[2012022] Hardboiled Lolly

[2012022] Hardboiled Lolly [FringeTIX]

Loose Canon Arts @ The Cupola

10:45pm, Tue 21 Feb 2012

Lolly P Jones is a Private Investigator. She’s got a quick mouth, a sharp tongue, and a habit of getting into trouble. Liesel Badorrek (or Liesel Knievel, as the flyer says) presents Lolly as a strong woman who gets results, and puts forth three tales of her Private Investigations.

Lolly’s first case sees her in Nashville, adopting the disguise of a lesbian country-singing waitress in a case that… well, didn’t even really require investigating, really. Sure, Lolly’s fast-paced – and lavish – descriptions painted pretty pictures, but the plotting of this case was extremely linear, and without a decent closure.

The second case saw her hobby of competitive baking get deadly, and four “suspects” were dragged up from the audience – their introductions were funny (especially Olga and Golga, the Black Forrest Siamese Twins joined at the hand), but thereafter they were stuck onstage while she sang a great song (about lard) and clumsily “interviewed” them. It looked like a mighty uncomfortable position for them to be in, and I think that a shuffling of the elements of that section would help things mightily.

The third case saw her in Shanghai, waking up naked with a monkey… something to do with a woman called Chicken Chow Mein and some golden chopsticks. I can’t really remember, because I (and pianist Leonie Cohen) spent a chunk of time incredulously staring – glaring – at a guy in the second row who not only took a phone call, but proceeded to have a conversation for nearly two minutes. Two minutes! I shit you not. Five minutes after he hung up, he figured he’d leave, and bumped just about every empty chair in the place on his way out.

This was a tough, tough show to be in the audience for. Liesel was really putting her all into the performance, and some of her songs are great, full of clever (and so-bad-they’re-good) euphemisms – the chinese menu song, in particular, was pretty filthy. But the decent-sized crowd – maybe fifty-plus people? – weren’t really into it… there were a lot of crossed arms and reluctant claps, and that fucking idiot on the phone. What a dickhead.

But, truth be told, I wasn’t really that into it, either – other things were playing on my mind a fair bit, and some of the cheesy lines were just a little too cheesy, y’know? Still, big props go to Loose Cannon for trying something different, even if it didn’t quite come off this evening. Maybe with a different crowd, if I’d been in a different headspace, this would’ve been more fun.

[2012021] Sarah Kendall – Persona

[2012021] Sarah Kendall – Persona [FringeTIX]

Sarah Kendall @ Rhino Room – Downstairs

9:00pm, Tue 21 Feb 2012

In the non-Fringe-season – i.e., the other eleven months of the year – I pilfer the best bits of British TV. You know – using that dodgy internet thing. I regularly scan the shows on “offer” and snaffle the ones that look interesting, usually the cooking shows (which remain unwatched) and comedy programmes that we simply don’t get out here.

One day, I grabbed a comedy variety show – something like a Royal Gala performance or similar, I honestly can’t remember. But Sarah Kendall performed a short set on that program, and I was gobsmacked… an Aussie with a biting sense of humour and, seemingly, no fear of established norms.

Long story short – I was expecting a lot from Sarah Kendall. And I’m not sure I got it.

After quipping about the backstage area – which, for the Downstairs room at Rhino, is little more than a broom closet – Kendall passed judgement on the arrangement of the small crowd – it’s like there’s a divot in the middle of the room, she reckons. It’s a low key start – not what I was expecting – but it’s cheery enough.

But then she plunges into a river of material dredged from her experiences of motherhood, from reading adapted bedtime stories to her daughter (her modern additions to The Ugly Duckling are worth a chortle) to bizarre birthing stories, which detail her husband flying across the room to catch an errant piece of faecal matter.

And that stuff kinda loses me a bit.

But then she wins me back with stories of auditioning for TV ads, rants about pole dancing, and the hilarious/horrific description of her Worst Gig Ever. And her closer, a modern sequel to The Ugly Duckling, is a beautifully constructed affair, with callbacks to nearly every thread of the previous hour. It’s a clever piece that convinces me that Kendall is a great writer, and her delivery is perfect.

The problem is that the show, overall, was patchy. Kendall is clearly very comfortable onstage, and clearly has the wit and barb and bravery to turn any subject matter into humour… but there were too many bits that felt disposable, and some of the better bits had the feel of excess polish. Especially when I saw a good chunk of that material again the next night. And, indeed, on YouTube, from a spot recorded three years ago. And that, unfortunately, just has a hint of laziness about it.

Don’t get me wrong: the good bits are very very good… it’s just that there’s flat bits, too, and I wish that there wasn’t.

[2012020] Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

[2012020] Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre [FringeTIX]

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre @ The Campanile

7:45pm, Tue 21 Feb 2012

Having a show titled “Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre” gives a pretty clear indication of what to expect – high-pitched theatrical Scottish puppetry of a socky persuasion, one might think.

That’s spot-on-the-money, as it turns out.

The chortles start prior to even entering the venue – the pre-show music is a falsetto re-working of Cee Lo Green’s classic, and cunningly titled “Sock You”. The puppet booth (or rather, frame) is clad in tartan, and as soon as the manky socks that are the Falsetto Sock Puppets appear, you can tell that there’s some genuine laughs in store.

The two sock puppets – understandably – have a real rapport, and are blessed with not being able to talk over each other. But they form a classic double-act – straight-mansock on the left, joker on the right. There’s some truly terrible (in a good way) puns and lots of word-play; costume changes are frequent and mocked. The donning of a guitar (or piano!) for the odd musical interlude is always a delight, with the waggly arms of the puppets a perfect complement to the googly eyes.

Surprisingly, the show isn’t terribly profane… until the incredible take on Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which manages to up the cuss-content to suitably-Scottish levels. But the writing is strong enough to hold the show up without having to resort to the joy inherent in foul-mouthed puppets; the word association bit is gloriously silly (when it should be groaningly sad), the saw-a-puppet-in-half magic trick is head-slappingly silly, and the analysis of the lyrics in Michael Jackson’s number one song Thriller Beat It Billie Jean Heal The World (“we really haven’t researched this at all”) is also a silly delight. Even the “entire” Star Wars encore, consisting of a mere two scenes, manages to turn a foolish idea into a silly romp.

See the common word there? Silly.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre is just silly good fun. There’s absolutely nothing serious about it – but sometimes, that’s more than enough to carry a show. If your neurons need a break, but you still want to laugh, you could certainly do a lot worse than the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets.

[2012019] Xavier Michelides in Future World!

[2012019] Xavier Michelides in Future World! [FringeTIX]

Xavier Michelides @ Rhino Room – Downstairs

6:30pm, Tue 21 Feb 2012

As I wander into the Rhino Room for the first time this year, I’m struck by how quiet it is. I have a chat with Craig Egan – he’s a bit relieved that opening night is here, after weeks of running around preparing – but then it’s a matter of waiting… the start time is bumped a little, in the hopes that more people turn up. It is, after all, still pre-opening-night, and the Rhino Room is not The Garden.

Xavier Michelides pops out to the bar to address the three of us ticket-carriers – of which the other two are reviewers. I can do the show, he says, and there’s no problem – it doesn’t rely on audience interaction, but it might be uncomfortable if you’re the only people in the room. He offers us the option of another night; the other two consider it, but I reluctantly say no – I’m not sure I can see you at any other time, and I’d much rather see the show now… unless you are uncomfortable. Xavier assures us he’s fine, and we head in to the Downstairs space; at some stage the nod is given to the door guy, who softly announces “Comedians?” Suddenly, another half-dozen comedians bluster into the room, eager to catch a free show and bolstering the “crowd” to near-double-digits.

Michelides starts the show with a simple premise: we’re in a future where there’s too much work. In order to Get Stuff Done, people are brought forward in time from the past. Some of these characters are “normal” people, like our protagonist Zack and his “friend”, the ocker Brad Pitt… but most of the rest of the cast have a rather more significant historical role.

Zack meets Thomas Edison in the company cafeteria one day – Edison sounds suspiciously like Sean Connery, and is a bit of an egotistical arsehole (especially when it comes to Tesla – Topsy the elephant is mentioned a few times). But they strike up a relationship, and Edison invites Zack over for dinosaur steaks – imported from the past, he says, by The Boss.

But the sharing the existence of historical steaks is a faux pas; The Boss kills Edison using his de-quark-alator, and – unaware of Edison’s demise – Zack applies for his now-vacant position… which involves the selection of employees for dismissal, whereupon they, too, are dequarkalated, their constituent quarks used to patch up holes in the space-time metaverse. At first Zack’s job is simple – Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot are easy to “fire” with a clear conscience, but when it gets down to Marie Antoinette things are a little more dubious. To say more would be to ruin some of the fun; let’s just say that Head of Security Stephen Hawking gets involved, a battle for the integrity of the metaverse ensues, and there’s a feel-good ending.

Future World! is a fantastic show – it’s an intelligent, well-paced script, and Michelides is (frankly) spectacular in bringing all his characters to life – whether it’s the ocker Brad Pitt, the evil Boss, the ridiculous English accent of Stephen Hawking, or the one-liners from some of history’s greatest monsters, Xavier’s voices and mannerisms make them all completely unique – and even during the rapid-fire dialogue of the denouement, there’s only one small slip where the wrong voice is attached to the wrong mannerism. I had no idea who Michelides was prior to this show, but rest assured I’ll be following him in the future.

[2012018] Constantinople

[2012018] Constantinople [FringeTIX]

Theatre Beating @ The Campanile

10:15pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

As the assembled throng – maybe thirty people, all up, though I noticed a number of media badges – file into The Campanile, Trygve Wakenshaw – tall, bearded, and toga-bound – engages us in small-talk, offering us grapes (“the international symbol of the orgy,” he later tells us). The fruit is plump, delicious, but I almost choke when Trygve compliments my hair. “Oh,” I stammer, “what do you like about it?” He flashes a smile: “The colour… it shimmers,” he says, and they’ve got me on-side before I’m even in the venue.

Barnie Duncan is sitting on a lounge, reading the paper, his casual contemporary attire in stark contrast to Trygve’s toga. The house lights drop, Barnie continues reading… and ambient sounds start seeping from the speakers. Crickets, cars, footsteps, sharpening of blades… all the while, Barnie’s eyes flit to catch the source of the sound, head cocking to accentuate the effort.

This goes on for about five minutes. It’s very odd.

Alarmed by the approaching footsteps, he fashions a simple gun out of newspaper; when Trygve reappears, questioning the gun, a simple twist converts it to a necktie – Constantinople‘s motif for the Narrator. Whilst holding the tie to his neck, Barnie removes his shirt and jeans, revealing a toga underneath: he is now Constantine.

Right about now, I’ve got a genuine WTF feeling going on – but I can’t quite tell whether it’s a good WTF or a bad one. It creeps towards the dodgy side of the scale when the two toga-boys start searching around the stage – Barnie/Constantine searching for a city (but initially only finding a settee), Trygve searching for socks.

But the city is found – a garish papier-mâché diorama – and suddenly Constantinople goes WTF in the very best way possible.

Constantine, after naming the city after himself, decides to improve the city with roads and plumbing and… the LIV nightclub. And it’s in the ‘club, swept along by a ferocious DJ, that Constantine becomes a pepper-loving addict – and his open-religion policy is inspired after being hit in the head by a 12″ record.

And that all seems like standard fare for a Fringe show, right?

But this is no simple presentation: Constantinople has parallel plot line involving a horse (who changed its name from “Tremmonbeard” to “Kyle”) and a masseuse. This thread sits heavily on top of a line from the They Might Be Giants song, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) – “Why they changed it I can’t say / People just liked it better that way”.

In fact, it seems that the entire show stems from that song… and that, alone, is pretty fucking funny.

The constant use of neckties to indicate narration is a fantastic touch – they appear everywhere, hidden on the back of props or scribbled onto an autographed arm, the newspaper at the beginning… it’s baffling, but brilliant. And “baffling” is the perfect word to describe Constantinople – it’s hard to imagine where a lot of their ideas come from. But the reward is a wonderfully bizarre experience, presented with honest cheer and belief.

Oh – and remember the grapes? Don’t eat them, but keep them handy. You’ll be the star of the show ;)

[2012017] Sam Simmons – About The Weather

[2012017] Sam Simmons – About The Weather [FringeTIX]

Sam Simmons @ The Deluxe

8:30pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

For me, nothing Sam Simmons has done since my first exposure to his work in 2006 has come close to matching the surreal ingenuity and joy of that work; there’s been a lot of great shows in the meantime, don’t get me wrong, but nothing that’s a game-changer. Nothing that ups the ante. His 2009 effort, The Sam Simmons Experience, attempted to weave his nonsensical humour into a narrative… it didn’t quite work then, and I was a bit concerned when About The Weather indicated that it, too, was a narrative-based show.

It turned out that there was no need to worry.

All of the Simmons tropes were still present – the sudden sojourns into abstract thoughts. The recurring retro-culture motif (this time, an old Gillette ad). More bloody cats (mostly of the Chinese Lucky Waving kind). A reliance on a pre-recorded Narrator. Long, ultra-profane rants about insignificant occurrences.

But the narrative thread upon which the show hangs – Simmons’ The Man’s attraction to a woman on his bus, their shared journey the only moment of joy in his otherwise tedious existence – is so strong, and so well written, that it could carry the show even if all the weird shit wasn’t in there.

What weird shit? The presence of Mr Meowgie, a philosophical cat between Simmons’ The Man’s home and bus-stop. The Narrator, sick of Simmons’ complaints about the script, forcing him into a spiel about campfire hot jeans. An ill-advised segment where he passed crappy sandshoes out to the audience and, whilst holding a box containing seagulls in front of his face, demanded that they throw the shoes at the gulls… resulting in a scorecard of Audience 2, Testicles 0. An interlude that allowed Simmons the opportunity to dress up for a fifteen-second rendition as the Keyboard Cat.

But the oddball highlight was Spinception – a segment where Simmons pulled someone onstage and span them around on an office chair. The guy from the audience (Alan?) initially looked stoned, but by the time he’d finished he looked like he was going to hurl; unable to walk straight, he toppled into the front row, Simmons scrambling to minimise the impact on the audience. The look of honest concern, mixed with horror and genuine delight, on Simmons’ face as he helped Alan back to his seat felt like a very honest moment; a humbling moment for an insecure man blessed with genius.

Given that tonight’s was only the third performance of About The Weather here in Adelaide, Simmons’ performance was surprisingly tight. The pre-recorded material – especially the Narrator – was exceptionally well used, and the timings were spot-on. The denouement – including the resolution of the Ikea coffee table battle – is equal parts heartwarming, charming, and batshit crazy, and the overall feeling I have as I leave The Deluxe is that Simmons is right on track. It’s a great performance by a (now-)seasoned operator, and the presence of a meatier narrative should prove more palatable to the punters who’ve been put off by Simmons’ fractured abstractions in the past.

[2012016] Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show

[2012016] Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show [FringeTIX]

Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show @ The Spare Room

7:15pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

Right. So… ummm.

The Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show is – well, it purports to be – a travelling medicine show. That sells Porcelain Punch tonic. An elixir with amazing properties, we are assured, ranging from recuperative properties to immortality.

But Porcelain Punch must do wicked things one’s teeth: Professor Leonard Grad (Luke O’Connor, as seen in Kapow!), the chief peddler of the medicine, has one tooth blacked out; his accomplice, the wonderfully multitalented Miss Elle May Rose (the gorgeous Madeline Hudson), was missing a tooth altogether. Together, they drum up interest in Porcelain Punch, promising evidence in the form of the amazing acts that follow.

First up is ex-child star Shirley Crumple (Emilie Johnston, who also has a blacked-out tooth), once a cripple but now a contortionist. Her twisting tricks are initially convincing, until they become ludicrous and the seams start to show. But it’s fun nonetheless, and that continues with the introduction of Little Timmy Strongman (another Kapow! star, Christy Flaws) whose slight frame is absolutely perfect for the ridiculous “feats of strength” (s)he engages in.

There’s the revelation that Miss Elle May was once a wolf-girl, and her mournful howls punctuate a gorgeous singing voice as she presents a wonderful solo song. Then comes the one man band (another blacked-out tooth… that Porcelain Punch must be acid), whose presence is announced from outside The Spare Room, and devolves before our eyes into a crazed, multi-instrumental animal. And there’s the odd bit of audience interaction, as Tony’s tummy (and bung knee) get “fixed” by a quick swig of the Punch.

Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show is an odd little hour of entertainment. It never takes itself too seriously, and just seems to be about a bunch of people having fun. That’s evident on their faces – and in their performances – and makes for very enjoyable viewing. And, true to form, they’re not afraid to try and hock you some Porcelain Punch as you leave the show.

[2012015] Bed Percussion

[2012015] Bed Percussion

BED Percussion @ Idolize

5:30pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

The blurb for Bed Percussion in The Guide was delightfully ambiguous… but I like percussion stuff, and it’s an agreeable time, and it’s a one-shot – why not give it a bash (pun somewhat intended). Into the Idolize we wander, and there’s percussive bits littering the (expanded) stage, and even a forlorn neglected drum kit sitting out to one side.

Of course, within moments of the trio – Belinda Hogarth, Erica Rasmussen, and David George – taking the stage, my subconscious reminded me of why I (apparently) really wanted to see this performance: because female drummers tend to stir primitive emotions within my core. That is, they are hot.

Now, the entire BED trio are attractive specimens, to be sure – but with David hidden at the back on a “standard” drum kit, I couldn’t help but admire Belinda (swoon) flitting between all manner of instruments and implements (her hand speed was amazing), as Erica (double swoon) pummelled the bass-line for the opening number. It’s a complex, multi-part affair, and completely engaging; as Belinda explains, it was supposed to replicate the cyclical nature of sleep itself.

The second piece is a curio; the trio work with lummi (or rhythm) sticks to create a relatively quiet polyrhythmic construction. We’re then introduced to their pipes: chunks of discarded metal cut to size, and struck to produce uniquely textured sounds, in another curious composition of varying tempos.

The trio then come to the front of the stage to their marimba – “Who played Game Boy?” asks Belinda, and I – excitedly – know where this is going. But my hackles are raised by the fact that the inevitable Super Mario Bros. theme was classified as “Game Boy” – petty, I know, but gaming is my other passion. But the resultant piece evolved from the World 1-1 theme through other iconic Mario tracks, and whilst there were some key changes that I might not have agreed with, it was still a giddy (and recognisable) delight.

And whilst recognition, in that case (and the odd Queen cover), was a benefit, I’d hardly be able to tell a duff note in any of the other pieces. The BED trio are all wonderfully accomplished musicians, and the final piece – again, mostly marimba-based, was a dynamic and punchy affair… then they alter their intensity, shifting the tone, and leave us on a high.

[2012014] Kaput

[2012014] Kaput [FringeTIX]

Tom Flanagan @ Le Cascadeur

3:30pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

The queue snaking around the side of Le Cascadeur is long; thankfully the sun is hiding behind thick cloud cover. As we file into Cinema Kaput, Tom Flanagan – ex-Circus Oz and Tom Tom Crew – announces each individual admittance by ringing a bell and stamping their ticket (or arm), stilted and curious in his quaint 30’s-ish garb. The venue is packed, and I’m mildly annoyed that a family has commandeered my usual Casca-Hidey-Hole. Still, the back row provides back support too, and – thankfully – not much of Flanagan’s act is performed low down; it’s definitely a friendly performance for the space.

After sprinkling the audience with popcorn, Flanagan – with short, sharp movements that evoke memories of Chaplin – prepares for the crux of the performance; the film for which we have gathered in Cinema Kaput. The projector craps out; in attempting to fix the projector, Flanagan inadvertently pokes a hole in the cinema screen. In attempting to fix the hole, he creates a bigger hole; in attempting to fix that, he trashes the screen completely. Then the projector starts losing its magic smoke, and he’s left with no alternative but to drag a pretty member of the audience up to help act out the movie: “Love Story”.

Kaput was a real surprise. Given Flanagan’s tremendous acrobatic background (and I think I saw him in Circus vs. Sideshow, too), one would’ve expected a more high-energy affair, chock-full of dangerous balances and tumbles. But Kaput is more about slapstick and old-school playing-for-laughs than it is spectacle; sure, there’s the odd trick here and there (the ladder entanglement was really well integrated into the script, and the raining-umbrella trick at the end was well done too – on the fourth attempt), but it largely relied on his bumbling nature.

That’s not to take anything away from Flanagan, however: it’s a charming performance, and his handling of the audience – whether it was the mocking sneers to the child that always laughed loudly at his misfortunes, or the corralling of his (beautiful) audience mark – was smooth as silk. Kaput proved to be a delightful, family-friendly experience, and one that should broaden Flanagan’s reach as a performer.

[2012013] Swamp Juice

[2012013] Swamp Juice [FringeTIX]

Bunk Puppets @ Umbrella Revolution

2:30pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012

Thankfully it’s not as hot this afternoon as it was yesterday, though there’s still a bit of bite to the sun; the Umbrella Revolution still has a bit of heat in it, however, and the air-con isn’t having a significant impact on the stickiness in the air.

I read my flyer as I follow the masses of parents and kids in: “This show may frighten viewers under 7 yrs,” it says, and I wonder how many of the toddlers’ parents read that.

I swap seats a few times in an amiable attempt to keep all the parents and kids happy; staff are trying to squeeze everyone into the floor area of the Revolution, it’s getting pretty full, and they’re all going to be struggling a bit with the heat… and I’m half-worried that Mr Bunk may be as ill-prepared as his Friday night show was.

I shouldn’t have been worried, of course; Swamp Juice is a return of last year’s show (which I sadly couldn’t squeeze in), so both Mr Bunk and his techs have their schtick down cold. Bunk’s principle contraption gives him three performance spaces; a foot-operated switch allows him to swap between three lamps that project the appropriate space’s shadows onto the screen. And, from the moment Bunk comically waddles in through the crowd to his final bow, he’s constantly checking in with the audience – explaining plot points in that odd Yoda-ish voice of his, and bowing for applause at the end of each scene – a clever touch that keeps the kids’ interest levels up.

As for the story itself – well, it’s actually a bit of a sinister affair. A man – or is it a troll? – wants to capture a bird (“Here, Birdy-birdy,” he growls constantly), so he works up the bird’s food-chain – starting with snails. And when the spiky-snail took to the screen and started gruffly berating the smaller, smooth snail, a wail went up from a youngster in the audience. An articulate youngster. The second wail, which dominated any sound coming from the sound system, told everyone the problem: “I don’t like him! He scares me!” she screamed, and the adults chuckled in appreciation of the child’s frankness as its parent leads it from the tent.

The man eventually captures Birdy, and they aim to row a boat to another island in the swamp; they’re swallowed by a shark, however, and there’s a great bit of shadow-puppetry in the escape sequence, followed by a chase sequence – in shadow-projected 3D! The 3D effect – even whilst wearing the red/blue glasses over my own ocular assistance – proved surprisingly effective, with the children in the audience constantly exclaiming in surprise as Bunk swooped objects towards them. And it’s all wrapped up in a feel-good ending.

The style of Bunk’s puppets is instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen his other shows, with clean shadow-friendly shapes and expressive eyes. And Bunk’s use of his own form – snails chomp on the “grass” of his hair, and his arm forms a “hairy snake” – is vocally highlighted to the audience, who titter in appreciation. And his bits of audience participation – getting the aisle-bound to hold up objects which he would roam between, creating shadow-action with a small puppet and a torch – was really well done.

But I was surprised at just how scary and violent Swamp Juice was; it’s all comically performed, of course, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the parents who ignored the warning on the flyer may have been a bit more concerned. But that’s their problem: I loved Swamp Juice, both for the creativity of Mr Bunk and for the reactions of the kids in the audience.

[2012012] Tom Thum

[2012012] Tom Thum [FringeTIX]

Tom Thum @ The Deluxe

9:45pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012

Felicity Ward runs late, and I run through the horde of pissed people to get to Tom Thum. The dregs of the line are poking out of the Deluxe when I arrive; I’m at the very end. I follow the line in, and the place is packed; I go to the directing usher, and he points me to a booth that has four people huddled within. “Just sit at the end of the booth,” the usher says; I ask the residents permission, they affirm with a friendly nod, and I take a grateful seat… elevated, central, and with a clear and unimpeded view of the stage.

I feel like the luckiest man alive.

The usher returns, and leans in to the booth’s original occupants – “Would you guys mind moving to another booth? It’s sold out here tonight.” One of the woman is taken aback; “No way,” she says, “we queued for ages for this.” The usher leaves, and the group chuckle amongst themselves. “Fucking latecomers,” she jokes. “Hey!” I exclaim in mock pain, “I’m sitting right here!” We all have a laugh.

When the house lights drop, the audience starts cheering with excitement – there’s a tangible sense of anticipation in the air. When Tom Thum appears, microphone in hand, he smiles, takes a bow, and leaps into one of the most intense pieces I’ve heard him perform – fast and dense, his beatboxing defies description as he conjures up sounds so realistic, and effectively multi-tracks them so deeply, that it genuinely appears impossible.

And when this piece is over, and the microphone moves further from his face, Tom Thum appears to be… well, just a normal guy. He smiles and waves to the crowd with a glint in his eye that suggests that he can’t really believe that this is happening. And when he speaks, talking of the episodic nature of his life – on the road, or living with his parents – there’s a sense of the everyman about him. He knows what he can do, yet he remains remarkably humble.

He explains that the entire show is performed without backing tracks, that all the sound you we were to hear that evening was produced by his voice; fair enough, and true to a large extent. But then he introduces us to his set of three Kaoss Pads, which are projected (with an annoying significant delay) onto a video screen so that the audience can follow how he uses them… and these three Pads are used to sample, loop, and add reverb to the noises that he produces.

And, all of a sudden, a little of the magic is gone.

Because when he creates elaborate aural constructions using the loops and samples, I’m left thinking “this is pretty good… but you could do ninety percent of this unassisted. And that is what I want to hear.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love a bit of live looping… I love hearing a track develop and vary by tweaking the samples and loop segments. But this guy is so much more than a loop manipulator…

I guess that reveals some of the trepidation I felt before coming to this show. I’d loved Thum’s bits in previous Tom Tom Crew shows (except for the spray-painting in the Tom Tom Club), but I was wondering how he’d pad those stunning snippets out to a full hour of content.

So there were a few pieces using the Kaoss Pads. There was the brilliantBreaking The Habit” mockumentary, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and featuring snippets from Ben Walsh. There was a pretty cool recreation of the sound effects and music from the opening scenes of The Terminator (or rather, The Tominator). And Thum tried to get a reluctant audience involved as the backing track for Billie Jean.

But I couldn’t shake the fact that I’d heard Thum perform that song solo. And whilst audience participation is (occasionally) fun, I’d much rather someone talented use that talent.

In the end, this performance is entertaining – but it lacks the intensity and impact of earlier Tom Tom Crew performances. That’s understandable, given that Thum is performing solo now, but it just feels like he’s spread himself too thin. A half-hour edit of this show would be pretty bloody impressive, though.

[2012011] Felicity Ward in The Hedgehog Dilemma

[2012011] Felicity Ward in The Hedgehog Dilemma [FringeTIX]

Felicity Ward @ Le Cascadeur

8:30pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012

Le Cascadeur is looking pretty chockers once everyone squeezes in, and we’re running about twenty minutes late – which has me nervous, because I’ve got a fifteen minute gap between this show and the next, and I’m nervous about having to rely on The Garden’s loose definition of “on time”.

I’m safely ensconced in my favourite hidey-hole in Le Casca, and in front of me there’s a group of people discussing who to blame “if she’s shit… I’ve never heard of her.” One of the group – let’s call her SozzledGirl – notices that I’ve got a backrest, and sits next to me. “I’ve got lower back problems. Hey – I love the eighties,” she slurs to me when she hears The Power of Love being played, “what’s this song called?” I tell her the name, mention that it’s by Huey Lewis and The News, and throw in the snippet that it was one of three chart-topping songs with the same name within 18 months of each other. She relays the information to her friends – “this guy knows everything about the eighties” – and then proceeds to tell me she loves comedy… but fails to come up with any names of comedians she likes. As soon as the house lights dropped, SozzledGirl decided to touch up her lipstick, using her phone to provide illumination.

Felicity Ward pops onstage wearing a sleek wedding dress – her wedding dress, she assures us, before she takes a step back and talks about The Hedgehog Dilemma. The Dilemma, she explains, was not to do with the perils of spiky-animal sex (though she has a hilarious callback to that premise late in the show), but a term coined by Freud to describe a fear of human emotional intimacy.

And “emotional intimacy” forms the backbone of this performance, as Felicity recounts the breakdown of her eight-year relationship three weeks before their wedding, coupled with her battle with alcoholism and fractured family interactions. There’s an ascension as she travels to Edinburgh and has a wonderful encounter with a new beau; there’s heartbreak when he rejects her over distance. But then there’s the complete and utter joy that forms the tail of the show that makes you want to stand and applaud and scream in support of Felicity… it really is a lovely finish.

The Hedgehog Dilemma is a wonderfully constructed show – a consistent theme, great pacing, and some glorious twisting callbacks. And Felicity is just flat-out funny – her slight frame lends itself to an awkward physicality that she leverages wonderfully, and her ability to drift into different characters and voices is sublime – her sexy therapist voice and mannerisms are proper horn material. At first I was a little disappointed that it lacked the fractured manner of her earlier shows, but it’s just so well written that it doesn’t matter. And on this, the very first night that this show was performed, Felicity was on song – even with the mistimed audio cues, she made everything look intentional… and managed to turn a deeply personal tale into a torrent of cathartic laughter.

Make no mistake, this show is Felicity’s therapy now, and it’s incredibly brave of her to offer it up for all to see; but her confidence and talent just makes it all work, and there’s plenty of connection with the audience (well, there was for me, anyway). And I left the show elated… because this was one of the best stand-up shows I’ve seen for years.

Oh – and SozzledGirl? She reapplied lipstick three times during the show, constantly checked her phone, and spent a large amount of time looking for stuff on the floor. And kept asking me what words like “sporadic” meant. Bless.

[2012010] Theatergroep WAK – LevelLess

[2012010] Theatergroep WAK – LevelLess [FringeTIX]

Theatergroep WAK @ The Big Brown Thing In The Garden

7:30pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012

Theatergroep WAK’s breakout effort last year, Nothing Is Really Difficult, left me with a real love/hate feeling… but I’ve been thinking that this year is The Year of Second Chances, and the Dutch lads deserve another go at least.

The installation for LevelLess is certainly big and imposing up close, but nestled in its location atop the hill, it’s almost hidden. There’s no madcap spruiking this time, just a quiet girl in the ticket booth who tells me to line up just behind her.

Eventually we’re permitted entry into the wooden structure, and it’s very curious inside: the stepped seats are reminiscent of last year’s construction, but the “nose” of the structure is actually a smooth, sloped floor. With the seating area maybe two-thirds full, the door shuts behind us, and the room plunges to darkness; blue fluoro lights lining the vertical supports of the nose light up, and there’s the tangible feeling that we’re staring into the dark over an incalculable distance. It’s quite humbling: one of those “we are tiny and insignificant” moments.

There’s a cold, dispassionate voice-over: it seems to hint that we’re inside the Large Hadron Collider. Suddenly we hear the sound of sliding; three men, clad in white hazmat suits, slide backwards from the top of the nose into our view. With their backs to us, they start (semi-moon-)walking up the slope; it’s a convincing effect, watching them walk into the distance.

The lights go out again; a bright blue light appears “in the distance”, and slowly comes towards us, blinding. It drifts away again, and we see three red dots on the floor, far away; blue dots start orbiting the red, spinning slowly at first but increasing in speed as they come towards us. The dots are controlled by the men: red by lasers attached to their belts, blue by handheld devices. It’s hypnotic to watch, and I begin to imagine that we’re watching atoms and their electrons interact.

But then a sudden change – the lights come on, and the men now appear to be mechanics. There’s a few elements of slapstick in their interactions as they smack each other in the face with a panel door and tumble through trapdoors; some ludicrous beards and a guitar come from nowhere for no discernible reason. More blue light, a big pink thing oozing towards us from The Distance, and then a curtain in the nose of the structure blows out: sunlight streams in, spreading down the length of the structure and surrounding everyone in a glorious golden halo.

And the men re-appear, and take a bow. The show is over.

Right. So… ummmmm.

LevelLess didn’t gel for me… at all. Where Nothing Is Really Difficult is very much a tale of two halves, LevelLess felt like a collection of fragments, only some of which had a tangible connection to others. Their only commonality was that they all occurred within the structure… and the structure is very much the star of the show.

Without wanting to quibble over labels, LevelLess doesn’t feel like a theatre piece; it’s an installation performance. And whilst that installation allowed many neat snippets to be performed within it, it felt like there was too much cruft for me to go away a happy camper. And that makes me a bit sad, really, because the opening walk, and the atom chase, and the rolling tubes that sound like a million footsteps, and the halos… they are all magical moments. The other thirty minutes, though, felt pointless and confusing.

[2012009] The Magnets – Gobsmacked!

[2012009] The Magnets – Gobsmacked! [FringeTIX]

The Magnets @ The Vagabond

3:00pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012

I’d forgotten that 35 degrees is pretty bloody hot – especially when you’re a tent like The Vagabond. I don’t know whether it lacks the air-conditioning of other venues in the Garden, or whether it was turned off to minimise aural disruption to the show, but it was like a sauna in there – especially since the staff were attempting to herd the audience into the pit at the centre of The Vagabond, rather than let them settle in the raised and raked seated sections. I spied a single seat in the front row, far stage left; bad move. I think I was cooked by the heat radiating off the raised section of the stage itself, but at least I was mollified by the knowledge that I was going to be in a great position to see the guys onstage deal with the heat.

With minimal fanfare, The Magnets open with a gorgeous sounding harmony between Stephen Trowell, Nicolas Doodson, James Fortune, and Michael Welton; Fraser Collins joins in, adding his wonderfully smooth bass, and then Andy Frost’s beatboxing kicks in… and they’re away, ploughing through straight covers (Blondie’s Call Me) to some clever mash-ups (Blur’s Girls And Boys gets a hint of Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood (speaking of which, why has no-one done an a cappella version of 19-2000?), and there’s a curious Lenny Kravitz / Fatboy Slim pairing, too). The sextet pares down for my highlight, a wonderfully sparse All Shook Up. They cap off the show by giving the audience the option of an A-to-Z compendium of song snippets – today’s audience opted for the category of movies (as opposed to bands, unfortunately), and the boys rapid-fired through twenty-six movie-related song snippets before returning to The A-Team.

This is a stripped-down version of The Magnets’ full ninety-minute show, but it’s impossible to see the seams. On top of the sterling a cappella singing (and beatboxing), the boys accentuate their efforts with a well-choreographed set of boy-band moves; there’s a few little bits of audience interaction, too (the Call Me serenade went to a woman three seats from me). And, in terms of song choices, the only mis-step (in my opinion) was their attack on Livin’ On A Prayer – the arrangement, in comparison to other tunes, seemed perfunctory, the key change jarring. Having said that, their website indicates that the rendition is an audience favourite…

…and that’s part of the problem of me writing this post, I reckon. Because – and I want to be quite clear on this – I’m not being needlessly contrary when I say that I didn’t find The Magnets to be as appealing as everyone else in The Vagabond that afternoon. I felt there was a real two-sided split in the staging: it almost seemed like there was a distinct Rhythm Section (Fraser Collins “on” bass, and Andy Frost beatboxing) and The Harmonies (with key arranger Stephen Trowell a little taller than the other three) – and never the twain shall meet (except when Fraser pops in for some comedy bass-relief). And, despite the technical mastery that is on display, Frost’s beatbox solo is nowhere near as jaw-dropping as previous encounters with Tom Thum.

Don’t get me wrong – I thought this was a technically amazing performance. I can totally understand why some people may leave The Magnets convinced that they’d just seen the most brilliant show ever. I just wasn’t… y’know… moved. I gave myself every opportunity to like what was presented to me, but I just couldn’t feel it.

They are all bloody brilliant singers, though.

[2012008] Simon Pampena in The Maths Olympics

[2012008] Simon Pampena in The Maths Olympics [FringeTIX]

Simon Pampena @ Le Cascadeur

2:00pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012

Having seen Simon Pampena’s show last year, I remarked that I was a bit underwhelmed by the content of the show; but there was enough potential in Pampena – and, more importantly, enough hope in me – to warrant a Second Chance, and inclusion on The Shortlist.

But, as I waited in the shade by the side of Le Cascadeur, my hope dissipated a bit: as Pampena performed his soundcheck, all I could hear outside was material from last year’s show. And I became a bit worried – had I just signed up for a repeat performance under a different name?

There was a pretty reasonable crowd in – maybe thirty or forty people – and as soon as we were settled Pampena came storming in, his Australian-flag cape flowing behind him. Accompanied by his faithful PowerPoint presentation, he opens with a brief description of the Maths Olympics, throws in his rendition of Brainiac, then ducks back to the Australian love of sport as linking material… leading to Olympic medal tally results, and the dubious Jamaican “joke”.

And, at that point, about ninety percent of the material was completely familiar to me. I was disheartened, to say the least.

But then some new material appeared; Pampena returned to the Maths Olympics, showing off a number of the “sexy” contestants and country statistics, and applied the same comparison that he’d used with the Olympic medals – a nice touch. There was a pretty funny mock-ad for the fictitious Pythagora’s Theorem TV show, and he grabbed the rowdiest crowd member for a bit of Sudoku action (using AFL teams instead of numbers). There’s a few more rap songs, and the youngster in the front row got to dress up as Pi-Man – and was asked to solve a rearrangement of Euler’s Identity (a real Maths Olympics question).

So, despite being initially disappointed, I left The Maths Olympics reasonably happy I’d given Pampena a Second Chance. Though the material was still a little patchy, and the delivery sometimes veered into uncomfortable territory, it was a much more satisfying performance than last year’s effort. But it’s very much aimed at the more junior mathematicians, and the comedic aspects aren’t strong enough by themselves… so I’m not sure I’ll be prioritising Pampena’s Third Chance.