Thursday, February 8, 2018

The 2018 Turnstiles Fringe Marathon

Welcome to Turnstile's run-down of the shows I've seen, or are about to see, at this year's Fringe World. 
As you'll see, previews of shows will be replaced with reviews once I get to them, with links to full reviews either in Turnstiles or elsewhere.
Before we begin, though, an editorial!
I'm often amazed, and sometimes disturbed, by the star ratings given to fringe shows. It does neither the artist or the potential audience any favours to see shows given ludicrously inflated ratings.
I try very hard to be consistent with ratings I give to shows in or out of fringe, and to have a rationale for the ratings I give.
So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:

★★ A production with some good qualities, but with significant faults and weaknesses that outweigh its strengths. Quite often a missed opportunity by people whose qualities are apparent in this production despite its weaknesses 
★★½ A production with a balance of strength and weakness but little intrinsic value or memorability, quite often of reasonable quality but little apparent reason to be staged. Sometimes, a new work with substantial promise but needing significant work to fulfil it. 
★★★ A worthwhile production whose appeal and good qualities outweigh its faults and weaknesses without rising to great heights. Occasionally, a production with very significant weaknesses, but with a particular strength worth seeing for its own sake.  
★★★½ A very worthwhile production of high professional merit, many strengths and few and not important weaknesses. Very often a new work of high promise with the potential to grow into one of importance and wide appeal. 
★★★A fine production with strong premise and artistic merit, many strengths and no significant weaknesses. Occasionally, an important production with very high artistic merit despite a significant weakness or weaknesses and the potential to achieve even more.    
★★★½ A memorable production with great significance, very high artistic merit, many outstanding strengths and no significant weaknesses. 
★★★ An unforgettable production of major significance and the very highest artistic merit that may prove able to define or change its art form.
(Anything under two stars you can decide for yourself!)
I hope that all makes sense, and that what you're reading here helps you make some of those tricky will-I-or-won't-I fringe choices. 
I always say the only thing wrong with the fringe is that it ends; have a great time!

The World According to Farts and Other Extraordinary Sounds of the Human Body ★★★½
It’s a marriage made in a very naughty heaven.
Christa Hughes – she of Circus Oz, Machine Gun Fellatio, dirty blues in dive bars and other very grown-up pursuits – in a Fringe tent with a bunch of butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths under-10s.
What could bring them together in an instant? The fart, of course!

(Read the complete review in The West Australian) 

Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore ★★★½ 
FourFiveNine in the Rosemount Hotel until Feb 11
Tomas Ford’s Fxxk Yxu line-up in the Rosemount Hotel’s FourFiveNine room is quite a ticket, and Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore  is an impressive kick-off to the season there. Moore's character, Jessica, is, as the title suggests a PSO – phone sex operator – and she runs her business like a hairdresser. She has regular customers, walk-in customers, problem customers, and her job is to find out what style they want, and give it to them.
Jessica is organised (900-odd clients in her box of alphabetical filing cards), matter-of-fact about what she's doing and why, and good at her job. 
Interestingly, what she gives her clients – and so, what they must want – is content, not play acting. So whether she's describing a titty-fuck or a blow job, the BBCs that aren't the British Broadcasting Corporation, mommy or daddy incest, or worse, she's storytelling, not character acting. It's a wise theatricalchoice; it's easier to know the character, and sympathise with her sadness, because she remains herself, not some fantasy figure.
Phone Whore is certainly confronting and, as the calls get deeper and more degrading, disturbing, but Moore still manages to inject some dark poetry into her text, and elicit real sympathy for her character. Give her a call sometime.     
ForniKATEtress ★★★
Kate Smurthwaite has done it all in her native UK, and attracted much praise, and a great deal of appalling hate mail, for her powerful feminist polemic and her openness about her lifestyle.

I found myself a little on both sides of the Smurthwaite ledger, although, happily much more in the bouquets than the shitbats corner.
Smurthwaite, you see, has an open – and highly publicised – polygamous lifestyle with her equally un-monogamous partner, James. He's one of 10 friends from whom she enjoys benefits, and we get to meet them all in a series of vignettes that also expose her working and social life, and her notoriety.
Smurthwaite has attracted that notoriety as a talisman of everything from female underarm hair to polygamy, and, boy, do they hate her for it. As you watch and listen to her, you wonder whether it's what she stands for, or just her, they hate so much. The Germaine Greer dichotomy, if you like.
She doesn't deserve the approbrium, of course, and her retelling of it  is forthright and cringeworthingly funny. Sometimes, though, her narrative is more like a TED talk than a stand-up routine (she admits as much herself), and that ties her down and distances us a little.
Not so much, though, that you won't find her, and what she has to say, well worth spending an hour or so with her at the Henry Summer (a stylish place for a drink or two before and/or after, by the way).
Oh, oh, those Summer Nights. The Blue Room’s 30-show programme of (mostly) indie theatre is the core of the Fringe, and the Turnstiles Marathon. And that’s not just because the Blue Room bar (entry with a ticket to any Summer Nights show that night) is the best, brightest – and cheapest ­– watering hole in the Fringe.

Find the Lady  ★★½
By a nice coincidence, the first show of the night was by the Blue Room's legendary bartender, Matt Penny. The magician and illusionist has mixed up a con-man cocktail in Find the Lady and it was a noirishing combination of mystery fiction and the real mysteries of legerdemain and the mind and the reading thereof.
A confession. Mr Penny and I share many passions, including a football team, and we have broken duck together on many occasions, so you're probably getting a slightly rose-coloured opinion of his show here. That said, I think he's as appealing a personality to a cold-calling audience as he to his mates, myself included.
So when I say that Penny isn't exactly a consummate character actor, that doesn't mean he's not a convincing character, and his first-person narrative of how he was taken for a ride by a team of grifters even better at it than him is more than entertaining and twisty enough to keep you engaged between tricks.
Find the Lady, the famous three-card trick, is one of them, and Penny baffles us as easily as swatting a dead fly. He guesses movie titles an audience member is thinking of, reproduces drawings he's never seen, magically reveals three words written on a card that's been in plain sight the whole show, every dice in the whole damn box. 
One day someone will put Penny and the brilliant Butt Kapinsky (who's here in a week or so - don't miss her) together, and that will be quite something. In the meantime, though Find The Lady might not quite be a must-see – you should.

Power Ballad ★★★½
Last year I compared Julia Croft's if there’s no dancing at the revolution i’m not coming to Bryony Kimmings 2015 Fringe smash, Sex Idiot. Croft is back, with Power Ballad, and it's even more fierce and hilarious than its predecessor. It's also got the wildest microphone technique you're ever going to see and hear. Whatever you do, don't miss it! 
(Read the complete review here)

The Wind in the Underground ★★★
The director Lucy Clements made an auspicious Blue Room debut a couple of years back with her Fractured and as part of The Remedy, and returns from Sydney with a bunch of largely fellow expat WA talent, in The Wind in the Underground.  
It's a finely written piece (by Sam O'Sullivan, who co-produced), exploring the divergence of a family through seperation and isolation, and how they are changed - or aren't - when they come back together. It's also a convincing description of the pain of children at the loss of their parents, and the tough, and ofen devisive, decisions that have to made when things pass from one generation to the next.
The cast, centred around the luminous, heartfelt Whitney Richards as the stay-at-home younger sister Claire, and including Rowan Davie as her prodigal younger brother, Simon, Michael Abercromby as Michell and Bishanyia Vincent as the oldest sibling, Andrea are excellently delineated and emotionally precise.
The problem with the play is that it is simply not finished; there's a deep conflict in both temperament and purpose between Mitchell and his siblings  that is not resolved, and this leaves the character of Andrea, who you feel should, and dramatically must, play a pivotal role in its settling, without a reason to be there. 
O'Sullivan has left a scene out of the play, and it's the stories most crucial one. When he finds it, The Wind in the Underground will be a very impressive and emotionally satisfying piece. 

Slap and Tickle ★★★
The director Mel Cantwell and Pinjarra-boy-making-good iOTA combined to much acclaim last Fringe in The Average Joe, and they team up again, joined by Russell Leonard and a 12-piece WAYJO orchestra, in Slap and Tickle (iOTA is Slap the clown; Leonard his gimp) in the STC Studio.
This is a show that would knock 'em dead at the Rooty Hill RSL (haven't times changed), but, in the meantime, you should let it beat you up good and proper right here and now!

Another marathon night ends, still in the STC studio, with more bloodshed and mayhem from a bunch of WAAPA grads in Minus One Sister, the Electra story all kitted out with iPhones and Instagram. Modern communication has turned cop shows on their ear – let’s see what it does to Greek tragedy!

Anna Morris is another funny person from the better class of British sitcom (in her case, Outnumbered and Bad Bridesmaid) who’ve clearly been told about our shark-free beaches and dirt cheap coffee. Her wedding rehearsal show, It’s Got to be Perfect, has got to be worth it.

I Think I’m Dead ★★
Lazy Susan's until Feb 2
This is the Australian premiere of Al Lafrance' I Think I'm Dead, but his fame has gone before him, as the inspiration, hirsute location and occasional co-star of Shane Adamczak's intercontinental fringe hit, The Ballad of Frank Allan (Frank Allan/ Al Lafranc - get it?). Now he's here, in his own right, with the ruminations that slouch around his insomniac brain, about alternative time, alternative stories, all kind of stuff that seem to occupy the Canadian mind. This isn't laugh-out-loud comedy, but it is wacky and wise in about equal measure, and a slyly stimulating way to spend an hour with a pretty cool, pretty uncool and very appealing performer.

Little Death Club ★★½ 
Parel Spiegeltent until 24 Feb
Wver since Bernie Dieter of EastEnd Cabaret sat on my lap and crooned some filthy song in my ear back in 2013, I have never really been the same. “Don’t go”, I croaked pathetically as she prepared to go in search of another victim. She’s back (sadly without the wonderful Vickty Victoria) to host a bit of late-night debauchery called, in the boring English version of the euphemism, Little Death Club. Tragically, I had to miss the night I planned to go (although, the devil willing, I'll make it some other time), but in my absence, the luminous and insightful Hermione Gehle tapped out these words for you…
(Read her complete review here)

If you don’t want to see a show called Children are Stinky, you’ve obviously got no business being around them. The little show from Victoria has set Edinburgh alight the last couple of years with all the stuff you need to keep the grommets enthralled for a whole 45 minutes. 

 The Beast and the Bride ★★
The Blue Room until Feb 17
Back to Summer Nights, and Clare Testoni’s gothic/feminist/multimediamedia/erotic horror story. It's reminiscent of Ralph McCubbin Howell’s magical The Bookbinder, the must-see smash hit of the 2015 Fringe, though her work is not as seamless as Howell’s (a couple of first-night  and she more often narrates rather than enters into the stories she tells, but at its best , The Beast and the Bride is far from a frog and could become a very handsome prince indeed with only a little strategic wand work.   
(Read the complete review in The West Australian)

Josephine! ★★
The Blue Room until Feb 17
Scott McArdle is Perth's own Kid Eager, and his first foray into children's theatre is full of present laughter and future promise. The adventures of a shy, precocious girl who goes on a quest to find friendship after the loss of her beloved auntie is original, often exuberant, and, I think, very likely to connect with its target market of six to nine-year-olds. (The audience I was among was almost all adult - I'd love to see the show again with lots of kids).
Josephine's adventures with pirates, ghosts, circus performers and the aviatrix Amelia Earhart are sprightly, fun and interesting, with a quality cast including Rhianna Hall as the heroine, Jo Morris, Nick Maclaine and Tristan McInnes as everyone else, accompanied by Georgina Cramond on keyboard, doing the material proud.
It has some major problems. The show is way too long for its intended audience (and the Fringe), and becomes a little complex towards the end. The over-extended scene between Josephine and Amelia Earhart - who, I'm confident, means nothing to that audience – that closes it is the main culprit. There is also a mystery concerning the fate of Josie's parents – dismissed twice, unsatisfactorily, as "I don't have any" – that should and could easily be solved.
Those qualms aside, this first outing of Josephine! is an encouraging debut for a show that, like its writer/director, could well be going places.  

yourseven (★★★½)
PICA until Feb 17
Until February 10
The seasoned writer/director/performer, James Berlyn and the WA Youth Theatre Company have fashioned a tantalising and entertaining solo journey through Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man.

Joan (★★★★½)
STC Round until February 10
The idea of the teenage warrior/martyr/saint Joan of Arc haunts us, from classroom history to Shakespeare, Schiller and Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw to Leonard Cohen, as hot and elusive as flame.
Nothing in my experience, though, captures the idea of Joan more completely and more convincingly than Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan. It is also an exciting, hilarious and deeply poetic piece of theatre, performed with incredible passion and élan by the British drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson.
Unlike Joan, I cannot MAKE YOU GO to this show, the highlight of the Fringe so far, but if there’s an empty seat for the rest of its short run, it’s a travesty. 
(Read the complete review here)
My Greatest Period Ever.

I finally managed to catch one of last year’s joint Martin Sims Award-winners,  Lucy Peach’s My Greatest Period Ever.

Fleabag ★★★★ 
Blue Room Theatre until Feb 24
Every so often a single-handed triumph heats up the Fringe like an induction hob. Back in 2012 it was Neil Watkin’s The Year of Magical Wanking. In 2015 it was Bryony Kimmings’ Sex Idiot. The goat’s entrails were auspicious for another one, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag. (The six-part TV series of the play – which, coincidentally, begins on ABC 2 on Monday night) – won Waller-Bridge last year's BAFTA for actress in a comedy.
The eponymous Fleabag is played by Maddie Price, not Waller-Bridge, but she's terrific in the part.
(Read the review here)

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