Sunday, February 24, 2013

Perth Fringe Festival 2013

Done and Dusted 
Turnstiles is, finally, all Fringed Out.
So, of the 42 Fringe shows I saw, I'm very glad I saw 20 and rather wished I'd have missed only nine. That's a terrific strike rate for a come one, come all fringe, and a testament to both the quality of our local artists and the ability of Marcus Canning and the Fringe World team to attract quality from interstate and abroad. 
I've said before, and will keep on saying, that I don't see any reason for us to stop here. Let's make the Cultural Centre precinct a place to gather, be entertained and inspired twelve months a year, not just at festival season. We don't need more fancy buildings or expensive infrastructure; just content, great content, and I'm absolutely convinced the demand will be there, and the benefit, to our city and our state, immeasurable.

Read on for a run-down of my Fringe:

Saturday 23 February
It was appropriate that the very last show I saw, The Cutting Room Floor's Poly, was, as so many have been, a real surprise packet.
The story of a lesbian love triangle that tears apart when one of its members makes a startling request, Poly is smartly written (by Zoe Hollyoak) and performed with generosity and accuracy by Amanda Watson, Ann-Marie Biagioni and Verity Softly, who gave a performance of magnetism and emotional control that deserves special mention, even in such an excellent cast.

Thursday 21 February
We’ve seen the eight South African visitors to the Fringe sing, dance, conjure and act, and now one of them, Rob van Vuuren, has brought his stand-up show to one of the Fringe’s nasty De Parade Teatro tents.
He was already a Fringe favourite of mine for his performance, along with Albert Pretorius and James Cairns, in the incendiary Three Little Pigs, my choice so far for best theatre production at the festival.
Van Vuuren is quite a talent, with a phenomenally expressive face and voice, and a dancer’s body, all of which work hard in his high-octane solo act.
Maybe a little too hard last night.
The Parade Teatro tents are mean venues for acts that rely on audience response to match their energy; without it, the artificiality of their performance is exposed. I’ve no doubt the audience appreciated his act – I certainly did – but I’d prefer to see van Vuuren in a more forgiving room before I passed judgement on it.  
Earlier in the night Turnstiles called in on Pluck!, Steven McCall's tight little story of guns and some people who shouldn't have them. A stellar cast of Perth performers, including Equity Guild best actress winner Rhoda Lopez, Brendan Ewing, Jo Morris, Andrew Hale and Michael Collins (as a very convincing dog) deliver a stylish, professional production that fits the Fringe like a glove, even if it doesn't agitate either the heart or the head overmuch.  

Wednesday 20 February
The Fringe's theatre programme is determined to go out with a bang, on the evidence of not one, not two, three terrific shows Turnstiles parked itself at last night.
Never Mind the Monsters at the Blue Room might be the festival's last sleeper; sure, a double-bill about OCD and depression mightn't sound like a fun night out, but two very clever scripts – by Anna Bennetts and Alex Manfrin – and two revelatory performances – by Melanie Bennett and Summer Williams – won the
m the cigar.

Everyone's been raving about the Bane trilogy, Joe Bone's international pulp tour-de-force. They've all been right. And the Bane I saw, no. 2, is supposed to be the least funny of the set. Well, Holy Toledo! 1 and 3 must be hysterical.
And to cap it off, Lucy Hopkins's Le Foulard is a mesmerising ride through the wilds of an artist's mind, featuring the deadliest scarf since Isadora Duncan went for a Sunday drive.  
Link here to my review of the three shows in The West and on Turnstiles.

Tuesday 19 February
Not every post's going to be a winner, of course, and after a couple of nights marveling at the power of the South African shows here for the Fringe, it's probably not surprising that neither Public Place or See Ya, Sailor Man hit me out of the park. 
Still, everyone's different, and both shows had plenty you might latch on to. Link here to my review of both in The West Australian. 

Monday 18 February
Went to the Parel Spiegeltent to hear Total Eclipse of the Heart for what seemed like the eighteenth time this Fringe. Trixie and Monkey's Flipping and Stripping were the culprits, and their show generally didn't have the smarts of, say, the Wau Wau Sisters, or anything like the the humanity of The Freak and the Showgirl. 
A bit hard to get excited about Candy Girls either. Dawn Pascoe, Ruth Battle and Rachel Strickland, perform some neat aerial work, but the show seems more like calesthenics than circus, and its choreography and comedy needs plenty of work.
Nothing could dampen the spirits on a night that started so well, though. Tara Nortcott, the young South African writer/ director whose ...miskien was a Fringe highlight last year, is back with the brilliant political allegory, Three Little Pigs. Albert Pretorius returns for the show, along with the very busy James Cairns and Rob van Vuuven, whose solo stands are also on this week. Don't miss any of them. My review of Three Little Pigs here .

Sunday 17 February
A terminally tired Turnstiles put its wary feet up tonight after a whirlwind of activity over the weekend at the Fringe.
After Uta Uber Kool Ja at the Riverview Hotel on Mount St, the after party of the stars (link here to my review), I finished Friday night off with James Cairns's fabulous solo performance in Dirt. Link here to my review.
Saturday night was a bit of a blur, but The Improved at the Blue Room really needs very little. Sadly, its Fringe run is over, but I hope it gets another somewhere sometime in the near future. Link here to my review.

Thursday 14 February
Popped in to Love @ First Fight, one of the herd of South African wild beasts who've swum across the crocodile-infested Indian Ocean to graze at the Fringe (in their case until Feb 23). There's not a whole lot to it, but Ash Searle and Vanessa Harris don't just think they can dance, and it has that interesting intensity that all the SA acts seem to share.     

Wednesday 13 February
There is another festival in town, and I've had my say about Barry McGovern's impeccable performance in Samuel Beckett's Watt (at the Heath Ledger until Sunday) elsewhere. But I'm a Fringe dweller at heart, and bracketed Watt with Ponydance in the big Spiegeltent and City of Shadows in Parade Teatro I, both of which, sadly, have now finished their runs.
Ponydance is a wickedly funny look at straight and gay sexuality, and how to dance them both.  Much fun.
Rachael Dease's City of Shadows, which took the big prize at last year's Fringe and returns for a lap of honour after an acclaimed debut in New York, is a chilling and beautiful musical environment featuring Dease's enigmatic, lovely songs and a remarkable set of crime scenes and low living from 1920s Sydney. I'd love Ken Burns to see it. Nick Cave too. 

Joanne Sutton
Tuesday 12 February 
It's the ones that sneak up on you that you remember most, I think. 
So far this Fringe, they have been Aaron Pitre's Inside the Cup and Emily Andersen's Love in the Key of Britpop, both gutsy solo shows that took you into their world as they went.
Add Insomnia Cat Came to Stay  to the list. An unusual, bravely staged play about the wide-awakes and the chaos they cause, with a compelling performance by Joanne Sutton and brilliant animation by Thomas Russell. Link here to my review in The West.

Monday 11 February 
Turnstiles ducked out of the swelter for three shows on Monday night, but the coolest was also the hottest.
Don't take your eyes off Stuart Lightbody, not for a second. If you do, he'll destroy your brain. The legerdemanic South African's Stuperstition is a likeable foray into illusion, sleight of hand, auto-suggestion and other impossibilities. He's not the most charismatic performer, but he knows his stuff and, happily, concentrates on doing lots of it very well.
A Screwdriver
The Tower Studio at PICA is not air-conditioned but, fortunately, you can get a cocktail during the show. All you have to do is be the first to answer a simple question (I scored with "Who Wrote Red, Red, Wine?" "Neil Diamond") and Jeffrey Jay Fowler mixes you up your choice from the menu (A deadly Screwdriver in my case). Your drink comes with a tight little story, a fable, a recipe or just a spray from Fowler. There's much more to A History of Drinking, his 2009 award-winning Blue Room show, than that, but it's a good start! And a hell of a good show. (And thanks to the saintly Arielle Gray - greater love hath no actor than this, that she give up her seat for a critic.)
A break, then back to PICA for the sadistically-named Wet Weather Ensemble's Birdboy, which has split opinion right down the middle. Mine is in my review in The West link here.

Sunday 10 February
February has decided to come down hard on Perth, the city of a thousand festivals, and it glowered over Northbridge Sunday night, setting of thousands of small explosions and releasing dragons in the streets. 
Things were much cooler in the Parel Spiegeltent in Fringe World, as Marcel Lecont, the self-proclaimed Gallic Symbol, plied his nonchalant craft. Lecont (is that his real name? Is it??) is a dirty minded Frenchman (Is he? Is he really??), much to the delight of a packed house of dirty minded Aussies, Kiwis, Poms and, as we found out, Frogs. His routines are sometimes a bit laboured, but his reparteé, bon mots, and taking of le piss are magnifiqué. He's fringe paydirt, and I'm sure he'll be back at it next time Perth heats up in February.    
Saturday 9 February
Tim Watts is the kid who wouldn't grow up, and he and his lost boys (and girls) play theatre like others play ultimate frisbee. It may not be theatre for kids (and The Wives of Hemingway is  often decidedly adult) but it has the quality of a game a bunch of them would play in their cubby.
Link here to my review of The Wives of Hemingway, which runs until Feb 16 out the back of the North Perth Bowling Club.

Friday 8 February
I had a bit of a one step forward, two steps back evening at the big PICA triple-bill on Wednesday.  All three shows push the boundaries of theatre. I can’t say they are also all successful as art and entertainment.
Arielle Gray and Gita Bezard
The first, Minnie and Mona, dances – sometimes playfully, sometimes frantically – around the hard topic of suicide. It's very funny, very fierce and very sad; it’s a finely-cut Fringe festival gem.
The idea behind Bron Batten’s Sweet Child of Mine is clever enough; tell the story of her life and career, her parents and her relationship with them, and have them  perform it with her.
The difficulty is that the set-up, and those effective scenes that result, are all achieved in short order. The rest is awkward, repetitive and rambling.
When Venice finally sinks beneath its lagoon, let’s hope it takes all the sullen, erotic mysteries it has inspired with it. Humphrey Bower’s Masks is the latest member of a sub-genre that stretches from Thomas Mann to Mills and Boon, and ultimately it’s as tedious as the rest.
Link here to the complete review of all three plays in The West Australian.

Thursday 7 February
Took the mighty Mack to see Friends? on the weekend. Probably better suited to six and seven-year-olds than my razor-sharp nine-year-old grandson, but we enjoyed it – and it's great to see a thread of shows for kids running through the Fringe.
You can read what Mack and I thought about Friends? here, and my spray from last year on another Fringe show for kids, Kaput, here.

Wednesday 6 FebruaryEmily Andersen is an unprepossessing, 30-something Melbourne girl who’s affection for Britpop, Britain and a boy therefrom got her in and out of love and marriage a few years back.
She’s also a poet, and her witty and touching autobiographical verse play, Love in the Key of Britpop, is the product of that time, that romance and that affection. Link here to my review.

Tuesday 5 February 
By their nature, fringe festivals are many-headed beasts. Most obviously, of course, because they have many heads (how many acts are at Fringe World? Twenty-five thousand?) but, more significantly, because their acts offer different things for different people.
So you have the fringe monsters, razor sharp sixty-minute entertainments - generally musical, generally outrageous and with a finely-honed pop sensibility, whether it's the trailer trash aerobatics of The Wau Wau Sisters, the emotional showbizzery of Le Gateau Chocolat or the anarcho-top-fortitude of Frisky and Mannish. These wildly entertaining acts (I've got my reservations about the Wau Waus, but you know what I mean) are looking to get too big for their speigeltents, much as performers like Camille O'Sullivan, and our own Meow Meow and – spectacularly – Tim Minchin have done. All three are having extended, all-but-sold out runs at Fringe World, and you shouldn't miss them.
 But there's another side to the Fringe, the small, independent alternative theatre productions for which this festival, and others like it, offer much needed oxygen. Some appear under the umbrella of supporting organisations like the Blue Room, but others are very much on their own.
Dark Stars tells the intertwined stories of Irving Sayles, a self-exiled African-American vaudevillian who enjoyed great popularity in Australia and New Zealand a century ago, and New Yorker Jonathan Council, the subject and performer of the short play by New Zealand writer Arthur Meek. Council, on a stage bare except for cutouts of Sayles and celebrities he's encountered, like Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Taylor, switches characters between Sayles and himself, as part narrator, part autobiographer, and a fascinating story of oppression and freedom, success and failure emerges from the duality.
This isn't the kind of show that has crowds of thrill-seekers queuing for entry (and the De Parade Teatro, with its bleacher seating and intrusive air-conditioning, is a far from ideal venue for this intimate performance), but it's a good example of the steak you can find beneath the sizzle at the Fringe.

Monday 4 February
An incredible weekend as Perth swarmed over the monster that Fringe World has become. I'd love to know how many people were lining up for tickets, drinks and entry to shows, but I doubt the often desolate Cultural Centre has seen anything quite like it.
It really does beg a couple of questions – if this can happen for four weeks in February each year (and remember, the grown-ups Festival hasn't even begun yet), why can't it happen all year?
And who are all these people who obviously are up for the popular arts, and why can't they be attracted to them the rest of the year? 

Thursday 31 January
The Fringe has thrown up its first surprise for me, an idiosyncratic and ultimately moving slice of life called Inside the Cup by Seattle performer Aaron Pitre (at the Bok Choy Ballroom until February 10).
I say ultimately, because at first glance, and for the first part of the performance, it’s hard to know what you’ve got yourself in for.
Pitre plays nine characters, all employees of the Cosmo’s Coffee Cup chain of cafés. It’s Starbucks, of course, and the first person we meet, Cosmo Schwartz, is a thinly disguised Howard Schultz, the gargantuan coffee chain’s iconic leader.
Aaron Pitre
Now here’s an irony. For seven years, the President of Starbucks International, the man responsible for rolling its coffee out across the globe, was a West Australian, Peter Maslen. About the only country where Maslen and Starbucks failed to take hold was his own.
That irony is self-evident as Pitre plays through his stories. Australians don’t get the Cosmo’s/Starbucks thing, don’t understand the appeal of the product or the corporate and employment philosophy behind it – it’s alien to us, and, as a result, the stories Pitre tells initially seem artificial and parodic. It’s only as they unfold that you begin to realise how close to the truth they actually are.
The guy with two postgraduate degrees who can’t get a job, except at Cosmo’s. The young, transgender Patrick/ Pepper who finds shelter as well as employment at the café; the tough New Yorker and gay Southerner who fight for their dignity from behind the counter; the migrant Indian doctor, unable to practice medicine in America, who works for Cosmo’s because of its health plan (Starbucks are famously one of the very few organisations in the US with a decent health insurance for low-paid and casual workers).
Suddenly, Pitre’s stories aren’t schmucky at all; they overflow with life and courage, and the extraordinary drive and optimism that is their exceptional country’s greatest asset.
This is an unusual piece, even for a fringe, and not everyone will want to stay its two-hour distance, but it’s got some valuable stories to tell, and some real things to say.

Wednesday 30 January
The Blue Room’s Summer Nights programme sits at the heart of Fringe World, and offers the main point of entry for Perth’s theatre practitioners into it.
The first of its 25 shows to hit the stage, 600 Seconds, is the quintessence of fringe. The idea is simple: seven acts have ten minutes each to perform their piece – they inhabit a bare space, with basic lighting and sound, and go for it.
It’s a challenge for performers, and for their audience, but the good news – on Tuesday night at least – was that there were few disappointments and many rewards.
George Gayler’s The Suitcase Set is a difficult beast; in large part a platform for her abundant talents, it’s almost a monologue (Stacy Gougoulis flits in and out of the action, and plays a variety of instruments nicely) on love, heartbreak and the whole damn thing.
You can link here to my complete reviews in The West Australian. 
Tuesday 29 January
 Nothing at last year's inaugural Perth Comedy Festival was funnier or betterer than Melbourne comedian Asher Treleaven's solo stand upstairs at the Astor. 
I said at the time that he was like a young Barry Humphries, and if you can imagine Humphries as the compere at a burlesque, you've got the gist of Comic Strip in the Spiegelent at its new, sideshow alley home in the Fringe village.
Compere isn't quite the right word for Treleaven's performance, though. He does introduce a comic guest – tonight it was the fine Canadian funster Pat Burtscher, who's doing a stand of his own up at the Bok Choy Ballroom (link here to Ella Bennett's review in The West) that would be well worth checking out – and a bevy of lissome artistes of international acclaim, Misses Gypsy Wood, Polly Rae and Lada Redstar, who provide the neccessary titillation the show's title promises, but it's overwhelmingly his show. 
Some of Treleaven's material returns from last year's solo show (including, I'm happy to report, his gobsmackingly filthy reading from the Mills and Boon classic Emerald Fire), some of it is new for this show, but he'd be a hoot just reading the stock market report.
Here's a bit of its star in action (I'll leave it to you to hunt up clips of the girls):

Treleaven and a bunch of strippers would be a hard act to to follow by the best of them, and I'm afraid the American troupe Madcap Theatre's Chatterbox and the Proper Abuse of Language falls a fair way short of that. Their very short show (it ran under 40 minutes, much of it an interminable "intermission" only partly enlivened by projections of some fairly standard SMS bloopers) purports to be an analysis of language and how we muck it up, but in truth it was neither illuminating, funny or much about what it claimed.

Sunday 27 January
Jennifer Byrne and Victoria Falconer-Pritchard, also known as Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria, also known as EastEnd Cabaret have brought their spectacularly obscene and gorgeously musical song cycle Notoriously Kinky to Perth and the new, larger Idolize Spiegeltent. (The smaller De Parel Spiegeltent has lifted her skirts and shimmied over to the other end of the much expanded Fringe Village in the Perth Cultural Centre.)
Bernadette, an Eastern Bloc vamp in come-hither black catsuit, and Victor, her hermaphrodite accompanist and lovelorn stalker, work the crowd (Liam, a manly, blue-eyed mine worker who got two runs on stage, first as half of Bernadette's "manbeast" and later as her nightclub pick-up, may never be the same again; even Turnstiles found itself the object of her unforgettable attention). Their songs, whose titles – Is it in Yet?, The Ping Pong Song, It's Still Hard, I'm in the Cupboard and Danger Wank might threaten to be like a Kevin Bloody Wilson set list, but there's way more going on, musically and artistically, than that. As you can see here:


My talented colleague Melanie Coram saw the Eastenders pretty similarly in The West link here.

Like all good strippers, the Melbourne actor Hannah Williams has taken a stage name (the well-known German auto) for her dabble in the world of lap and pole dancers.
Mercedes Benz Awkwardly tells her stories and those of her workmates Bambi, Roberta, Bok Choy, gals with hearts of gold, and the blokes who pay them to do stuff (but no touching, gentlemen). They are often funny and sometimes sweet, but the show is occasionally a bit didactic and doesn't often tell us things we haven't already heard. My friend and mentor Steve Bevis has a closer look at Mercedes in The West link here

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