I’m fresh back from Edinburgh Fringe as of a week and a half ago. It was an amazing trip – splendid reviews, a thousand great shows, multiple only-at-the-fringe adventures and some of my all-time favorite audience reactions.
I thought I’d better document all the great shows I saw while I was over there. I’ve already tweeted about most of these, but I wanted to write slightly more involved notes about them so I can remember them – last years’ blogs for TheMusic.com.au (part one, click through to the other three parts from the end of the article) helped me to remember a few things that otherwise would’ve fallen through the cracks about my first year.
Abigoliah Schamaun: Subtle
Abigoliah has become a dear friend of mine over the last year, across multiple festivals. After I got to play stylist for an afternoon, helping Abigoliah find a cartoon bad-girl look, I was pretty excited to see her new show. This show saw her perfect her double fisted attack of shock comedy and freak-out sideshow tricks. It’s a great combo – the audience are on a comedy thrill ride from the start of the show and the tricks give it enough variety that it never feels one dimensional. It was one of those great shows where you get to see a friend really find their feet as a performer. Great, except that on closing night she had your annoyingly trypanophobic writer pull a needle through her hand and said writer nearly passed out but still did it.
Abigoliah: if you are reading this, KNOW THAT I WILL TAKE MY REVENGE.
Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore
I almost left this show; I’m glad I didn’t. Cameryn is a phone sex worker and theatre performer - this show sees her re-enact four of her calls, which increase in intensity from fairly vanilla to fucked up enough that I felt like I might need to leave the theatre, which as you can imagine is something I’ve never previously done out of an intensity overload. She frames the subject matter so perfectly though, following the show with a Q&A that proves just as engaging as the show itself. This show really challenged me and I came out feeling richer for it. I’m hoping to help get this show to Australia, so keep an eye out for it if you’re around the Australian Fringes next year.
Léonie Kate - Bright Lights
My housemate Léonie’s solo show was beautifully written and performed. A semi-autobiographical story of receptionist’s music industry misadventure, it featured Léonie creating vocal loop backing tracks using an ingenious telephone-turned-midi controller prop as part of her reception desk set. Over these tracks, she’d sing in a voice that puts me in mind of how Kylie Minogue wishes she could sound on her ballads; with a spectacularly clear, controlled, heady lilt. Léonie says she might do a cabaret show next year and I think she’ll be really dangerous in that world.
Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra
I spent a lot of this show resisting the urge to stand up and shout “YES! YES! MORE CABARET LIKE THIS!! HOW COME THERE ARE SO FEW OF US DOING THIS KIND OF SHIT? THIS IS AMAZING! I LOVE YOUR PUPPETS! I LOVE YOUR SONGS ABOUT SUICIDAL FRENCH TAILORS AND STAN LAUREL! I LOVE YOUR WEIRD TOM WAITS ELECTRO SYNTH AESTHETIC THING! I LOVE YOUR VOICE! I LOVE YOUR COSTUME! I LOVE YOUR SHOWS! MORE OF THIS! I LOVE ALL OF THIS!”
I restrained myself, but in hindsight, I should have shouted it. “THIS SHOW. YEAH. BY THE WAY, I TOOK A REALLY SHIT PHOTO AND I’VE PUT IT ON MY BLOG. SORRY ABOUT THAT. BUT KEEP BEING AWESOME, CARRY ON.”
Ivy Paige: Head Mistress
On before me in my venue, this was a charming mix of burlesque and cabaret. Ivy’s pianist, Pete Saunders, has some serious chops – he was in the Geno-era incarnation of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and has played with Rodriguez, not that you’d know it by the way he underplays his hand. The show itself is a lot of fun, very well pitched at just-the-right-amount-of-saucy for couples on a night out.
Alexis Dubus: Cars And Girls
Alexis is much better known as a character comic under another name, but this show features him telling the story of himself and his girlfriend travelling around the world, as set to rhyming verse. It sounds like it could be horrifically twee when I put it like that, but it was actually really nice - the stories of hitch-hiking and Burning Man misadventure enriched by lashings of wit and tight writing. I may actually like this even better than his other show.
Eric’s Tales Of The Sea
I met Eric during a series of late night pancake-consumption parties at the Tuxedo Cat in Adelaide in 2011. He seemed charming but his show didn’t sound like my kind of thing. I was really happy to be proved wrong, with this show proving to be a really engaging buddy comedy with engrossing stories of submarine misadventure inbetween. I like suprises.
I was a guest at this long-form impro show for closing night, which was a lot of fun. Three improvisers play suspects in a killing and one plays a victim. With a cast of great Melbourne improvisers, it was a lot of fun both as an audience member and player – I got to spend an hour as a Tina Turner obsessed construction worker with a pile of dark secrets, which was a treat. Nice to know my impro muscles still work.
Beth Vyse: Going Dark
A more tightly honed version of one of my favourites from last year, No Turn Unstoned. Vyse had the perfect venue for her trippy absurdist multimedia freakout in a b-movie cinema at the back of a pub. Vyse plays a variety of hilariously rendered archetypes, in between video clips that I can only really compare to Tim & Eric, Awesome Show Great Job! I’d love to see this show in a late slot though; I think it would benefit from a drunken audience.
Die Roten Punkte: Kunst Rock
This Germanic duo’s Perth Festival show a few years ago was one of the things that inspired me to get back into Fringe festival shows after years of DIY music gigs. If you haven’t seen them, they play a brother and sister two person garage band, like a bickering, hilarious, Berliner version of the White Stripes. I hadn’t seen a lot of this material and it was great to see them in the intimate Bosco tent; they’re still one of the most reliably hilarious acts around.
Watching this show was an interesting experience. A lot of the impulses behind what Lady Rizo does as a performer seem to come from a similarly subversive and connection-craving place as what I do, but she comes at cabaret from the inside. I felt cemented in my perspective of coming to cabaret from the outside while watching it. There’s a lot of choices she makes about standards, arrangements and in her songwriting that run completely counter to my approach; a lot of it seems to me to be about subverting with cabaret traditions while enacting them, where for the most part, I like to reference them but have no real interest in working within the constraints of the genre. I’m an enormous fan of what she does, and it made me think about where I want to head with my own work.
Dusty Limits: Psycho
Mr. Limits and his piano man once again proved themselves to be absolutely consummate showmen and songwriters. Again, I find myself learning a lot from watching their shows about how to make an amazing “cabaret” show – but also in seeing a few cabaret ideas played out in front of me that aren’t so much in line with my way of thinking about performance. With that said, they are truly hitting their peak; there was even less to fault about this show than last year. Brilliantly dark and Dusty’s vocal prowess is becoming the gold standard I compare my own voice to.
Desperately Seeking The Exit
I love this show. I first saw it in Adelaide, as my friend Amy Abler insisted Pete (the shows’ creator, pictured with me at his Critical Tomato Toss promo stunt) and I were on a similar wavelegnth. She was completely right. Being about Pete’s flop musical Desperately Seeking The Exit, it is not only is it one of the ballsiest shows around but is a funny peek behind the scenes of part of the performing world I don’t have any real experience of.
Amy Abler: Pianodivalicious
Speaking of Amy Abler, this is a fabulous woman. Amy is a cruise ship pianist who slums it at Fringe festivals; her show is at the polar opposite end of the Cabaret spectrum from mine. She tells stories from her life over trad cabaret piano tunes, and it’s a genuinely great example of how good traditional cabaret can be. We’ve shared quite a few fringe adventures (and venues, including Noodle Palace) together now and have become really tight friends, revelling in how opposite our shows are. This year, she scored the exact right venue for her show in the Jazz Bar, and the perfect afternoon timeslot for her audience. As a result, she sold out her run and was on super-amazing form.
Lisa Skye: Ladyboner
I went into this show not really knowing what to expect and was led into a hilarious narrative cabaret about sexual pleasure by an idiosyncratic, fluorescent Melbourne goth. One of the more hilarious and engaging shows of the fringe, by the time she’d got to the end of her first metronome-accompanied spot of comic beat poetry I was charmed into submission. Lisa is definately coming to Perth to play a new show at my Noodle Palace space in 2014, so if you’re from my hometown, lock her name away in your mind now.
East End Cabaret: Dirty Talk
It’s impossible not to enjoy an East End Cabaret show. They have their saucy audience work down to a fine art (I don’t offer compliments on that front to everyone, either), and I love the way the relationship between the two characters evolves to new heights of creepiness each time I see them. Their house music was off the hook this year – they’ve just uploaded it to Soundcloud so have a listen.
Mellor & Steele - Anthropoetry / Shaggy Doggerel
Ben Mellor and Dan Steele were my housemates this time around, so checking out their show was almost compulsory, but I was really happy to find their show Anthropoetry in the best shape of its’ life (I’ve seen it in Adelaide and at my Noodle Palace venue in Perth) and to find their new work Shaggy Doggerel taking their spoken word vs music shtick to truly hallucinatory, Coleridge-ey new places. It’s a pretty bold step away into wierdtown for them and I’m hoping to work with them on some video work for it.
Neal Portenza’s Interactive Goat Hour
I’d say there’s a large amount of clowning in what I do, and Neal is probably my favorite Australian practitioner of that kind of idiocy. This show took the loose form of an interactive quiz; inevitably it all fell apart, allowing Mr. Portenza ample room to create total anarchy, in between manipulating Toto’s Africa into a new Ghanaian national anthem. I was sore from laughing at this.
David Mills: The Gospel Truth
David Mills trades in smooth talking, camp and bitchy standup. I saw his show twice last year and this one was even better; he is one of the most disarming banterers I have ever seen and in this show, he puts those skills to good use in taking the audience to some very dark places without them even noticing.
John Robertson: The Dark Room
My Perth-pal John reprised his free fringe hit The Dark Room in a paid venue this year and it was fantastic. The show is based on his eternally frustrating YouTube game (which you can play here), a parody of early 80’s text-based adventure games. Last years’ show was a lot of fun but this year the show felt a lot better built; the game has become a skeleton that he can hang his distinctively hyperactive brand of crazy onto. It deservedly sold like hotcakes.
Jon Bennett: My Dad’s Deaths
The second in Jon’s series of storytelling shows about his family, this one is a pretty charming account of a strange, arty son trying to relate to a rural farmer type Dad. He has a way of fucking with audience members’ emotions and then pulling the rug out from under the things they thought they were sad about. He does it particularly well in this show, to the point that he nearly made me cry before I realized HE IS A FILTHY LYING MOTHERFUCKER. Still, this is a great show.
Stuart Bowden: She Was Probably Not A Robot
A hyper-dark I Am Legend-style apocalypse story as told by a beautifully naïve and unselfconscious character, using all kinds of weird props. I can’t really describe this show in a way that does it justice, but imagine a grown beardy-man running around a crowd with an air mattress strapped to his back, tales of bloody heads mounted on sticks, oddly paired with a Juno level of adorability. I told you I couldn’t describe it. This one is just starting to tour, watch out for it.
The Bedroom Confabulators
This was amazing. In the attic of the apartment I shared with my Edinburgh posse, Stuart Bowden and Wil Greenaway told a series of interconnected, dark as fuck stories in the most adorable way possible. It’s similar to the vibe of Stuart’s solo show - this time involving lego and all kinds of kids’ toys as props. I don’t want to share too much here because it’s something you really have to experience for yourself. We were talking about this show for the rest of the festival.
Out on their own bizarre wavelegnth of electronica vs music hall, there’s something particularly Fringe-tastic about Eccentronic. This year’s show saw them bust through a run of songs parodying Eurovision. I feel a bit of a kinship with these guys, I love what they do and they’re great value to hang out with. This was another show that felt like it could’ve been better off in a late show slot, but their brain-frying beats are welcome at any time of day.
Sugar And Vice: All The Men We’ve Never Slept With
After sharing a house and timeslot with these guys last year, it was a thrill to get to see this show this time around. Salacious tales of sexual conquest, capped off with one of the best songs of the fringe, about Tinkerbell & Peter Pan’s relationship from her perspective. I laughed my head off almost non-stop.
Adrienne Truscott Is Asking For It: A One Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else
I’m not a fan of rape jokes, and Adrienne Truscott (Wau Wau Sisters) intense hour destroyed them from the inside. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny but it’s one of the most effective satires I’ve seen. Send your rape joke-ey comedian friends along to this when you get sick of explaining to them why they are dickheads.
Dr Brown: Bexperiments
I’m an enormous fan of Dr. Brown; if you’re unfamiliar, he’s a transgressive, audience-baiting modern clown. I see a lot of similar creative impulses at play in his work to what I do in mine. I saw the final show of this and there was some absolute gold moments in there, including getting two blokey friends to slap each other until they started to really hurt each other. Basically the funniest thing ever. This was a development showing, I have the feeling his next show is going to be completely nuts. Good nuts.
That was about it for this year, though I’m sure I’m skipping some stuff. Usually I’d have another ten on my list but obsessing over my own show took over this time around.
I’ll be back soon with a full update on the my Fringe adventures. Suffice to say that it was fucking awesome and I can’t wait to go back in 2014.