Sunday 2 October 2016

Top 10 shows of 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival

Well, it's that time of year again! After seeing a mere 61 shows, here are my top ten shows of the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival. 
Admittedly, there are shows I really wanted to see but timing and life meant that I just couldn't make it work!
If the show was reviewed, you will find a link next to its name for more detailed thoughts and opinions. 

1. Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl - review

Winner of New Original Circus at the Festival, Jess Love's Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl is a great mix of circus, theatre and performance that explores her relationship with her family, particularly Love's affinity with her great, great, great, great grandmother Julia Mullins and her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
It is an incredibly touching show and the way Love explores her addiction through the circus acts is extremely skillful and emotive. 
One of the most striking visuals of the evening occurs when Love dresses up to resemble what Mullins might have worn back in her time, and presents a cheeky but touching homage to her distant relative.

Directed by Ursula Martinez, this was an undeniable favourite of mine three days into the Festival.

2. Terror Australis - review
I was very fortunate to get to see this show twice and it was just as much a fun and thrilling ride into the deep dark psyche of Australia as it was the first time.
Leah Shelton's Terror Australis is a combination of cabaret, burlesque, performance, comedy and dance and it is a show that never loses sight of what it is aiming for.
From the very beginning the laughs and the crudeness and the horrors of what Australia represents come thick and fast. The costuming and set design is a perfect example of when less is more and Shelton's comedic timing is just impeccable. Her Crocodile Dundee and Picnic At Hanging Rock scenes are ridiculously hilarious but the dingo routine is something else all-together!

3. Onstage Dating - review

Winner of the South Australia Tour Ready Award, Bron Batten's Onstage Dating is an entertaining look at the world of dating with a lot of heart. Having gone on 50 dates in the last year - that's real face-to-face dates - Batten has decided to explore this old-fashioned way of meeting people in real life by having a first date with a person live on stage. In a show that requires heavily in having the “right” audience volunteer, Batten could not have chosen any better than the one she chose on the night I attended: Alex, who works for the Greens and cries from joy as he is riding an electric motorcycle. There was a lot of swooning over Alex from everyone in the audience.
Batten's story telling is clear and to the point and her callbacks in the final moments of the show were just magnificent to see be acted out.

4. Dion - review

Dion. Oh Dion. Why'd you go and break my heart? After an amazing show at last year's Fringe Festival with Suburbia, the team at Gold Satino return with Dion, an epic "fuck off" homages to exes. Winner of Best Performance and Best Livework Experimental, the show is an exploration of first kisses, last kisses, fleeting moments, broken hearts and heartache; they are all experiences we've had and something we can all relate to.
The beauty of Gold Satino productions is that all scenes are open to interpretation: you give meaning and value to what you are seeing. Who these people are, where they have come from, where will they go? - it all depends on what you want to happen and how you choose to see it.

5. Saving Spiders - review

For many, life is just one big party of sex, drugs and good times. It's quite easy to live your life without any regrets or responsibilities. GRANITE's production of Saving Spiders looks at what happens when that stops and things can never go back to the way they were.
Zoe Boesen, Paul Blenheim, Ryan Jones and Leila Rodgers (who also wrote the show) stay committed and true to them the entire time.
Rodgers has written a compelling story that slowly draws you in to the mystery and as the narrative continues, takes a less linear path as we begin to go inside Tina’s (Boesen) mind and see how she is slowly unravelling. Brigid Gallacher’s skillful direction is a highlight of the show, particularly in the scenes that explore and expose the cold hard realities of Tina’s life in the present and how the party is well and truly over.

6. Vanishing Act

Winner of Best Cabaret, Vanishing Act is a show that that hooks you in from the very first second and doesn't let go until well after the lights have gone down.
Devised and performed by Vanishing Act duo, Rosie Clynes and Candace Miles, it explores the anxieties and worries of "vanishing" before you have had your opportunity to have your moment in the spotlight. There's a strong surreal and absurd feeling running through the show, which conjured some Lynch-ean imagery for me, adding to the beautiful weirdness of the whole production.
Clynes and Miles' voices are incredible and their arrangements of some well known pop-songs (and a dash of opera) are amazing. Along with musician, Zac Giles Pidd, the banter and chemistry between all three is fun and energised - who knew screaming could be so hilarious to watch!

7. The Maze - review

Presented by The Honeytrap, The Maze is an immersive production that puts you into the mind of a young woman as she walks home along at night. While the story is acted out in front of you, your headphones allow you to listen to the pre-recorded thoughts and conversations that Libby (Libby Brockman) has this evening.
As a young, white man, I've never had to worry about being alone, so it's unsettling to see this woman being harassed by several men and realising the constant awareness she needs to have in order to ensure her safety. 

I am also very conscious of the fact that I am following this woman and while she does not acknowledge me, I can't help but wonder what a creep I must look to anyone watching me watching her. As an audience member and reviewer, I am intently viewing the performance; to an outsider, I am some weirdo leering at a woman. A compelling and eye-opening experience.

8. Blind Spot - review

The third and final immersive/interactive performance in my top ten, and also winner of Best Performance, Daniel Santangeli's Blind Spot is an exploration of an incredible but little-known true crime story that occurred in Victoria in 1972.
Made for an audience of only two people at a time, the story begins at the ending and works its way back to the start. As we take on the persona of the two men, the story takes us to prison (where I finally learned how to punch), courtrooms and to their homes.
Performers, Elizabeth Millington and Kieran Law, manage the difficult task of not only taking on a number of characters throughout, but making sure that from their interactions with us their responses and reactions are appropriate while sticking to the overall narrative.
Some highly creative set designs and lighting designs within the space of the Northcote Town Hall allow the environment to envelop the audience and to increase the authenticity of this impressive show.

9. Jugg Life - review

You would think the fun of seeing jugglers keeping balls or pins in the air would run thin pretty fast, but circus performers Jugg Life duo Byron Hutton and Joe Fisher breathe amazing life into the art form with their highly engaging show, Jugg Life.
The incorporation of music, percussion and their innovation in challenging what juggling is, that makes this show a definite crowd-pleaser. Their routines involve both some precision timing and the maintaining of impeccable hand-eye coordination not only with themselves but also with each other, as objects are often passed back and forth while in mid-routine.
Hutton and Fisher have definitely set the bar on what juggling is and can be and I'm very eager to see where they take juggling to next.

10. BlaaQ Catt - review

Returning to Melbourne for an encore season, BlaaQ Catt is produced, written and performed by Maurial Spearim, and is a powerful performance and story about how far modern Australia has got to go to make right the wrongs it has committed against the original inhabitants of this land.
Spearim is superb in this role and no matter what she is doing; we cannot take our eyes of her. The complexity and range of emotions she displays throughout, switching from one to another, are a testament to the performance skills she possesses.BlaaQ Cat is an engaging and powerful piece of work that speaks volumes on the state of this country and our treatment of its people.

Honourable Mentions (because ten is never enough)

Between Two Lines (winner of Best Words and Ideas) - Theatre Press review
Cosmonaut - review
The Thick Of It - review
How Can You Sleep At Night (winner of Best Emerging Writer) - review
Mama Alto Extravaganza (winner of Outstanding Access Award)

And if you feel like a trip down memory lane, here are my top ten shows from the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival...  

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