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.

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.

2. 19 Weeks

19 weeksTo put it simply, 19 Weeks is extraordinary. When her unborn baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Emily Steel decided to terminate her pregnancy, and this is a retelling of the events and factors that led up to her decision and the impact this has had on her life. Steel is very honest with her experience and openly discusses the conflicting issues of not only terminating her baby, but also terminating a baby with a disability.
While this is Steel's story, performer Tiffany Knight takes it and really makes it her own. This feels like it is Knight's baby and Knight's life. Not once does she falter or does it feel like we are watching a performance.
The show takes place in a swimming pool, which conjures up a variety of potent imagery. There is the calmness of being out in the water and floating, but also drowning and of water being a giver and a taker of life. The red swimsuit that Knight wears is suggestive of blood and life and the description of the abortion procedure and the use of a red towel - so innocently picked up at first - is very symbolic.
The power of a show is evident when the entire audience knows how it is going to end, but their attention never wavers throughout the whole story. 

Click here for my interview with Emily Steel.  
3. Muniak Mulana

Muniak Mulana Interdisciplinary indigenous artists, Neil Morris and Brent Watkins, have created a captivating work exploring identity through loss, resilience and transformation.
Meaning 'Future Spirit', Muniak Mulana looks to the past, present and future of Indigenous culture and the strong connection that it has with the land on which the show takes place
The set, music and lighting in this production are a perfect example of the importance that design plays in supporting the actors. These elements draw you into the work. The natural landscape that is presented is comforting and inviting but there's a sense of it being enveloped and destroyed by the darkness that surrounds it and Russell Wong's lighting and Morris' sound design heighten these moods.
The blending of Morris' spoken word poetry, hip hop and storytelling along with Watkins' dancing and playing of the yidaki provide a complementary contrast of how two seemingly opposing ideas can still come together and produce something significant.

4. Queenz

QueenzWhen you are seeing a lot of shows, it can sometimes be hard to mentally be there for a 10:30pm weeknight performance. Queenz did not feature on my spreadsheet until an empty slot and a last burst of energy had me slinking in to the audience, and I am so glad I did.
Originally from Queensland, the three performers, Alexandra Hines, Kaitlyn Rogers and Emily Carr, have come together to showcase the refined culture that Queenslanders are known for. The show is littered with so many witty and smart references to theatre, privilege, feminism and art, that there is not a period of more than 30 seconds where I was not laughing out loud, be it a throw-away line to Optic Nerve Performance Group or their ongoing worship about their own Queen, Schapelle Corby.
While there may have been a few instances when the trio could not contain their own laughter or missed certain cues, this resulted in a very enthusiastic audience in that we are never quite sure what was going to happen next. The rapport the three work so hard at building with the audience pays off in the end with a joyous dance party and a spontaneous standing ovation (of sorts).

5. Untitled No. 7 - review

Untitled No. 7Telia Nevile returns to Melbourne Fringe with Untitled No. 7, a show that explores what it means to be successful and the pressures that we put on ourselves to meet these definitions, even if it's something that we don't personally want or agree with. 
Part fairy tale, part poetry and part something unexpected, Nevile introduces us to Darling, who is searching for a golden key that will open the door of possibilities and opportunities for her. While this is a story we've all heard before, Nevile's commanding use of language and words throughout, lift this story to become something fresh and exciting.
As the story continues and you feel like you know exactly where it’s going, Nevile (with some help from Bruce Samazan) flips it on its head and turns this fairy tale into an extremely personal story that instantly strikes a chord with everyone in the room. It is a powerful moment for all present.
There are a number of wonderful musical numbers in the show, but the stand out is "My Penis Is A Lighthouse" accompanied by some interpretive dancing that puts the 'fringe' in Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Click here for my interview with Telia Nevile.

6. Charles Horse Lays an Egg

Cam Venn – Charles Horse Lays an EggAfter his super successful Melbourne International Comedy Festival season, I knew I was in for a good time. While I knew very little of what the show consisted of, I had already been informed of its unique finale, and while I won't reveal what that is, should you not want to know, I will say it was one of the most mesmerising things I have ever seen and I could not look away. Ironically, this is the exact opposite reaction that most people have had to it.
But apart from that ending, Cam Venn has crafted a truly bizarre story involving an astronaut investigating what has impacted with his ship, and giant chickens trying to take over the world. The time and effort he has undoubtedly put in designing and making his costumes and set props - some use for mere seconds - adds to the lo-fi aesthetic of the production. His spacesuit and all its compartments are particularly noteworthy and his assembly of the top scientists in the world (the audience) to prevent the Earth's destruction is well conceived.
Put simply, this is a masterful use of clowning and storytelling that has the audience wanting more, until we realise what more might actually mean

 7. Kilter - review

KilterUsing a never-before seen circus apparatus called a "slackboat", performers Charice Rust and Jonathan Morgan offer a refreshing perspective on what circus can be with their show Kilter. As with their previous shows, Rust and Morgan's have proven they have a knack for taking a single piece of equipment and being able to not only construct an entire show out of it, but also to explore a theme or an issue.
With Kilter, it's about finding balance in life and the difficulty in maintaining that balance. The force, speed and size of the slackboat is the perfect representation of this with Rust and Morgan precariously balancing on it.
A stunning live score is also created on stage by Melbourne violinist beatsmith ORCHA, which adds a further layer of risk to what is being performed on stage.
While being impressed from watching the skill on display, Kilter is an opportunity for audiences to also take a moment and reflect on how balance is being achieved in our own lives.
8. Our Carnal Heartsreview

Our Carnal Hearts"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. 
The musical arrangements by Louise Mothersole that are performed by Miriam Crellin, Georgie Darvidis, Louisa Rankin and Mothersole, beautifully complement Mars’ storytelling, adding depth and emotion to the show.
The power of Our Carnal Hearts is its ability to have us engage with our envy and interact with it but also reminding us that we should be focusing on our happiness and not miss our own opportunities for happiness by being too concerned with what everyone else has.
Love your envy, but don't let it rule you. 

9.  The Boy, George - review

The Boy, GeorgeThe 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.

Livesey does a remarkable job in bringing this fictitious story of a living person to the stage. He finds great balance in showing that despite being a future King, George also happens to be a teenager who wants to talk about boys and Instagram. The writing is sharp and funny, and the history of the Royal Family is used well in furthering the story and providing context for George's motivations.

Click here for my interview with Patrick Livesey.

10. Purgastory - review

PURGASTORYThe brilliant team behind last year's Cactus and the Mime return with Purgastory, in which four interrelated stories about following your dreams are told over a period of time. While these stories are filled 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.
The pair have written some highly entertaining stories with equal doses of absurdist humour and emotional realism. The twists within each one are constantly unpredictable and try as you might guess how they will end, the rug is pulled out from under us each time, making us re-evaluate everything we have just seen and working away at how this piece fits into the bigger picture.
Spears and Favretto are definitely two performers to keep an eye on and am confident that they will become bigger and better with every show. 

Click here to read my interview with Caitlin Spears.
Honourable Mentions (because ten is never enough)

NICO - review
Dudebox - review
Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus - review
Dog Show - review
Two Animals [that don’t traditionally get along] 

And if you feel like a trip down memory lane, here are my top ten shows from the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

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