Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Here we go again!

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting reviews of shows in this year's Fringe Festival, with links to other reviews in The West and elsewhere, and anything else that comes to me in the seething morass that is engulfing Perth through to January 20.

Here’s the story so far…

Nikki Britton: Romanticide ★★★½
Perth City Library until February 18
I haven’t ventured out to comedy much this Fringe, but I couldn’t resist seeing Nikki Britton at the Perth City Library, part of the new Cathedral Square hub for the festival.
Britton came to Perth a few years ago with the uninvitingly-titled 51 Shades of Maggie Muff, and it turned out to be a hilariously filthy romp, and she turned out to be brilliant in it. (Here’s what I said at the time.)
So this is her stand-up routine – on fairly similar ground, with a pretty similar result. Britton takes us to ganglia cysts in the groin and the biblical way of dealing with them, the unsolicited dick pics she remorselessly attracts (only one of which, mercifully, we got to see), various unseemly smells and the reasons for them and other stuff which, as the title suggests, tend to be romance killers.
It’s wild and wooly stuff, but it’s also very human and, in her hands, very approachable. Britton has a genuine comic talent (by which I mean she is genuinely funny) and a fine observational gift.
She also had a very small audience. It deserves to grow by the end of her Fringe season. 

If there’s no dancing at the revolution I’m not coming ★★★★
The Blue Room until 18 Feb
It’s an interesting word, “strip”. In the context of Fringe, it means people (almost always women) finding entertaining ways of removing their clothing.
That may be so, but Julia Croft’s show is more about the rest of strip’s dictionary definition: to pull or tear the covering from something.
This she does with a relish, intelligence, literacy and fierce humour reminiscent of Bryony Kimmings’ Fringe smash, Sex Idiot.
None of those qualities matter without energy, and Croft has it in spades. She’s a dervish, in and amongst us, fixing us drinks, blasting out bubbles and confetti, pulling junk food rabbits from her hat, whirling through a one-woman (and, very effectively, audio-visual) history of the flicks and, through it, the objectification of women and their bodies.
As she does, she peels; clothes, yes, but layers of image and image-making too, finally, as she becomes, in a sense, a real” woman, dancing her way through Psycho to Pretty Woman to Blue Velvet to Chandelier.
It’s exciting theatre, bold, hilarious and free, and it makes its important point with an impact far more structured and earnest shows can’t match.
I’m guessing this will be the last show on stage in this year’s Blue Room Summer Nights programme. If so, it’s a fitting end to another great season, and deserves a packed house for the finale.

Them Good Ol’ Boys ★★★½
The Blue Room until February 18 
The day the music died. Clear Lake, Iowa, on a cold February night in 1959. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper. Waiting for the plane to fly them up to Minnesota.
Good Ol’ Boys is the second collaboration between Perth’s Weeping Spoon Productions and Canada’s Stadium Tour, a theatre company devoted to rock music. The first, Vicious Circles, the story of the last days of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, was an outstanding hit at Fringe a couple of years back. Shane Adamczak, who was a spookily accurate Johnny Rotten in that show is back, this time as Buddy Holly, and just as convincing.
Joining him is a stellar Canadian/ West Australian cast including Patrick Rogers as Waylon Jennings, the Country/ Americana superstar who gave up his seat to The Big Bopper and Paul “T-Rex” Grabovac as Richie Valens, who “won” his on the toss of a coin with bassman Tommy Allsup (St John Crowcher).
Kathleen Auburt plays Each McGuire, Holly’s first girlfriend and muse, who, coming back to the fatal night from the future, acts as an augury of the tragic events and a solace to those young men whose lives will soon be lost.
It’s a complex play (by Ben Calman, directed by Stefan Cedicot), far from a straight storytelling, with the future of rock ’n’ roll referenced, like ripples spreading from the fall of this night’s stone.
It felt, on it’s first ever performance, like a show that still had some distance to travel, but there’s no doubt it has that journey in it. I'll happily admit that, as Buddy and the boys put on their coats and left to catch that plane, if there was a dry eye in the house, it wasn't mine.
Even by the last night of its Perth Fringe run I’d not be surprised if it adds a star to those it earned on its first. Well worth a visit.   

Lucidity ★★½The Blue Room until February 18
This is what happens when a bunch of young, ambitious and highly talented writers, directors and actors take a neat idea and let it, and the process of theatre-making, run away with them.
The bunch are writer and director Michael Abercromby, and the actors Andreas Lohmeyer, Shaynee Bradshaw, Charlotte Devenport and Alex Malone. The idea goes something like this:
Alex (Lohmeyer) has a great product that’s making him rich and fucking up his life. It’s a system, Lucidity, which allows you to control your dreams and use them to rehearse your waking life (“Stop Dreaming and Start Living!” says the slogan).
Trouble is, Alex is letting Lucidity use him – partly to connect with his dead wife Em (Bradshaw), but more often to replace reality with fantasy.
It's a clever and useable metaphor for addiction; the trouble is that Abercromby writes with such vehemence that the characters are hard to grasp, let alone empathise with.
That’s not such a problem for Malone’s Billy, Alex’s tough-loving sister, or Devenport’s Ashley, Alex’s doomed attempt at romance; they, and Bradshaw have good, sharp scenes which they play with panache.
But Lohmeyer is buried under the avalanche of words and emotions that gets thrown at him, and he quickly becomes insufferable. You don’t hate him – you just don’t want to be in the same room.
Dirty People ★★★½
Joe's Juice Joint
This little twister is a homecoming for a Sydney-based cohort of (mainly) WAAPA grads, staged with serious site specificity in a dive bar down some stairs off a Northbridge alleyway (Joe’s Juice Joint – if you’re up to mischief I recommend it). Dirty People is a tight comedy thriller that hangs together with impressive ease through a tricksy maze of parallel scenes.

Read all about it!

When He Gets That Way ★★★
The flier doing the rounds for Ann Marie Healy’s When He Gets This Way claims it is Downton Abbey meets Monty Python.
I beg to differ – it’s more like Edward Lear meets Edgar Alan Poe and Jean Genet. Whatever names you call it, though, it’s a deliciously wicked and consummately performed piece of dark tomfoolery that you should make it your business to see.

Read all about it!

Badger and Kit Write the Best Love Song Ever ★★★
State Theatre Centre
Ann-Marie and Michael Biagioni are siblings, and talented ones. Michael is a polished, adaptable musician, and Ann-Marie one of our most notable and noteworthy young actors. Here, as Badger and Kit, they have entered a contest/audition (it’s a little unclear exactly what) to come up with “the greatest love song ever”.
It’s a nice idea, a chance to have some fun and play out some brother/sister dynamics, and by and large it works well. The siblings step in and out of the spotlight, their search for the perfect love ballad neatly juxtaposed with their own rocky romantic lives.
Another layer is provided by the artist Matthew Hooper, who builds his own visual love story (different each night) behind them. It’s a nice touch.
If Badger & Kit has a weakness, it’s an overload of intensity; Ann-Marie has an energy that sometimes seems like an unspecified anger. There are times she comes on so strong it threatens the balance of the narrative.
But, that aside, what emerges is the story of a family overflowing with love, the signposts of happy childhoods, the resilience that comes with it. Even the crippling judgement of the competition adjudicator (this night Lisa Loutitt, whose When He Gets That Way plays at Fringe this week), who, after her other criticisms, declares “and what’s more – this is not a love song” can’t dampen their determination and ambition. 

A Prudent Man ★★★½
The Shambles
Christopher Pyne is not given to spilling his guts for an hour in a tent at fringe festivals. Neither is Alexander Downer.
In their absence, Lyall Brooks does a pretty good job of representing them, and all the other smug, smarmy South Australian liberal politicians that have looked down their noses at us through interminable years.
Katy Warner, whose Reasons to Stay Inside was one of my favourite shows at last year's Fringe World, may not quite have created what she aimed for in A Prudent Man. Her motivation was the rise of Trump, One Nation and the National Front;  what she and Brooks have in fact created was not someone breaking in from the outside like The Donald, Pauline and the Brexit crew, but someone born to the belly of the beast like Downer, Pyne, David Cameron or Malcolm Turnbull. Just as odious, perhaps more dangerous – in the long term at least – and far, far more deceptive.
The Prudent Man oozes self awareness and contempt; "They are they, we are we" is his mantra as he walks down shopping malls (I imagine Rundle Street), imagining the angry people he sees as seagulls worrying a chip he's thrown them. Women deserve what they get (Tony Abbott's "Shit happens" is his "Things that batter"). He is not "the enemy"; we must be "cautious and alert".
Things descend, as they must, into The Prudent Man's personal hell, and perhaps the show lingers a little too long in there, but it's a finely drawn and powerfully performed portrait of a man the likes of whom we have seen too often.

Zeppelin was a Cover Band ★★★
The Shambles
Stéfan Cédilot’s (very) animated lecture is, as the name suggests, a ramble through the basement of The Zep’s monumental repertoire, pointing out its foundations in the blues and folk music.
There’s nothing new or startling about the stories of Led Zeppelin’s rise from the ashes of The Yarbirds, or the ways Jimmy Page fashioned the music of the Delta and Chicago into the turbocharged monsters they became. But, if you’re interested in Page, Plant and co, or the legacy of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters or Bert Yansch (all of whom Cédilot plays, along with Zeppelin’s reworkings), then there are some very good books I could lend you.
Or maybe an hour or so with the entertaining Mr Cédilot will suffice.     
Amelia Ryan Late 'N' Loose ★★½
The Gold Digger
Amelia Ryan was her effervescent self in this Fringe variety gig, but, on this late Friday night, the audience was tired and flagging. Her guests were struggling to tease the audience into the kind of response a polished cabaret performance should have. The outrageous Rueben Kaye, the evil love child of Liza Minnelli and Jim Carrey, got close, but Tessa Waters, with her imaginary hula hoops and Shirley Gnome with her guitar lacked late-night lustre.

Love Thy Monster ★★★½
Blue Room
Joe Sellman-Leava, the British writer and performer, wowed us with his virtuosity in last year’s Fringe hit Labels (happily brought back for the 2017 festivities), and this year’s model, Love Thy Monster, demonstrates it again. Virtuosity, though, is not its own reward, and there are bumps along the way in this multifaceted exploration of the violence that men do, very often to their women.

Paradise Lost ★★★★½
State Theatre Centre
This, as you might have guessed, is the story of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe.
This is not burlesque, or stand up. You won’t hear Total Eclipse of the Heart here (although the title is suggestive). But thank God – while he’s in the room – that there’s a place for work like this in the Fringe World.

Grounded ★★★★½
State Theatre Centre Studio
Alison van Reeken is the very best of our actors, and she's extraordinary in this future Turnstile Award-winner

The Book of Life ★★★
State Theatre Centre Studio
Joe Lui has an energy and work ethic that would impress Lee Kuan Yew (Lui is an estranged Singaporean). But there’s nothing workaday about his work. His writing is visionary and utterly fearless. He is without doubt the outstanding figure of the Perth stage.

Odd Socks ★★★★
State Theatre Centre
This little gem ends with a closed door, but you hope it might open again. What has gone on before, inside that door, between Charles (George Ashcroft) and Mia (Megan Hollier) is so odd and sweet, and so marvellously performed, that you can't help but be sad it's over.
Interestingly, their story has the same foundations as another Fringe World sleeper, Bus Boy. Wild, headstrong girl bursts into the cocooned life of damaged boy and tries to bring him out of himself. 
Charles is obsessive compulsive. Each item of his clothing is in boxes marked Shirts AM, Shirts PM and so on; he has a shirt-folding gadget. Mia makes an art-form of messing things up. They are made for each other. Or maybe not. they may be an odd couple; maybe they're just odd socks.
The play is the work of the director Gemma Hall and Hollier, with input from Ashcroft and Cam Clark. It's wickedly funny (raising delighted interjections from the audience at times) and perfectly feasible. In the hands of Hollier and Ashcroft, the characters are convincing and engaging, shaggy and shag-able, and the unlikely frisson between them is just a joy.
I really hope you get to see this delightfully created small and great creature.
Sami Shah ★★★★
Noodle Palace
Ah, Sami, you've done it again!
Mr Shah's star is on the ascendant, despite a disappointing (rain affected?) Tuesday night audience for his latest Perth Fringe appearance.
He's clearly passed his Radio National audition, and tweets to a growing audience.
The reasons are simple: he's a fresh, iconoclastic voice from a part of the world of treacherous importance to us, with a clear insight into what makes us tick as well; he's a cheeky little bugger with no respect for the respectable; and, oh, unlike many of the other ethnic comedians plying the same trade-routes as he is, he's genuinely really funny.
Anyone who can explain why it's important to have your mouth open when a suicide bomb goes off nearby, and make it funny as well as horrifying, deserves our attention. Anyone who can express admiration for Saddam Hussein's way with hecklers ("What does the lion care what the monkey screams from the trees") on his way to the gallows deserves it too.
Shah talks a lot about "situational awareness", the skill you develop in places like Pakistan where "everyone is trying to kill you".
The same skill that can keep you alive in deadly places can also make you a great comedian.
Shah is that - and in the Age of Trump (and his Australian disciples), it makes him an increasingly important one as well.

Not a Very Good Story ★★★★
The Blue Room
Stephanie works in a call centre for Speedy Rent-a-Car, doing their bookings and cancellations. She shares her pod with Alison and Robyn, Dave, Mel and Carmen.
She’s been away and come back, and the reason is revealed as one by one her female workmates fall ill. They are a cancer cluster (the story is inspired by a real-life case at the ABC studios in Brisbane), and their sad, frightening story is a very good one indeed.
May Jasper is Stephanie, and she creates a beautifully rounded, complex character in the shy awkward girl whose need for friendship and an unlikely love leads her to make a sacrifice that is both unexpected and absolutely convincing.

Butt Kapinski ★★★★
The Blue Room
Repeat after me: “Fiwm nerwow”. That’s “fiwm nerwow”, and it’s what this one man/woman show is all about. Parodies of fiwm nerwow are a bit of a Fringe rage (think of Monroe & Associates and the Bane and Dirk Darrow franchises), and this wild and crazy ride on those mean streets down which a man must go is a perfect fit.
Deanna Fleysher’s gumshoe is a creature of a fevered imagination, carrying his obligatory streetlamp strapped to his back and leering suspiciously at the assortment of bodies and bad guys he encounters. Who, by the way, are us.
Don’t be alarmed, though. Fleysher has the gift of taking her audience with her with ease, and, as the word of mouth that made this an instant Fringe sell-out attests, you’re in good, though really, truly weird, hands the whole way.  

Dr Felicity Rickshaw's Celebrity Sex Party ★★★★
Last night in the State Theatre Centre Injector Room
Bunches of orgasms, and even more fun, in the latest Woods and Jones mini-musical
Read all about it!

Blank ★★★
State Theatre Centre Injector Room
The expatriate Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s first play, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit had a successful run here in 2014, and his Blank is a continuation of the idiosyncratic process he employs to tell his stories.
Drunk Girl
The Blue Room
The drunk girl lives in Hudson, Quebec, a commuter town 60km east of Montreal. Thea Fitz-James brings her to vivid life in a well-drawn and finely delivered show.
Read all about it!

Price Tag
The Blue Room
Jeffrey Jay Fowler has a delicious talent for dialogue that he puts to the service of a nasty streak.
In Price Tag a friendly dinner party between a pair of haves (Jo Morris and Nick Maclaine) and have nots (Gita Bezard and Mararo Wangai) gets increasingly unfriendly as the haves up the antes to vicious heights.It’s all reliably terrific fun – hence its sold out season – deliver with needle-point precision by Fowler and his cast, and the theatrical gymnastics are flawless. Morris is, yet again, ludicrously good, Bezard and MacLaine re-calibrate smoothly as the script twists, and Wangai goes from feather duster to rooster with splendid menace.
But for all the fun and games there’s something vacuous about it, something too easy about its insights (could the name of their mutual friend – Merengue – be the most thought-provoking gag in the play?). And it’s just not real.
Fowler is a major talent and delivers great entertainment. But one day, he’ll produce work about real lives and real people - and that will be quite something! 

Bus Boy ★★★★
The Blue Room
This is the sleeper of the Fringe so far, a touching and truthful portrait of two damaged people that is often shot through with real beauty.
It's also very recognisable, set on Rottnest and with much of the feel of the best Tim Winton (and much better than some of his work we've seen on much bigger stages).
The story is simply and effectively directed by Geordie Crawley, working with fine material by Izzy McDonald in collaboration with the cast and crew. McDonald also plays Jenny, a young woman whose headstrong courage obscures deeper issues, and whose dangerous dalliance with the son of the island's fireman, the Bus Boy, leads to a beautifully nuanced parcel of consequences. One scene, as the Bus Boy rides Jenny to Thompson's Bay on the back of his bike, will not soon be forgotten.
Bus Boy could have kept a couple of its tricks up its sleeve a little more, and had the confidence to know that the audience gets it without being told, but these are small dramaturgical flaws in a marvellous, emotionally satisfying, little show.     

The One by Jeffrey Jay Fowler ★★★★½
The Blue Room 
The arc of a love affair told as a blues in a brilliant outing by the white-hot writer Jeffrey Jay Fowler and performers Georgia King and Mark Storen.
Rather Than Later ★★★
The Blue Room 
A gentle and thoroughly worthwhile piece of verbatim theatre about a place we would rather not go to and people we would rather not see. 
Mahagonny (Preview)
Hellenic Club February 1 - 5
Four decades in the making, the world remiere of Tony Durant's Brechtian song cycle has enlisted the talents of writer Dave Warner and Perth pub rock legends Dick Haynes and Bill Beare in one of Fringe World's most intriguing attractions. And the Hellenic Club is a cool venue!

Will Greenway: A Night to Dismember  ★★½
The Blue Room 
Like Stuart Bowden, another comic fantasist with whom he collaborates, I have a guilty urge to apologise to Wil Greenway. I like him, I truly do, and I think I know what he is on about, but I just don't get it (or, at least, can't stick with it).
A Night to Remember is a perfect example. Wil's character has a couple of amputatory encounters with a shark, grows cheesy arms somehow connected with an asteroid (hence becoming The Man Fromage) and has other misadventures, in none of which the rules of narrative, let alone reality, apply.  If got that bit wrong, its because it wasn't quite worth the effort to remember it.
For a while, let's say 20 minutes or so, it's all very enjoyable. You mightn't laugh, exactly, but you experience the feeling of laughter, a satisfying, pleasurable sensation like the prelude to a sneeze.
But eventually, despite Wil's charm, it all becomes an amiable muddle, and, for the last half hour or so my great temptation was to thank him very much, apologise for intruding and meekly make myself scarce.
The Little Death Club
Circus Theatre
There's not much more I can say about EastEnd Cabaret. I've made my feelings about Bernadette and Victoria perfectly clear since they first overwhelmed me back on January 27, 2013 (a date forever carved in my memory). 
This late night it's only Bernadette, as blackly cat-suited and slinky as ever, hosting a little late-night variety show in the Circus Tent.
As the title suggests to those who know their Roland Barthes, things got pretty frisky under the big top. The acts – it was late and I was distracted – were fine enough (the last , a beat-box and acoustic guitar duo, are probably really famous, but forgive me…), but this is Bernie's show, and she never fails to tantalise. Wide-eyed, gin-and-Teutonic, the kind of girl you'd like very much to take home to meet your mattress. 
She arced up late on with some political outrage – never out of place in the dawning of the Age of Trump – and left us as she always does. Hoping she'll come again and again.