[2012037] Price Of Admission

[2012037] Price Of Admission [FringeTIX]

Wayne James @ Nexus Gallery

8:00pm, Fri 24 Feb 2012

As I sit in the little fake-grass garden outside the Nexus Gallery, I’m almost assaulted by noise; some rawk is blasting out of Fowler’s, a bit of doof-doof from the UniSA campus. I’ve acquired a wristband that says I’m over 18 just to get here; O-Week parties are in full swing.

But the most compelling sound is from the woman playing the accordion next to the bar. The Gallery is still closed, so there’s a collection of people sitting in the garden, listening to her play amidst the wall of sound; I join them. Wayne James comes out and greets me, sitting by my side; “she’s lovely,” he says, nodding in the accordionist’s direction, “I heard her playing up by the Markets this morning and just had to have her come open the show.”

She gets through another couple of numbers before another amplified noise source – who knows where that one is coming from – starts up; eventually, a small group of around a dozen scoot into the Gallery, where it’s evident that the noise-bleed will be manageable… but only just.

After his first sentence on the little stage, I was convinced that Wayne James is amongst the most earnest performers I had ever seen. There is so much belief and conviction in his voice, so much wisdom in his timbre, that you cannot help but be swayed by his words. And he has a strong opening, speaking of how we – western culture, driven by the US-lead consumerist ideal – are effectively poisoning our children with meals tainted with toxic chemicals.

Which is a fair point, I must say. And it’s hard to not take his words seriously, as he outlines his family’s connection with the land – James describes his ancestral tree in detail, starting with the settling in rural Canada of his grandfather and the passing of the farm (and the forming of community) that had occurred since. But with the “necessity” to increase production comes the “need” for chemical assistance… a need driven by the snake-oil salesmen of capitalist corporations.

And I’m still totally with him at this point.

But the manner in which James anthropomorphises money is a little heavy-handed and clumsy; sure, the sentiment is in the right place, but I get the feeling that his focussed idealism muddles the message. When he starts mixing in references to Indian tribes, things get even more confused – and, curiously, more interesting. In particular, his closing piece – a recital of Chief Seattle‘s 1854 Oration – was a wonderful conclusion, with the closing line “there is no death, only a change of worlds” a beautiful highlight.

Wayne James’ monologue may appear unfocussed as he drifts from one segment to another, but there’s little doubting that his heart is in exactly the right place. What he lacks in polish he makes up for with authenticity.

[2012036] Gobbledygook

[2012036] Gobbledygook

Bodysnatchers @ Adelaide College of the Arts – Main Theatre

6:30pm, Fri 24 Feb 2012

The Main Theatre at ACA, a wonderfully wide open affair, plays home to a tiny box for Gobbledygook – a square, with sides of only three or four metres, is defined by the long curtains that fall onto it from their supporting frame. How odd, I thought, to walk into such a large venue, only to have your attention focussed onto a mere fragment of it.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s analogous to the content of the piece.

As Aileen Huynh purposely strides from the darkness, peeling two curtains aside to allow us ocular access, we see the iPhone laying in the centre of the square. It rings; half the audience check their own pockets. She answers… and so begins the narrative of Gobbledygook.

…but it’s not much of a narrative. The piece is more a selection of disconnected scenes, with no noticeable progression between them, all relating to Aileen’s relationship with her iPhone. You get the feeling early on, as she discusses home deliveries of food and wine to the unknown caller at the other end of the phone, that she’s agoraphobic; some conversations, such as those with the wine salesperson, border on the desperate. There’s a hint of sadness in those conversations, but that emotion isn’t allowed to fester within the audience as she throws in some full-body Fruit Ninja playing, desperate dashes for the recharger, or records half-conversations with herself so she has someone to talk to.

Dragging in a sleeping bag and building a fort within it only exacerbates the feeling of physical disconnection with the outside world; the phone call with her parents (father long-suffering, mother aggressively disappointed) fleshes Aileen’s character out a bit more.

There’s some gorgeous lighting, utilising the curtains as surfaces to softly radiate emotive shades (and the opportunity for some lovely shadow-play), but other than that the staging is simple. Frugal, even. But the disconnected nature of the scenes doesn’t allow anything really sophisticated to develop… whilst Aileen’s character’s episodes are entertaining and – yes – even familiar, when I walked out of ACA after the performance I didn’t really take much of her with me.

[2012035] Festival Fishbowl

[2012035] Festival Fishbowl [FringeTIX]

Jason Chong @ Rhino Room – Upstairs

12:00pm, Fri 24 Feb 2012

As I potter upstairs in the Rhino Room, I’m expecting to see bugger all people… Jason Chong and a tech, definitely, but no audience to speak of. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a good wodge of people in the ‘Room; artists aplenty, and a good core audience of fifteen or twenty, with more people dressed in office attire drifting in and out as their lunch-breaks permitted.

After a bit of a welcome spiel before the show went “live” (the Fishbowl is streamed in realtime, with an associated chatroom for comments), Chong – himself surprised by the turnout – announced that there were no refunds. I’ve never been a huge fan of his comedy, but he worked well in his hosting role… a role he was supposed to share with Sammy J, who had texted to inform him that he was currently stuck waiting for a bus in Norwood.

The show started (without Sammy J) with a simple hello, before Chong invited the first set of guests up: the young crew behind No Such Thing As Normal. Nervous and enthusiastic, they talked all over each other before settling into a groove, mainly discussing the fact that one of the performers in an acrobatic act was on crutches. Pleasant kids, and they did plenty to encourage me to go along to their show.

Next up was Eddie Ifft, who left no-one in any doubt that he does not like the heat. In fact, he looked as if he had been physically brutalised by the weather on the way to the Rhino Room. He also discussed his last tour of Australia, in particular a review written by Helen Razer. More choice words were directed in Helen’s direction, before Ifft wrapped up his chat and sullenly ambled off, swearing all the way about the heat.

The Violent Romantics were up next, talking about their show Rough Trade, which I was scheduled to see the following afternoon. Another young group, they talked about the bruising nature of their performance… literally, as one of the female performers showed off a purple monster of a bruise on the inside of her knee. When they started talking about their fight scenes within the show, someone on the chatroom piped up: can they perform a bit of their fighting onstage now? Chong checks with his producer; “is that a good idea?” he asks, the intonation in his voice telling the world that he wanted a bit of onstage biffo. “No” the producer flatly – and loudly – decrees, her tone telling the world that it was a monumentally stupid idea.

Next up was Tom Gleeson. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of Mr Gleeson’s standup, but my recent experience with him in The Phatcave had me re-evaluating him somewhat. His manner onstage here at the Fishbowl was outstanding; friendly, affable, and bloody funny, he and Sammy J reminisced about their times within the Good News Week family, dropping some gossip here, some reality-checks there. Fascinating.

After a stilted live cross to James McCann, two women from the audience won tickets to some assorted shows and joined Jason and Sammy onstage. After offering more prizes to the chatroom – and discovering that no-one there was actually in Australia – another audience member was selected to receive freebies and engage in awkward banter. And there the Fishbowl ended; an entertaining, if ramshackle, hour, with a bit of a peek behind the curtain as to what makes a show like that tick.

[2012034] Chants Des Catacombes

[2012034] Chants Des Catacombes

Present Tense @ Adelaide Gaol

11:00pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012

I’d been (erroneously) warned that the usual access road to the Adelaide Gaol was closed; unsure of an alternative route that wasn’t a significant extra distance, I scooted out of The Year of Magical Wanking as soon as decorum would allow and walked as swiftly as possible out onto West Terrace. As I skirt around onto Port Road, I notice a gap in the traffic; I decide to take the opportunity and cross over. I step onto the road, take another step, and pop – suddenly I’m wincing in pain, and my right calf is on fire.

I hobble back to the curb and try to stretch it out – no good, this is definitely not cramp. I struggle on to the Gaol, finding the most comfortable way to carry myself – the limp is still evident, though, and the calf still burns. I arrive ten minutes early; artistic director Bryce Ives crosses my name off their pre-paid list and mentions that they’re running a little late. I see people wearing Adelaide Gaol t-shirts scurrying into and out of the Gaol as I try and keep my leg warm, afraid of what will happen if it cools off – and locks up.

Eventually we’re encouraged through the Gaol gates into the darkness, occasional candles acting as our guides; I struggle along, pausing only to grab a glass of proffered sangria, before progressing to (what must have been) the old exercise yard. There a discordant piano is played, while unsettling effects are heard from within the Gaol itself; patrons are left to their own devices in the grassy area. It’s dark but for the moonlight and flickering candles, and the sangria is delightful.

Bryce appears again to inform the crowd that Chants Des Catacombes is presented en promenade, then guides us into a wing of the Gaol. Expectantly, the crowd line the walls; at the far end, stairs appear blocked off by a harp and a chaise longue. The door slams shut behind us; lights and voices come from upstairs through the metal grating: the light blinding, the voices garbled and manic.

And suddenly a single voice – pure, strong, supremely seductive – pierces the cacophony; a single line was all it took for me to recognise Glory Box. As two other voices – and bodies – slink down the corridor, I suddenly realise there’s a mournful musical backing; the three women, clad in black and red, dance amongst the crowd in the narrow wing. They sing, they move, the light catches them perfectly; the sound is amazing, the smell of the musty old building fills my nose, and these three stunning forms are everywhere there seems to be light.

I have been won over… big time. And the performance has only really been going five minutes.

Two of the women disappear; the sole remainder plays the harp and tells up the tale of her demise – a courtesan with a vicious client. We’re then cajoled into another room, dominated by a stage, a small band behind. There we meet the second of our women, a wartime cabaret performer forced to consort with the enemy; a touch more dance, the hint of violence, and a touch of Blondie and Bowie. I’m starting to wonder whether the calf pain has made me regress into the corners of my own mind, because this seems to be ticking all the boxes.

But it gets better.

Into a third room, where the third woman – a gifted female surgeon, stricken in the age of men – dances in anger on a hospital bed; I’d inadvertently chosen the most wonderful position for this, perhaps my favourite of the three stories. Up close and personal, I was completely blown away by the power and tempered rage and… well, everything in her voice.

But it gets better… again.

Back into the initial wing, the door through which we’d arrived was now spotlit; the instruments of the three women’s murders hanging overhead. Sure, the choice of John Farnham may have seemed cheesy for a return to the powerful trio of vocals, but that’s more than offset by a bit of Nirvana. It’s absolutely glorious, mesmerising singing, accompanied by purposeful movements… but it’s over too soon. Out of that wing we go, into another courtyard… where The Twoks (who had provided the music within the Gaol itself) were playing a bizarrely laid-back version of Clint Eastwood.

And, to make things even more betterer, they kept playing for another half-hour while cast, crew, and audience all had a bit of a drink and a dance… well after midnight on a school night. Under the stars. At an old Gaol.

Look, there’s no way of beating around the bush on this: I fucking loved Chants Des Catacombes. Every little bit of it. The three principals were stunning in all aspects of their performance; the music before, during, and after the show was amazing; and the direction of the various pieces throughout the Gaol was nigh-on perfect.

And then, whilst talking with cast and crew post-show whilst The Twoks played, I discover that some of the regular Gaol staff had inadvertently sealed off one of the wings that was scheduled to be used, causing a significant re-structuring of part of the performance.

Perhaps the most compelling thing to me, though, was the acoustic purity that the Collective managed to conjure; on previous visits to the Gaol, the long corridors proved to be sonically bright and tinnitus-triggering. Chants, on the other hand, was spectacularly managed, with every song and every musical note as clear as a bell, bereft of echo or modulation. Technically, that is an absolute triumph, and a credit to musical director Nathan Gilkes and choreographer David Harford.

As I hobbled away from the Gaol, I knew that I’d seen one of the highlights of the Fringe. I also felt that I couldn’t have thanked the Collective more without appearing super-creepy. And I know I’ve completely failed to convey how much I wholly – unreservedly – loved Chants Des Catacombes.

[2012033] The Year of Magical Wanking

[2012033] The Year of Magical Wanking [FringeTIX]

thisispopbaby @ Adelaide College of the Arts – XSpace

9:30pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012

Courting controversy with a ever-so-slightly-risqué title, coupled with Jesus imagery on the poster, The Year of Magical Wanking is a very odd beast. The external presentation of the show suggests that there’s the likelihood of smutty sacrilegious innuendo… but there’s an oddly serious crowd assembled for this evening’s performance. They all seemed very earnest in their approach to the XSpace – and I wondered what they knew that I didn’t.

Besides the obvious, I mean.

It’s a simple set: a square in the middle of the space, lined with fluoro tubes, their light directed to the centre. Some wonderfully unsettling white-noise punches accompany the dropping of the house lights, and then the fluoros flicker into life: Neil Watkins has arrived, barefoot and clad in a neat suit.

He plunges into his monologue: he’s gay. He watches a lot of porn on the Internet. He masturbates… a lot. Family tragedy has gifted him cheap and easy living. As he explores his sexuality and descends into a drug-addled life of hedonism, the details get grittier: he contracts HIV. He elaborates on his rape fantasies, surmising that they result from his molestation as a child… that he actually enjoyed. He exposes us to the HIV-positive underground culture in Manhattan, to his flirting with stoner boys in Helsinki. And, as he reaches emotional low-points, he relies on alternative healers to lift him up.

Things take an odd turn when he develops a Jesus-complex… the same age as Jesus when he was crucified, he presumes that his own life was also one of persecution and sacrifice. Another low-point, another alternative healer, and a revelation… and the seeds of this performance.

Watkins’ language is… well, frank. There’s certainly no punches pulled, and no overt contrivances to justify a rhyme. And his presentation is fantastic – he owns his performance space with intense and focussed movements, his Irish lilt making the rhyming script just glide. But there’s also a sense of distance between he and I; for all the directed movement, there’s no connection. For all the weakness and humanity he puts on display, there’s no empathy generated in me. In retrospect, it’s very much a cold, pragmatic storytelling piece, emphasised by the caustic interstitial “music” (but that sort of thing really does float my boat). It’s challenging story well told, to be sure, but the remoteness is tangible… and challenging.

Completely confounding my expectations, The Year of Magical Wanking is a dense, weighty, and serious production that completely belies its title. Even ten days after having seen it, I’m still struggling with whether I can recommend it to others… purely because the sense of anticipation from the title alone is so much to overcome. In fact, the next evening I was at ACArts again when Wanking was about to start; “the doors for The Year of Magical Wanking are now open!” announced the venue guy, and a mighty cheer went up from men amongst the crowd of fifty or sixty present. Oh dear, I thought, you guys are going to be sad pandas in an hour’s time.

[2012032] XXXO

[2012032] XXXO [FringeTIX]

Charlotte De Bruyne & Nathalie Verbeke @ Adelaide College of the Arts – XSpace

8:00pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012

I’m the only person who turns up for Christophe’s show (and even then I’m a minute or two late), so we swap details and I commit to seeing him some other time. Out comes the Fringe iPhone App, and I’m searching the Timeline for other shows on The Shortlist that I can squeeze in… up pops XXXO at the same location as the following show that I’ve got tickets for. It’s almost too perfect. A quick walk, a bottle of water and an espresso, and I’m in.

The XSpace is a wide space – plenty wide enough for the pair of screens (and their respective projectors) that bracket the table, anyway. There’s two laptops on the table. Two women walk out, sit at the table, and open their respective laptops. The desktops of their two Macs appear on the screens; that’s odd, I thought, and vaguely unprofessional. As moody ambient electronica plays, they navigate through folders, then fire up Photo Booth and start manually skipping through a series of photos.

The photos are all self-portraits, probably taken with those same laptops. In each photo, they are crying. Sitting at the table, lying in bed, on the couch… but always in tears. If the tears themselves aren’t visible, the images allude to their presence.

It’s a pretty brutal start. Image after image on both screens, welled-up eyes and tightened downturned lips.

Suddenly, they drop back to Finder, navigate to a new folder, and start playing a series of movie clips – a different movie on each screen. They’re movies that have an emotional effect on the girls, and they mime out the action in sync with the movies in front of the projection screens. There’s snippets of Titanic, a bit of Magnolia, the bizarre inclusion of First Blood

Back to the laptops, and they open documents containing script fragments: Home and Away, Sex and the City. Their accents make the words sound ludicrous – the girls are from Belgium – and the choice of scripts is odd… there doesn’t really seem to be anything tear-worthy in these pieces.

But then out comes the chopping board with an onion, and they hack away at it, breathing in deep. A pot of VapoRub appears, and is dabbed under the eyes. They rub their eyes, stretch their eyelids for maximum effect… the tears flow again.

Movies sourced from YouTube – of stricken puppies, of people dying on camera, of 9/11 phone calls – keep the girls crying. One girl reads a letter to the other, a projection of her feelings on the other’s death, whilst the other sketches out the means of her death for her laptop’s eye – and, hence, our screen – to see.

And, all the while, Photo Booth remains open, occasionally capturing photos of the tears to add to the collection, to be shown to the audience on another night.

Suddenly, it’s over – and I’m left slightly bewildered. I’d essentially watched two girls bully themselves into tears for the best part of an hour, and for what? I was drawn in at the start, with the series of photos of the seemingly distraught girls, but once I was exposed to the tricks they use to conjure the tears… well, there’s no emotional connection anymore.

XXXO, upon reflection, is a bit of a con. We’re presented with a wall of emotion, and are then told it’s fake. So why should I care? I may well up at some of the same movie clips that they do, but that bears no reflection on their “characters” – just that we emote at the same well-produced theatrical tricks. I connect with those crafted creations, not the people onstage. And that, in a live theatrical setting, is a bit of a problem.

[2012031] Everything Must Go

[2012031] Everything Must Go [FringeTIX]

Rachel Leary @ The Tuxedo Cat – Green Room

6:00pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012

It’s my first visit to any of the TuxCat’s performance spaces, and there’s a bit of confusion: signs haven’t been put up yet (a problem that has since been fixed), so it’s a bit of an aimless wander until I find the Green Room. And I’m a bit surprised to find that the room – which looks like it’ll only seat thirty – is pretty full; still, I find a seat in the front row and eye the stage.

It takes a fair bit of eying, mind you, because it’s littered with all sorts of crap. The bold price tags that adorn the collection of garden gnomes, awful homemade necklaces, and electrical household relics are laughable and seemingly arbitrary. But when Rachel Leary, in her role as Nancy Browne, potters onto the stage fussing with the items in her garage sale, you know this is not going to be a normal comedy show.

And that’s because… well, not a lot of Everything Must Go is funny.

Sure, there’s some genuinely funny bits: her meditation tapes (free with the cassette radio… for $50) are absolute crackers, with the frogs from Down By The Pond, the fucked-up ute from By The Barn, and the doppler-shifted “get off the fucking road” from By The Road. The goat-poo guessing game borders on the bizarre. The occasional references to the Thursday night Stitch’n’Bitch are perfectly pitched, especially if you grew up in a country town where such “social” activities are an immovable part of life. And Nancy’s game of Get Harold In The Bucket is silly good fun.

But there’s a very bittersweet undercurrent throughout the entire performance – there’s something clearly wrong with Nancy, intimated through her odd interactions with the other people surrounding her country enclave in Tasmania. She’s being displaced through a residential development of her sleepy community – forced to downsize and move in with her brother (hence the garage sale), she’s again snubbed and pushed onto the mainland; idiosyncratic and alone, I even felt bad for her when she passed some lamington slices around the room (and had precious few takers).

When Nancy Browne mentions the hay bales collapsing on her as a youngster, you can’t help but think that the event was responsible for her mental… quirks; when the phone rings (and she eventually answers), you just know it’s going to be another life-changing event that she just accepts. And that’s the overriding tone of Everything Must Go… the dominant mood was of sad, silent tragedy, of a life not so much lived as tolerated.

The ending is… well, apt. Almost feel-good, even. But it’s hard to see what Everything Must Go is trying to say; it’s too muted and morose for a comedy piece, and not cohesive enough for a solid piece of theatre. Rachel Leary may have created a convincing character in Nancy Browne, but I’m not sure I know why her story needed to be told.

And, once again, it was a performance marred by the two women sitting next to me in the front row, who gladly gave a running commentary throughout the entire performance, like they were recording the special extras for a DVD. I’ve got no idea what kind of show they were expecting, but I’ve got even less of an idea what type of show accepts their kind of behaviour as permissible.

[2012030] Monkeyshines

[2012030] Monkeyshines [FringeTIX]

Loose Canon Arts @ The Deluxe

11:30pm, Thu 23 Feb 2012

So – I’m a bit grumpy after my favourite breakfast vendor let me down, leaving me hungry. And I’m fully expecting this performance of Monkeyshines to be cancelled – after all, it’s a weekday matinee before the Fringe officially starts. And, upon arrival, it became immediately apparent that this was very much a possibility – there’s myself, two judges, and a Dad and his wheelchair-dependant son. Liesel Badorrek (previously seen in Hardboiled Lolly) popped out in costume to speak to us: we usually riff on the energy of kids in the audience, she explains, so it’d be great if you could all come back another day. The Dad and the judges explain the difficulty of their situations; fair enough, she says, we’ll roll with it.

And they rolled well.

Despite the fact that the “crowd” was spread – father and son way out left, constrained by the wheelchair, and the rest of us in the middle – the Monkeyshines crew (Badorrek as Dr Sweetpea McGee, Johnny Nasser as Gorgeous George, and Leonie Cohen as the keyboard-playing mute Sideshow Pony) put on a fantastic performance that only really lacked the applause of a larger crowd.

Monkeyshines is all about circus sideshow home surgery: Dr Sweetpea McGee is a master of the art, and Gorgeous George her enthusiastic apprentice. The two stage performers have an engaging, pun-laden sideshow spiel that they project at the audience, alternatively disappearing to decorate themselves as the next circus home surgery miracle. First up is Cha Cha, the half-man, half-monkey – Nasser plays this amazingly well, with fantastic chimpish mannerisms – it’s wonderfully, comically convincing. Pipi the levitating midget is good for some laughs, and Badorrek and Nasser team up to form the Flying Beavers (a gloriously crapulent redneck trapeze wannabe duo) and the Black Forrest Siamese Twins, Olga and Golga. George oversteps the mark and performs some surgery of his own on the Twins, leading to some tension between he and McGee; as punishment, George winds up as a ludicrous half-man, half-duck – his oversized wings/hands were ace.

Despite the tiny audience, the Monkeyshines performers were absolutely wonderful. It’s a really enjoyable show with something for everyone – the overtly silly visuals for the kids, and little throwaway snippets of dialogue for the adults (there’s even a cheekily brief Mahna Mahna thrown in for good measure). It was fascinating to sit through the show wondering how it would change had a sea of children been present; but that didn’t really matter for me, because I had a ball. I really, really hope their crowds picked up, though…

[2012029] Rhino Room’s Late Show

[2012029] Rhino Room’s Late Show [FringeTIX]

Tommy Little, Sarah Kendall, Xavier Michelides, Demi Lardner, Imaan, James McCann, Gareth Berliner, Christophe Davidson, Mickey D @ Rhino Room – Upstairs

11:00pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012

It’s still early on in the year’s proceedings, and The Shortlist is bloody massive – I like to give variety shows like this a bash to see if there’s anyone I can knock off The Shortlist, or whether there’s any newcomers that deserve to be on it.

Tommy Little emceed, and he was – quite frankly – a revelation. His frequent audience interaction is amiable and funny, and he even managed to convince the entire crowd to shuffle forward to the front of the room! I was mightily impressed with Little’s work, and will happily bump him up The Shortlist. And it was his birthday on the 23rd so, on the stroke of midnight, the entire audience sprang into a Happy Birthday chorus… magic! :)

Sarah Kendall performed material I’d heard the previous night, but a lot of it – the “worst gig ever” bit, in particular – went over a bit better this evening.

I was already impressed with Xavier Michelides’ work (from Future World!), but his straight standup is equally as good, if not better. His kitchen-light-burglar bit takes a simple premise, turns it into a running joke, then goes all surreal; his quick impression – a cross between Robert de Niro and Chewbacca – was priceless.

Demi Lardner, a young regular on the Adelaide scene, is gorgeous, playing off her youthful androgynous looks for contrasting impact. Some of her two-liners never get old.

A little drinks break, and then Little is back warming up the crowd for the second set. It kicks off with Imaan (who I’d seen before, but not been overly impressed by), who did a couple of bits about stupid shit that people say to him (“What’ve you got?”… “AIDS”). He tried to pass his diminutive-height-disease on to an audience member by sneezing on them, and joked about what happens to people who insist on picking him up. It’s probably the best work I’ve seen Imaan do.

James McCann was on The Shortlist… was. I love surrealism in my comedy, but the manner in which McCann would tell his jokes, taking the audience somewhere they didn’t want to go, then stand back and smugly smirk, pleased with his own punchlines… well, it didn’t enamour him to me.

Gareth Berliner had been recommended to me by another comic during Feast last year – and he was fantastic. Short, punchy, consistently funny… clearly a top-flight comedian.

Christophe Davidson wandered in, serenaded the crowd with his guitar: “I love you… while you have that face,” he sweetly sings to one woman in the crowd, “but if that face changes I’ll have to reconsider.” It’s gentle humour on common topics, but his bit on how women change at the end of an evening – taking off high heels (de-shaping the butt), taking off the padded bra, wash off the perfect face – was just beautiful. He remains on The Shortlist.

Finally, Mickey D appeared as a surprise last-minute guest – and, as much as his humour tends to leave me cold, he actually put on a pretty decent set… although that fucking ice joke was trotted out again. If I never hear that material again it’ll be too soon.

In all, this was a bloody enjoyable show. There was no real impact on The Shortlist – a little shuffling, one removal – but I had a lot of laughs… and that’s pretty much what you’d expect from a comedy show.

[2012028] Where Did It All Go Right?

[2012028] Where Did It All Go Right? [FringeTIX]

ponydance @ Stag Hotel

9:30pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012

So – upstairs at the Stag. The room’s not available yet, so I stand out on the balcony and watch the world go by; even on a Wednesday night in Pre-Week, there’s still a constant stream of people flowing into and out of The Garden. That Stag balcony is pretty neat, actually; I totally understand why it gets so crowded there, now.

I discover that the room I had been watching for signs of life was not actually the room the performance was in; by the time I realise my mistake, there’s a pretty big crowd in. I snaffle a single seat on the second row behind a row of very Beautiful People and review the précis for Where Did It All Go Right? – “Four people meet in a bar, trying to get out of it… comedy dance theatre.” Right, I’m there… I’m set.

The tiny (and distractingly buxom) Paula O’Reilly appears, shy and smiling, introducing the show as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012. We’re proud to be invited to the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012, she elaborates, and without further ado here’s the show, part of Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012. I’m sure there’s a couple more mentions of “Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012” – imbuing the words with a ridiculous feel – within her nervous spiel as she wrings her hands, informing us of the fire exits and providing the general rules for the evening.

The show takes place in front of the platform where Duane Watters inconspicuously DJs throughout, and we’re initially treated to the Boy, Lorcan O’Neill, and the Girl, the dynamically taut Oona Doherty, engaging in some wry nightclub flirting. The looks and brushes develop into more elaborate movements as the two intertwine, but then O’Reilly returns, insisting on claiming the Boy for herself. The dancing becomes combative… and insanely comical.

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head causes a cessation of hostilities as the trio lock-step into Kylie’s familiar dance moves, and O’Reilly calls for a thirty-second “breath break” – nervously counted on the fingers of the troupe. Doherty clamps the hands of a front-rower on her breasts – no problems with audience participation there – but O’Neill is substantially less successful getting a female audience member to dance with him.

And, at this stage, I’m harking back to that “four people meet in a bar” description – and I’m thinking that the fourth person is, cleverly, the audience. But, when the three ponydancers have left the floor (to great applause), Watters – who’d previously been maintaining a geeky demeanour behind the decks – leaps onto the floor and maniacally dances to (a shit cover of) Maniac… the contrast in appearance and enthusiasm is absurd – and bloody hilarious.

If there’s one word to describe ponydance’s act, it’s “exuberant” – even during the seedy-end-of-the-night pieces, there’s a level of energy and enthusiasm in their movements that puts a smile on your face. Add to that the humour they inject into the production, and the obvious sense of camaraderie and fun between the members, and Where Did It All Go Right? winds up being an absolutely joyous piece of comedy dance.

[2012027] Dave Thornton – The Some Of All The Parts

[2012027] Dave Thornton – The Some Of All The Parts [FringeTIX]

Dave Thornton @ Rhino Room – Downstairs

7:45pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012

I think Dave Thornton’s a pretty safe bet – a comfortable style, pleasant jokes. I’ve seen him during Fringe-time, I’ve seen him at the Rhino Room between Fringes… he’s solid. Dependable.

So when he opens with a gag about playing “Penis or Finger” with your bed-partner, I was a little put-off – it felt like a cheap joke, too low-brow… not what I was expecting at all.

The central thread of his show – that he was asked to deliver a motivational speech to a group of twelve-year-old school kids, and was struggling to collate suitable material – is an intriguing one… but the vignettes that Thornton spins off from this thread are only loosely connected. They’re still interesting stories, of course – hearing about his experience sitting in on a sex-ed class delivered by his sixty-two-year-old mum is a treat, even though that tale wraps up abruptly. His divergence into topics of religion quietens the audience – a mixed blessing, as it turned out.

Normally, a quiet comedy crowd would spell death to a comedian – but Thornton was host this evening to a chatty group at the back of the room, and the rowdy Pedro and Monique in the front row. He attempted to engage them all in an attempt to quieten them down, but that only seemed to grant them license to continue their own conversations unabated. Pedro and Monique, in particular, seemed to take great delight in discussing – amongst themselves – every second punchline in depth.

Come on… they were in the front row.

Thornton seemed off his game; maybe it was the noisy elements in the crowd, maybe it was the shaky material. His closing bit – which should have been a touching story regarding the uplifting efforts of his brother, featuring a cute Lego Transformer – fell flat, with a sense of “huh? that’s the end?” falling over the crowd. Thornton may still have a likeable style, and he may still be adept at quick comebacks, but this was – without a doubt – the flattest set I’ve seen him perform.

[2012026] The Lonely Man

[2012026] The Lonely Man [FringeTIX]

Jamie Jewell @ La Bohème

6:00pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012

As we do the ticketing dance upon entry to La Bohème, we’re asked to pick a shape – triangle or square – and drop it into a collection box. I went with triangle – it looked like a sad face, and I was feeling a bit down. I asked for the meaning of the selection; “it affects the outcome of the show,” I was told.

I take a seat at a cocktail seat at the back of the room and have a nice little chat with Anne whilst eying the elaborate set: there’s shelves aplenty, all adorned with trinkets and boxes and decorations that evoke a sense of quiet sadness, of melancholy. I spot two boxes sporting the triangle and square that we’d been offered earlier; that’s the climax of the show, I thought, hidden in that box.

With the front door closed, Carol Young (from Music to Watch Boys By) trots out and sits at the piano. She starts playing, and then Jamie Jewell is stumbling in from outside, and while his opening number of The Show Must Go On is solid, it’s most definitely affected by his movement through the crowd – it’s not the cleanest rendition I’ve ever heard. He’s straight into the second song – another cabaret familiar – and I’m starting to think “great – a bunch of classics, dressed up with a complex set.”

But then Jewell hits his stride with Over the Rainbow – it’s fabulous, and so is the remainder of his songs. But it’s the theatrical component of the show that generates a real sense of melancholy; early on, he wanders through the crowd plucking bulldog clips from under tables, using them as cufflinks. He rearranges boxes in their shelves, finds parts of his teddy bear; he reassembles the bear with the help of a bit of spittle and dances lovingly with it – it feels like he’s lamenting the loss of love.

Suddenly, there’s a knock at La Bohème’s front door: “Who is it?” he calls, a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Opportunity,” comes the answer. He opens the door a crack, and a hand pokes through with one of the triangles; he returns to the set, takes the triangle box off the shelf, and opens it… it contains a frowning wooden mask. Slowly he undresses; when he drops his trousers to reveal his naked arse, a women on the table next to me shrieks in disbelief… then, as Jewell symbolises his suicide to end the show, the same woman whistles way too loud for the tiny venue.

The Lonely Man is most definitely not a feel-good show, but it is a quality piece of cabaret – albeit drenched in melancholy. After a shaky start, Jewell puts in a great performance, and Carol Young’s piano is more than capable accompaniment. And I must admit to being curious with regards to the “square” ending…

[2012025] Fleeto

[2012025] Fleeto [FringeTIX]

Tumult in the Clouds @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

2:00pm, Wed 22 Feb 2012

The opening lines of Fleeto mention “Wee Andy” about half-a-dozen times; even with ears struggling to adapt to the thick Glaswegian accent, it’s still plain that young Mackie is angry and scared that his friend has fallen to a knife attack – a Glasgow Smile – and is struggling to deal with the ramifications of the attack. But the repeated use of “Wee Andy” initially has me thinking I’m in the wrong performance, that the Tumult cast have lead with the wrong piece… but as soon as the Mackie meets Kenzie, who lets out a roar of a rallying war cry – “Fleeeeetooooo!” – my doubts are cast aside.

Fleeto tracks the frantic unravelling of Mackie’s life in the hours after the attack on Wee Andy. Swept up in a hastily organised street gang of under the vicious Kenzie’s leadership, the group go looking for blood; Kenzie, keen to get another soldier in his battalion, presses a knife into Mackie’s hand and orchestrates the attack on a pair of innocents. One is severely beaten; the other unwittingly slain by Mackie’s hand.

Mackie, horrified by what he’s done, goes on the run – hiding in areas more derelict than his own downtrodden welfare estate. At the same time, we’re witness to the grief of his victim’s mother; the Police Officer, who’d been a constant source of narration and explanation throughout the early stages of the performance, comes into his own as he breaks the news to her, guiding her through the identification process. Mackie and Kenzie violently reunite, and then there’s an intense scene between Mackie and his victim’s mother, who remained unaware of who she was talking to; she sees Mackie as a victim himself. The denouement, using the symbolic MacGuffin of the victim’s journal, leaves us feeling helpless… hopeless.

Fleeto is a brutal affair: the language, through native Glaswegian accents, is constantly coarse, with the highest C-Word Quotient of any performance I’ve ever seen. But it never feels opportunistic or gratuitous; more a reflection of the reality of the environment the gangs find themselves in. The accent itself feels a little played up at the beginning of the piece: as Mackie (brilliantly played by Jordan McCurrach) reveals his shock at the attack on Wee Andy, the Police Officer – a weary and perfectly pitched Andy Clark – passively describes the “official” facts of the case… it almost feels like a translation lesson for those new to the accent. When Neil Lieper’s thoroughly evil Kenzie lets out his war cry, the rest of the “gang” (which included a cluster of local actors) yell and scream as they rush forth from the audience – a fantastic touch.

The presentation of the piece is a triumph: despite the violence described in the dialogue, the physical reenactments are abstract… Mackie and Kenzie remain on opposite sides of the stage during their savage brawl. In fact, there’s precious little that can be faulted with Fleeto – the only possible exception being that I initially thought that the final scene between Mackie and the victim’s mother (the wonderfully restrained Pauline Knowles) was dragging a bit… but by the time I’d left The Studio, I’d completely forgotten about that.

In short, Fleeto is magnificent. It’s a no-holds-barred criticism of the cost – and responsibility – of society on the underclass, and a bitter demonstration of how death – unfortunately – begets death. Whilst the language may be strong, and the implied violence brutal, so is the message.

After the show, writer Paddy Cunneen and Neil Lieper hosted a short Q&A session, ostensibly to allow the media to ask questions about Fleeto‘s sister show, Wee Andy. Cunneen peppered the short session with all sorts of information – local police in Glasgow are trying to get some violent crimes recategorised as a mental health issue, for example, citing that the perpetrators have often not had a stable upbringing. He also comments on insurance – money happily outlaid by the middle classes to protect their physical goods – in comparison to the reluctance for social welfare – taxes going on building stable social structures. Cunneen also indicated that he wanted to credit the audience’s sense of imagination in abstracting the violent aspects of the plays; doing so also allayed the risk of sensationalising the violence. But, most insightful of all, he described the gang’s revenge for the attack on Wee Andy as being a perverse form of care – the gang demonstrating to one of their own that someone is, indeed, looking out for them… as opposed to the fragile family structures that most of them possess.

An addendum: I write this a week after having seen the show; in the meantime, I’ve also seen Wee Andy, and had a long chat with Holden Street staff as to which order the shows should be seen in. My opinion, as crude and unlearned as it may be, is that Fleeto should be seen first.

[2012024] The Terrible Infants

[2012024] The Terrible Infants [FringeTIX]

Les Enfants Terribles Theatre Company @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

11:30am, Wed 22 Feb 2012

I emerge from His Ghostly Heart out into the heat, and spot Martin in the queue; we chat, we gossip, we head inside and split up. The small stage of The Arch has clusters of… something to the left and right, covered in grimy sheets; there’s a suitcase at the back of the stage. The music that played as the audience entered subtly increases in volume, and without me really noticing it’s become quite loud; suddenly the house lights cut out in time with the music – it’s a jolt that immediately snaps me into the world of Les Enfants Terribles.

A spotlight singles out the suitcase: an arm appears, then a body. A man purrs across the stage telling us of Tall Tales, shedding the sheets to reveal a small wagon to the left, a two-person band to the right. The book of Tall Tales is used to introduce Tilly, whose story creates the backbone of the performance.

Tilly tells tall tales, and from there other stories spring. There’s the story of Tumb’s Tum, in which Tumb eats his Mum, told with great use of umbrellas and a tuba, Tumb’s huge head wonderfully realised using large hemispherical domes; there’s the gorgeous puppetry that describes Little Linena, a true material girl. The poetic poignancy of Thingummyboy (The Boy Who Wasn’t There), some sublime shadow puppetry, and the sprouting of Tilly’s tail (a testament to her tall tales) keep the show ticking along.

Throughout, the presentation is immaculate: the elaborate costumes, sumptuous musicianship (roaming over the viola, tuba, piano, clarinet, guitar, accordion, etc), and perfect blocking of the multi-function wagon provides wonderful support to the central stories. The tightness of the space in The Arch works well for the constraint of the piece – unfortunately, I was sitting on the starboard side of the room near the wall, and the acoustics – with the band directly in front of me, and sound bouncing off the wall to my right – weren’t great. One of the guys (the third of the principal storytellers, who occasionally played the tuba) didn’t project that well, either – I’ve got a feeling that a more central position would’ve alleviated all of these problems, though.

But those little aural niggles cannot discount the fact that Les Enfant Terribles (I can barely speak it’s listed title) is a super-polished – and super-entertaining – affair. It’s a superb demonstration of how this sort of refined presentation can deliver a thoroughly rewarding experience, without having to be hidden beneath layers of gloss.

[2012023] His Ghostly Heart

[2012023] His Ghostly Heart [FringeTIX]

Holden Street Theatre Company Inc @ Holden Street Theatres – The Manse

10:45am-ish, Wed 22 Feb 2012

I arrive at Holden Street way too early, so I grab some sugar and caffeine and sit down to write… well, pretty much anything at this stage. Martha arrives – it’s great to see her again – and asks whether I’m here for the Media Day – no, I reply, just Les Enfants and Fleeto. She mentions that there’s a media preview of His Ghostly Heart about to start – would I be interested in seeing it, numbers permitting? Hell yes, I say, and scurry over to meet the floor manager for the show. There’s twenty seats in the venue, she tells me, and there’s only seventeen confirmed at the moment; there’s a nervous wait for me as real media continues to turn up. In the end, I’m last-man-in.

The Manse is an intimate space, and it’s set up in much the same manner as Scarborough: a bed in the centre of the room, chairs lining the walls. Once we’re all seated, the doors are closed, the iPod is turned off – and the room is plunged into darkness, save for a crack or two of bright daylight seeping in through the sides of the door.

The pitch black is briefly broken by the light from another room as a Tom and Daisy, possibly mid-coitus, stagger through a door towards the bed, her legs wrapped around his waist. There’s some huffing and puffing – definitely coitus, and some awkward chat, before a holding of breath, a pause, and the sound as a condom lands with a laden plop on the floor.

As Daisy admonishes Tom for littering her floor with his prophylactic, the story within His Ghostly Heart opens right up; nothing is as it seems, as her presence – spiritual or otherwise – opens wound after gaping wound in Tom. In one timeframe, she is unable to change herself for the better, and willingly pays the price… but he still vainly tries to make an effort, evoking her in his memory as impetus.

Daisy’s needling becomes more and more direct, targeting Tom’s failures in brutal detail – and I’m quietly staggered. There’s so much of this that feels like it’s directed at me; in the dark, Daisy could be talking to me. The self-centred viewpoint, the rapid acceptance of blame… “even your nightmares are egotistical and solipsistic,” she snipes, and I am the one copping the bullet.

Finally, after one last snarling barrage, Daisy leaves the room, slamming the door as she goes; Tom wakes up on the bed with a start, sobbing. The light comes on for the first time and we see his see body heaving through the tears. He settles; the light goes off. The Ghosts are gone. Gentle applause, the door opens, daylight floods in.

And, in the warmth of the sun outside, I start to muse.

I loved the text behind His Ghostly Heart – and the direction, the presentation in that imagination-stoking room, is great. But the vocal performances, somehow, didn’t quite do it for me: maybe it was the jarring foreign references with local accents; maybe it was the slightly unnatural delivery. I wound up almost translating their speech on the fly in my head, interpreting the spoken word as written so as to let my imagination run wild with the words in the dark.

Sharing the room with the established media contingent was an odd experience, too: with hearing heightened by the darkness, the scratching of pens on paper as they took notes lent an odd texture to the near silence between words… and made me wonder about how those copious notes get distilled down into the short reviews that get published in all the usual outlets.

Overall, His Ghostly Heart was a conflicted presentation for me: I loved the story, but was disappointed by the delivery. Having said that, it’s still one of those experiences that I don’t regret in any way – and once again, I must thank Martha for the opportunity.