Category: Performances

Melbourne Fringe 2017: THE BIRTH OF THE UNICORN MERMAID

Fantastically fresh and funny

By Leeor Adar

Ruby Hughes’ alte-ego Ophelia Sol has graced audiences since 2014’s FR!SK Festival. Hughes, a VCA theatre graduate, and recent Green-Room nominee for her performance in Zoey Dawson’s Conviction, is one very capable performer.

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The outlandish persona of Ophelia Sol makes a glittery stand in this year’s one-woman-wonder of a show, The Birth of the Unicorn Mermaid. Performed in the depths of The Butterfly Club, the show finds a perfect home amongst the mirrors and dolls. Everything is pink – absolutely everything – from the pink zip-onesie, to the baby clothes assembled upon the washing line. Perfect domesticity with a touch of fabulosity – after all, Ophelia Sol only wheels and deals in fabulous ways.

And this is Hughes’ overarching point of concern. In the interests of making the perfect child, the pursuit of strange medicinals and even stranger eating habits (glitter for brunch anyone?) to foster the unnatural wonder of a unicorn mermaid, the show is a fantastic farce on motherhood and the wannabe status of ‘yummy mummy’. Ophelia directs her attentions to the audience as if they are old friends in her game of one-upmanship at her baby shower. This is an artful nod to the obsession of putting oneself on show for strangers, whether on Instagram, or to the women who cohabit parenting spaces without the least interest in having a real conversation about motherhood with one another. Everyone is perfect, no time for anything less.

The show then rises to a darker and more poignant place where the unicorn mermaid baby does not arrive in this world as Ophelia expected. The monologue delivered is a testament to the heartaches and triumphs of motherhood. We later meet unicorn mermaid baby as a furry adult (‘cause women have body hair if you weren’t following), and she struggles with her place in her world and the relationship with her mother. Will perfectionism take hold of her? Perhaps, we wonder, as we exit the theatre through a fabric vagina.

Hughes’ show is a laugh-out-loud delight with some fantastic lines, dance numbers and even some puppetry. It’s incredibly well put-together and thought-out, and a definite nod must therefore be made to Hughes’ dramaturges, Candace Miles and Anna Kennedy. The performances managed to make myself and my companion sit back and think about motherhood and the impact of post-modern life on this journey. Will I be instagramming my baby? Probably not, if I choose to grace this world with one. But that’s the beauty of it – it’s my choice.

The Birth of the Unicorn Mermaid was performed at The Butterfly Club from 25 September – 1 October 2017. You can check out the Ophelia Sol insta here for latest shows and select photography: https://www.instagram.com/opheliasol/

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Melbourne Fringe 2017: A SMIDGE OF PIDGE

A bird’s eye view on modern life

By Joana Simmons

“Street rats with wings,” “flying vermon,” and “a nuisance” are some words that come to mind upon the mention of pigeons. NZ company Hank of Thread brings us (A Smidge of) Pidge; a one-woman show for this year’s Melbourne Fringe that takes a peck at the existential dread we all feel from time to time in our modern lives. It strives to ask the hard questions, such as: “Am I doing the right thing with my life?”, “Why do embarrassing things always happen to me?” and “Why does everyone hate pigeons?”

A Smidge of Pidge

Clad in a felt feathery pigeon costume, Sherilee Kahui embodies the unsure, insecure nature of these commonly found but rarely admired birds, scratching around at scraps of rubbish on stage and cooing at the audience. With a loose narrative thread, clowning, comedy, storytelling and voice-overs are used to weave together the ideas that make us brood in our everyday modern lives. My favourite was the clever voice-over infomercial selling five-year plans, and her realistic look and humorous portrayal of the masks we wear. The most memorable, and definitely uncomfortable moment was Kahui almost sculling a complete bottle of cheap white wine in just three goes. Throughout this, Kahui commits to showing us a spectrum of emotions and internal monologues – some hitting uncomfortably close to home.

The ideas in this show are very important messages and worth getting into a flap over. I felt the delivery of these however, needed more theatrical pizzazz to have a long-lasting effect and really move us, the audience, rather than fly over our heads or not properly land. The program mentions that this show has been workshopped in different formats, and based on Saturday’s show, there are still some tweaks that could be made. The moments in the show  sound and movement were great: the ‘Five Year Plan’ song (by Ian Fraser) had clever lyrics but the tune and vocal style didn’t best suit Kahui’s voice. I wonder if in a bigger space the pigeon physicality would work more successfully, as some of the movements  more comedic choreography – big flapping waddles and such. Written by Kahui and Jimmy Sutcliffe, and directed by Jane Yonge, this show overall has some wonderful creative elements, and while I was hoping for some more pigeon puns and witticisms or contrast in language used for different vignettes, more drama or dynamic could really give this promising work wings.

Flight of the Conchords, Boy, Hunt for The Wilderpeople, Rhys Darby and other famous Kiwi comics teach us a lot about the smart subtle dryness that happens in black comedy, and Melbourne Fringe is a tough nut to crack, especially for international or interstate artists. (A Smidge of) Pidge almost filled the room on Saturday night and left us with some real things to think about. Works like this find their way to brilliance by having time with audiences, so getting along to Fringe shows like this is not only supporting artists, but art itself – and that is very coo…l.

(A Smidge of) Pidge was performed at the Fringe Hub: Arts House Parlour Room from 26-30 September for the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Check out upcoming shows by Hank of Thread at https://www.facebook.com/hankofthread/

Melbourne Fringe 2017: VIRGIN BLOODY MARY

Hilariously unholy

By Leeor Adar

If Nadia Collins were a drug she’d be laughing gas. She subtly sweeps in to your consciousness and takes you to hilarious places. In Melbourne Fringe show Virgin Bloody Mary we see Mary’s story in her own ‘words’ – without words – as Collins employs some expert clowning and facial expression plus fantastic use of props, the audience and sound to flip the switch on our Holy Mother.

Virgin Bloody Mary

Upon receiving my ticket, I was briefed that the show has no words and as an audience member I might need to contribute a bit. Accompanied by the reverent chanting of psalms and organ music, Collins was dressed in the iconic white and blue robes complete with halo. She is interacting with each audience member as they come in, warming to them and warming them up for what is to come. The audience is included the whole time, when the breaking of bread turns into a platter party, with bread, hummus, carrot sticks and wine being passed around the audience and everyone having a bit. What a great way to bring people together. There’s mime, there’s drama, there’s a lot of fake blood. I loved how each look builds on the next and proves that expression and intention can communicate so much. The audience was very generous with their contributions the night I attended, my favourite being the donkey to Bethlehem montage. The dramatic birth of the Son of God was three minutes of absolute gold… (and frankincense and myrrh.) Overall I was very impressed with the bold, creative choices made and the way the gags were set up and delivered.

The story of the Virgin Mary and the immaculate conception is one some of us might have more or less the gist of, and Collins relied somewhat on hoping we had some clue about what was going to happen. Portraying such a story without words is difficult, and Collins got most of the elements in clearly enough but some parts didn’t quite make sense, especially the ending. Her facial expressions do communicate a world of words in one brief look, and changed superbly throughout the show, but sometimes however it was a little confusing as the expressive clown disappeared in exchange for a more everyday character. Considering this show did rely somewhat on the audience interaction, it’s exciting to know that Collins’ performance could range dramatically from night to night, depending on what the audience offered her. It showed how developed and strong her character was and the natural funny choices she made. She definitely fits under the comedian category.

I caught this show on its second-to-last night so if there’ s a second season, be sure to catch it. It is another example on the unique audience experiences on offer this Fringe plus slightly twisted take on a very, very old story. Collins is marvellous and serves a range of cackles and belly-laughs on a very well-arranged and delicious platter.

 

Virgin Bloody Mary

Friday 22 September- Tuesday 26th September @9:30pm

Errol’s & Co

69-71 Errol St., North Melbourne

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/virgin-bloody-mary/

Melbourne Fringe 2017: A SHOWGIRL – DECONSTRUCTED

A remarkable performance piece

By Joana Simmons

Leather, lace, tulle and truth. Stripping back in a whole different context, performance artist, theatre designer and questioning showgirl, Carletta The Great beautifully pushes boundaries in A Showgirl: Deconstructed. Through her performance combining burlesque, physical theatre, film and performance art the complex core beneath the costumes and corsets are theatrically laid out for examination. Carletta the Great is scrumptiously weird, and her commitment and detail in this show are poignantly interesting.

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The usual red cabaret curtain upstairs at The Butterfly Club is covered with a white screen, providing a great canvas to frame the corset-and-tulle-clad diva – posed with her back to us as we enter, hilariously humming an undefinable tune. The most memorable burlesque opening follows, beginning with a *mic drop. The audience is cackling and clapping, and the cool, ever-so-sassy Carletta the Great wraps us around her well-manicured finger.

A mixture of accompanying films plays on the white backdrop – one epic Monty-Python-esque animation in homage to woman and concepts of beauty over time, combined with a soundtrack that gives it the sexy excitement of a Bond film. Wearing nothing but false eyelashes and makeup, a voiceover of a cross section of the woman who is Carletta the Great, 20-year-old tattoo and all, honestly and somewhat bluntly makes us see all the cells that come together to make her female form. I have to mention her mouth, which is as big as her stage persona, and her tongue which traced hypnotic circles around her lips. She moves sensually against film footage of enlarged lips, the graceful showgirl arm lines looking stunning against the white backdrop. Overall though, there’s subtlety and control to what she does , and parts of her performance art that are also sad at times.

10pm on a Monday night might not usually be the time you would expect a crowd to be giving a huge applause, but A Showgirl Deconstructed earned every clap. Co-devisor and director Willow J Conway along with Carletta drew inspiration from Dadaism, butoh, dreamscapes and the modern-day feminist to create a work that shows the gritty, unfiltered showgirl. The detail in the incredible costumes and the costume changes is amazing: watching Carletta the Great squeeze into 10-inch thigh high PVC boots is a great insiders’ perspective, and equally amazing is how smoothly she then moves in them. The opening is still standout for me – there were a few more comical moments to balance out the drama, but I feel like these could have been expanded further to give the show more contrast and texture.

My favourite thing about this production is that the performance is not cloying, cliched or thrust upon us. It just is. In the showgirl world, cheese and sequins are basically as synonymous as gin and tonic, but if you are looking for the different side of the world of pasties and pouts – this is it.

A Showgirl: Deconstructed

The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, CBD

18-24 September 8.30pm

Tickets: https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/a-showgirl-deconstructed/

Image by Three Fates Media

Melbourne Fringe 2017: THE WAY THE CITY ATE THE STARS

Beautiful and beguiling

By Joana Simmons

Every once in a while, the stars align and the perfect string of events plays out. This was how I found myself in Wil Greenway’s poetic storytelling show The Way the City Ate the Stars. Saying “yes” to a last-minute review can certainly pay off, as this production is a poignant, simplistic piece of theatre that warms and breaks your heart at the same time. Accompanied by live music, it’s a story about childbirth, a summer drive, a mis-sent text, a broken heart and a bird.

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The black-box theatre space is the perfect setting for the subtle simplistic story that evolves. It’s stunning how Greenway and the accompanying musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Sam Rankin transform it into this wonderful world with their poetic words and authentic performances. Greenway, with a sparkle in his eye and the type of beard you want to rub your cheek against, energetically transports us from Melbourne Fringe to Christmas eve, where it’s hot, and everything smells like pine needles. His dry roguish humour puts us at ease, and the story’s beginning is relatable to the point where I could taste it, taking place on Sydney Rd with kebab in hand on a hot summer night, or morning. There’s more poignantly familiar elements in this story, some that are wildly fantastical and philosophical, and all are so skillfully painted with Greenway’s poetic colourful choice of words and interesting energetic physicality. I loved the way he comfortably broke the fourth wall, even when the story was in the grips of breath-taking suspense. It added a real Aussie ‘we can get serious but, yeah nah, don’t take ourselves too seriously’ charm.

The songs, played on acoustic guitar, have that light folksy vibe that is sweet and warm but with somewhat twisted lyrics, and they make humourous yet emotional additions to the show.  The music is by Langshaw and Rankin, and the show was directed by Kellie Tori: I imagine all involved are beaming with the success they had at Edinburgh Fringe, selling out and walking off with a few awards, and I have no doubt this show is going to have the same success this festival. Accolades aside, it’s the audience members who are fortunate enough to see the show that will be the true winners. My heart is still warm: I had a lump in my throat, and was on the edge of my seat at points of the show. Come the end, there were tears in my eyes and a huge smile on my face.

This Melbourne Fringe, where “Everything is Art” there are countless shows with all sorts of amazing bells and whistles. It’s overwhelming the amount of creativity all swirling around the city. But this show is so simplistically stunning, it’s one not to miss. Give yourself the emotional and intellectual hug that is The Way the City Ate the Stars, it’s uplifting, it’s weird, and it’s well worth your time.

Wil Greenway: The Way the City Ate the Stars

Venue: Fringe Hub: Arts House – Studio 2

Dates: 15-22 September (no Monday) Tue – Fri 9:15 PM, Sun 8:15 PM

Bookings: https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/wil-greenway-the-way-the-city-ate-the-stars/

Melbourne Fringe 2017: EROTIC INTELLIGENCE FOR DUMMIES

Scintillating

By Joana Simmons

Balloons, belly laughs and beanie babies. These are just a few of the wonderful treats in store for you, as well as the challenging yet uplifting lessons in Melbourne Fringe Festival’s Erotic Intelligence for Dummies. This superb one-woman show by award-winning actress and clown Helen Cassidy teaches us about passion, in all senses of the word. Prudes beware, it flirtatiously tickles our boundaries and the complexities of intimate relationships whilst educating and loving us all on love for all.

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The underground bar-come-theatre at the Arts House has a buzzy Friday-night-first-week-of-Fringe feel and Cassidy is roving the crowd making us feel comfortable. The TeD Talk sound effect opens the show, and dressed as a sexy librarian Cassidy lets the ideas flow. Small in stature but large in charisma, Cassidy is a strong all-round performer and has the audience on her side minutes in. She employs a range of talents and conventions to take us on a ‘sexual safari’, seeing how our fellows in the animal kingdom do it. There’s one epically memorable moment amongst this – one not to try at home – that Cassidy pulls off with jaw-dropping skill and hilarious follow-through.

The structure and pace of the show is slick. Cassidy glides from character to character, costume to costume, cleverly using the other balloons set behind her and the pile of stuffed toys in the centre of the stage. She uses witty language to cover what could be smutty content – serving it up like a nice little note and phone number left on your pillow the morning after the night before. There’s this wonderful maturity to her performance that is classy, sexy, and daring. By the end we are clapping along, all in one giant group of the same theatrical experience. For me, this is what live theatre is about: getting to share a unique experience for one hour with a group of strangers under an old building in North Melbourne. Absolute cudos to Helen Cassidy for bringing this wonderful experience out – creating the space and the light for (erotic) expression.

Erotic Intelligence for Dummies pokes us in all the right places. It sensually whispers in our ear something which could make one blush but also could make for a wonderful world. It gets your heart racing and juices flowing. Go with your squeezes, go with your pals, go alone and come out with company.

Erotic Intelligence for Dummies

Fringe Hub @ Arts House Underground,

521 Queensberry St., North Melbourne

15 – 22 Sept (Excl. Mon) | 7:45 PM (Sun 6:45 PM)

Bookings: https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/erotic-intelligence-for-dummies/

Arena Theatre Presents TRAPPER

Captivating for all ages

By Leeor Adar

Arena Theatre has given consistently challenging and engaging works of theatre aimed at their 5 to 25 year-old market since their inception in 1966. The theatre company has constantly kept the issues of interest to youth in the present day in their focus, but what is particularly fantastic about Arena is that the appeal of their work goes beyond the specific age groups for whom they create, appeasing teenagers and their parents alike – or just charming your average theatre-goer.

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Their latest creation, Trapper, is a futuristic and visually stunning set created from giant sculptural machines that light up and engage with the performers and their bodies. Designed by co-creator Jolyon James, with sound design and composition by Ania Reynolds and lighting design by Paul Lim (Additive), the stage ebbs and flows with the performers in an extraordinary and exhilarating manner.

From a selection of writings, the performers deliver a series of stories and segments that concern everything from our engagement with technology to the vastness of our capabilities and failings. Under the direction of co-creator of Christian Leavesley, the integration of the ‘trapping’ surrounds integrates so well with the profound topics discussed, and it is the human capacity to continue to exist (despite what we create that can destroy and expand our existence) that forms the underlying theme to Trapper.

Cleverly, the production appeals to its younger audiences as it takes us into the digital everyday life of a teenager – but the wit and whimsy of youth isn’t so far from adult engagement, as we are all reminded of our digital addictions. Once the younger members in the audience are enthralled, the piece continues to ascend to loftier places, with segment by segment asking larger and larger questions, ultimately reaffirming every individual’s place in the chaos of the world around. Thus Trapper artfully touches on an expansive set of topics with humour and poignancy.

Trapper is a thoroughly ambitious project, but Arena and their capable performers (Rachel Perks, Hamish Irvine, Daniel Schlusser and Naomi Rukavina) deliver with total vitality. The season was short, but hopefully this will not be its only one, so when it returns, take along anyone and everyone – Trapper is a journey of delight.

Trapper was performed at the Melbourne Arts Centre from 3-5 August, 2017. For further information about this production and company, visit: http://www.arenatheatre.com.au/