Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fringe World 2015 wrap

So many shows, so little time!

Turnstiles managed 51 Fringe World shows (one twice) this time around, reviewing 33 of them for The West Australian (plus one I’d reviewed previously).
Of them, I rated exactly a third at four stars or better (the “betters”, for the record, were Venus in Fur, The Bookbinder and Sex Idiot). That’s a terrific return on investment, perhaps twice what you would usually expect, and testament to the quality on show. 

Those fifty shows represent less than ten per cent of the Fringe World programme, which demonstrates what a mighty undertaking it has become. 
Artrage, the festival director Amber Hasler, and her crew, deserve congratulations for what has been achieved in such a short time by Fringe World.
I was also able to attend a number of productions that I wasn’t reviewing for The West (for which I thank the Fringe and show producers and publicists). Far too briefly, they were:
Conversations: A straightforward, derivative team improvisation that was of more benefit to its participants than the audience. The competition at Fringes is fierce, and this was out of its depth here. (★½)

All Out of Pride: Geraldine Quinn is a piping hot performer, and Michael de Grasso much more than an accompanist. Together they mine the limitless resource of crap songs from the ’80s and ’90s with the brutal efficiency of an Appalachian strip miner. My only problem with the show was its venue, DeLuxe, far too small for talent worthy of a Spiegeltent. Oh, and they didn’t do Africa. 

Kent Acott has no pride in The West link here
La Soirée: I found the prize-winning, box office smash a little disappointing. There was some great talent on display – Asher Treleaven was at his most hilarious, Ursula Martinez had more tricks up her, um, sleeve than your average stripper and The English Gents were bloody strong men, but they were the only acts I was especially excited to see reprise in a second half drained of much of its interest by repetition. One act in particular, the puppeteers Cabaret Decadanse, well and truly outstayed their welcome.

I might be the only one; here's Shannon Harvey in The West link here

The Mercy Seat: The director Hermione Gehle  successfully brought Neil LaBuet's Fat Pig to last year’s Fringe, but The Mercy Seat has lost its emotional torque as 9/11 recedes (re-setting it in a future Perth achieved little, although it was well enough done), it's far too long for a Fringe show and its two implausibilities – the male character’s somewhat silly plan to escape his wife and life, and why he would want to do it with his decidedly unappealing boss, weigh it down.

Asher Treleaven and Gypsy Rose: The Heavens: Treleaven returned, with showgirl Gypsy Rose, as The Heavens, a schmucky cabaret act going nowhere. He, of course, can go anywhere, and even if this character isn’t anything like as funny as his usual nouveau-toff persona, he’s entitled to have a crack at it.

Craig McKeough dropped by for The West link here
Bettylou Rose: Good Clean Fun: My friend and fellow reviewer Cicely Binford unveils another string to her bow in this bit of Texan frippery, and she ain’t half bad at it. Songs from the Stand By Your Man school of confessional country mix with C & W takes on some more contemporary stuff, and a good ol’ time gets had by all.

Bettylou didn't charm Zoe Kilbourn in The West link here

Short Change: Sarah Reuben and George Gayler are people you want to bump into at Fringe festivals, and they bring their gleeful enthusiasm to this little piece about the journey of a dollar coin through a number of hands. There’s not much to it, to be honest, and the prosaic TAFE classroom it was in added nothing to proceedings.

Fake Up: Georgina Cramond and Bec Miller devised this piece about beauty and the depth of skin that played in the little Guild Studio in Claisebrook. It’s a little undergraduate (and, as it turned out, was largely peopled by Curtin U’s Theatre Arts course), but there were good things there, and they were wise enough not to try to extend it beyond its substance.

Sex With Animals: The American comedian Ryan Good took time off from being den mother at the terrific Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind to bring us his stand-up hit Sex With Animals, and his combination of fearless socio-sexual commentary and disarming charm make some pretty hardcore material seem so friendly you’d (almost) bring your kids to see it.

And Now For Something Completely Wireless: Racing Minds are a well-drilled, classy British improv outfit with great characters and comic set-ups based on a ’50s radio show. The show zings when they are working their pre-arranged patter, but, like all improv, everything depends on the potential of the audience suggestions and the ensemble’s exploitation of them. This night’s were okay, but not world-beating.

Sinead McKeough was suitable impressed in The West link here

EastEnd Cabaret – Sexual Tension: Like a helpless moth to the flame, I was back for my third tussle with the incredibly sexy, funny and cutting Bernadette (Jennifer Byrne) and Victy (Victoria Falconer-Pritchard). It’s interesting to see the characters develop (to begin with, Victy was a foil to the domineering Bernadette; now it’s almost the other way around), but the quality of the gags, and the original songs, retain their unmissable quality. (★★★★)

Annelies Gartner was there for The West link here

Greg Fleet in Ad-Lib Oration: Greg Fleet isn’t necessarily a funny man, but he’s a hell of a funny writer. This show, an improvised stand-up shaped by suggestions from the audience, felt a bit like treading water (Fleet is moving, with early success, into writing for the theatre) but there are hundreds of comedians who would kill for his most throw-away lines. (★★★)

Annelies Gartner again, in The West link here

Amateur Hour: The South African duo Jemma Kahn and Glen Biderman Pam brought their wonderful The Epicene Butcher back to the Fringe this year, but their late-night show is far from a throwaway. A deep dark take on talent shows, it’s terribly funny and more than a little savage. If they bring it back next year, it'll be a hard ticket to get. (★★★★)

Ben Anderson in The West was impressed too link here
Call Girls: Janelle Koenig and Andrea Gibbs are sharp, observant writers and performers, and their story of a couple of women negotiating there way through life in and out of the call centre they work in is a very acceptable way to spend an hour of Fringe time. It’s no world-beater, but Koenig and Gibbs are so good at the characters that it could yet develop into one. (★★★)

Chantel Dyball was there for The West link here

The King and Me: Dave Warner is one of the most important artists to come out of Perth, and his Fringe debut, a pocket musical about a down-and-out RSL club compere who’s life is changed by Elvis, is a good story with some killer songs. It’s a bit rough around the edges yet, but, by my second viewing, it well and truly justified its completely sold out season, Mark Naglazas’s positive review (link here) and the star rating he gave it. (★★★½)


No complaints about the winners of the various Fringe Awards: The Blue Room/PICA cartel are the Roger Federer of the festival; The Last Great Hunt are an elite collective and injected terrific content – and lots of it – into this year's Fringe (and while I was a little surprised that Monroe and Associates took out the Martin Sims, I was delighted that it did); the outsized contribution of women to the Fringe was evident in the nominations (there could have been even more), and, in Bryony Kimmings, they had an extraordinary standard bearer. 
Joe Lui IS the Spirit of the Fringe, even if he doesn't want to be, and I want to place on record how much I admire the work of our South African friends at the Fringe; the marvelous Tara Notcutt was acknowledged with a "Spirit" nomination, and her, and their, contribution was incalculable.

I've got one word of warning. Everything that grows fast suffers teething troubles, and I suspect Fringe World's technical capacity is not keeping up with that growth. I went to two shows that were seriously affected by poor sound quality and this issue was raised with me a number of times by people who had experienced it around the Fringe.
We all appreciate that the somewhat ad hoc tech rehearsal and bump in/bump out arrangements that come with the Fringe territory are a challenge, so the recruitment and training of proficient and committed tech suppliers and staff should be a year-long exercise, because it's essential for the Fringe's performance and brand.      

Having got that off my chest, I’d like to thank lots of people for a wonderful month of Fringe; my editor Steve Bevis and The West for the opportunity; Sian Delaney from Buzz Marketing, Amir and Bec from the Fringe box office, and Gemma Sidney from the Blue Room, for patiently working through my many, ever-changing requests; everyone at the Blue Room and Budgie Smuggler for the homes away from home; Uber for getting me there and back in one piece; and the hundreds of writers, directors, producers and performers whose work it was my great good fortune to watch and admire.


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