Sunday, January 17, 2021

Fringe World 2021

“Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising, Fringe World comes singing into the summer…”

It’s all very Tolkienesque, really, Perth’s 2021 fringe. While a dark plague scours the earth, and hordes of bloodthirsty orcs, driven to madness by a vengeful sorcerer, storm the white citadels, here in WA, by the grace of our lord and his wise council, we get to drink from vastly improved plastic recyclable cups and gather quite close together in great tents to enjoy the fruits of art.

Here’s what Turnstiles was enjoying this Fringe World before we all had to take a coronabreather – hopefully we'll be be up and fringing again soon!


Coffee Cantata ★★★½
Since coffee emerged from the highlands of Ethiopia in the 16th Century it has proven as contagious as any virus that has afflicted mankind.    

Its delights and pitfalls were playfully explored in one of the very few non-liturgical works by the grand meister of the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Australian Baroque’s merry, scrumptious take on Bach’s Coffee Cantata is a delightfully idiosyncratic highlight of this year’s Fringe World.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

 Matt Penny: The Last Resort Magician ★★
Any time you get to spend in the company of "Magic" Matt Penny is time well spent. The legendary barman at the Blue Room Theatre is so many archetypes rolled up into one it's no wonder his black T-shirt often seems a little overfull; part raconteur, part desperado, part lost soul – and part magician.
Penny's stepped into the breach at the newly-minted Magic Nation in the Metro Perth nightclub at late notice (hence, perhaps the title of his show) and brought some well-worn tricks, some God-awful jokes and some stories of a life well-lived with him. The big, high stage in the club's big room isn't his best setting (he works best up close – I've seen him reduce a famously worldy-wise stage star to wide-eyed girlishness with a few tricks of one sort and another), but he's still well worth having.  

Next Stop: REALITY ★★½
Harriet McLean, young, Australian, chasing her dream in the UK, jumps a little tentatively on a train for her first trip on the London Underground.

Hope and anxiety sit on her shoulders like angels and demons.

What she really, really doesn’t need is anything to go wrong with her trip.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

 Tomas Ford: Have a Bath With Me ★★★½
There’s a popular expression in football commentary these days, the “Chaos Ball” (as you’d expect, the Americans have their own version, the “Hail Mary Pass”).

Call it what you will, it simply means that when all else fails, kick or throw the thing as far downfield as you can, and see what happens.

It’s a reasonable analogy for a
Tomás Ford entertainment, never more so than in his latest little ray of mayhem, Have a Bath With Me?.

(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Jamie Mykaela" DADDY ★★★
The “DADDY” of the title of Jamie Mykaela’s ruthless excoriation of the paedophilia lurking in the pop song and pop culture is the one in the song Cole Porter wrote for the musical Leave it to Me in 1938, that, two decades later, became a signature tune for Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love.

Mykaela, a diminutive, saw-toothed, formidable sprite, literally disembowels the song, turning Porter’s wit and Monroe’s charm into a stain.

The result is the most challenging, and memorable, show of my Fringe World so far. It’ll take some beating in the festival’s remaining fortnight.

(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Manic Pixie Dream Girl ★★★   
Calling a show “cute” might seem like damning with faint praise, but it’s an inescapable description of writer/director Hannah Evelyn’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a cute story, driven by cute dialogue and indescribably cute characters. Two of them, the comic book café worker Carly (Evelyn) and the indie rock singer/bartender Morgana (Gala Shevtsov) seem as saccharine as the gruesome pink marshmallow coffee Morgana comes in to order.

Evelyn’s direction emphasizes the adorability of it all to the last border of bearability, and after ten minutes or so it was so winsome it was hard not to wince.

But then, just quietly, the show sneaks up on you.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

The Big Hoo-Haa! ★★★½
The Dirty Hoo-Haa!
Reviewing improv can be something of an arid exercise; after all, what you see and hear on the night is never going to be repeated.
Sort of.
When you're as venerable an institution, though, as The Big Hoo-Haa! (it's rapidly closing in on 20 years of operation in Perth and has passed a decade in its Melbourne franchise) you're bound to have become a bit slick and, dare I say, predictable.
Not that that's a bad thing; the routines in the Hoo-Haa! repertoire are honed to a razor edge, waiting only for the audience to give them the key words to make up a
hilariously ridiculous story from.
The concept of the Hoo-Haa! is that two teams battle each other under the stern eye and merciless 'outta-here' whistle of the MC (Sam Longley in the standard-issue Hoo-Haa!, Shane Adamczak in the late-ish-night "Dirty" one).
In the first, the Hearts team of Daniel Buckle, Robby Vecchio and Hannah Rice duked it out with the Bones' Stephen Platt, Adamczak and Tony Woods; in the second Tegan Mulvany jumped in for the Hearts and Jono Burns subbed in for the Bones, while Rice jumped ship from one to the other.
That's a terrific mix of the well and lesser-known names, and they all know their way around the games, charades and songs (accompanied by Alwyn Nixon-Lloyd on keys) that guarantee a good time is had by all.
I probably shouldn't have seen both shows back to back, and I'm not sure whether it was Hoo-Haa! fatigue or that it was not quite filthy enough to differentiate it from its milder stablemate (the Hoo-Haaists are doing a kids' show too - now that could be fun), but it lacked a little cajones.
But, whatever. We've been enjoying a little Hoo-Haa! for yonks now, and I doubt the fun is going to wear off in the foreseeable.
If you have, you know that. If you haven't - do yourself a favour sometime. 

War & Peace Lilies ★★★½
Young Nick (Nick Mayer) is all out of love, so he goes to Bunnings to buy an indoor plant – and unexpectedly falls into a tempestuous relationship with one of them, a Peace Lily named Dave (Todd Peydo).
You know how it goes, the good old arc of a love affair. Nick takes Dave home, waters him regularly (don't ask), and goes to meet Dave's folks, a Mother-in-Law's Tongue and Philodendron, but they're not convinced about florasexual affairs.
Neither is Nick's ex Shaun, or all his friends. Could Nick and Dave's romance be rooted?
War & Peace Lilies is what fringe is all about, especially when it's performed with the verve and chutzpah of this little show.There's nothing like an utterly ludicrous premise played out strictly according to the rules laid down by The Goons and Monty Python, with a message about tolerance and freedom unobtrusively fertilising the soil it grows in.
Mayer, who has more than a bit of Sammy J about him, sings some of those excruciating '80s anthems (River of Dreams, Time of Your Life, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Tainted Love, Vienna) accompanied by Josh James Webb on the keys, Peydo steals a fair chunk of the show working from the side of the stage…
…and a very good time is had by all.  

Dr Ahmed Gets Hitched ★★★½
In the latest installment of the Dr Ahmed series gets to planning his “
epic Greek-Pakistani-inter-faith-inter-racial-same-sex wedding.”

Some gorgeous sitcom material ensues; there’s a malfunction with the groomsmaid’s sari, there’s a caterer who doesn’t know the difference between chickpea curry and mousaka. There’s trouble with the traditional Greek wedding favours and an AWOL celebrant. More seriously, there’s an all-guns-blazing boycott of the wedding by Ahmed’s mother that takes out his entire family other than an auntie in Canada who, as a Hindu woman married to a Muslim man, understands Ahmed’s predicament (and hates his mum).

(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Tale of Tales ★★★★
Clare Testoni’s superb story of four generations of her Italian-Australian family is as pertinent and powerful now as it was in its first season in 2018, even though the cavernous rehearsal space in the bowels of the State Theatre Centre doesn’t suit it as well as the intimate Blue Room theatre where it was originally staged.

Nothing, though, can detract from the magic as she and her fellow performer Paul Grabovac turn tiny objects into huge, almost cinematic figures through her remarkable shadow puppetry.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Ballads, Banksias and Beauty ★★★
Fringe World’s perennial primus inter pares, Jessie Gordon, premiered this mélange of Australian melodies last year (here’s the complete review of that season in Seesaw Magazine), but she was weary at the end of a monumental Fringe World marathon and without the wonders of Lucky Ocean’s pedal steel playing beside her, so I was looking forward to revisiting it with her fresh and Lucky (along with percussionist Ben Vanderwal and multi-instrumentalist Russell Holmes) on board.
All its qualities are there, the stylish and sometimes intricate curation of songs from Nick Cave and the Triffids through to Kylie and Neighbours, the craftsmanship of the band, and Gordon’s own undoubted skill and immaculate application to her craft.

For all that, though, the show was a little solemn and languorous for my liking, not helped by a sound mix that didn’t quite cut through the necessary but deadening hum of the tent’s airconditioning, the dim lighting and even Gordon’s polite request that we hold our applause until the end of the hour-long piece.

Bernie Dieter: In Konzert ★★★
In one of the many gushing reviews I've written about the undisputed Queen of the Spiegeltents, Bernie Dieter, I said she stands at the forefront of international neo-cabaret alongside those other femmes fabuleuses Amanda Palmer, Meow Meow and Camille O'Sullivan.
In her new show, the straightforwardly titled In Konzert, which makes it's world premiere at Fringe World, she's stolen a march on them by abandoning (nearly) all extranities, entertaining though they are, to concentrate on her singing and the songs she sings.
It confirms what a wicked songwriter she is, what an excellent curator and interpreter of other's songs she is, and, of course, what a stunning performer she has always been.
She knocked the show out of the park before she even reached the stage, finishing her makeup and dress up side of stage as her hot band growled into the Gillian Welch masterpiece Time (the Revelator). It's such a take on the song, on a par with O'Sullivan's showstopper version.
Then follows Paul Kelly/Deborah Conway's Everybody Wants to Touch Me (I'm sure you can imagine what that was like), Marlene Dietrich's A Suitcase in Berlin, Bowie's Rock and Roll Suicide (another O'Sullivan live favourite), her own, unambiguous, Lick My Pussy (she apologised to anyone there with their parents, but my daughter at least seemed okay about it), MGMT's touching Fated to Pretend, complete with 'quiet please there's a lady on stage" reveal and finally her hand-clapping, toe-tapping paean to all things libacious, Alcohol.
I'll tell you what I like most about Bernie Dieter. It's not the spangled catsuits or the crooked smile, or the whole dirty daring of her act. It's not even the talent, great as it is.
It's that when she tells her audience that she fucking loves them, she really fucking means it.
And when she says she's loved her long (albeit enforced) stay in Perth so much she might just stay here, she just might.
We should be so lucky.

Shahnameh: Songs from the Persian Book of Kings

The only people unsurprised that the Kohesia Ensemble’s Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings took out the prestigious Martin Sims Award for best new West Australian work at 2020’s Fringe Award were those who saw this eclectic, eccentric, and genuinely entertaining ramble through one of the great epic poems of mankind.

It’s a joy that it has returned for this year’s fringe, and should not be missed.

(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Bring Out Your Dead
We've all woken up after a big night feeling like death, but not so many of us with it
covered in blood on the sofa next to you. Such is the fix Riley (Alex Hutching) finds himself in, and the black comedy Bring Out Your Dead is all about the spectacular failure he and his flatmate Finn (T 'Mutta' Bielby) make of extricating themselves from the dilemma they find themselves in.
Matters aren't helped by a burglar (Keely Moloney) with a case of bad timing and an intrusive neighbour (Christian Dichiera) whose misfortune is to stumble upon the reason for the lad's discombobulation.
It's all a bit unreal, and it doesn't get any less so, but lots of set ups like this (think Death at the Funeral for starters) work wonders. Unfortunately this one really goes nowhere, and clunkily at that.
The twist, when it comes, is a lemon, and the remorseless energy that writer/director Ella Randle gives proceedings is more exhausting than invigorating.
One of the joys of fringe, though, is the chance for young theatre makers (the cast and crew are Curtin University theatre course students or recent grads) to take their skills and talent out for a walk – and there's plenty of both there to go on with – even if it didn't all come together this time.

Do I Look Like I Care?  ½
It's 1982. Florence has moved to Australia from the stultifying North of England to sleepy Perth to continue her nursing career, and Do I Look Like I Care? is the story of her life and work (work mainly) here.
"Story" is putting a gloss on the narrative, which is pretty much a series of anecdotes told to her daughter Daisy, who is the piece's writer and plays her mother in it.
To the extent there are continuing threads running through the play, they concern Florence's relationship with her workmates Phyllis and Nellie and their battles with a battleaxe of a ward sister, the plight of a young, pregnant girl and the disintegration of Florence's parent's marriage back in the UK.
It's slim dramatic pickings, really, and the blank spaces are filled with frenetic stage business by the cast of eight (which includes rising stars like Courtney Henri (Playthings), Courtney Cavallaro (The Wolves) and Coyle (The Lighthouse Girl) herself, who all go at it hanner-and-tongs), managed efficiently but without rhythm or purpose by the gifted Elise Wilson.
If I seem to be saying that the amount of talent that's been brought to this project should have delivered a more substantial and absorbing result, you'd be right.
The question the title poses is whether Florence, and health workers generally, can care about their charges. Unfortunately, the play doesn't make us care about her, or them, nearly enough.      


That's all for now, but come back to Turnstiles for more Fringe World reviews once the lockdown is over.