HOT: Art v Smart Casual, Trades Hall, Cnr Victoria and Lygon Sts, Carlton

Music. Comedy. Musical Comedy. The greatest art form of all.

That was the premise of the two man singing and dancing extravaganza, Art v Smart Casual. Actually, it was brothers Roger David and Fletcher Jones (the latter hilariously nicknamed ‘Ginger Claus’ by the former) donning checked shirts and jeans and cracking jokes, impersonating animal noises and breaking out occasionally into song.

I think they could have upped the ante in terms of maintaining energy (more shouting, less mumbling) but some of the jokes had a lot of potential. I particularly liked their segment on ‘Avant-Garde’ (French for ‘I don’t know’), art appreciation (‘Wanna go to the pub?’ ‘Monet: No, I’m just gonna look at some water lillies’) and the song speculating about The Hawk, the love child of Stephen Hawkings and Jennifer Hawkins.

HOT: Songs from the 86 Tram, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne

songs from the 86 tram, lithuanian club, 44 errol street north melbourne

Docklands and Bundoora. That’s a pretty big contrast. And perfect comedy material for a fringe festival hit from The Bedroom Philosopher, Songs from the 86 Tram.

The 86 is my home tram and I can tell you it’s a carriage of character compared to my former tram (No 8 to Toorak – homogenous and perfectly groomed). Justin Heazlewood, the self-described love child of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, sings the story of the 86s (‘we are tramily!’) interspersed with occasional monologues from the mumbling tram driver, some cheerful tram ‘dings’ and the beep-beep sound of a Metcard being validated.

Heazlewood expresses the thoughts and feelings of the lonely granny, new immigrant, broken-hearted bogan, pretentious music funkster, drug-addled couples and ‘new media’ types in witty and poignant lyrics, covering a variety of musical styles from hip hop to low-fi folk to pub rock mostly with just a guitar. The show has some very funny moments and some patches of low energy, much like the up and down route of the 86. If you’re a Melburnian you’ll love it.

For reviews of other shows at the Lithuanian Club, check out Arj Barker and Tale of the Golden Lease.

HOT: Metrosketchuals, Glasshouse Hotel, 51 Gipps St, Collingwood

Metrosketchual‘s write-up described them as ‘the best live sketch show of the festival’ -The Pun. And despite my initial misgivings (out-of-the-way venue, never heard of them, offering me free tickets), the two guys (one of whom had an uncanny resemblance to comedian Jack Black, which gave them a head start already) delivered a hilarious show. This was comedy for comedy’s sake – no deeper subtext, no socio–eco-political undertones – just two blokes having fun on stage, acting out funny scenarios with a slick use of music, video, lights and silly puns. I still get the giggles when I think about the hysterical pedestrian-walk dance to Rolling Stones’ Scorpio. The small audience in the back room of the cosy Glasshouse Hotel did not stop laughing for the hour, and that’s the best you can ask.

HOT: She’s My Baby, Trades Hall, Cnr Victoria and Lygon Sts, Carlton

Opening night of She’s My Baby and it was a full house in the cosy Old Council Chambers of the Victorian Trades Hall. The intimate horseshoe shaped setting suited the show’s minimal staging – a frilly pink baby basket, comfy lounge chair and a wooden park bench.

She’s My Baby, debuting with the new production company Fifth Gear Productions, was the story of a typical suburban couple raising children, as told through two contrasting monologues. The first half was from the point of view of the new mum (writer and director Adele Shelley) – over-protective, filled with nervous tension and gushing with adoration for her little girl. As she spoke, a darker (and quite obvious) story unfolded with a hysterical crescendo. Thankfully the tense atmosphere was relieved by the levity of the second half, set sixteen years later and told from the point of view of the dad (Jeremy Kewley), out of his depth with his monosyllabic, moody teenage daughter.

The writing was engaging, naturalistic and the script contained many true and often humourous observations about the loving and sometimes difficult relationship between parents and children. My only gripe was that I found the delivery in the first half very tightly wound and anxious. I can’t work out whether it was opening night nerves, over-acting or whether Shelley was trying to plant the seed of the mother’s hysteria in the audience’s mind early in the piece. Either way, I think the monologue could have benefited from some light and shade instead of maintaining a constant level of breathless, high-pitched tension.

Thanks to Fifth Gear Productions for inviting me to the show.

HOT Alert: Week of 5 October

This week’s it’s all about Fringe, Fringe, Fringe:

Then we turn from Fringe to food, refugees and beginning of the other festival, the Melbourne International Arts Festival:

This week’s photo is from my archives of favourite Melbourne shots. A few years ago a flock of hot pink birds landed on Collins Street – perched against the backdrop of the Manchester Unity building, they were quite a sight.   

Pink_Birds_by_Manchester_Unity[1]

HOT: Who’s That Chik?, Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne

Candy Bowers wanted all the critics to introduce their reviews by saying that Who’s That Chik? features ‘a girl in skin tight dance pants’. So if you’re expecting crisp white linen suits and the perfect diction of God of Carnage, you’re in the wrong theatre.

Candy B’s self-written, autobiographical show is billed as ‘a hip hop tale of a brown girl with big dreams’. I’m not much of a hip hop-er (RM recently had to explain Snoop talk to me….off the hizzle, for shizzle) so I didn’t really know whether I’d like the show or not. Which just proves why we should always try something new, for this brash show is high-energy, high-colour fun and Candy is an outspoken and bold talent.

The show starts with a humourous video of Candy giving some lip to Cate Blanchett, who has dared to ask Candy to collaborate with her. Candy says no – her solo show is going to blow the Sydney Theatre Company out of the water.

While the rest of the show involves audience call-and-response, booty shaking and a hilarious impression of Lionel Ritchie, the singing, dancing and hip hop beats are all a vehicle for Blasian (black-Asian-Caucasian) Candy to reflect on the melange of cultures in her family and express her political beliefs about the ‘whiteness’ of Australian performing arts. We all know that the Asian chick on Neighbours represents token diversity and any moment she’s going to get wacked from the storyline. When will a Sudanese family move into Ramsay Street? Why doesn’t prime time TV reflect the cultural diversity you see in Footscray, Maribynong and Campbelltown?

For me, the story that struck home the most was her describing her childhood growing up in suburban Dandenong, keenly aware of being different. Her memories and even her photographs reflected my childhood experiences – of being the standout Asian kid in ballet group photos, with dead straight black hair that would never fall into ringlets and passing as a German maid, Captain Logan’s English wife and a bushranger on stage.

Whether you agree or disagree with her politics, the show is uplifting and inspiring and happy. This is mostly due to the Candy’s humour and exuberance and the obvious passion with which she’s written and performed her story. It’s no mean feat that she’s able to hold the audience’s attention on her own for 90 minutes. And at the end of it, everyone – black, white, yellow, old and young – gets up to dance! It’s a joyful moment.

Thanks to the Arts Centre for inviting me to the show.

HOT: Ridiculusmus Play Readings, La Mama, 205 Faraday St, Carlton

Ridiculusmus play readings Goodbye Princess Melbourne Fringe Festival La Mama 205 Faraday Street Carlton

La Mama is an intimate one-room shoebox tucked away in Carlton, and it’s a terrible/wonderful theatre space. Terrible if you’re stuck with a boring show, as there’s nowhere to hide, snooze or make a hasty escape. Wonderful if you’re sharing the space with a witty, invigorating production, as the sense of intimacy really feels like you’re witness to an exciting secret.

UK theatre duo Ridiculusmus have brought their works-in-progress Goodbye Princes, Total Football and A Conversation About Comedy to La Mama as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. David Woods and Jon Haynes are my comedic heroes ever since I saw their hysterical, my face-is-going-to-fall-off-I’m-laughing-so-hard version of The Importance of Being Earnest, where the two of them played every character. In London I also saw their 15th anniversary retrospective season at the Barbican containing more works of their rapid-fire, ping-pong conversations. These guys are so funny that even when they were saying something innocuous to me like ‘Thanks for coming’ I’d feel a fit of giggles coming on.

The most thrilling aspect of their short season at La Mama was that they invited members of the public to read Goodbye Princes as part of an Elizabethan style play reading, meaning you were given only your part and then had to read/act it along with a bunch of strangers you’d never met . You have no idea how excited I was to be selected as ‘Blogger 1’ because Ridiculusmus had read my blog!

Ridiculusmus play readings Goodbye Princess Melbourne Fringe Festival La Mama 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Our evening started off with David and Jon reading an excerpt from their two-hander Total Football, a play inspired a young kid (and presumably football fanatic) Charlie Wootton (who was in the audience). The script was typical Ridiculusmus – a snappy cross-fire of banter weaving in and out of a clutch of vaguely connected tangents, from football fans to Churchill to the Olympic Committee to British identity.

Then the cast of about 43 people (ranging from an amateur actor to an arts administrator to a story-teller to me) started to read Goodbye Princess. I had the benefit of a full script and this was my second reading, so I had some idea of where it was going. I’m sure most members of the audience had no idea what was going on, as characters played other characters played other characters and the dialogue jumbled and bounced back and forth in what seemed to be a play commissioned by Mohammed Al Fayed to reveal the truth about the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. Clearly everyone enjoyed just going along for the ride and the intimate setting made it feel like we were all part of one big party, with the cast and the audience all hooting with laughter at the dialogue, the sometimes haphazard delivery and the unexpected interjections from people who looked like audience members but who were not.

Ridiculusmus are doing one more play reading tonight – the complete version of Total Football and A Conversation About Comedy. If you can make it, go see it – I guarantee a good time!

You can ead Theatrenotes’ review here and Australian Stage’s review here.

HOT: Tale of the Golden Lease, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melb

Melbourne Fringe Festival #3: Tale of the Golden Lease by four blokes in jeans, otherwise known as Vigilantelope.

While the rest of Melbourne was getting celebrating/commiserating over the grand final, I sat in a dark room at the Lithuanian Club and got transported to heaven, hell, the prehistoric era and a fish and chip shop. Tale of the Golden Lease is a wild story about the race between God and Satan to find the lease for Earth and thus control the fate of humans, all before (Father) time runs out. Naturally such an important religious topic involved a couple of Olympics opening ceremony-style dance numbers, hasty costume changes, boom-boom puns, midgets, funny accents and a very convincing impression of the slobbering hounds of hell.

Tale of the Golden Lease is an impressively imaginative low-fi production, the kind of independent theatre that fringe does best. It sold out at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, so you can expect tickets to be HOT for this run too.

HOT: Arj Barker, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne

Melbourne Fringe Festival #2: Arj Barker is a favourite act among Australian comedy audiences (helped no doubt by his role as Dave in Flight of the Conchords) so it makes sense that he would test out his new material on our friendly shores. So as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival he’s put together a show entitled ‘Keeper or Crapper’– basically, an exercise in helping him decide which jokes to keep and which jokes to chuck in the bin.

Even though the show is unpolished, not every joke flies and there are pockets of dead energy, Barker is still very, very funny. His shouty, skewed and seemingly ad lib observations on snakes, having your own apartment and Star Wars prove why he’s been able to make comedy his career for the last 15 or so years. Will he sell out his shows? Yes – so get in quick.

NOT: Copernicus, Melbourne Planterium, Scienceworks 2 Booker St, Spotswood

copernicus_promo_imageYes, it’s time for the wild and wacky Melbourne Fringe Festival again. After many years, my passably good to horrifically awful show-going ratio is sitting about 50-50. In the words of Forrest Gump ‘Fringe is like a box of chocolates . You never know what you’re gonna get’.

With Copernicus, what you get is a slumber-inducing show about Nicholas Copernicus. Who? According to Wikipedia, Nicholas Copernicus was the first astronomer to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. Scintillating stuff if you lived in the 1500s but probably not an obvious subject for a hit fringe festival show.

So why did I choose to see it? Basically, I did a Year 6 project on Nicholas Copernicus (Galileo was already taken), I like supporting emerging artists and the unique staging sounded really cool – the 180 degree surrounds of the Skydome Theatre at the Melbourne Planterium, complete with reclining seats . Those seats were really the last nail in the coffin for this less-than-exciting bed time story. All those long-winded monologues, intervals of soothing Baroque music and repetitive interpretative dances in dim surroundings meant that it was just so easy to fall asleep. The only time I noticed any sign of animation in RM was when he started silently giggling in the last scene as the dying Copernicus started to see his dead parents and relatives, just like the final scene of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up.

I didn’t hate it, but RM said he would have walked out if he could have easily gotten out of his 45 degree recline. I certainly wouldn’t recommend making a trip to middle-of-nowhere Spotwood to see it and at $25 it hurts that it cost the same as my tickets to the Melbourne Theatre Company’s excellent productions of God of Carnage and August: Osage County.