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Fringe 2011

Ian Moss
The Spiegeltent, Sun Feb 13

Ian Moss opens with the surprising, but impressive, choice of Cry Me a River, and the expectant crowd wonders what the next hour will bring.
The highlight of the evening comes early, a passionate rendition of John Fogerty’s Green River, a song that set Moss on his lifelong journey - the catalyst that ensured his passage into one of Australia’s greatest bands. An unannounced Choirgirl is next and we are, unsurprisingly, in his thrall. From this point on, we understand why Cold Chisel means so much…
The weathered six-string, already carrying the songs brilliantly, is battered into submission as a percussive augmentation. The vocals are masterful - Ian Moss doesn’t need anybody else.
All we need now is a dose of Bow River to send us home satisfied. He doesn’t disappoint.
Chisel fans are happy, the audience is happy, I’m happy…

Final Word: Topshelf

David Robinson

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Snout
The Bally @ Gluttony, Fri Feb 18

Snout is the new performance by local group Box City Theatre Company, and follows hot on the heels of their 2010 Fringe show, Inanimate Eats Rage.
The on-stage action is frantic; a non-stop rush of fast-moving swine, rapid-fire dialogue, piggy entrails, insane laughter and flashing lights. Pork-based puns abound. It’s chaotic. It is very difficult to hear what’s being said – other Fringe events, immediately adjacent the venue, provide an unexpected, and very loud, soundtrack to the evening. A distraction that provides a less than perfect environment for director Malcolm Sutton and the members of the troupe to stage their play.
The premiere performance is all over and done within a breathless 25 minutes. There is a recurring theme around the perils of messing with nature, and perhaps messages about valuing, and accepting, difference. I’m really not sure. In any event, it was a bit of fun on a Friday night.

Final Word: Busy

David Robinson

Snout continues at The Bally @ Gluttony until Sun Mar 6.

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Phoenix Rising
Higher Ground - Main Theatre, Sat Feb 19

An aging D H Lawrence reads from a friend’s letter and considers a response. His thoughts transport him to the days of his earliest memories, a time when D H Lawrence, author, didn’t exist. Only Bertie - son, brother, student, friend…
Paul Slack portrays Lawrence so adeptly that I forget that I am watching someone act. Slack is pure Nottingham. This story of the young author is beautifully written by Campbell Kay who, along with Slack, created Phoenix Rising in 1985. Glimpses of the author-in-waiting are present throughout, but this is a different Lawrence to that of common perception. He is often jovial, almost ordinary at times, yet the full force of the more dramatic elements of this young life is convincingly conveyed.
As is the norm for Guy Masterson’s productions, minimal, yet effective, use of props and effects allow the performer to command your attention. And he does.

Final Word: Superb

David Robinson

Phoenix Rising continues at Higher Ground until Sun Mar 13.

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The Six-Sided Man
Higher Ground - Main Theatre, Sat Feb 19

Gavin Robertson’s two-hander The Six-Sided Man was inspired by, and adapted from, Luke Rhinehart’s popular 1971 novel, The Dice Man. Given the sometimes complex, varied and involved nature of the book, I took my seat with no idea how this show would pan out.
Robertson and his fellow player Nicholas Collett give an assured performance comprising excellent storytelling and banter, punctuated with moments of music-based physicality. The set is sparse, there are few props and the sound effects are minimal. This is all about the principals. The dialogue is clever, rather humourous and even manages to expose some of darker aspects of Rhinehart’s classic book. All this in just over one hour.
Robertson’s adaptation works well as a stand-alone piece. In fact, I think my intimate knowledge of the book rather clouded my view of the performance initially. Once I’d let that go, I was convinced. Definitely worth seeing.

Final Word: Loaded

David Robinson

The Six-Sided Man continues at Higher Ground until Sun Mar 13.

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Monique Brumby
The Garden of Unearthly Delights’ The Spiegeltent, Sun Feb 20

Monique Brumby breaks the ice with the reasonably-sized Sunday night crowd with some warm, engaging chat before launching into her set. It’s just Brumby, alone, yet her sound effortlessly fills the Spiegeltent. She says that she doesn’t do covers very often, before trotting out an accomplished rendition of Suzanne Vega’s Luka. After performing her first two songs solo, the celebrated storyteller is joined on stage by Sophie Turner and Nick Larkins, sporting six-string acoustic guitars, and we get Beautiful Heart, a track from the latest album. Larkins exchanges his guitar for a bass, and the rest of the set offers impressive snapshots from Brumby’s songbook, a nice effort at The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry proving a worthy deviation.
The show is marvellous. The setting is almost perfect, the songs are wonderful and Brumby’s superlative vocals are of a quality that is all too rare. A shame it’s a one-off show.

Final Word: Harmonious.

David Robinson

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Nightminds
Cuckoo Bar, Mon Feb 21

Six individuals bare their souls, exposing their deepest and darkest thoughts. Each one of them stuck in an emotional loop. Three couples, in various stages of their relationship, come together. The remnants of humanity, waiting for the inevitable end of days, fall apart at the seams.
Victorian outfit The Electric Company stages an enjoyable, if a little confronting, performance of Isobel Roberts-Orr’s play. Directed by the writer and Celeste Emire Macleod, this is part performance-piece, part drama. The young troupe demonstrates plenty of energy for the task. The performances are delivered with passion, and the delivery of the dialogue is emphatic. This is underpinned by some skilful writing. Lyrical, beautiful, and challenging. This wordy performance will likely delight those with a passion for language.
The set moves during the interval, so does the audience. There’s flashing lights, a little shouting, and a wisp of smoke. All part of the ride…

Final Word: Unnerving.

David Robinson

Nightminds continues at Cuckoo Bar until Sat Feb 26.

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Between the Lines of Age
The Wheatsheaf Hotel, Tue Feb 22

The first half of the Helium Detectives’ Neil Young tribute comprises a dozen or so acoustic versions of the songwriter’s classic numbers. Heart of Gold, Pocahontas, Harvest Moon, Old Man, you get the picture. There’s no doubt that the band are fans; the songs are affectionately presented, and well received by the room full of family and friends. It’s pretty good.
The second set features an electric showcase. All of the expected songs are there, but there’s something missing. Maybe it’s too quiet, perhaps it’s the lack of a bass player, it could be that unchecked interference emanating from the amp… Eventually the band finds another gear. Rockin' in the Free World and Like a Hurricane ensure we end on a high note.
The between-song trivia questions don’t really work. Answering questions for chocolate prizes makes me think of office training sessions or family Christmas dinners. No place here.

Final Word: Middling.

David Robinson

Between the Lines of Age continues at The Wheatsheaf Hotel until Wed Feb 23.

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Mussolini - A One Man Political Farce
Higher Ground - Art Base, Wed Feb 23

Il Duce is in the house. Italian wartime supremo Benito Mussolini rants for an hour and, at the conclusion, the only thing of which we can be certain is that it’s not his fault. At least he doesn’t think so…
Ross Gurney-Randall brings a Mussolini to the stage that begs a little sympathy. The more heinous aspects of the Fascist dictator’s time in power are mostly overlooked, and we are presented with a more human face. This is a bumbling, hesitant, defeated and, throughout the performance, comical personification of Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini that presents his side of the story. The important dot points of the inept leader’s life are woven together with some very funny monologue and amusing physicality.
Co-writer Dave Mounfield and Director Paul Hodson have, in collaboration with Gurney-Randall, created an impressive characterisation that doffs its cap to history but remains its own, very worthy, entity. Bravo!

Final Word: Divertente!

David Robinson

Mussolini - A One Man Political Farce continues at Higher Ground - Art Base until Sun Mar 13.

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Shylock
Royalty Theatre, Wed Feb 23

From the moment the lights dim and Guy Masterson commences, I am transported into the world of Shylock.
Playing the role of Shylock’s friend Tubal, Masterson recounts the story of Shakespeare’s famous moneylender, one of literature’s most well-known Jews. Using The Merchant of Venice as a springboard, Masterson takes the audience on a wide-ranging journey that considers Jewish characterisation in print and on stage throughout history, visiting the worlds of the Old Testament, Barabas - the Jew of Malta, and Count Dracula. The broader, and more important, issues of marginalisation and persecution of Jewish people are woven into the narrative, and applied with Masterson’s usual skill. This is, on surface level, a humorous piece, although the serious elements of the major themes are not overlooked. The balance is near-perfect.
Writer and Director Gareth Armstrong’s creation is inspired, and Masterson brings a great deal of energy and affability to the role.

Final Word: Thoughtful.

David Robinson

Shylock continues at Royalty Theatre until Sun Feb 27.

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Here Comes the Son
Higher Ground – Shimmering West, Thu Feb 24

Four kids on a road trip. Melbourne to Perth. They sing, they dance, they crack jokes.
The seven actors do a pretty good job in maintaining a laudable level of energy throughout the show, which bounces around the audience as it moves from set to set. Sean Collins’ role as Reginald (the father) sets the tone early, and the hour passes quickly.
The lack of microphones coupled with the noise from the adjacent main road (this is an open air venue) makes it somewhat difficult to hear what is being said, but it is tolerable.
I laughed quite a bit. Most of the young audience thought it was hilarious.
All members of the cast display, to a greater or lesser degree, a level of talent that should see them do quite well in future productions. Perhaps a little polish is needed in some of the delivery, but that will come.

Final Word: Wonderland.

David Robinson

Here Comes the Son continues at Higher Ground until Sat Feb 26.

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I, Elizabeth
Higher Ground – Main Theatre, Thu Feb 24

Rebecca Vaughan’s portrayal of Elizabeth I is nothing short of mesmerising. Hers is a Queen that wrestles with the duality of being both monarch and a woman, and refuses to concede to the pressures brought about by both. Externally, at least. She rants, she whispers, she is driven to tears of sadness and anger. This is a very moving performance.
All of the words used in the performance are Elizabeth’s own, put together and brought to the stage with great skill and passion by Vaughan. She is utterly convincing as England’s sixteenth-century Queen.
The set is perfect, the lighting and sound effects are minimal yet striking, but ultimately it is Vaughan’s wonderful performance that ensures that this show is up there with the best of the Fringe this year.

Final Word: Regal.

David Robinson

I, Elizabeth continues at Higher Ground until Sun Mar 13.

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The Journey Home – An Interplanetary Guide to the Solar System In 3D
3D Visilab - University of Adelaide, Fri Feb 25

With such an impressive title, I was hoping for something special. A magical 50-minute journey through our solar system, accompanied by classical music, and experienced from the vantage point of a comfy seat in a modern, cool, theatrette.
Not so. Thirty punters were shoehorned into the room, the seats were metal, and the floor was flat - the only clear views were from the front row. The first half of the show is a ‘Solar System 101’ lecture given over 3D images of the planets, followed by a break for questions. The climax is a 20-minute 3D ride, but I could only see half of the screen due to the man-mountain who’d sat in front of me. We were 10 minutes late in starting and 15 minutes late in finishing.
This is the kind of science lesson you’d forfeit in exchange for an extra game of pool at the bar…

Final Word: Educational.

David Robinson

The Journey Home – An Interplanetary Guide to the Solar System In 3D continues at 3D Visilab until Thu Mar 10.

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Goering’s Defence
Royalty Theatre, Sat Feb 26

Hermann Goering, alone in his cell, accepts that these are his final moments. The victors have brought down the ultimate judgement upon the highly-ranked Nazi. Goering tells his story…
Ross Gurney-Randall, brilliant in Mussolini - A One Man Political Farce, gives an altogether different, but no less absorbing, performance as the doomed creator of the death camps. His Goering, some of whose words come straight from Nuremburg transcripts, is unapologetic for any of his crimes, citing truth as the best, and only, defence. His logic borders on the cynical. He is believable – the audience is almost brought around to his way of thinking. Almost. Surely it is only the magnitude of the crime that prevents us from being won over.
This production, brilliantly written by Gurney-Randall and the play’s director Guy Masterson, provides a gripping, disturbing and convincing account of how unshakeable belief can override any sense of morality.

Final Word: Sharp.

David Robinson

Goering’s Defence continues at Royalty Theatre until Sun Feb 27.

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American Poodle
Royalty Theatre, Sat Feb 26

The first instalment of American Poodle, entitled Snowball, provides a largely British account of the formative years of the USA, up until the time of the 1770 Declaration of Independence. Writer Guy Masterson is very entertaining as he manages to move effortlessly through a range of roles, proving highly amusing as mad King George, amongst others.
The second episode, Splayfoot, leaves me wondering. Masterson’s portrayal of the brash American is spot-on, but I’m not sure what writer Brian Parks is attempting here. Is this chap supposed to be one of those people we all know, basing their opinions and judgements on feeble, lazy generalisations (and is therefore worthy of our derision), or is he simply being used as an opportunity to tell stand-up jokes about the English? I found the humour a little hit and miss; the “knowing” laughs and exaggerated guffaws struck me more as affectation than anything genuine.

Final Word: Two-halves.

David Robinson

American Poodle continues at Royalty Theatre until Sun Feb 27.

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Stephen Cummings / Autism as a Metaphor
The Deluxe, Garden of Unearthly Delights, Sun Feb 27

Stephen Cummings, almost anonymously, shuffles onto the stage. The audience eventually realises that the show is underway and greets their man with warm applause. Cummings opens with Sweet Saturday, from the Firecracker album. It takes him a little while to get into the groove, but once his voice finds its way nothing much else matters.
The hour is filled with Cummings’ shambolic, yet charming, repartee, interrupted by the odd song. In fairness, we get nine songs, the highlights being Fell From a Great Height and When Love Comes Back To Haunt You. He has a few attempts at How Come but the chords largely elude him. Most people don’t care; after all, we’re having fun. Aren’t we? The crowd are definitely in the Cummings’ camp and all, bar one curmudgeonly soul, accept the occasional song breakdown.
Stephen Cummings is a great singer and seems a nice fellow. What else matters?

Final Word: Goodsport.

David Robinson

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The Cut By Mark Ravenhill
Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage, Tue Mar 1

New local company Axe Soup takes a shot at Mark Ravenhill’s powerful play, The Cut. One man wrestles with both his conscience and the uneven-handedness of society. Ultimately, no-one is innocent.
Tony Busch is Paul, and he carries the role with some strength throughout the three stanzas of the performance. He is well supported by Luke Schubert, Emmy Warren, Ben Brooker and Sharon Malujlo, who help to paint a picture of a man rapidly descending into a living hell.
Any issues I have about the plot and its resolution probably lie at the feet of the writer rather than the manner in which this tale is recounted; certainly there are aspects of the performance that could be more finely honed but all up this is a creditable effort. Director Ryan Ricci, his crew and the players can be happy with their work here. I hope to see Axe Soup again.

Final Word: Intense.

David Robinson

The Cut By Mark Ravenhill continues at Bakehouse Theatre until Sat Mar 12.

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Nice Work If You Can Get It
Arcade Lane – Regent One, Thu Mar 3

Two office workers ponder their corporate destinies. While they dance and slap each other around...
The Lost Rung, a Melbourne-based company comprising Josh Mitchell and Adam Jackson, brings its multi-faceted talents to the Regent One stage. As well as playing to their main strength – dance, the boys sing, tumble and talk their way through this 60-minute play, set in a very odd office environment.
The performance isn’t held together by anything resembling a plot; rather, it is a series of short vignettes that keep the audience entertained and interested. This is more a physical performance piece than the telling of the story, although ultimately we are all probably in agreement with the notion that a day at the beach is a better use of time than attempting to climb the greasy corporate pole.
The two players do an accomplished job, and are well supported by effective visual and audio effects.

Final Word: Lively.

David Robinson

Nice Work If You Can Get It continues at Arcade Lane until Sun Mar 6.

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Oleanna By David Mamet
Higher Ground - Main Theatre, Sat Mar 5

The powerful Oleanna deliberately blurs the line between harassment and political correctness. This play is written and performed to get a response, to divide an audience, to encourage discussion. Everyone watching will have an opinion.
Guy Masterson, in what is easily his most dramatic role of the three he has chosen to perform in this year’s Fringe, is eminently believable as John, the happily ensconced university professor. Whether he is misunderstood or completely skewed in his judgement is left for others to ascertain. Joanne Hartstone is similarly convincing as Carol, the increasingly self-assured student. Her passage from frightened lamb to all-too-easily-influenced radical is portrayed with an emotion that resonates.
Mamet’s play cleverly uses subtle (and not so subtle) changes in vocabulary and costume to pile on the pressure. This no picnic for either of the characters; the tension is palpable.
Definitely worth seeing; this short season deserves your patronage.

Final Word: Power-shift.

David Robinson

Oleanna By David Mamet continues at Higher Ground until Sun Mar 13.

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Backy Skank, Featuring The ‘Complete Madness’ Show
The Light Hotel, Sat Mar 5

A solo voice and guitar, performing Desmond Decker’s Israelites, greeted me upon arrival. A promising start to the evening…
Sleepy City Upstarts had the room skanking as they presented a good-time set beginning with Guns of Navarone, and included a couple of other Specials’ staples, You’re Wondering Now and Hey, Little Rich Girl.
Irie Nights played some reggae which included a(nother) version of Simmer Down, and These Boots Are Made Stompin’; a nice twist.
Backy Skank played a set largely consisting of their own stuff, which was fine, before giving the crowd what they had come to see. The ‘Complete Madness’ show oddly featured a couple of songs by The Specials, but we were all having such a good time that it didn’t matter. Saving the big guns until last, Backy Skank trotted out Our House and It Must Be Love as a parting gift. I think we all went home happy.

Final Word: Nutty.

David Robinson

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The Return Of R&B Legend Dwight Adams And His Band Of Aussies
Casababla, Sun Mar 6

Dwight Adams and his band of accomplished musicians have come to the Fringe to showcase a selection of soul and rhythm & blues classics. The songs are what you would expect – My Girl, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Mustang Sally and so on. While the band does a reasonable job of recreating the feel of these classics, it really comes into its own when funking things up a little with numbers such as Pusher Man and Superstition. I think they perhaps could have left John Lennon alone though…
The venue was all wrong – a small stage at the very back, oriented the wrong way, meant that most punters were lucky if they managed to catch a glimpse of Adams as he did his thing. There was lots of applause, and plenty of dancing. I guess these guys do what they do quite well.

Final Word: Loud.

David Robinson

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Berkoff In Two Acts
Worldsend Hotel - Upstairs, Tue Mar 8

Two short performances of Steven Berkoff’s works are presented for the first time by the Caveat Theatre Company. They are quite different from each other, yet it all seems to flow nicely…
Dog features Jonathan Bragg as both man and as Roy the dog, and is a 15-minute rant from your average bloke. Or should that read racist, sweary, violent malcontent? Bragg is very convincing (in both roles) and it is actually a shame that the performance is such a brief encounter. Quite funny, and quite forcefully portrayed.
Lunch, the second item on the menu, is a lyrical journey through a chance encounter that gets awfully serious before relaxing, just a little. Cameron Pike and Lydia Nicholson are excellent in the roles.
Both works are presented with an affection and respect for Berkoff’s use of language and also have a rather lovely physical attribute. Yes, even the violent bloke…

Final Word: Fun.

David Robinson

Berkoff In Two Acts continues at Worldsend Hotel until Sat Mar 12.

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Beatle Soup
The Cavern Club, Thu Mar 10

Adelaide’s Beatles’ tribute kings, The Fab Four, combine with director Kane Lynch to present a one-hour journey back in time.  The savage young Beatles play a short set at Bruno Koschmider’s notorious Reeperbahn club, The Kaiserkeller. This is pre-Beatlemania; a time when the band was still perfecting the act that would take them to the very top.
There’s a bit of theatre played out as the owner and staff of the Hamburg club add context to the Beatles’ songs. The Fabs themselves happily chat with the audience. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, the real strength of this performance comes from the live music, played with energy and good feeling. The sound is authentic, and the songs selected are mostly appropriate. Some were left behind in Hamburg, like Three Cool Cats and Some Other Guy while others, such as Slow Down and Roll Over Beethoven, endured to become part of the Beatles’ legend.

Final Word: Mach Schau!

David Robinson

Beatle Soup continues at The Cavern Club until Sat Mar 12.