Sunday 30 September 2018

Top 10 Shows at the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival

Another Melbourne Fringe Festival comes to an end. Another three weeks of sheer madness of trying to squeeze in as many shows as possible also comes to an end. While there was a stumble towards the end, I managed to get to 58 shows again this year.
As usual, so many shows I wished I could have gone and seen, but hopefully these will come back in some way, shape or form in the future. 
But as usual, it's not a Melbourne Fringe Festival (for me anyway) without compiling a list of my top ten shows, so here it is.
If the show was reviewed, you will find a link next to its name.
Enjoy! 

Hopefully I'll be fully recovered and raring to go for 2019!

1. Bighouse Dreaming

Bighouse DreamingIt's been less than 48 hours since I saw this show and the more I think about it and the issues it raises the more affecting it has become. Written and performed by Declan Furber Gillick, Bighouse Dreaming covers so much material in 60 minutes but does so with insight, authenticity and emotion with its look at black and white masculinity in Australia, the justice and prison systems and also the helplessness that people who want to help often feel. 
There's an outrage in the piece that flows out into the audience and the brutal scene between Gillick and Ross Daniel's as a corrections officer is difficult to watch and hear.
Gillick, Daniels and third cast member Sahil Saluja, deliver some of the strongest work I have seen in an ensemble in their portrayals of various characters throughout the work. Mark Wilson's direction maintains the integrity and the intensity of the work while allowing time for the audience to articulate their thoughts on what is happening.
If you missed this during Fringe, I feel certain that it won't be long before we see it again on our stages because this is a show that needs to be seen on our stages again.

Have You Tried Yoga? - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

But you don't look sick. You just need to keep a positive attitude. Have you tried not eating gluten? These are just a few of the 'helpful' suggestions from friends that countless people who have invisible (and visible) illnesses are recipients of. Have You Tried Yoga? is a performance piece created from verbatim interviews of people with disabilities, but also from performer and writer Rachel Edmonds' own experiences.

With a minimal set design and simple direction, Edmonds relies on the power of their words to tell this story - and it works. The isolation that people with disabilities often deal with is plainly shown in the recollection of an able-bodied friend who could not cope with Edmonds' accessibility needs and was eventually cut out of her life. 

Edmonds is very clear and direct with what they choose to cover in this show. Despite the frustration and anger that this work is based on, they do not rush nor do they lecture or force an opinion onto the audience. Instead, they speak to us, inform us of what it is like to be in their position when you are carted from doctor to doctor who can't figure out what is wrong with you. It's an opportunity for the audience to check themselves for subconscious discrimination and when their actions might have been patronising, insensitive or plain hurtful towards people with disabilities.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Dudebox - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

DudeboxAnything men can do, women can do better right? Except for maybe comedy. Which is why comedian and performer Kimberley Twiner has gathered a few of her nearest and dearest dudes to present 60 minutes of some hilarious dudes being hilarious dudes. Except the 'dudes' in Dudebox are all non-dudes and the show is in fact a patriarchal takedown of the attitudes that men hold towards women and even that women have towards each other.

Joining Twiner are some of the finest 'dudes" in the comedy scene consisting of Becky Lou, Selina Jenkins (Beau Heatbreaker), Fox Pflueger, Lily Fish, Sharnema Nougar, PO PO MO CO and the ever delightful The Travelling Sisters. Together they present wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking acts that has the entire room laughing out loud at their ingenuity.

Of particular note is the 'feminist' hens night complete with penis themed glasses, drink cups and accessories that culminates in a fantastic male striptease that could be taken right out of Magic Mike performed by talented burlesque performer Becky Lou. Twiner's artistic interpretation of Nicholson Street in her tradie act, expertly takes her time in setting the scene and carefully developing a character in a short amount ending with some brilliantly timed big dick energy.

Twink Ascending - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Image result for twink ascending
The modern gay man. Who is he? In his Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Twink Ascending, writer and performer Andy Johnston goes on a mission to uncover what it means to be a gay man today. Through a variety of theatrical styles, Johnston shines a light on issues such as body image, relationships, sex, and of course, dick pics.

The set and costume design by Dann Barber add a camp sci-fi dance floor aesthetic to the performance, which fits in nicely with the opening moments of the show. Curled up on the floor in the foetal position, Johnston is eventually born into a queer world and bombarded with catchphrases and comments you would come across on online dating apps.

Friday 28 September 2018

One Punch Wonder - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

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In One Punch Wonder, director and writer Amanda Crewes takes a fiercely honest and raw look at the impact of male violence and how masculinity is becoming synonymous with aggression and intimidation. 

The performance takes place in a boxing ring; it is the symbol of male dominance with the physical contact and the hostility that takes place inside. We are seated around the perimeter of the ring, like a cheering audience waiting for the punches and bloodshed. Except we never shout, we sit there, stunned by the performances and the material that is presented to us.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Deadweight. - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

The first thing you notice when walking into Deadweight. is the 6x6 pit of dirt that is set up. Then you see the bodies lying on the dirt. Despite their fatigued state, the struggle has only just begun. Using the story of Atlas, a Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity as a premise for the show, Rough Conduct's production explores of the impact of carrying on to burdens and emotional baggage and what happens when we release them. 

The cast in this show - Darcy Joyce Mcgaw, Chelsea Crosby, Jarryd Evison-Rose, Kyle Wright and Sarah Hartnell - literally thrown themselves into this performance with the physical demands met with vigour and passion. They wrestle, they drop, they fling themselves and they fly through the air. Combined with the feelings their actions convey, it is the complete representation of what it can be like to be unable to let go of the things that weigh us down: heart racing, constant exhaustion and extreme pain.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Death and Other Things - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Eidann Glover appears on stages dressed as a clown. Or it a mime? Or a goth? Really though, it doesn't matter. What matters is, she appears. Like Death winding its way through The Butterfly Club upstairs, then downstairs, turning the corner and there it is. In Death and Other Things, Glover shares stories and her thoughts around death and all the fun stuff surrounding it, like grief, power and anxiety. 

No sooner that Glover begins her cabaret with what feels like a quasi-therapy session, along with the assistance of her three-piece band and their variety of instruments, she decides to scrap it. Forget what you've just seen she tells us. It's her show, she can do whatever she wants. She has a better beginning for us and so she starts again, this time with a different act. Repeat. 

While the acts themselves are amusing and at times offer interesting interpretations on death and dying, the show requires a tighter structure to keep the flow going and to build its momentum. Death and Other Things needs to realise what its story is, what does it want to talk about and more importantly, what does it want its audience to feel when they are walking away. It went from topic to topic but felt like each one ignored everything that had come before it.

The Phoenix Rises: The Second Cuming of Juniper Wilde - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

It's time to ascend to a higher level with The Phoenix Rises: The Second Cuming of Juniper Wilde. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Juniper (created and performed by Alexandra Hines) has graciously agreed to help us all become more enlightened and open with ourselves and with each other. We are very fortunate to attend a heavily reduced version of her LA extravaganza, one that usually involves grand pianos, live animals and Lady Gaga. But in this small space above an Italian restaurant she has had to downsize much of her act to be able to share it with us, such is the giving and caring nature of Juniper Wilde.

Once Juniper makes sure that everyone is in the right place, i.e. has paid for the experience, she is ready to begin her lessons on self love, while at the same time showing us how amazingly talented and versatile she is as a performer. There are some great moments in The Phoenix Rises, including a pre-recorded scene involving helium balloons and a cameo by Rob Mills (in video only) and a well executed look at the power of silence, but on the whole, Hines seems to jump from one idea to another and never builds on what we have seen. For a show that is interested in building connections, there is too much disconnect in the work.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Purgastory - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

In their award winning show Cactus and the Mime, Prickly Silence told the story of a young couple's relationship and dreams. With their new show Purgastory, we now follow the stories of various characters across time who are all in pursuit of their own passions in life. While telling stories with rich character building and surprise narrative turns in the same vein as their first work, Purgastory also has Caitlin Spears and Roby Favretto creating an overarching narrative that weaves through the singular stories that are presented.

What is evident with Purgastory is the dedication and flair that Spears and Favretto have in bringing characters to life. While most only appear for roughly ten minutes, they are all committed performances and authentic portrayals. The first story is genuinely touching and it's nice to see that in his role of a woman, Favretto treats it just as serious as when he is later playing a man on a construction site. Spears is at her best as the sexist and homophobic spouting construction worker while still managing to make the audience care about him.

Monday 24 September 2018

Beasts - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

In 1974, three sisters were found dead in the desert region of Chile. They were tied together at the waist and hung near their home. To this day, speculation still exists as to what happened to them; if this was a suicide pact or something more sinister. Beasts tells the story of these sisters while also highlighting their struggle of holding on to what was dear to them when faced with roadblocks at every turn.

Alejandra Marin, Maria Paula Afanador and Samantha Urquijo-Garciaare portray the Quispe sisters, and they deliver strong performances, conveying much emotion and feeling through their body language and movement. Each actor shows the conflict that these sisters is experiencing, which while they each respond to it differently ultimately reach the same devastating end. 

At one point, the sisters discuss how the world outside of their land has changed as they attempt to explain the modern wonders of electricity and television to each other. They are later pressured by a trader to swap their warm, functional clothing for lighter, brighter clothes that people are embracing. This constant push-pull on tradition and modernisation leaves us questioning who the 'beasts' of this story actually are.

Dazza and Keif Go Viral - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

We all know behind every feminist is a great man. Right? If you're unconvinced then look no further than the case of the two teenage boys in Dazza and Keif Go Viral. Created and performed by Danni Ray and Keely Windre, the show follows two best mates who are accidentally thrust into the feminist limelight and their response to this new found fame and...responsibility.

Dazza and Keif are so realistically portrayed by Windre and Ray that it sometimes becomes a little frightening just how convincing they are. Their physicality, expressions and language are everything you would imagine such teenagers to behave like. Windre is at total ease with Dazza's obnoxiousness and loudness and Ray brings a more sensitive and grounded, but equally frustrating Keif to life.

Even with the demanding physical requirements of the show, the energy between the two never wanes. There may be great chemistry in the relationship between the boys but this is grounded in the chemistry between these two talented performers.

Sunday 23 September 2018

The Boy, George - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

The year is 2028 and it's been six days since the Queen died. King Charles is privately mourning her death, seemingly ignoring the fact that the monarchy's reign is about to be overthrown by the House of Commons. But 14-year-old Prince George has a few tricks up his sleeve to save the monarchy and ensure his rightful place as the future King.

Written and performed by Patrick Livesey, The Boy, George is a queer and satirical look at privilege, power, the struggle to hold on to it and what happens when the tables turn, and it's all fabulously seen through the eyes of the now 14-year-old Prince. The set and costume designs consist of a few select pieces that tell us all that we need to know about George; there is a chaise longue that he reclines on while wearing his pink pyjamas, pink robe and pink slippers. On the table next to him, incense burns with three framed photos of his 'Gods': The Queen, Princess Diana and his mother Kate.

While George adores these women, he has nothing but contempt for the men in his life. He sees them as weak minded and inept, so it's all fallen on his shoulders to save the monarchy. He attempts to record a video urging the citizens of England to retain the status quo, but for a number of reasons he is unable to complete this, partly because his thoughts turns to a fellow classmate at Eton College on whom he has a crush on.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Our Carnal Hearts - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

"Congratulations! I’m so happy for you.” How many times have we said that to people? When your colleague gets a promotion, when your friend buys a house, or when a family member gets engaged. But how often have we said it with a tinge of...well...envy. In Rachel Mars’ envy affirming Our Carnal Hearts, this very private emotion is put under the spotlight through a wondrous combination of storytelling, music and singing. 

Mars has the audience hooked from the second she walks into the performance space. She appears confident and relaxed, but her face hints at a cheeky playfulness. It doesn't take long for her mischief to become evident and subsequently spread into the audience, making interactions of sharing our bitterness towards out friends' successes and another involving two plastic chickens all the more entertaining.

Ross & Rachel - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Spoiler alert, when Ross and Rachel finally got together in Friends, there was much celebration from fans of the iconic TV show. After all, we'd been waiting ten years for this. Once the show was over, we assumed that that was their happy ending. They were meant for each other. But what happens when that happy ending doesn't come? James Fritz' Ross & Rachel picks up on this story ten years later and reveals that what we may have wanted back then could easily be what is slowly killing us now.

Fritz's play is intended to be performed by one actor in both roles. The transitions between characters occur instantly throughout and sometimes before a sentence has even been finished. This can make for a challenging narrative to follow, but the idea of losing one's self by being in a relationship is made abundantly clear. While this is told through the characters of Friends, it is still accessible for those who don't know the TV show as references to the show will appeal to fans but are vague enough that non-Friends fan will still be able to understand. Ross & Rachel isn't about the Friends, it's about two people who thought they were meant to be together.

Friday 21 September 2018

Never Ending Night - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

For years now, the Earth has been a site of devastation with humans now forced to live underground in various bunkers throughout the world. Cyprus Pod has been home to a community of people for 15 years, and all is as normal as can be until a Messenger arrives with a request for the pod to take on eight more people. With her, she brings three of the eight who are given the task to familiarise themselves with Cyprus Pod and endear themselves to the residents. With limited rations and space, the survivors must decide if they will allow these eight people to stay or turn them away. So begins Never Ending Night, an immersive theatre show presented by Libby Brockman and Russell Sims.

In this show, audience members are permitted to explore the pod and observe and listen to the various conversations happening between the residents, the Messenger and the Messenger’s guests. The nature of an immersive show such as this is that everyone will have a different experience depending on who they follow but the conclusion should provide enough information to put all the pieces of the puzzle together even if they have missed certain scenes. In this instance, I chose to shadow one of the messenger’s guests who tries to charm and manipulate his way into the pod. While initially an interesting character, his scenes and dialogue began to get slightly repetitive with his constant advances towards his female counterpart and in his belief that a place should be made for him because he is young, strong and fertile.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Dog Show - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

You know that saying 'it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game"? Yeah, forget that, because in this competition, it's all about the win. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Dog Show is a physical theatre performance scrutinising our obsession with winning, and while it might revolve around a dog show, it's the humans who are ultimately the ones being judged.

It's a dog eat dog world in this competition with Simone French, Alex Roe and Adam Ibrahim each taking on the role of a dog and its owner. The canines compete in various challenges and tests to determine which one will ultimately be hailed as the best in show. This includes being aggressively examined from head to toe for ideal leg length, desired weight, and flawless face and teeth by the judges. At other times, they are paraded around the audience, putting their best paw forward to the live score by drummer Cassandra Kumaschow that brings out the tension of the show while also leading the humour. Director Cassandra Fumi does a great job of creating much activity and chaos in such a confined space but never losing the purpose of this show.