Category: Fringe

Review: Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland!

Great title, great fun

By Owen James

Are we en route to a world where “hail Satan” becomes a normalised, cordial greeting? Kirby Medway’s ‘Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland!’ undoubtedly wins best title at Fringe this year, and seems to suggest that this future isn’t too far out of reach.

Medway gives us satire at its most contemplative and reflective height in this terrifyingly recognisable world of fake smiles and fake news, set atop and against fake grass. We meet four regular young Australians who casually worship Satan, but whose day-to-day struggles are largely not different to our own. It’s difficult enough to find a comfortable living arrangement, or an easy ‘out’ of an awkward conversation, or remember that specific episode of Gilmore Girls – but even more difficult when you’re a Satanist. The delight Medway finds in distorting communication within this skewed reality provides many moments of entertaining comedy, but also asks many insightful, thought-provoking questions. Each audience member will respond to these questions in their own way, and so interpret this sardonic, and sometimes perplexing world, differently.

Clever direction from Jean Tong and Lou Wall brings out both the warm, relatable humour and the bleak melancholy inherent in Medway’s script with affection and punchy zest. They have created a charming and unique space where left-of-centre stagecraft is quickly established as convention, and then takes on a comedic life of its own – giving the audience a sense that as we understand the rules that define this world, our connection with the text and performers is increasingly embellished. As friendships break down and barriers are built up, comprehending the converging spaces and blurring conversations relies on our learned understanding of the environment depicted – expertly seeped into our consciousness thanks to Tong and Wall’s lucid and deliberate construction.

The cast of five bring their skilled comedic timing to every eccentric beat of this absurd AstroTurf-ed venture, deftly displaying fallacies of friendship and anxious but amusing social discomfort. Societal crisis and organ extortion are all played with a smirk, winking at the perturbing undercurrent of truth-in-flux to their characters. Special mentions to Liam Maguire for his many short, cynical, guitar-plucked taunting tunes delivered with an unnerving and candid grin, and Lou Wall as coercing, stubborn housemate Satan, who induced many giggles from the crowd.

Sell your soul before it’s stolen with your pineal gland, with a ticket to this absurd masterpiece. I look forward to the next offering from Medway and team.

Tickets: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/oh-no-satan-stole-my-pineal-gland/

Photography by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

 

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Review: Batmania

Sold out for a reason

By Owen James

One world, two shows. The Very Good Looking Initiative have created the dark, satirical world of Batmania, and given audiences two immersive experiences to choose from to discover this whacky, inane place. Expo ’19 takes place in one static place at Theatre Works in St Kilda, and the Bus Tour departs from around the corner and brings you back to Theatre Works 90 minutes later, just in time for the final goodbye at Expo ‘19. Both versions of Batmania have now completely sold out.

I went along on the Bus Tour, which was undoubtedly one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in a while, but especially at this year’s Fringe (so far). As the bus visits different places in St Kilda (sorry, “Batmania”), our overly cordial, happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care tour guides (Guide Raymond and Guide Vidya) are cheery almost to the point of painful – until events take a turn for the worst. This ingenious shift in tone comes as a surprise, creating a highly engaging, alluring atmosphere. It’s a delightfully enjoyable ride, and presents many moments of black comedy at its finest. But be warned: audience members not prepared for high levels of interaction will find this the stuff of nightmares.

Both Raymond Martini and Vidya Rajan deliver delightfully energetic, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying performances. Their descent from unpredictable ecstatic mania to rabid, cacophonic-but-catatonic beasts is carried out extremely well, and secured a vast range of responses from assorted passengers (sometimes just as fun to observe as the guides). Thankfully, despite the pandemonium and public territory, we always feel safe in the hands of these skilled performers.

Our blokey, arrogant bus driver (Elliott Gee) plays an important part in the madness too, always happy to perturb and provoke Raymond and Vidya as recent arrivals to his lifetime hometown Batmania. His quirky quips and rough demeanour provide many of the biggest laughs on the bus.

As we first boarded the bus, clearly no-one was quite sure what to expect. And as we alighted at the end of the trip, the feeling hadn’t really shifted. Though Batmania’s premise has a lot of promise, the experience overall seems not fully realised or cohesive. A lot of tension is built – very successfully, which then dissipates and has no real conclusion or payoff. While this may be intended to mirror contemporary Australia, as a theatrical experience, it is underwhelming. There is a lot of fun to be had on the journey though, and I would love to see the concept executed in a future iteration on a grand scale – it could run for a very long time.

I applaud The Very Good Looking Initiative for launching such a high-concept, out-of-the-box, very special production. Batmania embraces the awkward and rejects expectation, poking fun at Australiana and our culture with a very large stick, and dashes of parodic political humour. If a return season is mounted, grab your ticket fast.

Tickets (there are none): https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/batmania-the-bus-tour/

 

Review: Share House

A den of secrecy and compromised blame

By Owen James

Emerging company ‘Here and Now Collective’ have staged original drama Share House as part of the Howard Fine Studio’s current ‘Fine At Fringe’ season. This stimulating piece dissects the “intertwining of loyalty and manipulation” through slowly unfolding the tenuous, damaged relationships between four housemates following a grave incident one drunken night.

Writer/director Adeodatus McCormack has placed his four characters in a pressure-cooker setting (the share house), ensuring constant fissure which escalates in every scene. He has also very effectively staged the story in a nonlinear progression, which allows the audience to slowly piece together every separate piece of the puzzle, clue by clue. While there are moments of stilted and simplistic dialogue, the pace and tone are highly naturalistic for the most part, giving the cast ample opportunity for excavating varying levels of deep emotional engagement with their characters.

This well-matched cast of four explore the progression and consequences of grief, ambition and jealousy, with each individual encountering debilitating emotional stability throughout the course of the story. There are undoubtedly deeper and perhaps more realistic emotive heights and depths to be mined, but we are presented with four clearly developed and distinct characters who engage with this rollercoaster admirably and sensitively. As tensions rise and friendships teeter on the brink of collapse, mundane everyday routine gradually degrades into hollow repetition – and the true motivation of sinister characters comes to light.

Jorja Bentley and Maya Cohen both give compelling performances as eventually rivalrous housemates Sam and Shannon, respectively. They successfully highlight the bitter acrimony swelling between them, and demonstrate the growing pertinence of hobbies (photography) and reliance on vices (alcohol) introduced from the top of the show, which we come to learn play a larger part in unravelling the mystery at the story’s core. Cohen reliably establishes Shannon’s traumatic journey and coerced suspicion.

Amalia Krueger plays anarchistic housemate Taylor, who is coldly calculating but also fraught with fragility. She is at her best when tempers finally explode and can expound on Taylor’s venomous intentions. Claudia Piggott as the narrative springboard Jaime makes the most of her minimal stage time with a considered, naïve character.

Delve into a den of secrecy and compromised blame in Share House, playing until September 21st at The MC Showroom, Prahran.

Tickets: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/share-house/

Review: Wrath

Non-stop laughs in quick-paced, office-based, absurd-faced comedy

By Owen James

When a lone pubic hair is discovered in the boardroom of an elite business obsessed only with profit, its employees embark on a plummeting descent into satirical, surreal madness in search of the culprit. Each scene takes this madness to a new level, as tempers flair and maniacal tirades about pubes combust in comedic perfection.

The loud partying from the Trades Hall Fringe Hub beneath us quickly fades into the distance thanks to Liam Maguire’s slick writing and direction. His simple but unique pubic premise is the diving board above a pool of kinetic, thrilling language that the audience adores at every turn. I love works like this from new writers who are unafraid to take risks and have something revitalisingly fresh to bring to the table. Everyone involved in this piece, from the cast through to the technical team, are undoubtedly on the same page in understanding the world they are creating – a real testament to Maguire’s strong direction.

The six-strong ensemble cast (Cecelia Peters, Roy Joseph, Jonny Hawkins, Adam Sollis, Elle Mickel, Lou Wall) are all utterly hilarious – there is not a weak link in sight. Together, they bring Maguire’s insane world to life with grit and never-ending, no-holds-barred energy that is tiring just to watch. The stereotypes of a controlling and imposing CEO, timid and quick-responding secretary, shit-eating and competitive do-anything-to-keep-their-job subordinates, and wide-eyed and confused new employee are all brought to life with wit and gleeful insanity. It’s wonderful to see six standout performances connect so well in this perfectly-matched group.

This production swells to a new level with every high-stakes standoff and demonic inquisition, developing a unique flavour that blends Office Space with Twin Peaks. Wrath is an exciting and engaging piece that is thoroughly unapologetic, delightful entertainment – I would definitely return to see it again, or any future works from Maguire and his team. A must-see at this year’s Fringe.

Dates: 14th – 22nd September
Tickets: melbournefringe.com.au

Photography by Clare Hawley

 

 

 

Review: Yummy Deluxe

Clever and raunchy

By Irene Bell

Yummy Deluxe: the perfect way to forget your troubles for an hour and laugh along to talented people doing crazy things with their bodies.

What is there to be said about a group of highly talented people entertaining the crap out of everyone? The ensemble of Yummy have crafted a perfect hour of fun, sexy and cheeky cabaret and burlesque.

What’s truly lovely about this show are the tonal shifts. While Hannie Heslden, Zelia Rose and Jandruze provide the audience with upbeat and suggestive performances, Benjamin Hacock’s dancing brings a level of grunge to the show that was surprising, though not in any way unwelcome – the dancing to ‘The Beautiful People’ in a feathered crown and mask was a highlight. Yummy Deluxe is a celebration of all things feminine, with the colourful dance numbers being broken up by Joni the Moon’s ethereal singing that transports you out of the venue and into a dreamscape. All the while the show is hosted by the charismatic Valerie Hex, whose performance of ‘When Doves Cry’ was spectacular.

The show is many things and the identities on the stage reflect that. It’s great to see woman incorporated in the drag show. The costuming is brilliant, with every new reveal fighting for the audience’s attention – it’s impossible to look away from the stage.

This show is the perfect way to unwind and remind yourself that as long as art that is both clever and raunchy is getting made, it’s all going to be okay. Entertaining a crowd and brining genuine smiles to people’s faces can be hard in today’s political (and environmental) climate – as Valerie Hex points out – but Yummy Deluxe will do just that. Plus, if this show doesn’t make you want to take up pole dancing, you’re beyond help.

YUMMY DELUXE is playing at the Trades Hall until 29 September. Tickets can be bought here online (https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/yummy-deluxe/) or by calling the box office on (03) 9660 9666.

 

Review: After, The End

A story of love, loss, glitter and wine

By Samuel Barson

Death has very quickly become one of the biggest taboos of the modern era. Nobody wants to talk about it, let alone talk about it in front of an audience of people whilst drinking an entire bottle of wine, dressed in a glittering jumpsuit and high heels.  Until Jayden Walker, that is …

Walker, in his latest show, appropriately titled After, The End, does exactly that. Jayden’s father passed away in 2016, and Walker spends an hour with his audience reflecting, joking and pondering death, both in a general sense and in the context of his own personal experiences.

What strikes you right away about Walker is his immense strength. He is powerful, both in his emotional integrity and performative skill. He expertly weaves between highly exaggerated comedy and a more subtle and natural reflective state. In one moment he is strutting around the stage flaunting himself with his sassy, razor sharp wit, and the next he is standing still, describing the final moments of his father’s life.

The love he has for his father is palpable. As is the love he has for performing and storytelling. And it’s an absolute honour to be invited in to be a part of it his very personal story.

Naturally, there are going to be critics of what Walker does in this show. The jokes he makes about death do enter fairly dark territory. But it’s important they’re not misinterpreted as insensitive. For many using comedy is a valid form of coping and healing for some. As both an artist and his father’s son, Walker exercises his right to do so, and does so incredibly well.

Unable to be viewed as anything but original, I wouldn’t advise going in expecting a conventional piece of theatre or comedy. Instead, expect to form a connection with another human being and their story of loss and love … as well as their contagious love for glitter and wine.

After, The End is currently playing at The Motley Bauhaus in Fitzroy North until Sunday 15th September. Tickets can be purchased online at https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/after-the-end/) or by calling the Melbourne Fringe box office on 03 9660 9666.