Fringe presents Ascent

Citizen Theatre’s optical illusions push senses to new extremes

By Owen James

 

Theatre is usually confined to only two of our senses, relying on sight and sound to entertain, create and delight. Ascent pushes our relationship with these two senses to a new extreme, challenging our eyes to unusual visual stimulants and gifting our ears to aural delight. Through these frames, Ascent explores expectation, change, acceptance, and most of all, identity.

This very tight and expertly polished ensemble of five (Marty Alix, Jordan Barr, Kala Gare, Jessica Vellucci, Willow Sizer) are dressed head-to-toe in black and expose different limbs in low lighting as to create shapes and represent zoomed-in parts of one body. While this might have been more effective with a black light or under UV lighting, the shapes this group creates throughout the piece are mesmerising and magical. We are transported to a world where anything is possible and where our lens can transform between microscopic and wide-angle with nothing more than bodies and creativity.

Director and writer Jayde Kirchert uses these “visual illusions” to meditate upon contemporary themes and pose questions we ponder long after the show is over: Why do we attempt to create a standardisation for beauty? Do we change for ourselves or for others? Is our obsession with modernisation blinding us from comfort? Kirchert’s unique world tackles these deep questions with zest and comedic flair, and gives us as an audience space to reflect and consider throughout the piece.

The original music composed by Imogen Cygler is breathtaking, reminding me of works by Philip Glass. Every piece of movement is influenced by the music and the music by it, clearly presenting a very solid working relationship between every member of this team. Every change of music and movement are precisely timed, and as each new musical motif is introduced, Ascent raises the stakes and physicalised obsession a step further. Cygler’s cyclic music is beautifully rich in emotion and thought. I would have purchased a CD in the foyer if one were available!

If you want something “fresh” where “less is more” Ascent is for you. This first foray into “experimental music theatre” has greatly excited me for the future of this company and where these experiments will lead them. This polished, collaborative piece runs until 30 September at Theatre Works in St Kilda as part of the Melbourne Fringe, but hopefully Ascent or its future sibling will return to a theatre before too long.


Ascent is being performed until 30 September at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Stu Brown

 

Advertisements

Fringe presents Dudebox

Bold, Brash and Full of Bobbly Bits

By Joana Simmons

Kimberly Twiner (PO PO MO CO) has enlisted some of Melbourne’s hottest babes in her latest variety show Dudebox. Sketches, songs, clowning, neo-burlesque and physical comedy all weave together to dig fingers into the ribs of the patriarchy in a humorous and delicious fashion. Artists Kimberley Twiner, the Travelling Sisters, Lily Fish (PO PO MO CO), Becky Lou (Seen and Heard Cabaret), Selina Jenkins (Beau Heartbreaker), Hallie Goodman (Spoon Monkeys), Sharnema Nougar (Two Little Dickheads) and Fox Pflueger (Max Freak) unite and it’s as good as when the Avengers got back together.

We were warmed up by the Travelling Sisters as we came in. Each sketch by different combinations of the cast was well devised and made strong statements. There was a hilarious hen’s night scene that provided some great commentary on marriage which climaxed with a performance by a feminist-stripper. Many moments had us laughing and cringing because of lustfully grotesque clowning or the revelation of truths a little too close to home.

Standouts included Beau Heartbreaker’s honest and beautiful nuances during Caravan Park Neighbour Blues. Twiner’s tradie character who was equipped with a very interesting piece of machinery and had us eating out of her hand and lapping up every little facial expression. The Travelling Sisters’ auction was a scream. The trio sang wonderful harmonies full of intensity that were completely off the wall. The beer version of Rich Man’s Frug was brilliant with its stylised and juicy choreography.

The show was stolen for me by the penultimate number: Lily Fish’s best man speech. It was beautifully bittersweet and hilariously heart-wrenching. The characterisation, content and delivery were bang on, making it an unforgettable performance.

Herding a bunch of independent artists together to create a show is mighty tricky and takes serious time and creative magic. There were some moments that unfortunately fell flat because they were either too long, lacked structure or needed more gags, choreography or spectacle.

The ending fronted by Sharnema Nougar, while incredibly costumed, didn’t do justice to the rest of the show. Maybe some kind of MC character or thread to pull everything together would have been useful. Though the costuming was brilliant, which is satisfying to see a Fringe show put in the effort to make aesthetically pleasing work, and the sound was right on cue, as was the lighting.

I am excited to see where Dudebox goes, because it’s bold, brash and full of boobs and other bobbly bits. It had enough of an effect on me that I reprimanded someone for casual sexism in the workplace the day after – such is the power of theatre like this.

Dudebox was performed 26 – 28 September at the Lithuanian Club as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. See here for more information.

Review: Colossus

A celebration of mass and movement

By Lois Maskiell

The Melbourne Fringe’s vibrant and often overwhelming program is renowned for engaging audiences with undiscovered and emerging artists and now, with the introduction of the Take Over! program, a leading independant artist is added to the mix. Award-winning contemporary dance choreographer, Stephanie Lake, is this year’s recipient with Colossus. Presented in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne, this large-scale work sees Lake’s unique dance-language harness young talent in a captivating and electric production.

Fifty bodies lie motionless in a circle on the floor. Ambient noises begin to awaken their limbs, their fingers curl slowly, and soon they begin to pulsate. Striking visual formations like this feature frequently and with so many bodies on stage, Lake has an astute ability to sculpt clear sequences that appear almost spontaneously out of carefully orchestrated chaos.

Equally absorbing are the dancers from the Victorian College of the Arts and TriPP Transit Dance who are diverse in age and talent. Standout duets showcase Lake’s choreographic style as we see unlikely duos push, pull, attract and resist one another. It is a beautiful illustration of human relationships at their most abstract and fundamental level.

Running side-by-side Lake’s choreography are composer, Robin Fox’s voltaic soundscapes. At times dancers are in complete unison with Fox’s sound effects, while at others they resist moving with the music. Their bodies appear to be instruments in their own right, contributing to a celebration of mass and movement.

In one instance the dancers assemble as if in a school photograph and a voice over, presumably Lake’s, delivers sharp instructions. “Float left hand up…Stop,” she commands. This winds up in laughter as the audience witnesses the dancers diligently follow directions. I can’t help but think that Lake is casting an ironic glance at the act of choreographing and how so much of the creation process involves giving or following instructions.

Bosco Shaw’s lighting design and Harriet Oxley’s costumes are both stark and simple. Adorned in a black and comfortable attire, the dancers are left to freely move about the stage. Shaw’s lighting transitions from cold white to warmer tones and compliment switches in Lake’s repertoire. The final moments erupt in a rhythmical and percussive number where performers demonstrate their talent and sheer passion for dance. Watching these young artists give Lake’s compositions their unbridled and unrestrained energy is truly part of the wonder.

Colossus is a feverish display of action-reaction forces between bodies set to an electric musical score. After experiencing these poignant formations emerge out of a swarm of dancers, I was left feeling as if Colossus was like observing life play out in a crowded city.

 

Colossus is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne until 30 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Mark Gambino

Fringe presents 10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew

Intelligent and comical analysis of Shakespeare’s classic

By Narelle Wood

Shakespeare fans beware. Gillian English has some issues, 10 in fact, with this supposed Shakespearean classic and isn’t afraid to share them. Loudly. Emphatically. And very convincingly.

Before English deconstructs, or rather demolishes The Taming of the Shrew, she astutely gives the audience a precis of the play, just so everyone’s familiar with the key themes – women are property and using torture is a perfectly permissible method to tame an unwieldy female. It’s obvious from the get-go why English wants this play to burn in the fiery pits of hell. Over the next hour though she continues to educate us on just how f-ed up Shakespeare’s portrayal of the female characters Katerina and Bianca really is, and also questions the heroic status of Petruchio, the gaslighting protagonist with the dumbarsed name. As a side note, there is a lot of language use that would make a “proper” Shakespearean lady blush, so the show is recommended for an audience 15 years of age and over.

I don’t want to list the 10 things that English takes issue with, because that would spoil the show. However, broadly speaking she touches on themes such as men and violence against women, teenagers, Disney, fetishizing youth, film adaptations of Shakespearean classics, violence against women (part of the premise of the show, so worth repeating, because it’s a very important for everyone to hear, not just men) and pockets. As a Shakespeare lover, it’s a little confronting. I found myself wanting to yell, “what about the language Gillian, think about the language!” But I also wanted to bail English up and ask her thoughts on other Shakespeare gems such as Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Confronting yes, but more importantly thought provoking and very topical; I have also since discussed a number of the 10 things with my fellow English teachers who do teach Shakespeare by highlighting many of the problems with it.

10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew is challenging, educational and full of lots of intelligent reasons as to why we should reconsider whose stories get told and who tells them. It might be easy to dismiss it as an entertaining rant, but it’s not just a rant, it’s an intelligent and comical analysis of Shakespeare, with some self-defence advice thrown in for free.

10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew is being performed at Belleville, Melbourne until 30 September. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Dahlia Katz

Fringe presents We Can Work It Out

The fab four come together in Gabriel Bergmoser’s play

By Samuel Barson

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard of The Beatles. Widely argued as the greatest band of all time, their 10-year existence produced hit after hit and resulted in a legacy that has strongly embedded itself within cultural and music history.

Gabriel Bergmoser’s We Can Work It Out is a play about the band’s four illustrious members: John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s 1966 and the days of their trusty and happy-go-lucky love songs appear to be behind them. But where to next? As the “Fab Four” confront this creative crossroad head on, their separate personalities, world views and egos clash dramatically.

The performances are incredibly captivating. To be able to bring to life four of the most well-known personalities in the history of pop culture is no mean feat, but all four actors achieve this with utmost charisma and energy. Kashmir Sinnamon (John), Karl Sarsfield (Paul), Troy Larkin (George) and Brett Wolfenden (Ringo) all successfully capture the essence of the men the world once knew, whilst also lending their own individual spirits to the characters. Troy Larkin was a standout, as a particularly brooding, frustrated and cynical George.

Director Greg Caine must be congratulated for creating such a tightly choreographed and poignant piece, especially in such a small space. The actors are constantly in each other’s faces, with the conversations and arguments regularly becoming physical. Not once did the space feel too small or too tight for this sort of interaction, a testament to Caine’s eye and attention to detail as director.

It is important to note that this play is filled with several deep-seated Beatles references. This may pose a potential accessibility issue for audience members who are not knowledgeable about the band and their story. For Beatles fans however, this play is an absolute treat.

We Can Work It Out is being performed 24- 30 September at The Butterfly Club. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photograph: Supplied

Review: George’s Marvellous Medicine

Mischief and laughter abound in adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic

By Rebecca Waese 

Following a sold-out season at the Sydney Opera House, shake and stir theatre co has served up a winner at Arts Centre Melbourne with their fresh and fabulous theatrical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine. Gross, engrossing and deliciously wrong, this theatrical adaptation is directed by Ross Balbuziente who is not afraid of a good running fart gag or a Roald Dahl classic novel with the dubious message of eliminating an evil adult who makes life miserable for a child. This show is great fun for kids and great all round.

In a cast of standouts, Nick Skubij plays the mischievous eight-year-old George who creates medicine for his horrible Grandma that will hopefully make her easier to bear. With naughty glee and a complete disregard for health and safety, George concocts an elixir that makes Grandma grow to epic proportions. George’s parents, the excitable Mr. Kranky (Tim Dashwood) and Mrs. Kranky (Nelle Lee) – a designer-loving wife in a cow-hide skirt – add cartoonish flair to the stage and Johnny Balbuziente who plays Nugget the chicken uses physical comedy to the hilt with the latest in chicken talk and puppetry. Grandma (Leon Cain) is a terrific performer with sharp comedic timing and doesn’t shy away from engaging in contemporary references that take this Dahl tale right up to the minute.

Lighting designer Jason Glenwright and sound designer Guy Webster add to the winning recipe of magical wizardry with storms, bubbling brews, and humorous sound effects. The overall design of the set, with moveable sliding panels for rooms, crooked shelves and pop-up surprise doors, all decked out in a 1970s brown and yellow floral frenzy, adds to the imaginative flavour and had me exclaiming in wonder as George dared to mix a brew that sent Grandma and the chicken through the roof.

There were more than a few public service announcements warning kids, “Do not try this at home!” but, I must say, in these overly safe and parent-patrolled times, this theatrical adventure of “what if” was even more delicious for its shocking mischief and sheer delight in how far naughty George could go on a humdrum Saturday afternoon. The hour sped by in a blur and the show left the audience wide-eyed and cackling with incredulous laughter.

Though you may not want to see it with your Grandma, this show sends you back to what it feels like to be a curious kid with an aptitude for mischief. It’s terrific entertainment and bucket-loads of fun. Come early and make a crazy chicken or some farm creature crafts at the Kranky Farm before the show. Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine has got the right recipe for family theatre that leaves you wanting more.

Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine is being performed 25 – 29 September at Arts Centre Melbourne with an Auslan interpreted performance and relaxed performance. See here for more information and tickets.

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

Photograph: Dylan Evans

 

Review: Company 18

An evening of astonishing circus and variety

By Leeor Adar

I was lucky to bear witness to last year’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) showcase, and the astonishing talent left me breathless. I am always absolutely thrilled by circus arts, so I was a little surprised to see that the focus this year became more of a variety show of occasionally awkward (albeit sometimes spot on) jokes from Jan Van De Stool, and a closing song by Queenie Van De Zandt that could rival Eurovision without the fire and lasers. What a pandemonium…

Aside from the variety elements, and the occasional focus on theatre over circus for some acts, I was still impressed with the talented group. These amazing circus artists are elite-level athletes with three years of training behind them. Company 18 benefited from a new NICA initiative that provided individual artistic consultation sessions. Aside from the excellent networking opportunities this provided, Company 18 also had the benefit of discussing and honing their preferred skills with those at the top of their field.

The opening act of Jordan Hensley-Twartz performing diablo was certainly a jaw-dropping beginning. Hensley-Twartz’s ability and concentration was a very strong start to the night. It’s always difficult as the first act, as it sets the tone of the night – and on this occasion the bar was set high. As the night progressed, performers told stories through their bodies and choice of song. Notably, the joyous folk-hop as Hayley Mills circled the stage in her Roue Cyr was followed by a startling and dark performance by Ellen Henry on loop straps. I really began to enjoy the variety provided on the night.

As the night progressed, some real standouts emerged. Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn were mesmerising with pointe adagio and risley. The choice of costumes by the pair and their play on the marionette made for incredible entertainment and a showcase of their skill. I could barely look when Fairbairn on one pointe balanced herself on Martyn. One would think the following act would struggle to keep up after such a crowd favourite, but Adam Malone absolutely smashed it with his hula hoop act. Malone’s blend of meditative dance and use of lighting made for an excellent alternate experience to the previous act.

For something a little different, the audience loved Shay Bowskill who had a large focus on comedy and physical theatre, which was less circus-focused. I was also delighted by Georgia Deguara on her aerial chair with the showgirl feel she injected as she performed to Rolling on a River.

Post-interval began with death-defying ferocity as Karla Scott tantalised on a swinging trapeze. I was delighted to see Elanor Nunn follow on tissu, which was absolutely gorgeous to watch; Nunn was able to stand between the soft materials in an incredible feat I did not think physically possible. This segment also brought something out of the ordinary in Zoë Marshall’s contortion carpet spinning. Marhshall’s performance was completely beautiful, and showcased both her poise and unique skill. Brooke Duckworth and Lyndon Johnson performed together in an endearing set of acrobatics, which they undertook with an ease that might tempt audiences to perform at home (don’t). An ethereal and powerful Emily Chilvers (on rope) and an elegant Liam Dummer (on straps) were in perfect form as they scaled incredible heights in their individual acts, representing in my opinion, circus excellence.

As Company 18 awkwardly smiled through the final sing-song, I have high hopes for next year’s talent, which given the excellence of NICA and its pupils, should remain more circus, and less variety show.

Company 18 was performed 19 – 22 September at the National Institute of Circus Arts. See here for more information.

Photographs: Aaron Walker