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.

2. Game Boys Cinematic Universe - review (Comedy Festival season)

Game Boys Cinematic Universe is highly interactive show with audience participation but the Game Boys duo (Evan and Josh Porter) are so extremely charming and friendly that you end up wanting to participate as they guide us through the world famous Game Boys Studios Backlots. 

This is a show full of surprises as the pair perform sketches focusing on the TV and film industry while parodying various media platforms. In once instance we are audience members in Who Wants To Be A Studio Executive and must determine which of the films displayed on the screen have grossed more at the box office. We are also given a crash course on how sound effects are created in films as well as going through a ruthless audition process for a TV commercial. There is some inspired use of AV technology that enhances the world they are setting up and allows us to be immersed by it and the callbacks are clever and unexpected, which highlight the skill the team has in being able to perform their show as it is being created right before our eyes. 

3. Happy-Go-Wrong - review (Explorations season) 

Another show I saw for the second time, Andi Snelling's Happy-Go-Wrong is a personal hybrid theatre piece on how it feels to not be able to do the thing you love and what it teaches us about life. Various issues surrounding chronic illness are explored in a focused, considered and creative manner, raging from the barrage of unsolicited health advice to fighting to stay alive and in simply coping with the daily demands of an invisible illness.

Snelling's skilful use of spoken word, physical theatre, clowning, and music express how her diagnosis has impacted her and she finds a marvellous balance between humour and sadness that allows the audience to comprehend the seriousness of her illness but not to leave them all wallowing in misery. This was a powerfully personal story that doesn’t get weighed down by sentimentality and becomes all the more affecting because of it

4. Railed - 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 our 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 and I'm stunned as to how this was overlooked in the best circus category for the festival.

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, which highlights the strength of this company in fusing brilliant comedy and impressive acrobatics.

5. Ancient Shrines and Half Truths - 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.

The show opens our eyes and mind to the stories around us and most importantly, to the stories that are out there yet to be realised. As I was preparing to begin my session, a woman who had taken part in it earlier that day approached the staff to thank them again and tell them that she was still smiling about it. I’d second that. Days later, I am still smiling, and looking...

6. Cafe Play! - review

Created by Little Dirt Path (Pearce Hessling and Catherine Holder), the immersive and interactive Cafe Play! is a thirty-minute 'catch-up' between two friends. There is a great level of care and attention to my needs during this experience and Holder does a great job of making me feel like an equal in this conversation while guiding and driving the narrative.

I meet Holder in a cafe where she warmly welcomes me as if we are old friends and orders me a chai latte. Part of the charm of this show is how it looks to the outside eye, to those who don't realise that this is a show and think it's simply two highly organised and slightly controlling people planning a friends' wedding. Once our thirty minutes are up, Holder dashes, she is late for another appointment, and I am left alone to finish my chai latte and think about how incredible Darcy and Alex's wedding is going to be. Of course it's all make-believe but that's the appeal of Cafe Play! It allows us to get creative, use our imagination and find the joy in playing.

7. Hard To Reach Places - review

You better work bitch, and work is what circus artist Anna Lumb does in Hard To Reach Places. With Britney Spears' "Work Bitch" pumping through the speakers, she 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. 

Under the direction of Rebecca Church, the pair emphasise the playfulness and humour of these issues while not diminishing their seriousness and importance. In one act, Lumb delivers a gripping spoken piece on an abusive relationship as she interacts with a circus ring to physically represent the trauma and emotions of that experience. 

Hard To Reach Places is an inspiring manifesto that encourages people to open up about their fears, their anxieties and their fuck ups, and to not let these define who they are and what they want to be. It's impressive how much Lumb unpacks and explores in this highly absorbing feminist carnival.

8. The Market is a Wind-Up Toy - 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 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.

The Market Is A Wind-Up Toy asks us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our society. It’s a challenging production but there’s nothing wrong with having to work your entertainment, especially when it’s an intelligent and inspiring piece of theatre such as this. 

9. Yummy Deluxe - 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 us with their over-the-top, deliciously camp performance to Detroit Grand Pubahs’ “Sandwiches”, which comes with the creation of the sexiest sandwich ever. There may be plenty of flesh on display but there’s also lots of shine and sparkle to the costumes that are made entirely by the performers. A wonderful kaleidoscope of colour exists in this show with consistently effective lighting design adding a fierce spirit to each act while being different enough to constantly surprise and engage the audience.

YUMMY DELUXE culminates with a “Femme Fatale Finale” which is glorious in execution, energy and choreography. It’s the perfect way to finish a show that has been flawless from the second it begins. It’s a shame that this party must end, especially as you become enveloped by the happiness and confidence shared with us by the YUMMY team.

10. Cabin Fever - Fringe Festival page

Cabin Fever is a 30 minute show that is performed inside a caravan for an intimate audience of eight. Performer and creator Dianne Reid intelligently explores loneliness, longing and escape through the eyes of a woman living out her life within the welcoming safety of her caravan.

Her use of the space is fantastic, finding every corner of the caravan to utilise and incorporate into the show. The physicality that Reid takes on highlights the confines of performing in such a tight area - I can only imagine how different the performance would have been if I had seen it with its capacity audience - but her movements are also free and wild. Sound plays an integral part in this performance and the projections and video work are seamlessly combined with her actions and the narrative that is created.

Reid is absolutely fascinating to watch as this unnamed woman begins to share her thoughts and story with us, where she also brings great depth to the character. We form a bond with her very quickly and it culminates in some profound musings developing in the final moments of this immersive physical theatre piece. 

Honourable Mentions (because ten is never enough) 

11. Dazza and Keif Go Viral In Space With Ya Mum - review
12. Your Silence Will Not Protect You - Fringe Festival page
13. Batmania, The Bus Tour - review
14. How Far I'll Go - Fringe Festival page
15. Gays of Our Lives -
Fringe Festival page

And if you feel like a trip down memory lane, here are my top ten shows from the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

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