Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Share My Blankets


Aly Loren wants to share her life, her stories and her blankets with you. She’s honest and open and young. She’s also non-binary, queer and polyamorous. And the kind of person you want to sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor for.

The band was jamming as the small audience made their way into the space. Aly is playing guitar, rocking out with her friends on drums and keyboard. Aly is a great singer and she charms everyone with the welcoming anthem “Share My Blankets” which is an adorable, comforting song that she wrote when she was eighteen.

This show is like hanging out with a mate who has a lot of fun stories and a couple of harder truths to tell, too. But mostly, Aly’s story is a hell of a good time. How can you not enjoy a show that includes Polly the polyamorous bird and a game of pass the parcel?

Share My Blankets is a colourful show about not fitting in and not giving a fuck. In some ways it feels transgressive, but then you realise it shouldn’t feel that way at all. Aly makes us feel comfortable and invites us to feel passion and to feel anger but, mostly, just to feel alive.

This show is pure joy.


Melbourne Fringe: And then the Snow Fell on Egypt



One half of a couple sits alone folding the shirt of their ex, clearly upset. We sit with them for a while, watching them deal with their break-up grief, mostly in silence. Their ex eventually appears, but the only thing that draws the two of them together are memories of better times.

Gavin Roach’s play And Then the Snow Fell on Egypt is about loss and imagination and how memory can help us through the grieving process. In the cold grey space of the No Vacancy Gallery at QV, the audience sits in traverse watching the couple spar and reminisce and imagine the best parts of their relationship. We are left to fill in the blanks; to see what we can see in our minds’ eye and what we can imagine might still be between them.

While the play is a two-hander, the conceit of this production is that each night a different combination of actors performs the show. The cast is two men and two women and across the season, different pairs of the four performers will act out this poetic meditation on breaking up. On opening night, the two men performed opposite each other.

I’m tempted to go again, to see how the story plays out with a different pair of actors. The forty-five minute play is a solid piece of writing and I’d love to see how it works with two women or a man and a woman. I don’t expect I’d be less moved by different gender combinations, but in a show like this, in an open space, under cold white lights, the performances are key. Adam Hetherington does a particularly devastating job as the man who was left, but the silent tears that ran down Elias Brown’s face were heartbreaking.


Monday, 18 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: The First Annual (Doris to Insert) Festival


Welcome to Bess County, somewhere in rural Australia. Their quirky inhabitants are getting ready to put on a Festival for the first time and, because it’s 2017, there is a reality TV show that is going to judge them. And, if they are lucky, Australia’s Got Festivals’ host Grant Denyer might pay them a visit.

Australia has a rich history of sketch comedy and that’s what The First Annual (Doris to Insert) Festival is, a series of sketches about the denizens of Bess County trying to impress the whole country with their personalities and their wares.

The show starts off on shaky ground, with a couple of skits that relied heavily on the most juvenile of sexual innuendo. The show is devised by members of the Improv Conspiracy, but this isn’t off-the-cuff, so you’d hope they could have trimmed some of these dud gags.

Thankfully, the show improves, once we get to know some of the recurring characters and the ongoing story of the missing-in-action Mayor of Bess County, who is skyping them from Rio de Janeiro. While the ladies of the town are excited by possible Denyer sightings, local radio host Gary Biskit explodes in expletives at the mention of his name.

Doris is trying to kickstart her new couture business, making jeans for snakes. And a local bloke, concerned about how beauty pageants might be perceived in this day and age, decides to parade sheep in bikinis. The ghost tour of the town was the absolute highlight, though.


There are plenty of solid laughs in the back half of this show and kudos to the team for interacting with pre-recorded video and adding in a couple of catchy tunes. With a bit more thought, some tough choices and a firmer hand, this show could be tighter and funnier; making fun of festival fever is a solid premise for a comedy. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Intoxication


Intoxication is not what it once was. It had other people in it. It was designed and scored. Now it's playwright Christopher Bryant on stage trying to find the heart of the work; trying to find the holes and connections in his own narrative. He writes. He writes a lot. But after the accident it didn't all make sense, if it ever did.

I've seen Bryant’s work before but this production of Intoxication is something altogether different. The lights stay up in the room, the intimate Son of Loft space. He uses a microphone occasionally, though the space doesn't need it. He's close to us on stage and sometimes he makes eye contact and sometimes he's in the audience with us.

This is very much the artist telling us about his life, laying himself on the line. We're listening to his work while contemplating the effort it took him to be there; after the accident there was rehab, the journey back to Australia and then more rehab. He learned to talk again. To walk again. And to write again.

With this kind of show, audience reactions will differ wildly. I watched some embrace the intimacy and others recoil from it. One woman barely looked up at the stage for the entire show; sometimes it was worth just listening to his words, without taking in everything that is happening.

Intoxication is not polished; it's not slick. It's open and honest and Bryant is struggling right now with the plebiscite as it asks the country to vote on the legitimacy of his love life.

There were moments that if the audience had been sitting in the dark, I might have teared up at the honesty about his pain. But if we'd been in the dark, we could have hidden and Bryant doesn't want that. He wants openness and honesty. And in that small room, under bright lights, that's what we got.

Bryant is charming and awkward. The show, intoxicating.

Intoxication is partying with intimacy’s corpse until Sept 22nd.

Melbourne Fringe: The Sky Is Well Designed



A rocky desert landscape. A wide blue sky. Tufts of faded yellow glass. And silence. Two scientists have braved the elements of a climate-changed world to commune with nature and talk to the earth and hear its pain.

The Sky Is Well Designed is the second show by Fabricated Rooms after Grief and the Lullaby, nominated for several Green Room Awards in 2015. Creator Patrick McCarthy has assembled an effective design team in Rob Jordan (sound and composition), Zoe Rouse (set and costume) and Kris Chainey (lighting) for this production at the Northcote Town Hall.

The silence with which the show begins is calming and as the show progresses, the use of sound ranges from comforting to unsettling. Once the scientist characters, played by Ben Pfeiffer and Emily Tomlins, begin their investigations, the various instruments they use make for a visual and aural treat.

The dialogue, however, is stilted. And the narrative, such as it is, has no shape. Theatre need not be narrative driven, but dramatically the show plateaus early on.

The performances are described in the publicity as hyperrealist, which turns out to mean one-note and dull. This isn’t the fault of the actors, who I have enjoyed elsewhere; The Sky is Well Designed is well designed, but it is not well written nor particularly engaging.

The Sky Is Well Designed contemplates climate until September 28th.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Too Ready Mirror (Preview)


Nell is framed, an Elizabethan portrait come to life. Ruby, an actor, responds to the disembodied voice of a man at an audition. And Lily & Alma are dressed in uniforms, locked away from the world to be kept safe.

These three overlapping narratives tackle the politics of performance and personal interaction. Nell must perform for the King. Outside of her audition, Ruby’s sex life is a negotiation with a fuck buddy who calls just because he knows she’ll answer. And Lily & Alma act for and act out on one another; wrestling their teenage hormones while the world encourages them to only be good.

These stories reflect each other; bouncing from era to era, slipping from 17th Century England to present day Melbourne and a not-too-distant future, an Atwoodian dystopia that feels not so far away. Writer Jamaica Zuanetti has built three thoroughly evocative stories of sex and states of oppression; the writing is lyrical and astute.

Jessica Tanner stands tall among the cast bringing both a softness to Nell as well as a harder edge as she struggles with the demands of performing for the King.

Though the show could benefit from some tightening, it feels a little loose in this preview, this is a beautiful production. Daniel Moulds’ set and costume design are simple but effective, especially in combination with John Collopy’s striking lighting design. Rachel Baring’s direction is fluid, helping the three stories feel like their own little worlds but also working together to build a powerful whole.


Note: the performance I saw was considered a preview by the venue and the production team. I normally wouldn’t review a preview, but there was nothing to indicate it was a preview on the Fringe Festival site.

Melbourne Fringe: Pope Head – The Secret Life of Francis Bacon


Francis Bacon, British artist, lived a wild life through much of the twentieth century. Writer and Performer Garry Roost’s Pope Head is a one-man show that brings the eccentric, complicated and “fully homosexual” artist to life in front of us.

Covering the fascinating and fabulous life of Bacon an hour, Roost embodies not only the artist but people he met throughout his life. From a couple whose homes he decorated, through the many men looking for life-affirming quickies during wartime, to the artists he met as a regular at The Colony Room in Soho.

Through quick changes, voice work and the occasional twisting of his face, Roost evokes the startling and grotesque nature of Bacon's work.

Roost is an engaging performer, illuminating the life of an artist whose work I only know a little. With a basic triptych set, evocative sound and lighting design, Pope Head is a deft and insightful portrait of one of history's great painters.