Thursday, 19 September 2019

Batmania, Expo’19 - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Nothing gets a community more excited than an expo. Well at least that’s the case for Batmania when its finest and brightest come together to promote the simple life this lucky country has to offer. Everyone is welcome, just make sure you’re a fair dinkum, dinky di, true blue Aussie. Presented by The Very Good Looking Initiative, Batmania, Expo ‘19 is half of its Batmania productions at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, with the other being its sold-out Batmania,The Bus Tour.

There are some entertaining sketches taking place in Expo, ‘19, however it fails to live up to its promise of being an immersive experience. Apart from the first five minutes we are an entirely passive audience with no opportunity to interact with the world or its residents. We witness a number of speeches and performances that go on for far longer than they should, but we are always on the sidelines and never involved.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

I Was Birthed From An Egg In A Crater On Uranus - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

You can often forgive work for being a little rough around the edges if effort has been made, but with I Was Birthed From An Egg In A Crater On Uranus, it feels like creator and performer Eidann Glover has hashed something up very quickly and without much thought going into the show’s content.

We are told by a narrator and by the show’s title, that our protagonist, EIDANN, was birthed from an egg in a crater on Uranus. Now living on Earth, they find it hard to settle and be connected to the humans around them. Instead of taking the time to flesh out the character, Glover resorts to playing inane word games determining whether a word is a jargon expression or not. Just over halfway, EIDANN reveals a secret that undermines the flimsy world that has already been created and the finale results in nothing beyond a surface level, generic look at attempting to be part of this world, making EIDANN’s resolution unearned and unsatisfying.

However, Glover has a good singing voice and her musical numbers are a high point of the production. Her costume design is also quite fun, covered in balloons and various other craft items and she uses this to good comedic effect.

Let Meowt! - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Have you ever wondered what your pets get up to when you’re not home? In the absurdist comedy Let Meowt!, every act you’ve suspected your pets of doing but were unable to accuse them of is proven true when two cats find themselves locked in their owner’s bathroom. Created and performed by Catherine Holder and Laura Moran, the show is a wacky attempt at what happens when animals go wild while examining the odd behavior of humans, but it is unable to get there. 

Holder and Moran remain committed in their impersonations of cats, with movement, facial expression and voice being constant and in line with what you would imagine a human playing a cat would look and sound like. Their costumes are simple but one glaring omission is the lack of tails on Cinnamon and Pepper. 

The performances might be amusing but unfortunately the rest of this production does not fare up as well. Cinnamon and Pepper may be locked in a bathroom but there is no narrative progression, no suspense and very little comedy. There are many moments that should be funny but the humour never lands or it becomes repetitive; there’s only so long one can watch cats scratching maniacally at a door or discovering the strange items their owner uses on her face and body.

La Nonna - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

There is nothing more important to an Italian than family and food. In his cabaret show La Nonna, Samuel Dariol presents a homage to his grandmother that is full of love, warmth and admiration. Dariol recreates moments of her life that have led her to be where she is now and that have also led him to where he is now. Incorporating song, storytelling and plenty of food, he explores how his queerness connects with his nonna’s migrant experience and how this has formed part of his identity.

Dariol's selection of songs perfectly encapsulate the emotions his nonna is feeling at those moments, such as the abusive relationship she found herself in and how she coped with her new found independence after her husband moved back to Italy. Dariol uses these songs in a way that changes their original meanings, making them sound fresh and exciting. His cover of “Feeling Good” (previously covered by Michael Bublé) is sung from the violent perspective of his grandfather, which is then followed by Tina Arena’s “Chains”, putting the focus on the fallout of the end of this relationship.

Wearing a big black wig and a blood-red dress, Dariol takes on the role of his nonna and he does so with extreme attention to detail in how she moves, walks and talks. This is further made evident when he briefly becomes his grandfather with the intimidating and aggressive physicality he adopts. He has gone to painstaking efforts to replicate the ambience of a traditional Italian kitchen with his nonna spending her time preparing salami, soup and offering us - her guests - a constant stream of food. Mangia mangia she exclaims.

There is an immense respect that Dariol has for his nonna and the stories he chooses to tell keep us interested in this woman colourful life. However, the show falls short on examining exactly how these events tie in with Dariol’s queerness. As entertaining as they are, you can’t help but question how his nonna’s Tombola nights with friends and shopping at Preston Market relate to Dariol’s attempts in defining his queerness. Even though he touches on this towards the end, seeing how this links to her life throughout the work would allow it to develop into something more affecting and profound.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Dazza and Keif Go Viral in Space with Ya Mum - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

As a child, you're always told to dream big. Well for two boys in Craigieburn, their dream is pretty much as big as it gets. Created and performed by Danni Ray and Keely Windred, Dazza and Keif Go Viral in Space With Ya Mum sees the return of Dazza and Keif and the trials and tribulations that come with forever chasing hot chicks, seeking popularity and in this case, a ticket to the moon.

Frustrated with the lack of female talent around, the boys decide to enter the Penetrate the Sky competition to win one of twenty tickets to move to the moon. The result puts a strain on their relationship as they both must come face to face with some truths about themselves and in being honest with each other. The exploration of gender roles and identity through these characters is not only expressed in the story but also with its music and dance, which there is plenty of.

Railed - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Four cowboys hole themselves up in a saloon in the Wild Wild West after a successful bank robbery. The celebrations get rowdier and more outrageous as their drinking continues and when your four gang members just happen to be highly accomplished circus performers you never quite know what they're going to do next. Railed is an exhilarating and unpredictable ride of acrobatics and strength with generous doses of laughter presented by Head First Acrobats. 

The show remains grounded in comedy while showcasing the troupe's talents and skills with acts like Harley Timmerman on the cyr wheel and Cal Harris and his incredible acrobatics on a free-standing ladder. AJ Saltalamacchia is hugely entertaining as the inebriated and stumbling robber, getting himself into strife with the other three members. The more these men drink, the more weird shit becomes, including the appearance of a flirtatious horse (Adam O’Connor-McMahon) in search of his unicorn.

Sweet & Sour Dilemmas - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Chef Chung is the head chef of the Happy Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Gisborne where he spends his days preparing his famous sweet and sour pork dumplings, or what he refers to as White people Chinese food. Set entirely in the chef's kitchen, Sweet & Sour Dilemmas has Chef Chung questioning his decision to migrate to Australia with the approaching birth of his first child.

Partially based on his father's experience of moving to Australia, Brendan Wan finds great sensitivity in his retelling of a migrant story that we don't often hear about; Chef Chung lived a life of luxury and wealth but gave it all up when he came to Australia for love. The soon-to-be-father welcomes a new chef to his restaurant and amidst their training he begins to share his thoughts on uprooting his life and if it has actually been worth it.

Wan makes some considered observations on belonging and identity as Chef Kung grapples with the choice of moving back to Indonesia where there would be a sense of community and acceptance but life would be hard, and staying in Australia where everything is relatively easy despite constantly being seen as an "other". His cooking throughout the show plays as a reminder of his pride in his roots and culture but at the same time, it seems like the only acceptable employment for him is to work in a Chinese restaurant, where he puts on an accent to his customers and must beguile them with ancient stories about how his recipe for sweet and sour pork dumplings came to be.

Gone Girls - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop had to put up with a lot of crap during their time in politics. Facing a daily barrage of sexism and personal attacks, it would be enough to send someone over the edge. Written and performed by Patrick Livesey and Esther Myles, Gone Girls is an explosive queer retelling of what happens when these two powerful figures are pushed to their limits in a dark political comedy of what was and what could have been.

Livesey and Myles have clearly done their homework on these women. Their impersonations are very authentic while also knowing what parts of their personalities and mannerisms to heighten. Livesey has an absolute ball as the power suited wearing Gillard, particularly in his physicality and speech patterns. Myles, with the slightly more challenging task of becoming the stern-faced and pragmatic Bishop, brilliantly finds the subtleties of the woman who kept her mouth shut in an attempt to realise her dream of being leader of this country.

While the individual performances are great, the two need to ensure they are on equal footing and not outshining each other when sharing scenes. Being in drag allows Livesey to play Gillard in a more exaggerated way than Myles is afforded with Bishop. There are scenes together where the energy between the two political leaders feels unbalanced, including their Question Time lip-syncing "battle", but it is executed in a way that you can easily overlook this.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Winner of the Liverpool Poetry Slam 2018, spoken word performer and poet, Hideto Ambiguous brings his show, The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Hideto weaves a tale involving immigrants, exploitation and racism as we follow Benjamin, an undocumented immigrant, who is stuck working in a performance venue for an ungrateful employee who takes advantage of his situation. 

With no lighting, sound, set pieces or props, Hideto places everything on his own shoulders to engage the audience and for the most part he manages to do this quite well. His original songs and poems, including "Everyday Dissident", leave you considering the role we play - and have played - in embracing the "other", which is particularly fitting given the multicultural hotspot that is Melbourne. 

The main problem with this performance however, is the portrayal of the characters, with Benjamin and his boss Martin played as highly exaggerated caricatures. While this could work if it were only Martin to emphasise his cruelty, we are never able to sympathise with Benjamin because of this heightened comic effect. With Benjamin taking the role of narrator and this story being partially based on Hideto's own experiences, it feels like The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery is trying to do too many things for a story that relies on truth and simplicity. A more natural depiction of Benjamin would garner the emotional response that it sets to achieve and allow the conclusion to make a stronger statement to the audience.

Cafe Play! - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

The first thing I notice when I meet Catherine in a cafe in Coburg are six miniature bow ties laid out on the table in front of me. Before I have any time to register what is happening she jumps out of her chair, warmly welcomes me as if we are old friends and orders me a chai latte. And so begins this interactive and immersive Melbourne Fringe Festival show for an audience of one, Cafe Play!.

Created by Pearce Hessling and Catherine Holder, Cafe Play! is a thirty-minute 'catch-up' between two friends. I first encountered Holder's work at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival, with her one-on-one interactive show Sonder. Her care and attention to my needs then were impressive and in Cafe Play! that same level of attention is present, albeit in a very different environment. She does a great job of making me feel like an equal in this conversation while guiding and driving the narrative.

Circus-Cision - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Created by Head First Acrobats, Circus-Cision is a circus variety night full of exhilarating acts and cheeky fun. The renowned company has pulled together a number of performers who they regard as a cut above the rest to delight and dazzle audiences, and on the evening I attended, they more than lived up to those expectations.

Dressed in a sparkling eye (and hand)-grabbing costume, Chelsea Angel opens the show with a lively hula-hoop act that sets the bar for the rest of the evening. The dapperly dressed Adam O’Connor-McMahon provides some speedy hat juggling entertainment while AJ Saltalamacchia performs an edge-of-your-seat balancing act on four chairs, which finds a suspenseful (but safe) way to include some audience participation.

O’Connor-McMahon returns with fellow Head First Acrobats ensemble members, Harley Timmerman and Cal Harris who once more throw their hats in the ring, along with the rest of their clothes. The trio perform a comedic ballet that even though has been seen before, there is a distinct Head First Acrobats spin on how it's executed that is not only true to their unique style of circus humour but also gives it some fresh appeal.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Batmania, The Bus Tour - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

It’s said to be the newest and most popular holiday destination in town, so when an opportunity to visit Batmania with an exclusive bus tour presents itself, it’s impossible to say no. Presented by The Very Good Looking Initiative, Batmania, The Bus Tour continues this acclaimed company’s experimental approach to creating dark comedy that feels so wrong but so right at the same time.

It’s difficult to talk about a show that relies so much on surprising its audience and subverting expectations, so it’s safer to stick to describing the first half of this 90-minute immersive production.  After a cameo from Sandy Seagull, the Batmania mascot, we board the bus with tour guides, Vidya and Raymond (Vidya Rajan and Raymond Martini) and no-nonsense bus driver Elliott (Elliott Gee).

Chaddyslap! - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

I will admit, I’ve only ever been to Chadstone once. I’m not one for department stores, so I’m not sure how I would cope being trapped inside The Fashion Capital, but that's what a group of shoppers encounter in the sketch comedy Chaddyslap! Performed as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, the show takes shopping culture and flips it on its head, exposing the hidden underbelly of consumerism and how we are pawns in a much bigger game.

Unfortunately much of the humour here doesn’t land. Punchlines don’t pack enough punch, characters aren’t as exaggerated and animated as they should be in this style of comedy, and sketches either end abruptly or drag on for too long. The conversation between the Supre, Dangerfield, EB Games, Rebel Sport and Bakers Delight stores could have been a wonderful scene full of narrative and clever humour but instead is relegated to obvious gags.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Hard To Reach Places - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

You better work bitch, and work is what circus artist Anna Lumb does in the preview performance of her Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Hard To Reach Places. With Britney Spears' "Work Bitch" pumping through the speakers, Lumb jumps on a bicycle and furiously starts pedaling with a determined yet exhausted look on her face. In her solo show, Lumb looks at the gray areas of life she is in and tries to find a balance within them: she's not young but she's not old, she's not mainstream but she's not underground, she's between jobs but she has two full-time jobs. 

Incorporating circus and physical theatre, Hard To Reach Places calls out the challenges that women are constantly faced with by society. How can a woman have time to hold a full-time - or even part-time - job when she has a child? How does a woman remain confident the older she gets when everything around her keeps telling her it's all over? Lumb shows what a balancing act it can be sorting through all the crap with short and rapid circus acts, movement, dance and spoken word that are thoughtful and provoking.