Sunday 29 October 2023

Manifesto review

On a luscious pink draped tiered platform sit nine drummers dressed in black. Below them, on the stage, sit nine dancers dressed in white. They are all motionless, frozen in time. And then ... bang! A strike of the drum and a jolt of the body. Another bang, another pose. Gradually the beats get faster and the movements become larger, both becoming more elaborate. Choreographer Stephanie Lake is building up to something big with Manifesto and from its opening sequence she draws the audience into this world of anticipation and excitement for the unknown.

Even with so many people on stage, Lake gives opportunity for every individual to have their solo moments while also seen to be an integral part of the ensemble. At one point, the spotlight moves from drummer to drummer giving them a few seconds to perform before moving on to the next person. The spotlight continues to run back and forth down the line of musicians, and as it begins to speed up, so too do the drummers. The swiftness and dexterity they display is astonishing, with Rama Parwata deservedly having his place at the centre of the nine.

Monday 23 October 2023

A Dodgeball Named Desire review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

You've got to hand it to Bloomshed. They have proven themselves time and time again to be one of the most innovative, bold, daring and creative theatre makers around. Too much? Absolutely not, and with their new show A Dodgeball Named Desire they continue to reign supreme. Using Tennessee William' near 80 year-old play A Streetcar Named Desire, Bloomshed explore the competitive nature between the performing arts and the sporting industries, and if there's any chance of these two co-existing. All set in a dodgeball arena. Flores para los muertos? Indeed.

On one side of the court we have our dainty and frail Blanches dressed in old, withered white gowns. On the other, we have the Stanleys, who happen to be extremely fit and very much ready for a fight. While Streetcar is a sharp critique of how society and its attitudes restricted women's lives, A Dodgeball Named Desire uses the dodgeball scenario as a way to highlight how government and institutions are restricting and suffocating the performing arts and not giving them their due credit.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Rakali review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

A seachange is said to be an effective way to reassess what you value most in life and to gain new perspectives. But what about a riverchange? For Emma, Kevin and their four-month-old baby, it could be a devastating decision. On the surface, Australian gothic horror Rakali depicts a couple being terrorised by a water rat intent on eating their baby, but dive deeper and it's a sharp commentary on parenthood and family.

Alex Duncan's script may live in the realms of absurdity but it firmly establishes its world early on and we can accept this wild river-ride. We are kept guessing the entire time if the baby will be eaten whenever the rakali is nearby. Duncan fuses horror, comedy and drama into a tight 60 minutes as we learn about the conflicts and struggles that Emma and Kevin are facing externally and internally.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Gender is a Scam and I am Winning review (Melboune Fringe Festival)

On the surface, Josh Cake is a man, more specifically, a brown man. And if we want to be even more specific, he is a brown Australian man. But Cake doesn't ascribe to any of that and in his comedy cabaret, Gender is a Scam and I am Winning, they sing and share stories about how the structures of society should not limit you from being whatever you want to be.

Cake has a wonderfully warm presence on stage as he takes his audience through a fun evening of gentle but meaningful reflections and interrogations. He remains focused on the task with a strong sense of humour in both his stand-up routines as well as the musical numbers. There are instances where the material is a bit repetitive but Cake does well in expressing how labels are just labels and can easily be torn off. Not everyone can do this though, at least safely, and Cake acknowledges his privilege in this.

Am I The Drama? review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Andy Balloch is one of those performers who relishes being on stage. He's genuinely delighted to be up there and bringing people happiness and escapism. In Am I The Drama?, Balloch takes his audience on a (theme park) ride inside the thoughts that occur in his head, and after watching this show, it's definitely one where you need to strap yourself in tight.

Balloch is a gifted storyteller who moves at a frenetic pace that could easily derail the performance but he knows when to step on the breaks and when to start speeding up. There are a couple of speed bumps along the way but the audience is in good hands with the comedian. (This is also where I stop with the ride analogies).

Friday 20 October 2023

I'm Ready To Talk Now review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Oliver Ayres has packed a lot into twenty-minutes with I’m Ready To Talk Now, but this well-considered immersive show for one person at a time patiently and intelligently explores his journey of being diagnosed, and living, with a chronic medical condition.

The performance starts with us sitting on a chair and facing a white screen. We put on a pair of headphones, and we begin to hear Ayres' voice as he explains how he relates to his illness and the empathy (or lack of he extends to others), frustration, anger and loneliness he encounters. Ayres’ monologue is obviously rehearsed but his natural pauses and uses of 'like' and 'umm' gives the impression of this recording being off-the-cuff and authentic. It genuinely feels like he is unburdening himself with these thoughts and opening himself up to us.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Mythos: Ragnarok review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Ancient rivalries are brought to life in wrestling show Mythos: Ragnarok. We follow Odin, the Norse God of War and of the Dead and his half-brother Loki as they battle giants, gods, enemies, and each other, to create the world of Asgard. It's a straightforward story which doesn't bring a huge amount of excitement but that is where the wrestling comes in.

The cast is made up entirely of professional wrestlers, and while some of the acting is not the most convincing, it's the spectacle of the sport we are here for. It's fascinating being quite up close to the bouts and anticipating what move will come next. Precise choreography ensures there is no risk of (serious) injury when people are thrown onto the ground, body slammed or have their limbs bent in unnatural positions, and the ensemble are clearly skilled and giving it their all.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Spunk Daddy review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

During the end of Melbourne's lockdown, we were all pretty much scrambling to escape being trapped inside four walls. We'd do anything to be outdoors and seeing friends. Not Darby James though. He decided to spend more time with himself and donate his sperm. His cabaret show Spunk Daddy follows this journey that leaves James interrogating his choice for donating as well as the moral and ethical reasons in doing so, and bringing life into this planet.

James has written quite an engrossing story that make you laugh, makes you think and makes you feel. His rhythmic storytelling is the perfect palette cleanser from other solo shows that are delivered as a standard monologue directly addressed to the audience. Not only does this make Spunk Daddy stand out above the rest but it showcases James' skill as a performer and his imaginative and emotional style of expression. Vulnerable.

Monday 16 October 2023

Apricity review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

What I love the most about circus is the surprising ways that it can make you feel. While the logic defying tricks and acrobatics are always the drawcard, I am fascinated to see how the artists go deeper with this and attempt to bring its audience into the show. Circus company Casus manage to do this and so much more with their mesmerising and breathtaking new work Apricity.

The ensemble (Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay, Mayu Muto, Amy Stuart, and Harlow Carey) work flawlessly as one with the precise choreography having them coming in and out of the space, directly and indirectly engaging with and assisting one another. Their bodies entwined, they rely on the group to be held up, carried and supported, in both the literal sense and the spiritual.

I Am Seaweed review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It always seems like a badge of honour when someone asks you how you are and respond with "I am so busy". Working hard, learning a new craft, up-skilling, upselling, educating yourself. Constantly moving and doing. In I Am Seaweed, Cheryl Ho contemplates what it would feel like to just be and enjoy what is.

Sheryl with an S - played by Cheryl with a C – is a teacher who thinks that by being busy she will find satisfaction in life. By being like seaweed, something that expands under pressure, her super zestful positive attitude and her "Slay Everyday Era" mantra, she's sure she can.

While only a portion of the space at Theatre Woks is utilised, director Tan Hui Er keeps the full stage open and visible. The black, empty areas serve as a reminder of what Sheryl is trying to avoid as well as offering a visual representation of what's happening in her mind with her thoughts projected as images along the wall.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Jon & Jero: Improv Narrated By Comedians review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

In Improv Narrated By Comedians, improvisers Jon Walpole and Jeromaia Detto have a guest comedian on stage who via different improv games, narrates stories for them to perform. They have brought together a variety of guests including Virginia Gay and Nat Harris and on the night we attended, we were graced with the presence of the wonderful stand-up comedian Anna Piper Scott.  

Piper Scott and Detto have individually been reviewed by My Melbourne Arts and they are both talented and funny performers but in this format, on this night, along with Walpole, the elements did not come together with many golden rules of improv either not followed or present.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Love Letters review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

In Love Letters, human connection and love is explored through a lifelong relationship between two people. When Lisa's family decide to leave China and move to Australia, a letter-writing correspondence is forged with her school friend Zhangguo. With the decades that follow, heartbreak, love, loss, grief and deep yearning for something more is shared between the two in this dramatic but intimate story.

Angel Xiao and Fini Liu (who also serves as director) deliver committed performances as Lisa and Zhangguo. The show begins entirely in Mandarin (English surtitles on display) but once Lisa has moved to Australia her English speaking becomes more prominent, as well as her personality change in expressing herself more openly. Capturing this ongoing conflict in Lisa's life is demanding, but Xiao ensures that Lisa is as authentic as possible even with everything that life throws at her. By comparison, Liu plays a quieter, understated Zhangguo who remains inwardly frustrated at the limitations life has afforded him.

To Be Frank review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

I was so incredibly tired heading into To Be Frank I thought I would actually fall asleep while it was being performed. But within the first second I realised that would not be possible once Michael Hockey's creature came barrelling out on stage with an impassioned roar.

For the next hour we join "Frank" as he begins to understand the concept of love, loneliness and belonging with the aid of a humble balloon. The show is heavily improvised but there is a story and Hockey presents a wonderful balance of both, at one point he leaves the room to follow an audience member who has had to leave early but it fits perfectly with this journey to find love. His clown and bouffon skills are put to excellent use as Frank non-verbally engages and interacts with the audience, who become just as invested in this odyssey as he is.

Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The story of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang is integral to Australian culture, our Aussie equivalent of Robin Hood. However, in Kaine Hansen's version, Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical, the gang are a pack of extravagant and flamboyant homosexuals with immaculate hair, perfectly groomed beards and an extraordinary ability to sing and dance.

Ellen Marning, Erin McIntosh, Monique Kerr and Sunny Youngsmith play the men who "put the bush in ranger" as they re-enact the gay retelling of the Kelly Gang. The four share wonderful chemistry and are able to make these people their own creation. Sian Dowler just about steals all the scenes they are in with a variety of supporting character roles, including a number of police officers and a diary, that allows them to display their impressive comedic timing and skills.

Friday 13 October 2023

Black Widow review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

What do you do when you are a half-woman, half-spider searching for love while fighting your lust for blood? Write a cabaret about it. In Black Widow, Isabel Knight explores the highs and lows of finding a connection with someone as she is forced to live the life of an arachnid. This might not be the best time in Arachne's existence but Knight easily gets the audience tangled up in her seductive web of sex, love and death.

Knight's performance as Arachne - who in Greek mythology is transformed into a spider after insulting the Goddess Athena - is absolutely captivating and fascinating to watch. Her vocal cadence is brilliantly used to build the drama and the intrigue of her life and she remains consistent with her speech patterns. Knight presents a number of well-known songs and reimagines the lyrics to tie in with Arachne's life. She displays a great range in her singing ability, from pop ballads to rock to cabaret classics, with the standouts being James Blunt's "Goodbye my Lover" and Chicago's "When You're Good To Mama."

Wednesday 11 October 2023

YUMMY: Joy Machine review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Nine is my favourite number. It's also now the number of full-length productions that the brains (and beauties) behind YUMMY have presented, so it was pretty much a given that I would love this instalment by the team, Joy Machine.
As usual, the founder of YUMMY, Valerie Hex is here to oversee the proceedings and get the crowd pumping for some euphoric drag, burlesque, circus and performance art.

Founding members are still part of the ensemble but YUMMY has also become a playground for emerging and up-and-coming artists to show the audience what they've got.
The talent that Val has assembled is the performance artist equivalent of The Avengers.

Each week of Joy Machine has a rotating cast and this one did not disappoint. Under the watchful eye of Val, Hannie Helsden, Jandruze, Karlee Misi and Jarred Dewey deliver awe-inspiring acts with unbridled self-expression and freedom. Each of them displays tremendous panache with their stage personas that further heightens the excitement for the audience and the breadth of variety on offer. Helsden is the super cheerful one that never loses her smile, Jandruze is the ice queen who will easily cut you down to size, Misi is the energetic ball of fun and Dewey is the sensual yet sexual vintage strongman.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Stickybeak review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Everybody needs good neighbours right? But what happens when you don't necessarily like the people who live next door to you but have to find ways to tolerate them as they float around the periphery of your daily life. In the sketch comedy Stickybeak, Kimberley Twiner, Jessie Ngaio, Laura Trenerry and Patrick Dwyer introduce us to three families, their pets and other animals that reside in the hood, and give us a hilarious peek into a space where the demarcation of public and private life is at its most blurred.

First things first, Ngaio wins this year's Fringe award for best impersonation of an animal. Her portrayal of Psycho the bulldog (in my mind) in movement and mannerism was scarily precise. If there were a runner-up for this award it would go to Twinner and her slithering snail, but less said about that the better to not lessen the surprise and joy of watching it transpire. The ensemble have given so much thought to movement and how to use their bodies, and given their experience with clown, bouffon and previous performances this is not surprising, but they have clearly honed in on this for Stickybeak.

Creme de la Creme review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The talent behind Head First Acrobats are back at the Melbourne Fringe Festival with their amazing show GODZ, but this year, they are the gift that keeps on giving as they present Creme de la Creme, a variety night of circus, comedy and acrobatics.

Each of the four Head First Acrobats - Cal Harris, Liam Dummer, Thomas Gorham and Jordan Wartz - have their individual moments in the spotlight, and while Wartz and Dummer impress with their respective solos, Gorham's "Finale Man" doesn't land as well as it should.

For a show that is only 60 minutes long, an intermission feels unnecessary. However, even though we are all encouraged to head to the bar and get more drinks, we do get to see Harris do some side tricks on a ladder and a unique RAT test. As entertaining as these are, it would be great if there were less fillers and more appreciable acts on display. Similarly, for those who have seen GODZ before, there are a few familiar routines, and while creating new acts is not easy, having basically the same acts in two different shows is a bit disappointing.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Packing review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Who would have thought that packing up a stranger’s art studio would not only make for a Melbourne Fringe Festival show but make for an amazing Melbourne Fringe Festival show? Packing is an interactive performance made for one person at a time where we have been hired to help Marigold pack up her art studio. Except Marigold can’t make it and must communicate to us through What’s App on what to pack as she shares snippets of her life, past, present, and future. It’s a beautifully captivating work by Eleni Telemachou that is over way too soon.

Telemachou and her set designer Nancee Kilpatrick have fashioned an authentic studio with paints, painting, photographs, sketches and personal belongings all scattered around the room. The floor and walls are adorned in colour and there is a “mix tape” that Marigold has playing for us. Oh, and she’s also left snacks.

Through voice memos and texts via What’s App, Marigold gives clear instructions on what to pack and when, and what to dispose of. This still gives us ample opportunities to look – not snoop - through her personal belongings and find letters, photographs, ticket stubs and other surprises in pockets, frames and sketch pads. Each item provides a deeper indication of Marigold’s story, including what led her to Australia and what is taking her back home to Italy.

Beauty Queen review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Narcissus takes centre stage in Emily Carr's new work as a young woman hell-bent on winning the Miss World Australia beauty pageant. With Carr's strong character comedy and a story that takes its audience to a few unexpected places, it's laughs aplenty and then some with Beauty Queen.

Carr is in full control of all the characters she portrays, clearly defining the various mannerisms and personality traits of each one. Voice and body language are distinctive and she doesn't take a misstep with presenting each one. Her interactions between "herself" and the AI program helping her write a feminist play that doesn't scream feminism are comical and it's amusing watching the tension and power battle between the two of them intensify.

Dragon Hearts review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It's clear that Bria McCarthy has had an interest in dragons since before Game of Thrones made them cool again. In Dragon Hearts, McCarthy tells us the stories of various dragons through time using shadow puppetry along with some other creative forms and styles but unfortunately this production falls short of effective storytelling.

There are a few stagecraft issues, one of the more obvious ones being the sightlines. Unless you sit in the front row or the front row of the high chairs, it is difficult to see the text that is displayed on the screen with the obstruction of the heads of people seated in front of you. The music is unaffecting and quite repetitive and it does little to support the emotional depth of the scenes that McCarthy hopes to instil. There is a strong need for a dramaturgical eye to finesse these stories and allow audiences with limited or next to no knowledge of the tales to be swept away on the journey intended for us.

Insomniac Mixtape review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

There is nothing worse than going to bed at a reasonable time and being awake all night. You've done all the right things to be able to fall asleep but to no avail. Insomnia is here. Telia Nevile knows exactly how that feels and in her cabaret comedy, Insomniac Mixtape, she takes us through her journey of restlessness and watching the clock tick tick tick away towards the morning sun.

She begins with a variety of exercises to get us sleeping, including visualisations and breathing techniques but despite her determination to stay in the present, Nevile's mind begins to race from worry to worry. It is clear from the laughter in the audience that we have all been there before too and perhaps some of us have been triggered by her thoughts and are now worrying about these exact same things.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Alienation review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Expectations are high as I walk into the NICA performing space, and see Jake Silvestro and Romain Hassanin sitting in a boat suspended in the air. Created by the two circus artists, Alienation is a physical theatre show that examines what happens when your survival depends on those around you and understanding your environment.

While there's no denying the skill and strength that Silvestro and Hassanin possess, the show left me unexcited and unfeeling. The tricks and acrobatics become repetitive and resemble warm-up activities, things that get the audience anticipating the big stuff. Rollerblades, a hula-hoop and a cyr wheel all make an appearance but they don't eventuate into anything. They disappear as quietly as they appear.

Jazz Or A Bucket Of Blood review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It seems to be an unwritten rule that the later your Fringe Festival show is scheduled, the more outlandish and wacky the show will be. Jazz or a Bucket of Blood is a great example of this. Performed by Ange Lavoipierre and Jane Watt, the hour of sketch comedy takes us to some weird but extremely amusing places with the two performers (hopefully) playing extremely heightened versions of themselves.

The matching outfits of grey shorts and blue shirts give them a childlike disposition, like they are wearing a school uniform, lending some credibility to them being somewhat naive and innocent with what they say and do. Some. Because a lot of what they say and do is very much on the other side of that spectrum. Try Lavoipierre's instructions on how to make friends and you'll probably realise this is most definitely not the way to make friends - but a great way to endear yourselves to the audience in your comedy show.

Friday 6 October 2023

Hot Fat Crazy review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

If being mentally unwell was as much fun as Hot Fat Crazy, I would have signed up years ago! Created and performed by Eadie Testro-Girasole and Thomas Bradford, this musical theatre comedy follows Eadie as she admits herself into a psych ward and begins to work through her anxiety and depression. But oh how we all laughed. A lot.

Testro-Girasole is absolutely charming and wins the audience over from the opening number, “Welcome to the Psych Ward”. She displays a vulnerable confidence that ground the character despite the wackiness and absurdity that takes place in this world, which makes sense given that this is based on her own psych ward admissions. Bradford is the perfect pairing to Testro-Girasole, brilliant in all of his over-the-top characters, particularly when he is Eadie's diary and as a homophobic cat. Yes, a homophobic cat.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Cry Baby review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Isabella Perversi has written three plays, each one dealing with heavy emotions. With Cry Baby she explains that she wants to branch out and create a piece of work that is different. Something that is light, and happy but she also lists a number of other requisites about what she wants and doesn't want to do.

However, no matter what she tries, she seems to fall back into the pit of sadness that she's building an artistic reputation for.
Perversi has set up a good structure to explore these worries and she starts off with a burst of colour and movement as she removes her black oversized coat and trousers to reveal (and revel in) a bright orange leotard. She energetically gets into an aerobic routine, brimming with forced positivity that eventually begins to wear her down and she succumbs to the sads. But that's OK, she'll simply move on and try something else to help guide her writing process.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Riley Nottingham Needs Your Help review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Riley Nottingham is sick and tired of making choices. So he's not making them anymore. In Riley Nottingham Needs Your Help, Nottingham enlists his audience to guide him through life like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel while he sings about his anxieties and worries as he plays the piano.

Our first decision is determining what outfit Nottingham will wear by raising our flash cards with an angel or devil emoji. Will it be the bad boy black outfit or the sweetly innocent light blue outfit? From there, we follow Nottingham through a variety of situations where we compel him to go with either option A or option B. The concept is interesting but there is a lack of adventure and risk in the scenarios we are introduced to and there's low stakes throughout the entire show.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

EXHUMED: The ‘Best’ of Bradley Storer review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

When Bradley Storer suddenly appears in the basement space of The Butterfly Club, it's as if he's always been there. The melancholy and sadness that fills the room from the way he moves his body and looks off into the distance while performing his opening number is palpable. And so it should, as this is Storer performing EXHUMED: The 'best' of Bradley Storer.

Storer has such an unassuming presence that he can simply stand in the middle of the stage and command our attention for the hour. His introductions for each song - and at times, suite of songs - are laced with toned down camp humour but also take us to places of honesty and deep contemplation without feeling like you're at a fork in the road. We are able to sit with and enjoy both of these emotions.

Witch, Please! review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Is there a more iconic witch than the Wicked Witch of the West? Maybe it's Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, or maybe Joan of Arc for something a little more historical. Or maybe it's Alysha Jane? In the cabaret-comedy Witch, Please!, performer Jane takes us through a series of infamous sorceresses to determine what makes a witch, and if she is a witch.

Each figure introduced is paired with a song and it's where Jane is at her strongest, a highlight being during her inquiry into Snow White and the Evil Queen. There are instances where Jane makes observations about the films or stories she has selected that have potential to open up a treasure trove of possibilities but we sadly never go deeper with these ideas. Let's discuss why Dorothy could not be a bad witch because she isn't ugly or what the gay romance behind the creation of The Little Mermaid means and what Ursula represents.

Sunday 1 October 2023

The Hotline review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The Honeytrap excel in creating experiences that leaves its audience confronting their own biases or blindspots. I still vividly recall its immersive site specific one person at a time production of The Maze, where I followed a young woman as she walked home late at night and listened to her thoughts via a set of headphones. That was seven years ago but such was the effect it had on me. In 2023, The Honeytrap presents its new show The Hotline, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which shifts its focus from the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by a man, to the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by their own body.

Participants dial a 1800 number on their phone and in a choose your own adventure style, they navigate through the frustrations and hypocrisy of getting reproductive healthcare and support. For amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act, Press 1. For access to ECP Press 2. The first thing I note is how convincingly creator Kasey Gambling has made this experience. The sound design by Josie Steele, from the ringing of the phone, the slightly muffled / static sound of the operator and the background jazz music that plays is incredibly authentic, and slightly triggering for anyone who has ever been put on hold or had to go through an automated service before.