviators were more my musical cup of tea, though. The flag on their guitarist’s weapon belies their britpop leanings, though the instrument itself sounds a bit tinny; average vocals are offset by a thumping rhythm section, though. They looked young onstage, and when I chatted with them afterwards I discovered the band’s average age was seventeen. Seventeen! That’s obscene.

But then comes my highlight of the night: Jess Ribeiro & The Bone Collectors. So warm, so lush, so refined. Jess’ voice is smokey heaven, her low-key songs utterly sneak-up-on-you intoxicating. A ukulele makes an appearance for a moment of levity, but this was just such an awesome set that I was gutted to discover I couldn’t see her again on her visit. Really, really fantastic.

(Bloody hell – I’ve just dug up the above MySpace link and listened to the first song… I could marry that voice. Divine!)

Jigsaw Collective rounded out the evening with a short set – they ran awfully close to the 11pm curfew, but closed proceedings with a massive collective rendition of “Bring Out The Jams”. Solid and jazzy.

So yeah – despite a distinct lack of The Neo, this was a decent night of tunage. Then again, it would’ve been great with just Jess Ribeiro!

[2009040] Boiled Cabbage

Boiled Cabbage [FringeTIX]

Spotlight Theatre Company @ Jah’z Lounge

2:00pm, Thu 5 Mar 2009

Spotlight’s last play, Scapegoat!, set an early standard for theatre in the 2008 Fringe; though it was not without its flaws, it proved to be both satisfyingly solid and topical in content – not to mention providing me with my first big thrill of ff2008 when Tony printed out my post and plastered the door at Jah’z with it… criticism and all.

Fair made me grin, that did :)

I’ve bumped into Tony a fair few times so far this year; he’s a busy bugger, doing lighting all over the place as well as writing / directing Boiled Cabbage – which, he warned me, was a “bit different” to Scapegoat!… in that it’s a comedy.

About World War II.

Now, I’m getting old enough to be a little sensitive about my age, but I’m not old enough to be able to directly identify with the themes presented in Boiled Cabbage – so I was grateful for the overarching historical narrative. And it’s presented in a linear, though elastic and self-referential manner: from the opening lines (“What time is it, Dad? / It’s 1939 – Germany has invaded Poland, so it’s the start of World War II”), it’s clear that we’re on a rapid-fire ride through the War, driven by the ever-changing news in Dad’s newspaper.

Jo Webb is ace as the schoolgirl Janet, before generationally shifting to a farm-hand, mechanic, sexually liberated nurse (with both black and white American fathers for her twins), then leaving family behind for the liberation of France. Sahil Choujar’s John is used as a recognisable timeline, loudly announcing the battle he was leaving for (or returning from) whenever he entered / left the stage.

But the whole production is carried by Geoffrey Dawes and Maxine Grubel, as Dad and Mum, respectively. Their combined comic timing is delightful, their keenly deadpan delivery spot-on. The ridiculous nature of their dialogue is hugely entertaining: Dad’s perpetually hindsight-loaded soliloquies, delivered with wonderful out-of-place eloquence, can’t help but raise a smile; Mum’s “it’s all for the best, and couldn’t possibly be any better” acts as scene punctuation.

In fact, that’s a neat idea; there’s many repeated signatures throughout the show (Mum’s signoffs, John’s battle references, the continued appearance of Vera Lynn, the progression of Janet’s independence) that create an element of comfortable familiarity with Boiled Cabbage… it’s like watching a subversive british sitcom. So when Mum – after sustaining the family through the War on the eponymous foodstuff – eventually leaves home (inspired by Daughter’s independence, no doubt), it’s a bit of a surprise; but Dad’s reaction (picking up the Cold War edition of his cherished newspaper) caps it off perfectly.

[2009039] Jazz?

Jazz? [FringeTIX]

The Debonaire Gentlemen @ The Promethean

10:30pm, Wed 4 Mar 2009

Right. So. Jazz.

I don’t really have an ear for it. At all. I’ve tried, I really have – but outside of the usual Glenn Miller Big Band stuff that my Dad used to play (interspersed with German beer-drinking songs) every Sunday morning, my first real exposure to jazz of any kind was one of John Zorn‘s many free-jazz / hardcore guises. So that’s coloured my understanding of jazz somewhat, and made every jazz gig, every jazz festival, seem kind of… well, lame. Unstructured, but soft. Self-indulgent noodling pap.

But the blurb for these chaps declared they do things “a little different.”

And so I return to The Promethean (still an awesome venue, with gorgeous bar staff of the female variety) to check out The Debonaire Gentlemen – Grant on trombone, Sam on double bass, and Max on saxophone. Max on sax – I like that. There’s a fair crowd gathered for the start of the show, and they open with an original composition, which – as with all their tunes – started and ended tightly, but was the usual muddy meandering mess in the middle that I’ve come to expect from trad jazz. Away from the rigor of the intro and outro, they flounce over each other in extended solos with no structure… just like normal jazz, so I don’t see what’s “a little different” about it.

Now, that all sounds a little caustic, but here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter. I’m sitting here, typing whilst listening, and it doesn’t matter. I’ve disengaged my brain for a while, some Annie’s Lane Cab Merlot is gently warming my stomach (and skull), and I’m just at ease. Jazz? is part of the background, yet actively enabling my relaxed state – one which I rarely enter, and never seem to appreciate. And that’s just fine by me.

The second set is shorter – and much tighter, much less noodling, as a result. And it’s lovely. And it’s a pity that most of the crowd had already left; they missed out on the cool-as-fuck harmonised whistling on the final number for the evening. And so I left with a smile on my face, cheer in my heart, and a belly full of lovely red. Top night, really.

[2009038] Stevl Shefn’s little comidy spots

Stevl Shefn’s little comidy spots [FringeTIX]

Steve Sheehan @ SA Writer’s Centre

9:15pm, Wed 4 Mar 2009

I find it ironic that, as I sat waiting in my spare time just prior to this show, I tapped away on my laptop bemoaning Sam Simmons’ (comparative) lack of surreality… because this was the most competent display of surreal humour since my initial encounter with Simmons.

Stevl Shefn (Steve Sheehan’s alter ego for the evening) was joined onstage by black burqa-clad Fatima, who translated for the gibberish that Shefn dribbled. For all of about two seconds, I wondered whether Sheehan was actually speaking another language – there were some patterns there that sounded familiar, but essentially it was Shefn just emitting noises, Fatima telling all the jokes. Well, not so much jokes… more abstract nonsense that became more and more ridiculous as the show progressed.

It all starts relatively sedately – Shefn describing his multi-genitaled partner – before progressing through his aunt’s porn shop, cat-swinging (which drove the gorgeous redhead in front of me to tears of laughter), whale harpooning (or rather, tourism for whales), before ending – all too soon – discussing Shefn’s latest drug addiction. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like hearing a beautiful voice beneath a burqa get all lewd with her language – Fatima saying “rabies… that shit really fucks you up” will remain a highlight for years to come.

Steve Sheehan has made my shortlist for the last three Fringes, and every year I’ve somehow managed to not squeeze in his little half-hour comedy snips. I’ll not make that mistake again; this was an absolute classic.

[2009037] The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman

The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman [FringeTIX]

Adelaide University Fringe Club @ Union Cinema

6:30pm, Wed 4 Mar 2009

The title The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman should impart a pretty good idea as to the intent of this production; you should be thinking tally-ho, stiff-upper-lip, I say! Graham Pennyworth, a somewhat wussy chap in modern-day England, suddenly finds himself in a Victorian-era-esque parallel universe, where he is the spitting image of Stoke Mandeville’s offsider, Carstairs. They engage in wacky adventures, seeking out their villainous French nemesis (using a carefully devised game of cricket, no less), before returning the invigorated Pennyworth to his rightful dimension.

Errrm… yes. That just about covers it.

In terms of performance, Matthew Taylor is simply superb as Stoke – his ample frame and booming voice dominates proceedings, with a fair dollop of dry humour thrown in for good measure. As the other leading man, James Moffatt’s Pennyworth is initially unconvincing, but gets better as he adopts more of Carstairs personality later in the piece. The Narrators are also ace, propelling the story along with aplomb – albeit skipping humourously over the exciting bits – but I can’t help but think that there hasn’t been enough rehearsal time allowed: the dialogue is a litany of lost lines and plump pauses. There’s also the amateurish handling of scene changes, with ramshackle shuffling of props on- and off-stage – but even that finds a way to seem endearing.

It’s not quite the two hours suggested in the Guide – a tight 80 minutes, starting late – but the Uni Fringe Club’s maiden voyage should be considered a reasonable success. Entertaining? Yes. Quality theatre? Not really – it’s decidedly amateur. Worthwhile? Hmmmmm… with so much else on, the jury’s still out… but you’ll note that I didn’t chuck it on the Must-See List. Bit of a hint there, I reckon.

[2009036] The Revolution Starts Here

The Revolution Starts Here [FringeTIX]

ActNow Theatre for Social Change @ Queens Theatre (The Big Room)

2:00pm, Wed 4 Mar 2009

So – nearly a week after the event, I sit down to write about The Revolution Starts Now and discover – much to my delight – that ActNow has Edwin Kemp Attrill as its Artistic Director… the same young chap responsible for last year’s sterling 1984. And suddenly all the little flourishes that made Revolution such a delight to watch make sense – because he’s got The Eye.

The play opens with a cast bow, a celebration of what’s yet to come – then an explosion, the lights dropping to black. When they come up again, we see a simple scene with a local newspaper reporter and her photographer lackey trying to get a story out of a homeless chap, squatting on someone else’s land; a commotion ensues, arguments with the landowner, a hippy-esque do-gooder gets involved, and it rapidly devolves into a cacophony of yelling (as heard in the previous night’s performance of Blood Will Have Blood), until a clean-cut saviour appears promising Revolution.

As plans for the Revolution progress, factions form and dissolve between the six stereotypes; backs get stabbed, ideas get undermined, and the explosive finale (whilst a predictable outcome) emerges from a stunning piece of direction: another rabble, another cacophony (there’s that word again) of dialogue, out of which little threads of conversation form, one character’s line spilling into the next, creating a genuinely exciting piece of work.

Even though I felt like I’d heard most of the performance the night before, Revolution felt like fresh, enthusiastic, angry theatre. Sure, you could look at the stereotypes on display and draw your own conclusions about this being an exercise in Politics Lite, but any production that contains the lines “the proletariat has seized control…” / “fuck that!” gets a big thumbs-up in my book. Kudos to Attrill for his direction, and Gemma Sneddon & Brad Lee’s tight script. And the actors, of course, who perform admirably throughout.

Revolution was well worth the effort – though, of course, it’s too late now… the season’s over, and even I was lucky to have caught it: only at the last minute did I notice that there were matinees available. Of course, there were only about ten people in the crowd, including Attrill and three comps… so that’s six paying punters at eighteen bucks each. My heart falls at that, it really does – I hope these guys do well, because we need this type of theatre to continue.

[2009035] Antti Hakala – Arctic Comedy

Antti Hakala – Arctic Comedy [FringeTIX]

Antti Hakala @ Queens Theatre (The Big Room)

9:15pm, Tue 3 Mar 2009

Antti Hakala is disturbingly blonde. His Finnish accent has an almost sing-song quality, his style very laid-back and non-confrontational, his stage manner quiet. And he hates Sweden.

That last bit surprised me a little – I would’ve thought all the Scandinavian countries would be very chummy. Then again, the South Australia / Victoria rivalry is pretty vicious, so maybe my logic is all out-of-whack.

Antti opens with a quick introduction of who he is, where he came from… and how he learnt english. From American TV. Leading to a pretty amusing story behind the Finnish translations afforded to Miami Vice when imported to that country; this lead to the sole Finnish speaker in the audience laughing hysterically at a joke no-one else could understand. Which provided the rest of us with an odd type of experience: sitting in a large room with sixteen other people, listening to one girl weep with laughter, with a small impossibly blonde chap smiling gently in front of us.

Like I said, an odd experience.

If I had to choose one word to describe Antti, it would be “gentle”: he’s not an aggressive performer by any means, and his comedy is pretty secular and inoffensive – until he gets to his protracted “playing Santa Claus is like 25 days of muff diving” joke which, whilst amusing, really felt like the odd-joke-out in his set. After all, he also covered his interpretation of Australian words and phrases, his experiences with the staff at “Colesworths”, and took a little journey into What-If land by considering Scandinavia as the Axis of Evil.

But the finest moment of unexpected hilarity was when Antti stated “Finnish women are easily transferred” – something which raised the ire of the previously gigglish Finnish lass in the crowd. And gave me hope.

Like I said, gentle. A little bit different. Pleasant.

[2009034] Blood Will Have Blood

Blood Will Have Blood [FringeTIX]

Adrian Mattiske @ Queens Theatre (The Parlour)

7:45pm, Tue 3 Mar 2009

Shakespeare – love ‘im. Macbeth – love it, possibly my favourite bit of Bardery. And a one-man Macbeth? Sounds like a sure-fire winner to me.

Of course, I’ve seen a one-man Macbeth before – back in 2006, Stephen Dillane did a sterling effort of blasting through the entire play, inhabiting every character, in a touch under two hours. And the contrast between that performance – which, even though it didn’t press all the right buttons for me, still managed to impress as a matter of technical excellence – and this one is stark.

For one, Mattiske performs Blood Will Have Blood in a svelte thirty-five minutes, if that. To present the text in that amount of time, he simply omits some of it. Well, most of it. Certainly all of the good bits. Sure, there’s a little “is this a dagger I see before me?”, but “out out damn spot”? Nowhere to be seen. Instead, he (allegedly) drags in Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, and gets an additional slab of profanity via the sound bleed from The Big Room next door.

The first two minutes are taken up by sitting in the dark, listening to a thunderclap echo to silence, then watching Mattiske rise from a crouch to stand tall and deliver two monologues without moving. Without moving. Compelling viewing, this is not.

Positives? Well, the lighting was exceptional: once you got past the spotlights representing the witches, there were front-of-stage lights mounted low that projected shadows onto a backing screen that seemed ominous, full of portent. A Pulp Fiction-esque box-of-light.

Such was the brutalisation of the script, we weren’t prepared for the premature ending – he bowed, bowed again, and lifted his head hopefully before anxiously whispered “thank you” before the remaining crowd cottoned on. And by “remaining crowd,” I mean five people; another two had already departed. Can’t say I blame them, really; this was an incredibly disappointing effort, laudable only in its purity of vision and technical delivery.

[2009033] Ndito, The Masai Girl

Ndito, The Masai Girl [FringeTIX]

Sheela Langeberg @ State Library of South Australia

2:00pm, Tue 3 Mar 2009

After scurrying via an optimal route to the State Library, I completely missed the big orange “Fringe Venue” sign that would’ve pointed me in the right direction; thus, when I eventually swallowed my pride, asked for directional assistance, and scurried to the correct part of the Library, I walked in just as Sheela Langeberg started telling the tale of Ndito, the Masai Girl, in front of a crowd of a dozen adults and maybe twice as many children.

Ndito’s story is a simple one, with several short acts: initially, Ndito’s childhood sickness, and the process used to heal her; then as she ages, her journey to her local forest (encountering three adversaries along the way).

But the story is not the memorable part of this performance – it’s all about Langeberg’s delivery. With bold movements, a sly sense of humour, and wonderful vocal control, she manages to manipulate the audience with ease; we were all soon singing, clapping, miming along in unison, and not once did the motions feel contrived – better yet, the kids (early tweens, I reckon) actually appeared to be having fun (rather than the eye-rolling reluctance I was expecting to see).

After the show, there was a short Q&A session, aimed at the kids (“are those spears real?” – no; “how long have you been in Australia?” – 20 years), but one of the chaps from UNLV (who I’d seen at a bunch of shows) managed to ask the question that had been playing on my mind: “why did you only play three times, and only on one day?” Her answer – that three was enough, and that it took a lot out of her – seemed both frank and honest.

[2009032] Out of the Dark

Out of the Dark [FringeTIX]

Jade Erlandsen & Company @ SA German Association

12:00pm, Tue 3 Mar 2009

Bloody hell, this was good.

I should preface this by saying, as I usually do, that I know nothing about dance. I don’t understand what makes a particular piece of dance good or bad; I just react to what emotes me, what movements thrill me, what causes a reaction.

I wind up saying that just about every time I write about a dance piece; maybe I should make that a standard disclaimer somewhere. Ahem.

But back to Out of the Dark.

There’s a great space atop the SA German Association that looks like it was just made for performances like this; a large open hall, as we enter it there’s about sixty seats around the outside of the room, in the round. The lights go off, and we’re in a dim twilight; the dancers appear, and travel in waves up and down the length of the room to some suitably murky ambient beats. There’s something distinctly organic about their movements; it’s not a synchronised piece except by suggestion, with all dancers performing approximately the same movements, but in their own time, to their own rhythm. Up and back, up and back… it’s mesmerising.

A change in music leads to a change in style – now the eight dancers are clumped in pairs, one blindfolded, the other guiding their movements. The pairs interact in the dimness, swapping partners with flings across open space – close encounters a-plenty. It’s genuinely exciting, with clever choreography and a real sense of spectacle.

A short break ensues – we’re pushed from the performance space and, when we return, we discover that all the seating is now back-to-back in a single line down the middle of the room. A caustic industrial tune starts, and suddenly the dancers are parading around the outside of our little island of seats. We’re armed with little flashlights, we’re free to use them to highlight the aspects that interest us, but there’s little need – such is the incredible dynamism of movement (dancers running, twisting, posing, interacting with each other) that it was too easy to get lost in what was being presented, rather than having to hunt with your little beam of light. The tempo and intensity seems to drop when Red Right Hand comes on, though, with a piece that felt a little too free-form, unfocussed, but the following piece picks up the tempo again with light-bulbs being slid around the room in an odd piece that still managed to engage.

As I mentioned at the start, I loved this performance – the opening piece after the interval was worth the cost of admission alone, such was the energy produced. And the dancers – well, they were uniformly great, with special call-outs to (who I presume are) the two leads: the girl with the red hair (I sat next to her step-mum, who was proud as punch), and That Guy. Blimey, they were impressive. Roll in some exciting choreography, a decent bedrock of music, and you’ve got some fantastic contemporary dance :)

[2009031] Scattered Tacks

Scattered Tacks [FringeTIX]

Terri Cat Silvertree, Skye & Aelx Gellmann @ Bosco Theater

11:00pm, Mon 2 Mar 2009

So – the Bosco drops into inky darkness, and the only sound to be heard is the pissed ramblings of people outside. Terri Cat and one of the Gellmann brothers appear, sporting bright white LED flashlights, which illuminate each other as they slowly, carefully, ever-so-deliberately stalk around the stage. Little mini-spotlights, grabbing a face, or a hand, or a shoulder… even as Terri Cat, lying on her back with legs in the air, gets pushed around like a lawnmower, there’s a beauty to the minimal visuals drowned in near silence. Light, shadow – I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

But then a bowling ball appears, and is rolled around the floor. Light, shadow, lovely… for the first minute. After the fifth minute, it’s getting a little samey… then dull. There’s some circus-y balance tricks that cause the audience to clap, as we’ve been accustomed to do with all the other circus acts over the years, and that breaks the spell. Terri Cat stands centre stage and peels an onion, then eats it… over the course of five minutes. Five minutes, watching someone eat an onion. In silence. From the first bite, I knew that we were waiting for the tears to roll down her cheek, but when they came they lacked any kind of significance, any sense of weight.

One of the Gellmanns appears stage right, wearing only a jumper just short enough to be showing his cock. He brushes his teeth whilst balanced atop a few tubes; when he drops to the ground, there’s a brief moment of consternation that he may catch his man-junk on the edge of one of the tubes, but the dismount is successful. The eponymous scattered tacks are scattered on the floor, laid upon, and a bowling ball dropped onto the stomach of the layee; in the minimalist light, it all appears secretive, secluded – and not for my eyes.

It’s a real shame, this. The early experiments with light in an uncomfortable silence were glorious – it felt utterly alien, like I was watching someone’s private rituals alone in the dark – but all that was shattered by that first, uneasy applause. Thereafter, nearly everything missed the mark – extended periods where nothing really happened (eating the onion, brushing teeth) had no theatrical impact, and just came across as self-indulgent wankery. The zine we were presented with on the way out is the icing on the triple-layer coffee-cream sponge cake – “Terri, Aelx and Skye live and work together in an abandoned apartment block… Through squatting and scavenging, the artists try to boycott the monetary system which often works to destroy artist.” That’s all very well and good, kids, but sometimes it’s good to… y’know… have content in your artistic endeavours.

Maybe it was there, and maybe I just missed it all. There was raptuous applause from those who stayed for the duration… but I just didn’t see it. Sometimes “different” just isn’t “good”.

[2009030] It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To)

It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To) [FringeTIX]

Heartspace Theatre Company @ The Irish Club

8:40pm, Mon 2 Mar 2009

Usually, I feel a tremor of fear when I discover that a production is either (a) a student production, or (2) a recently ex-student production. It may sound harsh and conceited, getting in the way of judging things on their merits, but that tremor allows me to approach such productions in such a way that I limit my potential disappointment; not every play can be a polished masterpiece, an Ota or a 3 Dark Tales or a 4:48 Psychosis or a Strindberg (In Paris). Yes, it means that such shows usually result in a “potential” analysis from me, but at least I don’t exit every show thinking “heap of shit.”


The thing is, none of that matters with It’s My Party – because so much of it is Just Plain Bad.

The wrongness starts with the opening scene – Samuel Hakendorf is hopelessly miscast as Ron Patterson, who – with 111 minutes left to live – has gathered his family together to break the news of his impending death. Patterson is supposed to soon be a grandfather; Hakendorf, even with makeup, looks less than half my age (which he probably is). Kirsty Wigg’s Dawn (Ron’s wife), is likewise unconvincing (though amazingly attractive), and their three children don’t fare much better – Emily Ferrier’s Karen is by far the most compelling actor, her siblings being either implausibly soft and weedy (the supposedly hard-nosed businessman of Simon Moorcroft’s Michael) or annoying shrill and thankfully underused (Emily Ferrier’s Kathy).

The plot is right out of a British 70’s sitcom – Dad calls the family meeting, kids have some important announcements of their own (Michael’s getting a divorce – and is gay; Karen is single – and pregnant), and purported hilarity and overacting ensues, with Ron using the word “poofter” with gay (ho ho) abandon. Riotous! The second act actually is a bit better – the premature arrival of the undertaker yields a few additional laughs, despite Joshua Koster’s soft acting – and the final, laboriously over-the-top knocking-from-beyond-the-grave gag still raised a smile.

Can a production that’s hopelessly miscast, humour-by-numbers, and presented by generally weak actors with no stage presence actually be entertaining? Well, a little – but there was only about 5 solid minutes of enjoyment in a show that stretched for nearly two hours. Still, the majority of the audience loved it – then again, I’m guessing they were family and friends. I was neither of those, and I could have happily forgone those 5 minutes of enjoyment to have those two hours back.

That tremor of fear? Sometimes it’s justified.

[2009029] Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment [FringeTIX]

Heartspace Theatre Company @ The Irish Club

7:00pm, Mon 2 Mar 2009

Now, I don’t pretend to know the first thing about Dostoevsky’s purportedly classic, but there’s a decent synopsis in the programme, and (of course) Wikipedia provides the goods (hopefully).

Not that it matters, because this production is really not that good.

Using the interview between Raskolnikov and Porfiry as the spine of the play, the action is portrayed as flashbacks, culminating in Raskolnikov’s slaying of Alyona and Lizaveta, and his subsequent confession. The original novel appears to have been significantly butchered to accommodate a small cast, but the essential elements of Raskolnikov actions and their consequence – both psychological and physical – remain.

The problem is, though, that the cast can’t really deliver the goods. For all his desire to be Napoleonic, Matthew Trainor’s Raskolnikov came across as weedy and uncommitted; sure, the “crazy” bit was there, but I imagined him as stronger, bolder, more confident… the rest of the crowd loved him, but I was utterly unconvinced. Likewise, Joanna Hocking’s Sonia was thinly voiced, lacking projection and presence – particularly troubling given her pivotal role, but an affliction shared by the most of the cast. The only stand-out was Mark Smytherman’s Porfiry – a solid performance, but (necessarily) limited.

It wasn’t all bad, though – there was some decent direction (including a jumbled dialogue sequence where the end of one character’s lines would trip into the start of the next), and the odd lighting glitch (leaving one female soliloquy headless) caused unintentional mirth. But, in the end, there was little compelling to be found – certainly not enough to stop me from snoozing (a lot) during the performance. I remember Heartspace’s first Fringe production of King Lear in 2002 – that was a much better effort.