Monday, September 29, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (3)


Everyone knows I love Rawcus’ work and most other people who’ve seen them do too. This is their collaboration with Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre and the two are just about the best companies around, for sure. I’ve written about this show at length elsewhere and will do so again so I won’t get into the details here. In short, I didn’t have as much of an emotional reaction to this production as I did to previous ones but it was a much more intellectually provocative show. It’s over now, so bad luck. I think it will tour to Adelaide next year, maybe.

Just like I did yesterday. For real. I can’t believe I squeezed an interstate trip into my 80 show schedule. What a moron.


Someone told me they weren’t seeing this show because it looked like an kids’ party show. I suppose it sort of is, but only in the best, best possible way. It’s three smart young ladies boldly venturing into difficult territory – think Mighty Boosh-style post-surrealism with junkyard theatre homemade props. I only make the Boosh comparison because it’s the closest thing I can think of to the tune of Fizzy Train’s narrative (which of course never makes mention of any fizzy train). Wildly digressive, self-referential, sometimes very clever and sometimes consciously stupid. Actually, a lot like Pig Island too now that I think of it so there’s another comparison for ya. Like Pig Island’s Simply Fancy, Fizzy Train follows a quest – this time it’s a girl sent by her iron to save his son (played by a smaller iron) and so on and so forth. Also like Simply Fancy, the plot here is just something to hang a great show on. The trio play it straight, which is what makes it work, and they’ve got some super-sharp comic skills. Even when they’re not being laugh-out-loud funny, they seem very likeable, in that Josie Long/Lawrence Leung kind of way. Wooshers, now the comparisons won’t stop. Borders on the twee if you’re only into the dark stuff, but for anyone else this is a highlight of the fest.


Short (as in ten minutes short) little piece of dance/physical theatre/installation/something on at the Fringe Hub – a fiver will get you into a tiny picket-fence-hemmed pen around which two performers play out a series of scenes. There’s a roaring 20s flapper-vibe to the thing, but the actual scenarios range from jumping rope to shooting up. I’ve seen this twice and I’m still not entirely sure what the thread connecting the different sequences are, but a friend suggested that it’s a physical connection – ie the links are movement-based rather than depending on a more abstract logic. Quite a few centre on the way people have gotten their kicks over the ages, but I think that was me making connections which were incidental. Anyway, very cute show that, given the location, duration and cost, should be seen by everyone.


Community choirs aren’t really for me. Are the Polyester Blenders technically a community choir? Beats the pee out of me. They’re a choir, maybe 40 strong or so, and they do a cappella versions of songs like “Just Can’t Get Enough”. I guess they do them competently, but like I say, the whole genre isn’t for me. ‘Tis what it is, really.


There are few things in this universe more


And that’s my review. I would like to discuss this show with others. It’s very good that way.


This is a play - like a play play. It's very serious and has people acting and is about important themes. Emily survived a car crash that she wasn't supposed to (I don't know what that means but when her sister put it to her that way, I thought it was a little harsh). A few months after the near-death experience she feels like a walking corpse and has trouble communicating with her friends and family. She doesn't eat and can't leave the house. We know these things because people keep telling us. Actually, they keep telling Emily (see sister's comment above) which is what we in the Biz call over-explication. There's a lot of telling rather than showing in this show. And I always worry a little when a character says "Listen to yourself! You sound like a bad soap opera!" This usually ends up as unintentionally ironic. The cast give this script a good bash but it's not really my cup, given the very serious way everything is handled. It might appeal to those looking for some straight up capital-D Drama, though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (2)


I have no idea where this Team Loko outfit has come from. I don't know how to describe what they do, either - kind of breakdancing circus gymnastic stunts. They’re a bunch of buffed up guys and girls who do some really amazing physical stuff on a purpose-built scaffold in Fed Square. They’re eye-bogglingly fit – think push-ups without your feet touching the ground – and there’s no way you could failed to be awed by at least a good handful of their routines. They’re also pretty cool, and really seem to enjoy what they’re doing rather than being all proud and show-offy about it. It’s free.


This thing made me want to be able to go back to the early 90s when you could say “you the man!” or “you the bomb!” with impunity and regardless of whether the subject was in fact male and/or a bomb. Not that it’s dated or retro, but it reminded me of that era since that was when I was coming across a bunch of new performance styles I’d never seen before, and didn’t quite know what to make of, but found really exciting.

Drop and Roll is parkour, and if you’ve seen any action movie in the last five years you’ll have seen a bit of that. If you don’t know what it is, google it. Trace Elements are apparently Australia’s best exponents of the French sport/art/something, which is all about reimagining our relationship to the urban space, the efficient body, velocity and so on. It’s not as immediately impressive as Human Graffiti (they share the same space) but that’s mainly because I – and most people, I guess – don’t yet have the vocabulary to understand everything that’s going on here. There’s a whole philosophy behind parkour (and its offshoot, free-running) that’s worth looking up. In the meantime, check this show out – it’s still really strong stuff. It’s also free.


This dance piece started half an hour after the stated starting time but was only about 15 minutes long and was – yes – free, so things kind of even out I suppose. It’s pure, abstract dance performed by three dancers, choreographed by someone else. If you like pure, abstract dance you’ll enjoy this – it’s a good, bite-sized fix, kind of like a Milky Way, and like I said it’s FREE. If abstract dance isn’t already your thing, it probably won’t convert you. Some people just don’t dig Milky Ways. It’s by Myrtle Tree dance company, who I think are new.


Shock comedy sucks. It's easy and it's rarely funny. When Adam Vincent mentioned that he'd be talking about mostly 'wrong' stuff, I began to silently mouth the code phrase that slams the door of my mental panic room ("Fleamarket. Montgomery. It's Just Like. A Mini-mall.") This gig turned out to be brilliant, however, because Vincent is intelligent and handsome and well-intentioned and wears a very smart suit. He covers some seriously tricky territory and on an off-night this could turn out badly. But he won the house from the get-go in this early outing, and had me laughing hard at material that - in the wrong hands - would have had me heading for the door. I was well impressed. It's free, too, and as good as some of the top-priced Comedy Festival acts. Highly recommended, folks.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (1)

So I made a calendar of 83 shows I thought I could get to at this year’s Melbourne Fringe (launched yesterday). I mentioned this to a friend and he said “Hey, it’s like Around the Fringe in 80 Shows”. Oh, I think you dropped something. WAIT, IS THAT A GAUNTLET? I accept the challenge. I’ll try to write up 80 capsule reviews here in the next three weeks.

THRILL! at the SIZZLING NEW ART I encounter!!!
MARVEL! at the pointless AMBITION of my task!!!
GASP! as my writing becomes increasingly erratic and HYSTERICAL!!!!
SKIM! the reviews for the BEST BITS!!!

And so:


This tap-dance/hip-hop encounter is jaw-droppingly good in a So You Think You Can Dance way (I mean both the Australian AND US versions!) Short story: if you know where the following clip comes from you MUST see this show.

That’s right – I don’t make comparisons to Step Up 2: The Streets lightly, you know. In the world of dance movies with an imperative affirmation in the title (see the original Step Up, Bring It On, Stick It, Stomp the Yard, or the INCREDIBLE-in-a-bad-way Make It Happen) Step Up 2 is at the top of the tree.

Rhythm and Runners is up there too. If you enjoy high-energy, wide-appeal dance, you’ll love this. It’s not contemporary dance as you’d expect, though for the dance-literate there are innovations in here. For everyone else, there’s a bit where a performer does a tap slide across the floor then drops down INTO THE SPLITS WHILE STILL SLIDING AND THEN SLIDES BETWEEN THE LEGS OF FOUR PEOPLE WHILE STILL DOING THE SPLITS before snapping back up into a standing position. Even if you know nothing about dance, that is totally awesome.


When I saw a preview of this show – a preview, note (end disclaimer) – I thought I might be watching someone performing in front of an audience for the first time ever. It turns out she’s been doing comedy for a couple of years, and in a couple more I think she might have a good act down. At the moment it’s very patchy and she has a habit of constantly highlighting her own shortcomings. What’s odd is that this is an ok show if you don’t treat it as “comedy” – just as one woman reminiscing about stuff that happened in her life. There doesn’t seem to be a strong thread linking things, and often they’re not particularly funny, just, you know, there. She does seem likeable, though, and you want encourage her at the end. She’s just not there yet.

The funniest part of the night – and I had a good ol’ LOL at this point – was when Sless had a book of bad poems she'd written as a teenager. You can imagine the sort. She gave them to an audience member and asked her to read one out loud at random. It was nicely emo and angsty and we laughed at it a bit, and the whole idea of letting your teenaged self be humiliated by someone else was a great touch.

Then the woman in the audience reading goes "awww, you've signed it with a kiss!"

And Sless says "what?"

And the woman says "See, you've written a little X at the bottom."


Audience member: "That or you can't sign your name."



This interactive zombie experience is an hour of fun – audiences are locked in a large room while a zombie outbreak spreads across the city outside. It’s at the tongue-in-cheek, cheesy end of the horror scale rather than the gross-out nightmare stuff, and it helps when the audience gets involved whole-heartedly. In fact, I sort of wanted more of that – less dialogue and more shocks and running around, but I still enjoyed the result. The performances are silly, which isn’t so bad considering it’s a schlock zombie show. It’s all for a good cause too.


This is a hugely ambitious piece of experimental theatre that doesn’t quite achieve its intentions – or maybe it does. I think the problem is in the choice of actors, who don’t seem to really get what writer/director Tony Reck is aiming for – that or he hasn’t quite sorted out the difficulties the work inherently presents. It’s an Aussie hardboiled story of menace and drugs and murder given a serious David Lynch roughing-up, so it appears that Reck is trying to create an uncanny, nightmarish experience where reality and the interior landscape can’t be separated. The performers either over- or under-act, though, which kind of adds to the weirdness of the proceedings, but there’s enough of a narrative that you’re grasping for more. Which is kind of the point, I think, but this is definitely the show intended for those who want to be challenged on an intellectual level and left to make sense of it yourself. It’s not that you’re thinking “what the hell is going on?”, so much as “why is it being presented this way?” Dissatisfaction is an interesting artistic goal with a history of its own, but this piece isn’t going to be for everyone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Entabled Moment

Last night I was walking home through the park after a play. It was late-dark. I saw a police car driving down my street with lights flashing. A figure was sprinting away on a side street and as the police car reached the corner the figure slowed to a non-conspicuous amble and disappeared down an alley. The paddy wagon turned into the park and drove slowly.

I followed the police car into the park.

Walking through the park I saw discarded clothes – hoodies and parkas lying on benches. The police car had stopped somewhere up ahead and I saw a cluster of angry figures yelling at each other. I heard a helicopter overhead. Back on my street another three police cars had arrived and were heading towards me. Somewhere beyond them was a man running. I probably shouldn’t have entered the darkest area of the park. I went home and locked the back door for the first time in a year.

Today I was sitting in the back park – the other one behind my house – and it was sunny and aggressively kind. I saw an envelope flying 100 feet above the ground a long way away. It was fluttering well above tree-level in the front park and I got up to find it. I made a beeline through the streets to the park I’d run from the night previously and stood looking for the white paper dancing in the breeze. Who was this letter for? Where had it gone? I never found it, and probably looked like a fool standing in the middle of the park staring at the sky.
I did find a cool white stone which I took home. It migh
t make a good paperweight, which is a saddening waypoint in anything’s existence.

Some of your letters will never reach their destination. Our finitude defines us.

What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Handy Tip

Hey everyone, I just thought I'd drop one of those handy life tips on ya that you know I'm always good for. One of those little things you pick up along the way, you know? Like using a capful of vinegar to get out stubborn stains or not wearing shoes to bed.

So anyway: if you're walking along the street and someone just stops you on the street and says to you "hey, what did you think of that new Red Stitch play Red Sky Morning by Tom Holloway?" and you're thinking "what the f*** is this person talking to me about at this moment?" and they're staring at you expectantly waiting for an answer and things are maybe getting a bit awkward (maybe not?) but you want to say something because this person may have some kind of control over a funding body in your area of work, then here's what you can do:

You say "well I read that Born Dancin' used the term PLAY OF THE YEAR."

Also, if you are somehow involved in this play you can use the words "PLAY OF THE YEAR" attributed to my regular earthling name as these words might appear in print at some point in the future somewhere surrounded on either side by other words.

Just a handy tip!

Next week: Glove Box Essentials!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Today I saw a man walking through the park with a steaming mug of coffee or some other hot drink which produces steam. I was sitting there and he walked right on past me and out of sight. It reminded me of the time a guy got on the tram with a large bowl of tasty-looking risotto. Not a take-away container - an honest-to-goodness ceramic bowl probably worth about twenty bucks from House or a bit less from IKEA. This was a home-cooked meal somebody had made which was now being eaten on public transport.

In both instances, what gave me a faraway stare (which could easily be confused for some kind of petit mal) was wondering about the A to B trajectories of these people. They're not like the woman who sometimes sits in the park with a mug of cocoa and then takes her empty vessel back home. She's just having a break. The man with the mug was going somewhere. He left a point where it was possible to make a nice blue mug of hot something and was going somewhere that would accommodate a fellow turning up with said drink. The risotto experience is more to the point - if I made a nice big bowl of risotto here at home, I can't imagine taking it on a tram anywhere. I could catch a tram a few stops to a friend's house, but then I'd be standing there with a big dirty bowl and no excuses. I kind of wish I was the sort of person to make a nice meal and then walk through the streets eating it, safe in the knowledge that my destination had a sink.

This post is going nowhere, so here's something else.

I was thinking today about a day I had not so long ago where I said one word. 24 hours, and I only said one word.

It was after I'd arrived in Handa city in Japan. Handa isn't really a city. It's more like Doncaster. I had to spend a few days there on my own.

Handa's claim to fame is that certain streets smell like vinegar due to the centuries-old vinegar factories which still operate in the area. As I was walking the streets of Handa I suddenly thought "hey, there's that vinegar smell they go on about in the local tourism websites" and knew this was probably a thought I would never have anywhere else in the world. Handa hasn't got a lot going for it.

One day in Handa I decided to walk up a hill. It was a pretty steep hill lined with nondescript houses and the occasional shop. After about half an hour of walking I found myself in a park and in the park I found a monkey enclosure. This wasn't a zoo. It was a local park, smaller than a Melbourne city block, but for some reason there was a big cage with a couple of monkeys hanging around scratching themselves. Next door was a series of pens housing bored-looking ducks and a flamingo. That was all. It was a nice park, otherwise.

Then I kept walking along through the streets at the top of this hill. The houses were pretty and many had big carp kites to celebrate Children's Day. At one point a very old woman rode past on a bike and said "konichiwa". I said "konichiwa".

That was the only word I said that day.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Things I Have Seen

I have seen 101 live performances this year, not including music (and film, obviously, which is not live except in a sense that is too boring to discuss here).

That's heaps

[edited to add this wonderful companion piece to the above:]

In the hour or two since writing this post, I've realised that there have been shows that I honestly would have liked to review by simply posting one of these videos.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


1. Old people who walk with their hands clasped behind their back

2. When people – like in the movies – are walking along with a steely expression while talking on a mobile phone and they finish talking on the mobile phone and throw it into a bin. You know something bad’s going to go down

3. The phrase “like in the movies”

4. Catching people mid-yawn and then quickly looking away so that it appears as if they were silently roaring at the world

5. Seeing lost items of clothing on the street. Especially single socks. How?

6. The way that the bald spot on bald (or balding) men is often really, really shiny while the rest of their skin is often not at all shiny, and thinking about why that might be

7. Imagining these men with really, really shiny skin all over

8. Also, just going back to the lost clothing items thing, seeing infant’s shoes lying on the street – initially creepy and kind of disturbing, but eventually leading to a mental recreation of the carefree kid kicking their bootie out of a stroller as a harried parent pushes it along. I know the parent will be pissed when they eventually discover the loss, but the kid is all: who cares? Gotta keep on kicking!

9. The person on the tram home from this evening’s production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Ninety who was listening to a Spanish lesson on their iPod. It was Lesson 9: Coffee Break, and the album title was Learn Spanish With… and the rest was cut off. Who were you learning Spanish with, fellow commuter? Well I wonder

10. Not using full stops or periods at the end of each entry on this list, despite my compulsion to do so

11. The word “gravel,” which I have long thought is an excellent word to silently mouth when one is thinking

12. Little kids thoughtfully counting their silver coins at a milk bar and carefully evaluating their next move

13. People uncomfortably wearing clothing items that were probably unwelcome gifts

14. Pretending two people talking on their mobiles within my field of vision are actually talking to each other

15. That the fairly average play Love Lies Bleeding – written by Don DeLillo and recently presented locally by Red Stitch – included a character discussing how “gravlax” is such a good word, which in turn made me think of “gravel” and silently mouth it for a bit

16. People who take a ticket at the deli counter even when there is nobody else waiting

17. Any business with the word “Just” preceding the item or category of items they specialise in selling

18. “Trail mix”

19. Being asked the time by a stranger, which suggests said stranger has neither a watch nor mobile phone

20. Really, really old people buying trashy consumer products like Doritos or energy drinks

21. Realising that something which used to really bug me doesn’t even cause a murmur of interest anymore, and in fact now makes me a little bit happy for that reason. See “trail mix” for a minor personal example

22. Reading something you wrote a long time ago and having no idea what you meant by it

23. Watching the slowly revolving stage of Ninety

24. Recalling the joy of climbing trees

25. Seeing a stranger somewhere and then, later in the same day, seeing the same stranger again in an entirely different location. Hey, it’s you! But I don’t know you

26. Waking up from a dream that you wish was true, then feeling as if it was true for a few hours afterwards

27. People running for a reason (nobody runs without a reason, good or bad)

28. The first words of the opening chapter of Moby Dick, which I will here quote in full: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street , and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

29. Determining that there is no way I can possibly get to a 6.30pm showing of Ninety and home again on a two-hour ticket. And the financial expenditure being alleviated by the fact that I got to use MATHS

30. Thinking about how, as a child, I used to take a running leap to jump onto my bed in case there were monsters lurking underneath hoping to catch some ankle, and later hearing that others did the same thing

31. Monkeys and/or robots

32. People who say “chupa chumps,” “chumpa chomps” or some variation thereof when describing the confectionary treat Chupa Chups

33. Sitting in the park with the iPod on random and being assaulted by Billie’s Honey to the Bee before realising that it’s unexpectedly one of the perfect pop songs to lift one’s mood – any time, any mood. Turst me

34. The pretty art deco clock I bought with no hands

35. Tambourines

36. The maintenance man who looks after my house and whose name is James Taylor, and who followed up the introduction with the words “yes, the very one”

37. Wondering about how you reacted to the “Turst me” typo

38. The thumb-and-forefinger OK symbol – rarely used, these days

39. Seeing an entire shelf or rack at a supermarket or convenience store emptied of all goods – normally an indication that some stocktake or store rearrangement is in process, but also hinting that someone came in and bought THE LOT

40. The bees that carpet my backyard for an hour each morning, and the half-understood notion of pollination that it makes me think about

41. Performative tram-drivers who love to get on the mic

42. Hearing the word “longjeopardy”

43. Jose, the taxi driver with plans to be the first to install a sub-woofer in his cab

44. Star jumps

45. People who sit on the steps of the closed-door section at the back of the tram

46. The bit in Ninety where William describes the birth of his daughter, despite his absence at the time

47. Wind, which few of us understand

48. When people walking turn on the spot and head back the way they were coming from

49. Esteemed academics using lolspeak in emails

50. Leaving without saying goodbye, and knowing it will be forgiven

51. In fact, forgiving without even knowing it, because who cares, really? Gotta keep on kicking!

52. Ukuleles and banjos (sometimes)

53. Boat horns

54. Not wanting to finish a book because you’re enjoying it too much

55. Seeing a photo of yourself and not remembering the context in which it was taken

56. Imagining the four ventricles of your heart pumping consecutively, not concurrently, and realising that you are a process, not a product

57. Para Para

58. Imagining that one day you will be older, and will at least be able to fake wisdom

59. Hearing a song that once meant everything to you. And now feeling nothing. And coming to terms with this. You have changed

60. And then – perhaps much later – hearing this song again and reconnecting with it

61. Flinching at a sudden peal of thunder

62. Learning that you’ve been using – or pronouncing – a word wrongly for years

63. The woman at a 7-11 today who was asked if she had a canvas bag and reacted with confusion: “What do you mean?” “Some people bring canvas bags.” Her friend responded “You know, those bags that save the earth.” Her response: “I’ve got enough on my plate, jeez.” I later saw her smoking outside the Royal Women’s Hospital, so she might well have been speaking the truth

64. Conundrum. The word itself is enough

65. Watching people picking at bottle labels as they talk

66. Lafcadio Hearn’s “Kwaidan”, with one of the best concluding lines to a short story ever: “Sonjo shaved his head, and became a priest.” Rad

67. Adzuki beans

68. An understanding that there is very Iittle in the present that bothers me, but that futurity is a source of great anxiety

69. My arcane knowledge regarding the riddance of hiccups: swallow seven times – use water if necessary – and they will be gone. Vamoosh

70. Gumption

71. Regret. The most powerful spur to change

72. There is no mystery to it, he said

73. The recruits blinked dully

74. Your heart’s desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery

75. When people kick tyres on their car

76. The bit in Ninety where it is mentioned that ‘muesli’ is the ugliest word in the English language

77. When a stranger, during a routine financial exchange such as purchasing retail products, refers to you as “champ” or “chief” or “doll” or something similarly respectful/patronising

78. The phrase “refractive indices,” whose judicious use can make you sound clever in most situations

79. “This was how the novelist Philip Roth saw Nixon as early as 1960, in an essay lamenting the plight of the novelist in a country that (and this is 43 years ago) seemed to be exceeding all bounds of plausibility, making fiction redundant. The most spectacular example of this was the sight of Nixon on television: "Perhaps as a satiric literary creation, he might have seemed 'believable'," wrote Roth, "but I myself found that on the TV screen, as a real public figure, a political fact, my mind balked at taking him in."

80. Climbing trees

81. Thinking about the sciatic nerve, which I know very little about, but think about often as I remove my wallet from a hip pocket and transfer it to a coat pocket, as I did during Ninety, recalling how its added bulk can both contribute to the misalignment of my spine and the interruption of said sciatic nerve. Again, I don’t really understand this stuff

82. The structure of Ninety, which is pleasantly loose and not overly constricted by obvious narrative conventions

83. Changes in tense

84. Over-hearing the comments of high-schoolers forced to attend plays – and whose debates regarding their merits and flaws are almost entirely related to their own lives

85. Monsters

86. Watching a park ranger pull up his 4WD and get out with a screwdriver, pacing along the park pavement, stopping to check a tree before changing his mind and returning to the jeep and driving off. And imagining that trees need a tune-up on the odd occasion

87. The references – admittedly dismissive – to both Boz Scaggs and the Captain and Tenille in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Ninety

88. Not terribly enjoying a play but finding enough in it to keep me engaged for ninety minutes.

89. Lists

90. Sometimes people scream outside my window