Report from the Fringe

Festival frontrunners

Attic People
Review by John J Bishop

Friday's performance of Drip was played in French. Very strange French. Thick with Southern drawls, their French does not make one of think France, but more Texas. Paris, Texas. The strange language catapults us into the Attic People's weird world, Cracker Valley, and solid precise performances keep us there. Beautiful design, color, and an actor-created soundscape carry us along in this unlikely superhero tale of underwater love.

The show is tight. The company, accompanied by only 2 set pieces (a table and a broom), are physical theater pros.
The physical transformations and body creations are, at times, amazing. The group's timing is near perfect, the relaxation is palpable, and the show incredibly solid.

Maybe that's the problem.

While completely delightful in retrospect, there were more than a few moments of boredom during the story's telling. On paper and in memory the show is a wonderful piece, but during the show, there is a sense of watching a taped performance. The show is almost too solid. The timing too perfect. Things are not happening moment to moment. Even the most choreographed piece, has to live and breathe through each moment as if it's the first time to engage us fully, to take us along with actors. So, while a beautiful tale, the overall effect is that of a comic book advenure. Compelling, well-drawn, action-packed, but lacking in substance somehow.

Go and see for yourself. Cracker Valley is definitely worth a visit. You just may not want to live there.

The shows on Saturday and Sunday will be performed in English.

One Night Stand
Krement X
Review by Amiel Bruch

This show is great late-night fringe material. Funny, at times confrontational and others conversational,
One Night Stand offers a glance into the trials and tribulations of one couple's relationship - and makes
a few stabs at those age-old questions about men, women, sex and power. The set is minimal and used to good symbolic value (the swinging vacuum was fantastic) and in combination with the costumes and music, we find ourselves in the late 60's or early 70's. Combining strong and movement sequences, direct discussions with the audience and short snappy dialogues, the two actors take us through a relationship (or aspects of many relationships).

The 70's feel works, but it also reminds us that we have been here before - the material is not new and while the form works and the piece is usually very tight, the substance of the show is old hat. Explorations of
sex and power, time ticking away and a relationship changing, becoming tired, arguments and tantrums must
offer something different for us to gain a different perspective. One Night Stand does not leave us really
thinking or feeling anything new. However, with plenty of surprises, the fast switches in tone or mood and
the strength of the actors it is worth a late-night visit to Divadlo Minor.

Throw me a Bone
Nikki McCretton

Paddy is a dog. Paddy is hungry. And Paddy has a marvelous imagination. Nikki McCretton's solo children's show is a treat; lightly and delicately played, it is a quiet celebration of imagination.

Very hungry and with no immediate prospects for food, Paddy tries to sleep but can't get comfortable - when she finally does, her food bowl won't sit still and keeps disturbing her rest (using a simple but ingenious trick with the bowl). This is just the beginning. Soon Paddy is dancing (with a little pee-break), climbing mountains and trying to fly.

McCretton plays the dog with charm and wit and is remarkably convincing in her movement and expression. She nevers committs that common but unforgivable sin found so often in children's theatre of being condescending, nor does she employ cheap humour to win her audience. Instead she allows that relationship to develop, timing actual audience involvement superbly; first through a snowball fight, then, in an inspired moment, bringing two little girls on stage to help her design a flying machine.

The sound and light design is simple and effective - and necessary given that a few of the transitions were awkward and slow. Otherwise, this is a delightful and engaging performance.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Tuesdays and Sundays
Dual Minds

Tuesdays and Sundays is about as tight as theatre gets: directed with precision, acted with honesty and subtlety and supported by a innovative and poetic text. Employing a simple yet very effective device of half-direct narrative and half-dialogue and often speaking in unity, the actors present us with the story of William and Mary, a pair of young lovers in the late 19th century. We watch the beginnings of their courtship and are introduced to their families and friends (all played by through voice by the two lovers) and are treated to a text and acting style that beautifully evokes the period. Before long we begin to get little hints that not all will be well and like classical tragedy, the story begins to accelerate downwards to an inevitable and very disturbing conclusion. All of this is puncuated with comedy and delivered in wonderful rythyms.

Given that this splendid play is so dependent on spoken text, it would have been stronger with a little more vocal range from the two actors - this is especially evident at the beginning when William and Mary's eager, earnest love is just budding. Very quickly, however, we are drawn into their lives and the other characters give us variation. Further, the development of the main characters is believable and controlled wonderfully by the cast.

This is a striking play, a disturbing and engaging story and a performance well-worth getting over to Studio Rubin to see.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Happy With Half Your Life
Vanessa O’Neill
Review by Amiel Bruch

Solo autobiographical shows can become tedious at (particularly Fringe) festivals. I don’t need another expression of someone’s journey of experience or loss of innocence or pain in mid-life, etc. But sometimes, something happens that connects, hits a bone, strikes a chord, resonates and opens the salty floodgates.

Vanessa O’Neill does that something – at least for me (and others I could see in the audience) at Studio Damuza yesterday. It is not only her obvious talents as an actor (we expect as much when we go the theatre) nor her very engaging personality that make Happy with Half Your Life such an enjoyable and occasionally painful experience. We are told the story of Jess (a not very thinly disguised O’Neill), a young Australian woman leaving home (are there any Australians left in Australia?) to study at art college in London. Any ex-pat will recognize many aspects of Jess’s story but what makes this story stand out is the splendid and intelligent structure. Jess leaves home after the death of her grandmother; we are given enough of her early life to gain an idea of character and context – Irish-Australian catholic, bi-sexuality, arty, bit flighty and perhaps most importantly, the strong figure of her grandmother in her early life. To make money in London, Jess takes work as a carer for old women and it is this return to the grandmother figure that shapes and makes this performance. Extremely well-observed, these women are distinct and delicately played. With exception of one dotty old bird (Iris), they begin as screamingly funny charicatures but quickly develop a fullness and depth that affects both Jess and us in the theatre. The obvious love and respect O’Neill has for these characters make this monologue so much more that just a ramble through London by another newcomer. If there are a few drawbacks in this performance it would be in the movement - some sequences last too long and could use more dynamics and O’Neill is not fully convincing as a painter. These, however, are minor blips in an otherwise surprising and extremely well crafted piece. O’Neill has tremendous abilities as a comic, though these are used as a means to tell much more than a simple comic tale.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

A Life in Her Day
Hilary Chaplain
Review by Amiel Bruch

Solo clown work is not easy; it relies almost entirely on the clown's relationship to the audience. Everything else follows, timing, comedy, pathos, sympathy and very importantly, discovery (the clown's and ours). Hilary Chaplain performing A Life in Her Day had her work cut out for her with only a handful in the theatre yesterday afternoon, but she did work hard and for very good reward. Chaplain takes an entire life and collapses it into a single day - we witness birth, love, marriage, an affair, domestic violence and even a very disturbing execution in prison. All of this is presented with skill and clever use of the small audience.

Chaplain claims the famous Czech clown Bolek Polivka as one of her biggest inspirations and aspects of his style are in evidence here - there are also traces of another Chapl(a)in, Rowan Atkinson and some wonderful self-depricating humour reminiscent of Woody Allen. Ultimately, however, this clown is her own and there is that necessary quality of honesty of emotion coming from the actor and her life that bring about the better clowns. At times, A Day in Her Life stumbled, but Chaplain was able to bring us back with her quirky and vulnerable style. The tone throughout is comic and light, perhaps a small fault; I believe given some of the aspects of a life presented, Chaplain could afford to hold the sadness a moment longer and draw us in further. A Day in Her Life remains, however, a quixotic and often very funny slice into life that should be watched. Your presence can only make it better.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Why Love Shakespeare?
William Sutton
Review by Amiel Bruch

William Sutton has accomplished a rather amazing feat: he has memorized all of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. Turning this into a theatre performance is a different task; and though not seamless, it is a task admirably well executed.

Sutton's style is easy, witty and charming and he further demonstrates that he has not only memorized these magnificent words - his spoken text is a treat and clearly he has both technical skill and a deep personal relationship to the Bard's words. This is perhaps the highlight of the hour; not only does Sutton give us the sonnets, he translates his own journey with them as a means of self-discovery (know thyself). If at times the tone is a bit too much that of an undergraduate lecture, we forgive him because of his passion, humour (he is a great mimic) and a splendid combination of pride in his work and humility before that writer. The quiz section (where we test his knowledge) is a bit contrived, but I must admit it's also a lot of fun and Sutton carries it with such a love of his material that we fall for it. If you are afraid of, intimidated or bored by, Shakespeare, this should bring you around.

If you love Shakespeare, enjoy playing the game and hearing the text spoken (and interpreted) by one who knows and loves what they are doing.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Review by Amiel Bruch

Imagine staging a David Lynch film. Take away his occasional self-indulgence, add playful actors and you begin to imagine Scapegoat. BUT, you can't imagine it, you HAVE TO SEE IT.

Placing two sliding screens placed very far downstage bring an unusual (and surely deliberate) cinematic quality to this performance. But Wishbone Theatre have done more that just tip their hat to film - this is cut like a film - producing a performance that is surprising, innovative, and at times, very disconcerting. And absurd. And weird. And funny. And ridiculous. And sexy. And serious. Perhaps what is so unusual is that you feel you are watching a multi-media performance that actually integrates video or film well (not common). But you are not; it is theatre, and very theatrical. Describing the show would spoil the surprises, interpreting it would be vain and prescriptive, watching it would be a very good idea.

The story begins with Pete and Stella, a young English couple on holiday. The actors skilfully play these roles as well as a series of other characters as their relationship hits the rocks and their travels become ever more bizarre. Occasionally the 'cuts' between scenes are a little tedious, but usually they are well covered by a clever soundscape (intriguing voice-overs, sound effects, evocative music). Here we are entering Lynch territory, but it avoids slipping up its own conceptual back passage (absurdism works when rooted by context and purpose) by remaining focused on the characters and their stories. An absolute joy to watch.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

That's Me On The Left In The Parka
Robert Karper
Review by Amiel Bruch

"When do you first become self-conscious?" Thus begins Robert Karper's bittersweet musical rambling through personal memories, his own, his family's and those of a few friends. What stops this performance - at turns cabaret, late-night storytelling or old-fashoined raconteur - from becoming yet another unwanted visit into somebody else's angst is Karper's simple and compelling honesty, apt choice of and skillful played music and constantly returning to the opening question. This focal point allows Karper to seemingly digress into many stories of love and loss, innocence and experience and even revenge (the story of his mother's first marriage is a gem) but always bring us back to the importance and complexity of the opening question.

Karper is quietly funny, never needing to be bombastic, his style with the audience is easy and relaxed - including a very amusing survey from the audience about being in love. As he guides us through these anecdotes he brings the other characters to life through simple detail (a gesture, a slight accent) and uses the piano and accordion to good effect, at times almost as commentary or counter-point, at others to establish, highlight or stop a mood. There were perhaps a few moments when the pace could have varied more and the video clip seemed superfluous and too long, but the overall effect is one of making us feel a little more ok with our skeletons, demons, or simply troubled hearts. And, it still leaves that difficult question…

[ Find out when it's playing ]

A Man and a Woman
Lulu’s Living Room
Review by Amiel Bruch

This short (half-hour) dance/theatre piece is, quite simply, delightful.

Taking it’s title from Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film, A Man and a Woman explores both the minute, mundane and domestic details of a relationship and larger, archetypal themes of power and love, passion and faith. According to choreographer Marrianne Rouvier-Angeli, the idea began with a suitcase - and how apt for a well-packed performance that on one of its many levels is all about the baggage we carry. Ingeniously employing a set consisting only of a doorframe and a suitcase, the two performers play, fight, flee, return, tease, torture and trust each other without ever battering us with a thematic sledgehammer – it is exceptionally human. Clever use of repetition both fills out the characters and provides great comic moments; details played with hands and feet offer intriguing takes on sensuality or possession. The choreography is intricate and taut, drawing us into each intimacy, whether gritty, comical or sensual, often combining all of them into one gesture, movement or glance. The music, like the choreography, is beautifully integrated and always lending itself to the context of the piece.

This is the perfect starter for the Fringe: fresh, intelligent, poignant and fat.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Nikki Mccretton
Review by Amiel Bruch

The Premise for the multi-media performance Heretic is intriguing: a woman is banished to the moon for her sins on earth. In exile, our Heretic struggles to excrete tears enough to fill an aquarium as penance for earthly transgressions. Once filled, we are lead to believe, she can return to earth?

Unfortunately this solo performance neither fulfils the promise of its premise nor the talents of its performer, Nikki Mccretton. For a little over an hour we are witness to a mix of video projection, monologues, daily rituals, and conversations with a crowd of plastic bottles. Although she maintains an ironic perspective and we are encouraged to laugh with her, ultimately we are on a different moon. The failure of Heretic is its inability to weave these different, and occasionally interesting, themes, musings, movements and minutely observed detail into a consistent whole that either takes us on an intellectual or emotional journey. Whether reciting the “Ten Suggestions” (a pseudo-humanistic re-writing of the Ten Commandments), deliberating on the intricacies of the public and private self or dancing in the sea (a lovely sequence of shadow on video projection), Mccetton fails to discover anything really fresh or revealing.

An interesting but never new attempt to deconstruct the nature of our moral systems.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

The Tragedian (Part I - The Rise to Fame of Edmund Kean
The Prodigal Theatre Company
Review by Amiel Bruch

If you missed last night’s performance of part one, then that’s kind of bad luck for you because that was the only performance of Part I in this year’s festival. BUT you can make amends by attending any one of the performances of Part II this week.

Edmund Kean was short. This was a rather sore point for the aspiring tragedian and just one of a host of details that bring to the stage this larger-than-life character, performed by Alister O’loughlin with chutzpa, skill and an acting subtlety rarely seen. The play is appropriately performed in the round, where the boundaries of the stage are the spectators, who both make sense of the life of our tragedian (without them he is nothing) and become an integrated part of the story. Director Miranda Henderson and actor O’loughlin claim that it is not a one-man show – that there are eight other characters played by the audience – there is definite substance to this assertion. We become a part of Kean’s story and O’loughlin never forgets us – alive in the moment as actor and character at all times. Biography is a difficult genre, one-man shows are notoriously difficult to execute well. The Prodigal Theatre Company very successfully navigates these troubled waters largely through O’loughlin’s virtuouso performance and the intelligence of the dramaturgy which offers a very intriguing and plausible reason for Kean’s choice of Shylock for his debut at Drury Lane.

Above all else, The Tragedian is a master class in storytelling, for underneath all the impressive tricks and undeniable skills of O’loughlin, is a strong, fantastic and deeply felt story – a rare feat in theatre these days.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

Box Dreams
Theatre Intent
Review by John J Bishop

As part of a greater evening of theater, Box Dreams comes recommended. The two members of Theatre Intent use set [ a 1.5 x 1.2 m fabric covered box ], space, and their bodies with skill and ease. However, while the piece does move and affect, it does so without story. The transformations and human built special effects are clever and colorful, but like a dream without much weight to take away to the following day.

The show is fun and has some nice surprises. You may even see your own dreams rise up and out of their strange and wonderful box.

[ Find out when it's playing ]

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