Day 6 With a Bunch of Misfits @ Adelaide Fringe Festival

I decided to spend my sixth in Adelaide enjoying a slower pace.  With the majority of my day free, I explored some of Adelaide’s infamous wine regions.  However, while there, I couldn’t fully escape the Fringe Festival – I met some lovely people at the vineyards who were also traveling through Adelaide and we sparked a conversation about the best stuff to see at the Fringe.  I love advocating for the arts!

Before the day ended, I was fortunate enough to catch two Fringe events that were outstanding and fun!

THE TRAVELING SISTERS is a fun, spunky variety show performed by Brisbane artists Ell Sachs, Laura Trenerry and Lucy Fox.  Together they sing, play guitar and impersonate a variety of interesting misfit characters during a 55-minute set.  Some of my favourite misfits included a giant fat lady and an odd couple eager to celebrate anyone’s birthday by distributing pork pies.  I found this show charming, silly and fun as the sisters left me with a massive smile on my face that remained for several hours after the show. 

In the mid-1990s, director Danny Boyle created the cult-classic film, Trainspotting based on the novel by Irvine Welsh.  Scottish theatre company In Your Face Theatre now brings the gritty story about a group of heroin addicts coping with the economic depression in Edinburgh to the stage in TRAINSPOTTING LIVE.  Living up to their name, In Your Face Theatre present a show that really emerges their audiences into the middle of the action on stage. 

Staged in a unique venue located in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD, TRAINSPOTTING submerges its audience, with the use of strobe lighting, haze and glow sticks, into the underground world of raves and misfit angst.   Before the start of the show, there are signs posted everywhere that warn the audience the use of these theatrical effects, plus the use of heavy adult language, sexual references and drug use. 

The most impactful element throughout the performance is the actors’ ability to include the audience within the story: they naturally converse, stumble and share (or rather smear) costumes and props all over audience members.  This demonstrates to the audience that there is no escaping the dark, grotesque and aggressive execution of this performance and the realness of this consequential drug world.

Exciting news: TRAINSPOTTING LIVE is touring Australia!  The production will next stop in Melbourne for a month-long residency at fortyfivedownstairs.  Then, they will stop in Brisbane before making its way back the UK.  Do yourself a favour by making sure you see at least one of these performances in an Australian city near you!

For more information about these productions, or to purchase tickets, please visit the Adelaide Fringe Festival website.

Spectacular Highlights (and some low-lights) From My Fifth Day @ the Adelaide Fringe Festival

Day five at Adelaide Fringe, and the experiences continue to impress.  Here’s a breakdown of highlights from my day:

Who says artists can’t have it all?  South Australian superstar, Joanne Hartstone proves that artists can do it all – perform, produce and direct multiple events within a festival season – in her one-woman show THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN.

THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN gives Hartstonea platform to showcase her multi-talented capabilities.: not only does she superbly embody the character Evelyn Edmonds, a young Hollywood wanna-be starlet, but she also sings classic jazz tunes from the 1940s.  With a voice that sounds similar to that of the greats Judy Garland and Jean Harlow, Hartstone commands the attention of her audience throughout the nostalgic performance.

If you are looking to support a solid South Australian artist who gives audiences bang for their buck, I highly recommend catching Joanne Hartstone in THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN.  Likewise, I recommend some of her other festival events: WE ARE ANONYMOUS, BLINK and NUCLEAR FAMILY, which were reviewed earlier this week.

Poking fun at one’s own culture as a way of building an understanding between two different cultures comes with boundaries and risks.  However, Angela Yeoh’s RUNNY MONEY finds that balance graciously while paying homage to her own roots in Chinese culture.

Throughout the show, Angela sheds light on quirky stereotypes of the Chinese culture.  According to the performance, Chinese people maintain a strong relationship with money and business, always trying to outsmart the next man with a big a idea.  It is emphasized that the importance of work is passed down to children at a very young age, and often times education is centered around business development.  At one point, Angela introduces a funny plastic machine (made in China, of course) that has the ability to scan the audience’s personal possessions on the spot in order to predict its value.  Based on these values, we receive our economic social status and then are given certain privileges.  

That is only one of many hilarious and interactive moments presented by Angela Yeoh in RUNNY MONEY.  Without giving too much more away, I highly recommend anyone to see this hilarious comedy showcase.  It is stressed by Angela that the work is still in the creative development phase; however, this performance has a solid foundation with potential for greatness!

Speaking of comedy, award-winning character act, Neal Portenza, returns to Adelaide Fringe to present a new work in development, which allows him to be as zany, spontaneous and interactive as ever before.  While making up skits and trying out new punch lines on the spot, performer, Josh Ladgrove showcases his ability to think quickly and fearlessly stumble through authentic comedy routines.  His genuine approach to his audience and comedy is a shining example of his own philosophy, “Art is not art if there is a chance for destruction.”

Unfortunately, not everyone understands Ladgrove's comedy.  During last night’s performance, a heckler kept egging Ladgrove to erupt in anger and break focus from the performance.  Instead, like a comic champ, Ladgrove gracefully accepted the annoying heckler, stating that he appreciated their random spouts of negative feedback.  The show continued with the heckler remaining in the audience until the end.

I’ve seen Neal Portenza several times at both Adelaide Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and each performance is different.  Never disappointing.  Looking forward to catching him again at this years; Melbourne International Comedy Festival!

Unfortunately, not every event at the festival is an absolute winner.  As a fan of American playwright, Sara Ruhl, I was excited to see a performance of LATE: A COWBOY SONG presented by Lady Like Theatre Collective.  However, this production left me slightly disappointed at its cookie-cutter and lazy interpretation.

As a playwright who challenges gender roles and social norms throughout all her work, Ruhl pushes characters and environments to the edge.   Unfortunately, I didn’t see much edginess in this performance.

Amongst the many elements within the play’s writing that were missed, I did find a few choices that worked: an acoustic guitar was nicely played by the cowboy.  Using imagination and creativity for characters riding real horses the male actor is used to symbolise the horse. 

However, here are some of the missed elements, or elements that need more development, that were under-performed in this production: there was a strong lack of understanding traditional role playing between the characters; there was a lack of growth in the relationship between the cowboy and the leading lady; there also was a lack of conflict within the relationships that was spoken in between the words, especially between the cowboy and the husband. 

Hopefully, this creative team keeps working on LATE: A COWBOY SONG.  I would love to give it another chance to see it develop deeper.

For more information about these shows, or to purchase tickets, please visit the Adelaide Fringe Festival website.

Review: THE WORLD WITHOUT BIRDS Finds Honour in the Classics

Fables are often forgotten in today’s adult modern world.  But the lessons they offer in their storytelling are invaluable to everyday life.  Writer, Christine Croyden has embraced the classic form of fable and musical theatre in her latest brilliant production THE WORLD WITHOUT BIRDS: A Musical Fable gently reminding its audience how relevant classics remain in our daily lives. 

So as not to give away the cathartic message this particular fable tells, I would rather tell you more about the highlights you can expect from this delightful performance.  Under the direction of Elizabeth Walley a small ensemble of four actors delight the La Mama Courthouse stage playing multiple stock characters in the form of bird species.  Each bird portrays stereotypes like young and naive, old and wise, cunning and territorial or ignorant and cruel.  The audience can relate to these characters either because we see ourselves in them or have encountered such traits throughout our journey.

Playing the “Queen of the Birds,” Margot Knight eloquently captures the paralleling traits of a delicate bird and the delicate inner life of an older woman.  She dances with such emotional delicacy throughout the story finding balance between protecting her own vulnerabilities and standing up defending her personal value.

As a musical, while vocal abilities from cast members vary, it is smart to feature the supporting talent of Charlotte Fox who plays the young princess bird.  Her voice radiates and envelops the courthouse space.  Original music writer, Ella Filar has cleverly given Fox the ability to crescendo into an operatic tonality heightening the plays climax.

What’s truly appealing about this production is Croyden’s writing.  It has a sophisticated ability to honour classic fable storytelling full of poetic imagery that concludes with a cathartic lesson with that of contemporary events.  It is equally delightful to hear the multiple play-of-words throughout the production to birds: ‘birds of a feather,’ ‘bird brain,’ ‘fluff my feathers.’ 

Also appealing is the accompaniment from the 3-piece live band.  The music glues the production together as it plays music that refers to the fluttering lifestyle of birds.  The baseline reminds me of baroque style classical music, which I believe sheds light on the classical and sophisticated style found in Croyden’s writing.

THE WORLD WITHOUT BIRDS: A Musical Fable is playing now at La Mama Courthouse Theatre until November 6th.  To purchase tickets, CLICK HERE

Review: Let’s Not Become Too DETACHED From RePAC Productions

For those looking to enjoy a simply funny and entertaining night of theatre, DETACHED offers a solid introduction to the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Produced by RePAC Productions, a trio of acting mates – Allen Laverty, Preston Forsyth and Catherine Gavicic – who reunite after 15 years, DETACHED tells the comedic story of three housemates who discover just how much their obsessions with smartphones, video games and the internet has caused them to be detached from one another. But just how much are they willing to sacrifice?

Me with RePAC team member, Allen Laverty!

Me with RePAC team member, Allen Laverty!

Established by a well-written script, the production is also accompanied by great performances and a set that is literally encased with metaphors to heighten the message behind the story. First, electrical wiring borders the front of the stage indicating the endless routes to electric outlets to keep multiple devices plugged in at all times. Whether an accident or not, during certain moments on stage the actors found themselves tripping over the wiring adding to the comedic overtones. Secondly, once given instructions, a voice similar to Siri begins a video montage, projected on a white screen behind the acting area, and accompanied by the fast-paced music of The Naked and the Famous, shows snapshots of ordinary people found on modern-day apps like Tinder (swipe right, swipe left) and Facebook (Like). At the end of the video, we return to lounge room where three characters: Jack, Nicki and Derek are glued to their individual devices. They even converse through their devices – asking for advice on how to read into the meaning behind text messages from potential dates – instead of face to face. Lastly, elements of sound – the commonly recognized chimes heard when signing into Skype, or starting up a MAC computer – also draw the audience into the buzzing world of distraction. We even hear an argument between the upstairs neighbours when one discovers the other is on the Tinder app.

RePAC Productions produces a tightly constructed piece of theatre concluding in full circle – the actors somehow end the story in the same exact positioning as they did in the beginning, and once again Siri is instructed to “begin” the show, a.k.a start the video montage. With a strong debut piece of theatre like this, I’m left wondering with anticipation as to what more this trio will come up with next.

DETACHED continues its run during the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 16th-30th September at 7:30PM at Shebeen. For tickets and more information, please visit www.melbournefringe.com.au.

Review: MTC’s ‘Betrayal’ Stages A Metaphorical Look to a Dark Secret

Everyone has their deep, dark secrets. What’s yours? And how well do you think your secret is truly hidden from the significant people it can negatively impact? Melbourne Theatre Company examines the complications of our wildest hidden secrets – especially those wrapped around love affairs – in their latest production, BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter.

Harold Pinter, a British contemporary playwright, has been a long-time favourite of mine. BETRAYAL, one of his most famous works, is a play that seems to come back to me over and over again: I’ve read the play hundreds of times, and have seen many actors attempt to give justice to Pinter’s characters during scene-study classes. However, those experiences have no comparison to what director Geordie Brookman, his spectacular cast comprising of Nathan O’Keefe as Jerry, Alison Bell as Emma, Mark Saturno as Robert and John Maurice as the Waiter and the production team of Geoff Cobham (Lighting & Set Design), Alisa Paterson (Associate Set & Costume Design) and Jason Sweeney (Composer) create on MTC’s stage – a seamless portrayal full of metaphorical imagery around the truth behind lying, adulterous relationships.

A brief synopsis of the play: Emma and Jerry are secret lovers for the past seven years. We first find them reconnecting in a pub where it is obvious they haven’t seen each other in quite sometime and the two find themselves in awkward moments, trying to maintain a cordial meeting. Both members are married to other individuals with kids to round out their families. Emma’s husband, Robert, is Jerry’s best mate from university. As the story travels back in time, the events reveal not only how Emma and Jerry’s affair began but also who is really playing who in the game of betrayal. The audience witnesses moments when Robert suspects something is shaping between Emma and Jerry, and the moment when Emma confesses about the affair to her husband without consulting Jerry. It’s a twisted game of passive-aggressive conversation between all affected party members.

I fell instantly in love with the set design: simple yet full of metaphorical references to keeping dirty secrets. A large rotating clothes rack bordered the stage in a semi-circular shape – which, at first impression, begged the question, what would this be used for? The rack was used quite well – between scenes, the rack rotated around the stage blocking the setup of props, cstume changes and stage furniture for the next scene. The direction in which the rack rotated was also cleverly planned – during the first half of the story, the rack rotated towards stage left; but following the climax, the rotation changed to stage right. This scheme was subtle yet very effective to emphasizing a point of no return in the storyline. Practically speaking, and most importantly, the clothes rack served as a storage unit for stage props and costumes assisting the smooth transitions between each scene.

Another highlight about the production was the pre-theatre lobby entertainment. I always enjoy the special care and consideration a company makes to create an entire experience for its audience – one that begins from the moment entertaining into lobby until exiting the lobby post-performance. This production was cleverly preamble by a simple pin board tacked onto the wall to the left of the box office. In front of the wall was a small table with heart-shaped post-it notes and pens; the instructions invited audience members to consider letting go of their deepest secrets by writing it down and tacking it on their wall. Most secrets gave a chuckle – “Santa Claus isn’t real”; “I’m madly in love with so-and-so”; “I still suck my thumb.” I took the opportunity to proudly proclaim my not-so-secret secret.

A well-constructed production of a piece of contemporary theatrical literature by Melbourne Theatre Company – one I would recommend to adult audiences everywhere.

For more information about Melbourne Theatre Company, and tickets to BETRAYAL, which runs until 26th September, please visit www.mtc.com.au.

Review: Elbow Room Questions Identity and Leaves Its Audience Empowered

What is the expectation of experiencing live theatre? Well, I believe the majority can agree to three expectations: 1.) to be entertained; 2.) to leave our own lives for a moment and peak into a world of strangers who are dealing with similar sets of issues; and 3.) to be challenged to address social and political issues that are too scary to handle alone. Elbow Room’s production of WE GET IT satisfies all of these expectations and more at Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2015 NEON Festival. WE GET IT is a dark comedy satirising the political and social norms affecting gender identity, particularly within the confines of the entertainment industry. And it is theme presented from the moment one walks into the theatre lobby until the curtain falls ending the play. WE GET IT transports its audience into the world of creating a reality television competition show. It is the taping to the final episode of a new talent competition dedicated in discovering the next great female actress. The last diverse five actresses remaining are challenged to perform a classic monologue from a piece of theatrical literature: Nora from A DOLL’S HOUSE (Ibsen), Antigone from ANTIGONE (Sophocles), Blanche Du Bois from STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Williams), Lady Macbeth from THE SCOTTISH PLAY (Shakespeare) and Medea from MEDEA (Euripedes). Rules of the competition and the voting process are simply explained by the competition’s gracious host, Emily, who, expressionlessly, reveals the latest voting system as Bums On Seats System, or #BOSS.

As the actors move about the stage preparing to present their individual monologues, they also move to an area behind a white curtain where confessional videos are produced to generate “good television.” These moments reveal personal experiences the actresses encountered during their professional careers that reveal gender limitations to roles pursued. It is revealed through these confessionals that limitations have been set onto these women because of their skin tone and body image; however, these confessionals are solely created to generate popular votes and boost overall scoring by being the most relatable to the audience. Instead, these confessionals created moments of uncomfortable displeasure leaving the audience to wonder “Is that story true?”

Complete with witty and profound banter that define character relationships, such as THE MAN directing one of the competing actresses, “Don’t be mad at me. I’m your ally,” the writing struck chords with the audience as it moved them to reflect on their own experiences of broken promises from manipulating allies. The overall presentation of WE GET IT revealed the funny, broken and naturally uncomfortable expectations of self-identity society often inflicts on us – either by stereotyping our gender, our race through the colour of our skin or by body image. In the end, Elbow Room and its stunning ensemble (featuring Tamiah Bantum, Amy Ingram, Kasia Kaczmarek, Maurial Spearim, Sonya Saures and Emily Timlins with special guest appearance by Marcel Dorney) illustrate the harsh affects of sexism and racism that leave the audience, at moments, uncomfortable, yet ultimately empowered to learn from identifying with these harsh realities.  And with all mistakes, we are reminded that there is hope.  Hope to inspire change for the future. Hope to educate future generations so that they may disregard these enforced human stereotypes and instead embrace each other as we are.

This is independent theatre certainly not to be missed.

Performances continue this week at the Neon Festival presented by Melbourne Theatre Company until 19th July running Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30PM and Sunday at 4PM. For tickets and more information, please visit www.mtc.com.au.