Monday 30 September 2019

Top 10 Shows at the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival

So another Melbourne Fringe Festival draws to a close. With over 450 events on this year, I managed to get myself to 61 shows (matching my 2016 record), despite telling myself I would take it easy this year. However, with such a variety of works being performed there was no way I was going to miss any. Covering interactive and immersive work, cabaret, theatre, live art, circus, comedy and dance, there really is something for everyone to enjoy and experience at Melbourne Fringe Festival.

As usual, there were so many shows I wish I could have made it to but my clone is still a little way off from completion so I hope I will have an opportunity to catch those in the future in some way, shape or form. But it's not a Melbourne Fringe Festival - for me anyway - without compiling a list of my top ten shows, so here it is. Links to original reviews can be found next to the show's title. Enjoy!

1. Mime Consultant - review

Every now and again you see a show where you think you know what you’re getting yourself into but end up with something completely unexpected and far better than anything you could have imagined. Patrick CollinsMime Consultant is that show. Adding mime to his repertoire of comedian, magician and bisexual, he delivers an unforgettable hour of non-stop laughter as he helps people achieve their mime dreams. 

It’s evident that Collins has worked on each second of this show that then allows him the to be in complete control on the stage. His dissection of his material from all angles ensures that no joke is left unturned and as a result they are a source of constant entertainment. There is not a single flat moment or a punchline that doesn’t land. With a seemingly loose format, you’re constantly surprised with every sketch performed and then amazed with where that leads. Mime Consultant shows a performer at the top of his game who has taken this traditionally silent art form and turned it (and comedy) into a truly unique experiences for audiences.

Sunday 29 September 2019

Whiplash - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Scott is on a date with a woman when his heart decides to disappear. Left with no choice but to deep dive inside his own body to try and locate it, where he meets an assortment of 'characters' along the way, including Brain, Dick and Mr. Fuck You Guy. Performed by Scott Wings, Whiplash is a thoughtful reflection on masculinity, mental health and relationships expressed through spoken word and physical theatre.

Wings conjures strong visual images with his descriptive words and in return there are plenty of emotional reactions to be felt. There is a vulnerability in the narrative and he isn't afraid to open himself up to a room full of strangers. He has a knack for finding the humour in a situation and ensures the story is filled with these observations. As he passes the stomach and comes across a ball of gum and nails long ago consumed, we smile at the familiarity of that brief comment. His tone and intonation throughout are effective in creating the atmosphere and his considered pacing stresses the urgency and intensity of our protagonist's circumstances but also allows for a breather as needed.

Friday 27 September 2019

Mime Consultant - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Every now and again you see a show where you think you know what you’re getting yourself into but end up with something completely unexpected and far better than anything you could have imagined. Patrick Collins’ Mime Consultant is that show. Adding mime to his repertoire of comedian, magician and bisexual, he delivers an unforgettable hour of non-stop laughter as he helps people achieve their mime dreams.

It’s evident that Collins has worked on each second of this show that then allows him the to be in complete control on the stage. His dissection of his material from all angles ensures that no joke is left unturned and as a result they are a source of constant entertainment. There is not a single flat moment or a punchline that doesn’t land. With a seemingly loose format, you’re constantly surprised with every sketch performed and then amazed with where that leads.

His karaoke act is everything you don’t expect from karaoke and his strawberry pun is a hysterical look at peaking too soon and the decline of his relationship. His attempt at writing a romance novel is pure magic and the set-up to his epic bowling competition fail results in epic hilarity for us.

Thursday 26 September 2019

The Will To Be - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

It’s 1962 and a university lecturer in Melbourne has been fired from his position due to having an affair with a student. A male student. As he packs his belongings, he ponders what the next chapter of his life will entail. Should he stay silent and continue living with his adoring wife or does he take a brave step forward and explore his feelings for Henry at a time when homosexuality is still illegal in Australia.

As William deals with the immediate repercussions of his relationship being uncovered, The Will To Be flashbacks to his life with Lola and his encounters with Henry. Mark Salvestro puts in an admirable performance as the educator, with his quivering voice, nervous disposition and hints of a longing to be himself. The way he describes his sexual encounter with Henry is suitably erotically awkward and very much in line with the character that is presented to us.

All I See Is You - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

In All I See Is You, Bobby and Ralph meet, kiss and fall in love. It wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today but in England 1967 it was another story, where your sexuality could get you thrown into jail. Written by Kathrine Smith, the play looks at the challenges two people in love faced at a time when simply being themselves was a danger to their very existence. 

The narrative moves at a consistent pace with Smith covering a lot of ground in its 60 minutes, beginning with Ralph and Bobby’s first fervent encounter. The chemistry between the actors intensifies from there as they continue to share some fiercely passionate scenes. As the more sexually liberated of the pair, Ciarán Griffiths presents a tenderness and impetuousness to Bobby’s character. Christian Edwards as the straight-laced Ralph finds a vulnerable fear as he grapples with who he is and the expectations of who he ought to be. The two are able to display the affection the two have for each other despite coming from different backgrounds.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Placebo - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Lucy Fox was part of a Christian cult aged 15, toured Australia with a sociopathic musician at 22 and hitchhiked across the Balkans at 30. These moments of her life are what form the basis of her new Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Placebo, where she reflects on the role these incidents have played in getting her to where she is today.

Fox is warm and welcoming as she begins her story and it is skillfully paced so that the build up to what happens next is well sustained. At times, things become quite wacky, but we are reminded that everything she shares with us actually took place so when we find out what her sociopathic friend, his father and a German Art Gallery owner have in common, our jaws drop. Similarly, her experience of living in a cult in Kent is as entertaining as it is intriguing, including how her Christianity may have been responsible for securing Scott Morrison the position of Prime Minister of our country.

There’s a great flow to Fox’s storytelling, she never rushes to get to the next point and while there’s a few instances where she stumbles over her words - most likely due to being the second time she’s ever performed this very personal show - she maintains a balanced rhythm and tone. The ending occurs quite abruptly though, so work is required on that to ensure all the narrative threads come together to guide us into a natural conclusion.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

The Kick Inside - Melboourne Fringe Festival review

Kerensa Diball is 38 and has no children. She's in a long-term relationship and is able to have children but she's chosen not to have any. They're simply not what she wants from life. As part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Kick Inside has Diball unpacking her reasons behind this and looking at the responses she's received from those around her and the judgements from society.

Deciding whether you have children or not, is a difficult choice to make. There are many issues to take into account and there are pros and cons with both outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not informed about the factors leading to this in satisfying detail. With the show running at just under 40 minutes of an advertised 50, you're left wondering why Diball has raced through so much surface level material and not taken the time to share these more intimate musings regarding her decision-making process and whether there were any moments when she has regretted this. There are a lot of thoughts being expressed but none of them appear to be fully fleshed out.

At one point, Diball mentions her apprehension in telling her mother and grandmother that she won't be providing the family with a next generation but sadly does not return to this. Recorded phone messages from herself and her mother play as interludes between scenes but they are absent of dramatic tension or engage us adequately. Exploring the pressures and anxieties of this situation would make for some interesting stories and conversation while keeping at the heart of the subject matter.

Ancient Shrines and Half Truths - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Presented by Binge Culture, Ancient Shrines and Half Truths is an outdoor audio experience that has participants listening to a narrator as they uncover the unheard and the forgotten history that surrounds them, in this instance, Werribee. Armed with an iPhone, headphones and an app, the tour is divided into four parts, with each part becoming more and more immersive and interactive until you reach its joyous conclusion.

From discovering the secret voices in post boxes, the animals that live by my feet and haggling for a coffee with a tree, every pit stop throughout draws me into a silly world that is treated with a sincerity and respect. By doing so, I start to see things that I would not have noticed before. At one point I am told that in order to blend in with the locals I should walk with a hand on my hip and the other swinging while I walk. No sooner do I adapt to this specific way of moving, that I witness a man coming towards me, walking just like me. We share a nod and smile and I wonder as he continues on his way if he was a local or a plant, but I guess I'll never know.

Monday 23 September 2019

The Pageant - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

It's the beauty pageant to end all beauty pageants. All the nerves, stressing, tears, arguments and tantrums from parents has culminated to this moment. Will their child win the crown? In The Pageant, creators and performers Patrick Dwyer and Laura Trenerry (one third of The Travelling Sisters), reveal the glitz and glamour of the high stakes world of pageantry, with a little help from the rest of the room. 

Dwyer is in his element as former pageant darling Victoria Beavoir, capturing the insecurities of this bombshell as she exudes a public image of flirtatious and frisky behaviours. Trenerry as Victoria's long-term devotee Roger Seahorse brings in her long-history of male impersonations from her Travelling Sisters performances to present this nervous and geeky man as an absolutely charming and loveable co-host. 

There is a lot of audience participation in this show and while many people are generally petrified of being invited to come up on stage for any purpose, Dwyer and Trenerry ensure that their "volunteers" are well looked after. On the night I attended every single person called up was well prepared with what to do and more than enjoyed their time in the spotlight, and it wouldn't be surprising if there were plenty of disappointed faces in the crowd who were not brought up.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Aurora review

Circus Oz returns with a new show of "impossibly intricate foot-juggling to hair-raising balances, breathtaking hula hooping to physical comedy that will leave you speechless". Unfortunately while there are elements in Aurora that are well conceived, their exploration of the ice lands of our world and the ensuing acts don't live up to these grand statements resulting in a very average experience.

The set design is quite impressive with its representation of this frozen land and the lighting design by Jennifer Hector superbly captures the atmosphere of this vast body of ice throughout the show, best shown in Shani Stephen's hand balancing act, where along with a smoke machine, creates some stunning moments. Rhian Hinkley's visual projections on the floor of the stage are fun and imaginative and they are incorporated into the routines without ever feeling like it's a gimmick.

You cannot dispute the ensemble's talent and the high level visual and aural aspects of the show, with music performed by the brilliant Jeremy Hopkins and Selene Messinis, so it's disappointing that there is a lack of excitement and originality within the acts themselves. None of them seem to have a "wow" factor and it is all a little too safe for what we've come to expect from Circus Oz. The rope act by Sam Aldham is run-of-the-mill and despite being visually engaging with the costuming and lighting, Adam Malone's routine on the Washington trapeze feels astonishingly pedestrian.

PHAT CAB CLUB - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Performed in the iconic Melba Spiegeltent, PHAT CAB CLUB present a night of remarkably talented young circus artists that give more established ones a run for their money. Set to a lively hip-hop soundtrack, there are a variety of acts on display that showcase the troupe's strength, dexterity and flexibility.

A mesmerising diabolo routine by Jordan Twartz has us gasping at the speed and complexity he achieves and his return for a brief "puppet" double-up with acrobat/dancer Mark Longo is a well-conceived idea and would have loved to see similar pairings reoccur. Hula-hoops are often a staple of circus and easily lose their appeal, but Anna Fisher ensures there are surprises in her number to draw us in and have us excited about what is possible with these objects.

The rest of the ensemble - Antonia Sassine Emily Chilvers, Joe Fisher, Odette Robbins - excel in their various juggling, balancing and contortion. Rhys Davies as MC does well with the self-deprecating humour and his mini-tricks between the main entertainment. However, he does leave you wondering why someone would want to let off a mousetrap on the most sensitive part of his body.

Friday 20 September 2019

YUMMY DELUXE - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

We can all admit that sometimes life is a drag. For the performers of YUMMY DELUXE, life is a drag all the time and they wouldn’t have it any other way. In this utterly captivating production, director and founder of YUMMY, James Welsby has brought together several incredible artists for an unrestrained evening of live art, cabaret and burlesque.

Jandruze seduces the audience with their over-the-top, deliciously camp performance to Detroit Grand Pubahs’ “Sandwiches”, which comes with the creation of the sexiest sandwich ever. Benjamin Hancock is equal parts unsettling and sexy in a revealing red sequined and feathered outfit in his routine to Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”. The eclecticism of the music in YUMMY DELUXE supports its intention of being an open invitation to everyone. Wherever you stand in the LGBTQI community - and even if you don’t - we are all welcome and accepted here.

Thursday 19 September 2019

The Market is a Wind-Up Toy - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

The world is having its final closing down sale. Everything must go, unless Arvid Flatpack can reclaim the golden bull. Presented by The Bloomshed, The Market Is A Wind-Up Toy is an absurdist comedy that critiques the free market as it explores the state our planet is in and wonders where we go to from here.

The writing and direction by James Jackson is wild and energetic and while it can be difficult to follow at times, it is completely absorbing. At times, it risks overwhelming its audience, particularly when combined with the design, but perhaps that’s the point. The world is very much fucked in so many ways. We should feel overwhelmed. We should be confused and struggle to simply keep up. There are a few awkward scenes that reference other cultures and their practices, including one where a character uses a variation of welcome to country in her proclamation of her love towards the use of plastic. It’s unnecessary to the overall narrative and it creates a discomfort that doesn’t suit the tone of The Market Is A Wind-Up Toy.

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.