Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: I Could Be You

Published on September 2010

After breaching her student visa, bewildered international student Shireen finds herself locked away in a detention centre. At first she expects a quick resolution to her dilemma but her hopes are dashed by her lawyer Huong, a Vietnamese-Australian woman who was once a refugee herself. Huong's sense of optimism is being ground away by the horrors she deals with in the pro bono work that she feels compelled to do, but that also gives her nightmares. Con, another of Huong's cases, considers himself Australian but is facing deportation to Greece, which he left as a baby. Then there is Ania, a strange, shoeless blonde woman invisible to everyone but Shireen.

Writer and director Hoa Pham's I Could Be You is a study of the madness that breeds amongst those with no freedom and no certainty in their future. Drawing on the history of the Maribyrnong Detention Centre for material, Pham's depiction is unrelentingly depressing. Con's barely contained frustration results in occasional violent outbursts, and he complains, 'At least in prison I knew when I was getting out.' Shireen slides into despair over the uncertainty of her future and the systematic invasions of privacy in the facility, until her sanity is questioned by her imprisoners. Huong tells us the horrific story of her family's own immigration experience, and asks, 'How can I tell my mother that there are worse things than what she went through?'

Heavily political shows like this one run the risk of being too preachy. I Could Be You mostly avoids that trap, even though the narrative is wholly and deafeningly negative. There is not a single moment of hope or humour in the show and the experience is as draining for the audience as it is for the characters. Still, one audience member remarked afterwards that 'every Australian should be forced to watch this', while wiping tears from her eyes. Unfortunately this powerful piece of theatre will likely only reach an already sympathetic audience.

4 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Big Shoes to Fill - An Expose of a 50 Ft. Woman

Published on September 2010

Sometimes it's tough being a fifty foot woman. The council's always on your back about civic damage, dating is difficult and birthday parties just aren't that much fun. But - it's nothing a spot of hula hooping over breakfast can't fix, right?

Big Shoes to Fill: An Expose of a 50 Ft. Woman is the first solo show by Anna 'Pocket Rocket' Lumb, a Melbourne-based circus artist who has earned her stripes as an aerialist, acrobat, trapeze artist and hula hooper in group shows all over the world. Big Shoes is a little bit circus and a little bit slapstick, featuring a tour of Australia's famous big things and some hilarious dance routines complete with fringed leotard.

Lumb's style is cutie-pie, cheesecake, pin-up without too much poutiness. Tottering about on stupendous heels she flutters her giant eyelashes above the tiny cardboard city that spreads across the stage. Her character is a goofball, the classic beautiful dork who just wants to fit in. But she's got smarts too, liberally sprinkling the show with moments of clever naughtiness.

On preview night Lumb took a little while to warm up the audience, but a wink here and a wiggle there and she soon had us all on board. She performs sans microphone and it's a tiny bit hard to hear her at times, but the venue is intimate (read: pokey) enough that she gets away with it. Her comedy act is good but it's when she busts out the hoops that she really shows her super skills. The girl can twirl.

This show is a tidy little packet of fun by a feisty rising starlet. Lumb very much lives up to her Pocket Rocket moniker. This reviewer is looking forward to seeing what she does next.

3.5 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Future Sound of Mime

Published on September 2010

One of my pet hates is reviews that open with, 'I had no idea what to expect when I arrived for blah blah blah blah blah.' But I really, truly didn't know what to expect when I walked up the stairs at the back of Errol's Café to see The Future Sound of Mime. White pancake makeup? Stripey shirts and black braces? Walking against the wind? Trapped in a box?

What I did not expect was to unearth a treasure.

Performed by Jodee Mundy and Sam Davison, two theatre makers who have trained at the Ecole de Mime Corporeal Dramatique in the UK, The Future Sound of Mime is utterly engrossing, clever, funny and surprising, and makes some gentle but insightful observations of what is beautiful and what is absurd about modern life.

Jodee and Sam take turns performing four pieces. In Crane Girl, Jodee portrays the mostly content but occasionally lonely life of a construction worker. In Waiting Sam plays a business man on a noisy train platform who gradually finds his centre and gets his groove on. Interrogation takes a darker turn as a young woman is beset on all sides by invisible terrors. Finally in Walking Sam explores modern notions of success and failure through a character who discovers he can't stop strolling.

The performances are flawless and full of warmth. Equally engaging are both the delightful miniature construction site designed by Kelly Manning for Crane Girl, and the fantastic sound designs (by Sam Davison, Nathanael Bristow and Dylan Michel). Every element has been chosen with care and consideration of how it affects the whole. There are occasional slow moments but usually this is in aid of a point.

Don't miss the chance to be transported for an hour into this beautiful dream. This show is gorgeous and joyful and will mend your soul.

4.5 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Fan Tales

Published on October 2010

It’s a shame that Fan Tales was a one-off show - this afternoon of fan fiction readings was a little ripper. Hosted building-wise by queer bookshop Hares and Hyenas and person-wise by cheeky stand up comic Jules Wilkinson, Fan Tales served two purposes - a celebration of the form for all the fangirls and boys in the audience, and a kind of crash course for the muggles (those of us who aren’t part of the fan fiction community).

For the benefit of any muggles reading now, a quick definition of fan fiction: stories written using characters and settings from the writer’s favourite cultural works. The phenomenon started with Star Trek and exploded with the intertubes, and writers riff on everything from movies and TV shows to books and video games. As Jules said all fan fiction starts with the question, ‘What if?’What if that character hadn’t died? What if the ending was different? What if everyone in the story took their pants off and had a massive orgy?

There were seven readings from a variety of fandoms - Blake’s 7TorchwoodTwilightIron ManSupernaturalRed Dwarf and the Nintendo game Ace Attorney. There was action, there was angst, there was plenty of humour. Lots of characters were having steamy, hot sexytimes, although the hinted-at promise of ‘man pregnancy and arse babies’was sadly not fulfilled.

Fanfic writers are often the object of scorn, but this was sharp, skillful work. Plots were engrossing, dialogue was punchy, and the crack - stories written as if by a freebasing author - was suitably crazy. Each reader gave context to their stories, in terms of both the fandom the work sprang from and the fanfic conventions used, and while this was informative and often hilarious it wasn’t a necessary element in enjoying the readings.

Interestingly, it was an all-female line up, and Jules declared at the beginning that fan fiction writing is a women’s thing. I guess someone has to do the nerdy work.

3.5 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Michael Connell - Acting the Goat

Published on October 2010

A box of cornflakes once told me that the simple things in life are often the best. And so it is with Michael Connell, a comedian who does simple stand-up and delivers barrel-loads of easy, hearty belly laughs.

However in response to a country newspaper review describing Acting the Goat as 'just some guy onstage telling jokes', Connell has added a couple of extras. He does a few tricks, with juggling balls, a harmonica and his netbanking password, and injects an informative tone into the show with readings from Goat Farming - the English Way.

Connell is a solid performer with great stage presence and an endearing sense of self-deprecation. He connects easily and warmly with the audience, a good thing given the sardine tin-like space in The Butterfly Club. Hailing from the Yarra Valley he has much to say about life in a small town, such as attending his high school reunion (AKA the Centrelink office), watching life get revenge on his childhood enemies, and the crackpot tourist 'attractions' that spring up in people's paddocks. And perhaps it's the countryside that exposed him to foot-in-mouth disease - he's an inveterate dork and most of his material comes from communication blunders.

At the behest of his director, Connell grudgingly ends the show by summarising his 'message', even though he clearly agrees with the cornflakes on the issue of simplicity. (“But what is it that you want to say, Michael?” “… Jokes?”) Fortunately the moral of the show is sweetly universal and a nice bit of advice about making your way in the world.

Acting the Goat is reliable, unadorned comedy at its best.

4 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Ugly Blue Flowers

Published on October 2010

The promo for Ugly Blue Flowers says, "It is not something that is understood. More felt." Hopefully that lets me off the hook to at least some degree - I certainly didn't understand this show. I can't tell you what the point of it was, or even if there was a point at all. But I can tell you that I enjoyed it, and that it was very, very funny.

This piece of performance art was devised and directed by animateur slash DJ Simon Gorman in collaboration with the six performers who appear onstage in black party clothes (or is it funeral garb?), with bruised eyes and blood noses. It begins with audio of a girl typing and talking aloud through her stream of consciousness writing. A man's voice repeats everything she says, talking over the top of her, almost in sync, mimicking her intonations. Then the focus shifts to the stage. What follows is something like catching bits of conversation on public transport or in cafes, but with surreal, unexpected twists.

The performers speak in matching pairs, talking almost in unison, continuing the themes of repetition and synchronicity. Conversations are alternately banal and bizarre, the overlay of voices creating a cacophony of nonsense that can only wash over you because it's impossible to keep up. There's no narrative, and no characters. Performers swap roles. And then there's the other random stuff - a cartoon madman obsessing over a party popper, a bogan giving a compelling monologue on all the men and objects and planets she's fucked, a bunch of A4 photocopier paper being slowly thrown about into the air.

If it sounds meaningless, it probably is - but it's also enthralling. The dialogue, although absurd, is extremely clever and full of humour. The performers never miss a beat and are entrancing to watch. If you don't mind a bit of brain-bending arty chaos, give Ugly Blue Flowers a go.

4 / 5 Stars

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010: Geraldine Quinn - Shut Up and Sing

Published on October 2010

Geraldine Quinn has been on my radar for the last few years as must-see local comedy talent. The postcard lying on the table in the Trades Hall New Ballroom supported this theory, boasting four-star reviews for Shut Up and Sing from six different Australian and British publications. And the feisty cabaret artist certainly met expectations in most areas: four-star voice (an absolute belter), four-star moves (daggy but deft), four-star attire (all spangly-dangly razzle-dazzle).

She had enough energy to power a small substation and kept up the pace throughout the show. So why the grumpy face? Unfortunately, I just found her material incredibly weak.

I thought maybe it was me. I’d arrived feeling crotchety and discombobulated after a day that had some weird juju. But I kept an eye on the audience and while they were generally smiling, most barely mustered a chuckle let alone any loud guffaws.

Jokes about pop stars being slutty brain-damaged airhead stalkers manipulated by marketing giants have been around for donkey’s years, and they probably weren’t ever very funny. Quinn’s list of pointers on how to craft the perfect pop song might be accurate but they’re nothing new. It was all very middle of the road, and veered dangerously towards being a treatise on, “what’s wrong with the young people of today and their ‘music’”.

At the encore Quinn finally took a risk with an Australian answer to ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’ entitled ‘Gallipoli’. This was more the kind of cleverness her reputation had led me to expect.

Look, I loved the dorky dance moves and the sequin-crotched leotard, and this show has played to rave reviews all over the place. It just didn’t float my boat, although at times it did make me wonder if I was on a cruise ship.

2.5 / 5 Stars