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!!!
RHYTHM AND RUNNERS
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.
JUSTINE SLESS - NORTH BY NORTHEAST
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."
NIGHT OF THE DEVIL ZOMBIES
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.