30 March 2009

A Company of Strangers

A Company of Strangers
Strut & Fret Productions
11 March 200
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, Spiegeltent

It didn’t take long among the company of strangers (and an old friend) to be reminded of the things that Adelaide does well.

Adelaide’s not just 1950s attitudes with great beer; this city knows how to create mouth-watering salt and pepper eggplant, affogatos and Fringe festivals. The Adelaide Fringe is the biggest on this side the world, because it’s the best. Audiences flock to shows; they see anything and everything – not because they’re among the arty farty “in” crowd, but because they know that taking a punt on a Fringe show is likely to be a lot of fun. And if the show sucks, they will enjoy it anyway, because they’ve paid and there’s still beer drinking and hanging around with the cool folk to be done.

Strut & Fret productions have captured the essence of the Adelaide Fringe in the Garden of Unearthly delights. Teenagers, dressed for nightclubs, line up alongside their grandparents, dressed for a possibly chilly evening, to get into the Garden. The food is delicious, the coffee is great, the bar has plenty of overpriced beer, the craft stalls are worth a look and there are more theatre spaces than you can count on both hands. I love the Spiegeltent when it sits by the Melbourne Arts Centre, but the tent feels at home in the Adelaide parklands.

Melbourne-based and world-travelling Martin Martini MC’s the Garden’s showpiece: A Company of Strangers. He declares Adelaide his favourite place to play – and it doesn’t take long to figure out why. This crowd doesn’t care about deconstructing the artistic merit of the piece– they want to enjoy the wackiness. So this show of strange people performing amongst the company of strangers is the perfect show for this perfect festival.

The company is a collection of wonderfully-odd musical cabaret performers. There’s no theme and no cohesion -it’s just meant to be fun.

The most-loved of the permanent strangers is the UK’s Le Gateau Chocolat. He knows that larger folk can appear svelte in flowing layers of black – so he has a collection of glossy, coloured lyrca body suits. With an opera-trained voice he belts out soprano-favourites as a bass and even has a play with Rhianna’s about an umbrella – whilst looking like a cockless telly tubby on acid. Drag is no longer a drag.

Lady Carol strums a ukulele and professes to be a “’lady” from Ireland. Her husky voice encourages the crowd to sing along, but she needs to decide if she is herself or her character on the stage.

Our own Paul Capsis should never be off a cabaret stage. Resplendent in red velvet he channels Janis Joplin and even sobers the mood with a composition co-written with Tim Freedman about his Nanna’s migration to Australia.

For all of the Strangers’ wonderfulness, none shone quite as blindingly as their special guest: Meow Meow. Lost in her own glamorous time-warp, Meow wraps herself around the audience and demands their support – literally. After forcing the audience to undress her she is carried to the stage with her thighs wrapped around the neck of the best looking man she could find. (I wonder if Mr Gateau is thinking of doing the same one night…)

With a temper rivalled only by her ego, Meow answer a less than modest “I know” to her rapturous applause. She thinks it’s for her, but we know it’s for someone else. Creator and character are so distanced that it’s hard to imagine them as one. Meow is too selfish to ever let us glimpse the woman behind her. She also knows that an illusion fails if we see the sleight of hand, and Meow’s magic would fade if we could see the work, the skill and the understanding of form that creates this exquisite parody.

A Company of Strangers is ideal Fringe fare. There are different special guests throughout the season, but be assured the Strangers will make you feel like you’re one of them in no time.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie MuddMalthouse Theatre
Arena Theatre Company
17 March 2009
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse

In recent years, playwright Lally Katz and director Chris Kohn have created some of the most fascinating and original independent theatre in town. Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd is the result of research grant, a commission from Malthouse and the resources of Arena Theatre - and I’m left wondering if this support has hindered their style.

Hours in the State Library reading room and searching through seemingly endless Tivoli memorabilia inspired the 1914 world of Melbourne vaudeville. Charlie Mudd’s theatre sits on the Swanston River, performing the same show every night to an empty audience. Act 1 may be as close to seeing pre-WW1 vaudeville as we are likely to get, with its exquisitely detailed design and recreations of bad vaudeville acts, all with a sprinkling of Katz darkness – of course.

It did feel like the story was just sprinkled around though. For all its authenticity, Act 1 played too much like a vaudeville sketch, with little character development and a surprising lack of mystery.
The terrific writing and originally dark stories emerged in Act 2, especially surrounding ventriloquist Maude and her search for love. The great stuff really stood out; the rest felt like padding. Hidden in the two and a half hour show is a remarkable 70-minute piece.

On stage, the relationships between characters felt dictated by plot, not character. The plot is brilliant, but the story doesn’t live until the characters make it real. I didn’t believe that Ethelyn (or Violet) loved Charlie or that Charlie loved Violet (or Ethelyn) and I didn’t believe that the magician believed that his magic was real. Whether it’s in the writing or not, the acting and direction have to make the characters choose their actions from their very real beliefs. The story feels forced if the love isn’t real.

The reality of the world was also questioned with an inconsistent performance style. What made a show like Katz/Kohn’s The Eisteddfod  soar was that the director and actors never let their audience doubt the reality of their naturally-absurd world. In Vaudeville, Christian O’Leary as Maude, and her wonderfully obscene dummy Doris, nailed the style, but others kept letting us into the “secret” that they were just playing pretend. During the after-show chat there was an active discussion among the actors about who they were performing to, and I realised why I was frustrated by otherwise great performances: the moment someone performed to the assembled Malthouse audience and not Mudd’s empty house, the onstage world died.

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd isn’t a bad way to spend an evening, but it isn’t the show it wants to be. Hopefully some time with an audience has let it settle and it will hit its stride as it heads into its last week.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Barb Dwyer

Barb Dwyer

Mickey D
Velocity Boy Productions

13 March 2009
Rhino Room

Adelaide creates many exceptionally funny, but ironically complex things: Don Dunstan’s pink shorts, the Mall’s Balls, Pie Floaters and Mickey D.

Mickey is welcomed in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa and anywhere he goes, but there’s nothing quite like watching a comedian in their home town – especially when their mum and dad have popped in to see why their pride and joy left home – and two very gorgeous year 10 girls are in the front row wearing the “Mickey D no #1 Fan” shirts” they made with a tube of glitter glue.

It was an honour to witness young Michael’s proudest moment ever. He saw the shirts, saw the girls, looked up and said, “Dad – I’ve made it!”

Barb Dwyer is Mickey‘s latest show. It‘s not about his mum - say it out loud if you didn‘t have a chuckle. Of course, it’s more than a nice bit of word play - but be warned that Mr Dwyer does play with some sharp and dangerous boundaries.

There are enough risk managed jokes out there; Mickey wants his audience to panic and continues to believe that you should be able to make fun of everything – even Victorian bushfires. Ok, still a bit too soon – so, it was onto the safer territory, like mindas, spastics, the time he broke his mum’s vagina...and Adelaide.

Over the next month, funny folk converge on Melbourne for the International Comedy Festival. Many are also at the Adelaide Fringe now and will open their Victorian shows convinced that Melbourne audiences love an Adelaide bagging. As many Comedy Fest punters have only been to Adelaide once – on a visit to an aunt, who lives in Paradise, when they were 12 – any joke that involves the words church, bogan or Rundle Mall tends to get a superior giggle. Mickey knows the secret though – you can only successfully make fun of Adelaide if you’ve lived there – and then you can gouge at the painfully truthful core. (And anyway, what would Victorians know – they killed Hooksie.)

Minda jokes may be central to Adelaide’s sense of humour. Just call someone a minda and you’ll know immediately if they are from the southern capital, due to their sniggering or embarrassed cringing.

Minda Incorporated provides care and support to intellectually disabled clients. Oh yes, callings someone a minda is making fun of the intellectually disabled. And if that’s where your jokes and insults end – well you’re just a bogan spaz. This is the core of Mickey D’s comedy – he viciously reveals the hypocrisy and bullshit surrounding this kind of insult. Sure, we can call someone a minda, but in doing so, we are really insulting the mindlessness of anyone who thinks that kind of insult is funny.

The minda jokes might not travel out of town, but Barb Dwyer is also about New Zealand, Thailand and Africa - and his Adelaide show really had to be about Adelaide.

Mickey knows he's home because he can’t have a meal in Rundle Street without seeing someone he went to school with, fought with or fucked. I knew I was back in Adelaide when I asked his mum if she was proud of her lad. She is – but worries that she “wasted all those (name of private boys school) school fees.” Trust me, Adelaide people are cacking themselves. (And don’t worry Mrs D – I’m sure my mum has said the same at some point.)

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

The Dark Party

The Dark Party
The Dirty Brothers Sideshow

11 March 2009
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, Le Cascadeur

The Dark Party is what Waiting for Godot might have been if Beckett had been brought up in a travelling circus.

Sometimes sideshow tricks do belong on the side and on the street, but the Dirty Brothers have brought their sword swallowing and nipple stretching into the theatre. The tricks are just as cringe-worthy and “ewww”able as ever, but they leap high above the tattooed throng with their old-fashioned use of character and story.

In flasher trench coats and faded clown faces, their sense of almost surreal pathos sets the mood, and each trick is placed within a character sketch, bringing a level of tension and comedy often missed in trick-based shows. Staple-gunning of the chest is tired, but when it’s a sad, fat bloke being forced to dance a hoola and make his plastic flower lei with a staple gun, its bitterness is endearing.

If sideshow is your thing, don’t miss The Dark Party, but you’re not into watching the eating of maggots, you might still love this for its irony, comedy and darkness.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

The Mad & Ugly Show

The Mad & Ugly Show

12 March 2009
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, Bosco Theatre

Best known for their eccentric and sometimes shocking street theatre, London’s Cocoloco warn that The Mad & Ugly Show is not for the faint hearted or children – a sure way to entice an Adelaide Fringe crowd into the theatre.

The ripping opening is on a screen, with a series of women of all shapes and ages (top half only) enduring a wax. By their pained, shocked and horrified reactions, there’s never any doubt about what hair is being removed, and I was expecting a show that explores the absurdity of the “mad” things people do to fix their “ugly” bits.

The first tantalising glimpse of the creators, Helen Statman and Trevor Stuart, is as mirror image Alices – now old, faded, and reciting the naughty nursery rhymes and poems that our grandparents might have avoided at story time. Supported by firm, but gentle audience interaction, the sinister Alices were a taste of Cocoloco’s ability to grab a stereotype and twist it into something far more interesting. Maybe it is about aging and holding onto beauty?

The use of the screen let the company play with ideas that are not an option on the street, such as a close up of a masturbating monkey – complete with the dodgy video commentary of “What does a monkey do with a handful of cum?” Thirteen-year-old boys on their first trip to Bali have more interesting and context-based clips on YouTube. So perhaps The Mad & Ugly Show is just a handful of wank

The theme continued with close ups of vaginas (one with ironic itchy, red lumps of post-wax re-growth) violently masturbating to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, sucking on a giant baby’s dummy or popping out a rubber dildo. Confronting taboos and pushing boundaries is going to grab my attention – but I couldn’t grasp the point of this. It wasn’t erotica, porn or art – and I wouldn’t call it theatre. There were laughs, but there’s a noticeable difference between an audience laugh of release and recognition and a laugh of discomfort.

Stuart and Statman’s sketches included the obligatory pulling a skateboard with cock, and more confronting characters like a pregnant woman’s musing about sucking a baby’s penis. Some of this struck an amazing balance between shock and content – but too much felt like it was there just for a reaction. Shock for the sake of shock – really isn’t shocking. I don’t think people left because they were shocked – they left because they were bored.

The most flabbergasting (and ironically, most interesting) part of The Mad & Ugly Show was the company’s show reel! What first seemed like a collection of wacky email pictures was photos of their street theatre. I’ve since looked at the same pics on their web page. Cocoloco’s street theatre looks incredible. It’s challenging, confronting and immediately funny. But why were these images included into their theatre show? They didn’t support anything on the stage - and they created disappointment because we saw hints of what they do well.

If Cocoloco are out on the streets – I’ll follow them throwing money, but The Mad & Ugly Show… well I guess it lived up to its name.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Potted Potter

Potted Potter
14 March 2009
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, The Pod

Two nerds have 70 minutes to tell the stories of all seven Harry Potter books to a sold-out audience of obsessive Harry Potter fans (myself included)...

Potter Potter was created by UK TV presenters Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. Dan and Jeff haven’t come down under, but secreted their sold-out-show spell to John Helier and David Ahmad for its journey to Oz.

And all should be keeping the list of ingredients and the magic word under Gringott’s protection, because Potted Potter is non-stop hilarity that young and old Potter fans lap up and non-potheads can still enjoy.

From a warthog (Hogwarts) gag, through to the perfect rendition of the Snape/Potter relationship, a Daniel Radcliffe/Equus reference, an audience participation game of Quiddich, and the final “Death and Camping” joke, Potted Potter never fails in its knowledge of the books (or the films), while ensuring that it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Helier and Ahmad’s are as irresistible as an all-you-can-eat afternoon in Honeydukes, while the script’s secret is its determination to be unexpected and fun. Harry’s story is really just the subplot, as the straight and nerdy book-guy is continually frustrated by his impulsive, inventive (and nerdy) mate, who thinks they might be performing Lord of the Rings (set in Narnia) and has spent all the money for hiring a cast on a dragon for book four.

The Adelaide shows are selling out (with about a 50:50 kid: adult ratio), but it’s on its way to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Don’t worry if your kids (or you) are still working their way through the series, as its fast and enough to miss any significant spoilers – except that it does end happily. If you’ve read them all three or four times, there is enough content to keep you enthralled and if you’ve thought of renting the DVD, come along and see what the fuss is about – and expect to stop at the library or the bookstore on your way home.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Jimmy Yukka and His Amazing Band

Somewhere along the spectrum of satire to rock god sits Jimmy Yukka.

Clad in leather high-pants, Yukka rips off his posh cream silk shirt to reveal a more working class Chesty Bonds. Never quite sure if he is serious about his art or totally taking the piss, the charismatic singer is joined by sidekick drummer Quick Sticks to complete Jimmy Yukka and His Amazing Band.

What Yukka lacks in musical prowess, he makes up for with originality and did-he-just-sing-that lyrics. He screams his way though the Eurythmics inspired “Love God” (“I look in the mirror and what do I see – a sexy mother fucker looking back at me”) and his UK hit “Lezbian Hedgehog”. His move down under is reflected in the bush-themed “Bitten by a spider” and “Mosquito”, but Yukka’s favourite topic is himself.

While “Rocket to Ecstasy” oozes rock ‘n’ roll ego, the crowd favourite is “My Space Blues” – an honest reflection of how the grunt and sweat of rock is being sucked away by social networking on the world wide web - “If it were my dog, I’d put it down; if it were my horse, I’d shoot it; But it’s MySpace, so I have to use it”.

Combining character and performance on a pub stage can be the difference between a good band and a popular band – but do we consider this type of performance theatre? Where is the line between the fiction of Hedwig and Freddie Mercury? There may not be a director and writer behind Yukka (yet...), but put The Amazing Band on at the Fringe Club or The Spiegletent and we’ll be swapping our long necks for wine glasses and calling it cabaret.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Salon de Dance

Salon de Dance
La Mama
Finucane & Smith

22 March 2009
La Mama Theatre

So you think you know dance? Forgive the television analogy,  but you don’t know squat until you’ve been to Salone de Dance.

I’ve written a lot this week about authenticity, originality and other words we bandy around in regard to art. All are difficult to define, but obvious when we see them. The cabaret/burlesque/butoh/gothic/ bloody-terrific creations of Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith continue to be both – and so much more.

LaMama is transformed into a back ally Kabaret with pale crushed-velvet table clothes, candles and swinging light blubs, highlighted with sips of bright green absinthe (that may have been crème de menthe) and carefree toasts to La Danse. If you bring some coins, you can even buy your own dance during the most perfect of intervals.

From the bizarre to the gorgeous, la tres French Maude Davey hosts the soiree’s collection – all in a space barely big enough for a full split (as Paul Cordeiro demonstrates with ease, in a pair of crucifix decorated undies). None is suitable for a prime time telly “competition” – and for that, I’ll have another swig of green liquor and declare Viva! This isn’t dance that’s rated by popularity; this is dance that breaks the rules and lets us see what lurks in the hearts and thoughts of the dancers.

Jess Love combines ease with distress en pointe – with hoops; Rob McCredie charms with freestyle in a tux; Yumi Umimare battles with a possessed coat; Codreiro shows us his god complex; Holly Durant and Harriet Ritchie burst some fantasies about tits; and Moira barely moves, but her partnership with the smoke from a cigarette makes me want to abandon a life of non-smoking.

The most complete piece of the night is The Banquet Room directed by Jackie. Recently performed in Japan, it was described by one reviewer as,” The most shocking dance I've ever seen in my life.” Its gothic inspired butoh style is exaggerated, extreme, unexpected and macabre; it’s everything that dance isn’t meant to be – and all the more wonderful for it.

Finucane and Smith productions welcome audiences into their world, which, for all its darkness and oddness, lets us feel the liberation of unhinged and unencumbered passion.

Great shows find audiences, so Salone de Danse (and its scrumptious partner The Feast of Argentina Gina Catalina ) are already sold out – but turn up early and there’s a good chance of getting a seat at the door.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Night Garden

Night Garden
My Darling Patricia

24 March 2009
Meat Market

Visually intricate, deliberately complex, and never dull, My Darling Patricia awakens our subconscious in their Night Garden dreamscape.

University-trained psychiatrists and weekend-market tarot readers believe that dreams reveal our deepest fears and secrets with obscure images; Jungians reveal universal connection through the shared symbolism of our dreams; and Freudians insist that we dream about our parents and our formative sexual experiences. All must approve of My Darling Patricia.

Night Garden is a tale for the theatre, where performance, puppetry and installation combine to explore the relationship of a mother and son in 1980s urban Australia. The iconic Aussie backyard images support the archetypal characters and evoke a sense of familiarity and comfort within the ominous darkness. Like our sleep-time stories, a delicate and blurred narrative symbolically exposes the disturbing truth of the soothing scenes, and the final moments force a re-assessment of all that went before it.

This is complex, intelligent theatrical story telling which allows the imaginations of its audience to fill in the gaps and create their own interpretations of the story. Vividly original images infuse the story with a life beyond its theme and if, like me, you yearn to explore our hidden and intricate shadows, a visit to the Night Garden can leave you shuddering with satisfaction, but its multiple paths can work against it by alienating and confusing those who prefer clear direction.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.


Hugh Hughes Productions
18 March 2009
North Melbourne Town Hall

After eight shows this week, I wanted to go home and watch bad telly, especially as the city was shaking again and the sky was filled with black hawk helicopters – but I saw Floating - and now I’m a bit in love with creator Hugh Hughes.

As artists, we strive for authenticity and originality in a creative world where it’s all been done before. As audiences, we crave connection and recognition that breaks away from the generic superficiality of “entertainment”. It’s rarely the technically perfect artists or the dazzlingly spectacular shows that we remember - rather it’s the creators who are brave enough to show us their hearts and souls and welcome the audience into their world.

Floating, is one of these shows. Presented by UK company Hoipolloi, it was created by artist Hugh Hughes in collaboration with Sioned Rowlands. Combining magical realism with direct intimacy, its themes of connection and disconnection, decision and choice resonate way beyond its Isle of Anglesey setting.

From the moment Rowlands, as Hughes’s Nain (grandmother), introduces Hughes, there is no us and them. Hugh and Sioned chat directly to the audience and explain what they are going to do. Both are instantly likeable, but aren’t afraid to temper their niceness with a bitter touch of hilarious condescension. To help us connect they hand around objects like Nain’s 1970s wrestling magazines, a blow up globe and a souvenir flag from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (you’ll get to practice saying it and if you want to be really smart – it means "The church of St Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St Tysilio's of the red cave). They even replay the beginning of the show for the benefit of a latecomer – after Hughes makes sure that there’s no resentment if they do so – because “a sense of resentment would be horrible”. (If only all shows would stop and check if the audience resented what they were doing…)

The design is as quaint as a sea-side tea house with a wooden food trolley holding the tech desk and a green doily hiding the harshness of the laptop computer, but the world created with slides, an overhead projector, the hidden laptop and their homemade props is more evocative and real than a Spielberg blockbuster.

The story is Hughes’s memories from the time he tried to leave his home of Anglesey in 1982, but an earthquake hit and the island was swept into the North Atlantic Ocean. (The rest of the world didn’t know about this because Margaret Thatcher was focussing attention on the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands.) And the irony that Melbourne experienced another tremor that afternoon was not lost on any of us.

The faults in Floating are irrelevant. It could be tightened and polished, but its imperfections might be the secret to its appeal. By trusting their hearts and trusting that audiences want to connect, Hughes and Rowands ignored the rules to create a perfect piece of theatre.

The Arts House program at the North Melbourne Town Hall continues to bring some of the most extraordinary performances to our city. Floating finishes on Sunday night, so don’t waste time thinking about it – just go.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.