Monday, October 06, 2008

Around the Fringe in 80 Shows (7)

THERE

I went in knowing nothing about this show and I hope you do too – it’s my next MUST-SEE shout out and it’s so surprising and invigorating that the only response is involuntary laughter, not because what you’re seeing is funny (although it frequently is) but because it’s so damn ingenious, intelligent and courageous. It’s (sort of) an ontological comedy about encounters with the worlds beyond the frame of our horizon – beginning very small, each sequence involves a sudden new attainment of consciousness in some sense which has the effect of a rapid zoom out… imagine staring at a small, lonely figure of rich detail, then realising it is part of a fascinating painted scene, then discovering the scene is just one part of a complex, Bosch-like painting, then seeing the painting amidst an entire gallery of works, then situating the gallery in a teeming city, then pulling back to see the planet upon which the city perches… you get the idea. This is an incredibly rewarding work. And like I said, it’s very, very funny.

NOTHING EXTRAORDINARY EVER HAPPENS IN TOOWOOMBA. (EVER).

There were a few tears in the audience after this gorgeous little solo performance ended. It’s hard not to like unless you’re terribly jaded and cynical. It’s a monologue by Sarah Collins which mythologises her hometown of Toowoomba in a recognisable way – the program notes name-check Muriel’s Wedding and Napoleon Dynamite but it’s not hard to spot the references. It follows a young boy named Kevin-John Vickery, whose main offence in life is ordinariness. He’s a typical comic outsider you’re supposed to empathise with and Collins does a great job building up the various characters who populate his world, from the remedial class teacher who hates her charges while feeling guilty about this resentment to K-J’s mother, perpetually shocked by her own very existence. It’s a very generous work with a beautiful script, though a few of the more obvious moments of whimsy could have been restrained a little. Certainly a very promising, feel-good production that should put Collins on the radar.

WILDE

The problem in “adapting” Oscar Wilde’s written works is that few performers can outdo the strengths of his texts themselves – this is a considered, creative rendition of three of Wilde’s short stories that doesn’t quite meet its goals, but is worth a look for the more literary types amongst you (I’m sure there are a few). The three performers have plenty going for them and handle the tales deftly and this is a heavily directed piece that remixes the original texts with a narrative that sees pivotal objects from each waiting at a train station for their moment of departure. The problem is that the stories of each, when they eventually appear, are just great – and you just want to get to them during the creative faffing around that borders each piece. Not that these moments aren’t well rendered; it’s just that the stories themselves overshadow the new material. Still, this is a strong work with a compelling cast that is probably worth catching by serious theatre folk.

TRUMAN JOSEPH’S NATURE BOX

This free-ish 10 minute series of lectures is one of those nifty Fringe breaks – each night sees a different topic incompetently handled by a comedian clearly unable to serve up much wisdom in his particular area of expertise, and the results are simple but enjoyable comedy. The lecture I attended – entitled “Sex and the Single Simian” was gentle fun, and the whole point of the exercise is to laugh at the ineptness of the speaker rather than anything else. If you’re at the Fringe Hub you can catch a performance between shows for a gold-coin donation, and at that price you certainly won’t be disappointed.

PHANTASMAGORIA

This movement piece is pretty gross. It’s like dance choreographed by David Cronenberg. There’s a dude up the back wailing on his axe like Ry Cooder while the performer manipulates his body into unimaginable shapes, isolating twitching muscle-groups in the hazy glow of purple and orange spotlights and causing his body to ripple in ways that defy comprehension. He’s bald, ripped and most hairless, and as he skitters around covered in sweat and dripping spit and snot he conjures up the image of a cave-dwelling organism that has never seen sunlight. It’s very powerful, in a confronting way, but the lack of levity or context makes for a hard viewing experience. It’s a lot like Angus Cerini’s work without the sense of humour or self-awareness – a post-human nightmare that’s hard to forget, but equally hard to embrace.

AN ACTOR PREPARES

There are moments of brilliant imagery in this piece which don’t add up to a satisfying whole – blending music and song with a monologue concerning an artist-turned-suicide-bomber, writer/performer James Adler never really produces the insight needed to have his audience understanding the motivations of an actor who ends up killing his onlookers as a political protest. The work leaps across genres, from cabaret to ridiculous pirate tale to sincere explication, but the result is muddled by this pastiche approach. It’s not a bad work by any means, but it’s still a process rather than a finished product.

SET LIST

The Set List crew are a musical impro act who produce their material from audience suggestions – each performance takes on a different genre of music to both satirise and pay homage to the form. My luck meant I turned up to the day of JAZZ! And as anyone knows, me and JAZZ! aren’t on speaking terms. Impro is a tough game, and I’ve always felt impro in both comedy and jazz is a bit of a macho game: “I can make magic happen on the spot! Just watch me! I do this ALL THE TIME!” Luckily the show turned out to be the manageable trad jazz I can handle and some decent blues and gospel numbers. It’s not the best impro I’ve seen, but at 4.30 on a Saturday this is a pleasing way to pass an hour. The audience were certainly willing to throw out suggestions, and I’d easily consider heading along to the next (non-JAZZ!) outing.

SHOWS YOU’VE MISSED

SAMMY J'S 50 YEAR SHOW
I’ll be back in 5 years, without a doubt. A charming, ambitious concept that turned out better than I’d expected.

KILL THE ENGINE
Great little dance piece – ten minutes long – from a performer with an endearing shyness who nevertheless had the guts to create a solo dance for the Fringe. Hard not to like.

THE LONELY INSTRUMENT
CWA meets Angela Carter. Interesting, but needs further work. Great sound design and strong performances, but the scope of the piece hasn’t been fully realised yet.

NZAMBI NZAMBI
Ha ha ha. Stupid, stupid zombie short from Tasmania that had plenty of good-bad moments. Doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and ends up with plenty of laughs as a result.

DEAF CAN DANCE – THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE
A worthy ambition that hasn’t found its feet so far – the company will be worth watching as it develops the distinctive choreographic style hinted at here.

WEB
Dance piece employing performers with and without disabilities – slow beginning, but at least a handful of truly powerful moments. Not at the Back to Back/Rawcus level at all, but as this company develops there should be some excellent work appearing.

FRINGE GARDEN
Who would have thought I’d spend at least an hour hanging with Vietnamese gardeners from a commission flat in Richmond? Not me. This was awesome fun, though, and will hopefully return next year.

1 comment:

Long Sentence said...

Hey, hey. I saw 'There', liked it, didn't love it. You can read, if you wish, my thoughts here: http://longsentencenosuggestions.blogspot.com/2008/10/review-there.html
Enjoy the death throes of fringe!