Hello Sydney. I’ve been getting my fill of the Fringe Festival in the last couple of weeks and thought I’d give you an overview of what’s out there to enjoy.
First cab off the rank was the duo, 52 Snifters, in a Rue de la Rocket production called ‘This Is My Box’, playing at the Hive Bar at Erskineville. The performers, Karena Thomas and Karli Evans use a box or vocal looper to create, enhance or provoke characters in their 52 minute show. Under the premise of 'lonely people', they do create some magic moments on stage. My pick would be the Crisco ladies, with its crisp spit-fire dialogue delivery with clever script work and interplay. A special mention also to the singles nights scenes that gave the girls a chance to mingle with the audience.
Under the watchful eye of director Erin Taylor, there’s some good material here and with some editing and tightening, especially as some characters are those we’ve seen played many times before and so it’s hard to bring a fresh take on it, this show has the potential to develop into a knockout. Great energy and ideas throughout.
Next up was Damian Callinan, probably the most seasoned performer I saw in my taste of the Fringe. Callinan’s show ‘The Merger’, from its run at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, was playing at the Reginald, Seymour Centre. Callinan had a clear and engaging throughline with a plethora of characters, all performed by him, centring around the disastrous season of a local country town (Bodgie Creek) football team and their efforts to avoid merging with a local rival team.
What Callinan does very well is create a series of characters with dimensions and vulnerabilities, humour and affability and then give each moments of endearing pathos. He tackles all archetypes and ages and lets you inside the gruff or gentle exterior to see layers of personality with belief and playful energy. He engages directly with the audience whilst occasionally allowing the meta-humour of his own predicament as performer in relying on the audience to respond to his questions or characters or even himself to shine through.
Director Matt Parkinson has given Callinan’s show a sharp focus. I love the radio interludes and each of the characters are well-drawn. The brief scenes with the puppets would be the only thing that give the show a bumpy ride in what is otherwise a smooth, polished performance. I hope Sydney gets behind some of the Melbourne performers who aren’t well-known here but have a lot of depth in skill and storytelling to share with an audience.
Also playing at the Reginald was Tommy Bradson in ‘Sweet 16 or the Birthday Party Massacre’. Overcoming microphone issues early, Bradson’s show, accompanied by a 3 piece band, celebrates the coming of age birthday of Lula, her mother June, stepdad Gary and Lula’s boyfriend Johnny. Bradson plays all of these characters, of course, and the stage is decked out for the big event.
This was a show that heavily relied upon its audience to get behind the concept by pulling ‘volunteers’ from the audience to attend the party as relatives and friends of Lula. I cannot express to you the pleasure of seeing reviewer Jason Blake being endowed as Gary’s brother Richard in the early moments of the show and to Blake’s credit, he got into the ‘spirit’ of the show and was generous in his support of the action on stage, as all audience members were.
To me this show had a lot to offer in audience rapport, musical cabaret stylings with the assistance of musical director John Thorn, and some witty dialogue. Bradson’s choices of characters and ability to play each of them with humour and conviction was also skilful. However, the dialogue was fired out like a stray bullet so more control of pace and rhythm was needed so Bradson didn’t lose the gold in the rushed delivery. Gusto- yes: control- a work in progress. I will say this, he wasn’t afraid to show a tan line or two and he does have an impressive peachy, firm ass(et). Can I say that? Gorgeous. Jealous.
Next up was Steen Raskopoulos’ show ‘Bruce SpringSTEEN’ at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville. Raskopoulos is one to watch. His exuberant material and presence is not yet tamed or polished but he is infinitely watchable and with a few more years of solo scripted performing, he’s got the potential to go far. The audience love him and I will admit, this was one of the shows (in contrast to an STC experience) where I was probably in the 10% of oldest audience members there and I don’t know that the vignette comedy material was aimed for my demographic but there were great moments of laugh-out-loud scenes and some characters were terrific.
What Raskopoulos does best is find clever ways to re-incorporate characters into his material. I loved the moments we went back to a particular character to see how they had progressed in their journey, like young Jimmy, or when what seemed like a throwaway rant on contemporary dance found its expression at the end of the show. This is smart comedy and Raskopoulos is not afraid to subvert our expectations and the audience respond to that best of all.
It’s still a bit unbridled in material- if Raskopoulos can find more of the above in the rest of his material, he’s going to sell out every show, like he did during this festival. His use of the audience, like in the golf scene, break-ups, dates, gallery tour and even dog show made the audience love him even more. They go with the knowledge that the finger may be pointed at them to join him in the spotlight. Don’t know that I would have jumped through the hoop for him or what he’s paying in liability insurance but I do know that the audience would have done anything he asked of them…and they did. He is a skilled improviser and uses his material to bend with the responses of the crowd. Mark my words, he’s going to be a hit.
Finally, I headed off to the Forum in Leichhardt to see the new musical ‘Frank Christie, Frank Clarke’. Whilst still some way away from being ‘stage ready’ it did have some nice moments and a very committed cast in trying to give it the best it can be in its current stage of development. It centres around the story of the Australian bushranger Frank Christie (and all his various aliases).
The issues in this play were in the material itself, written by Alan McFadden (music) and Peter Fleming (book and lyrics). Christie is too nice and it makes him very thin as a Robin Hood style thief in our Australian context. He needs some guts, a propensity for some villainy and a bit more swagger. Some of the songs might need an overhaul. I don’t know that songs like ‘See ya’ or Christie’s ultimate goal of attaining ‘A Fireplace in My Life’ will make the final cut- or classic lyrics with phrases such as ‘a map of Tassie’, ‘lamb fricassee’ or ‘petting the cat’ might not have a long shelf life. And the character of granny needs either proper development or needs to go- flesh or destroy would be my advice. At the moment it’s more aimless meanderings. Finally, in my own critical meanderings, the last 20 minutes needs editing or a complete re-write so the play doesn’t end with a whimper.
But it does have things that are working for it- the potential for its 19th Century Music Hall staging would really enhance this work. As I mentioned before, the cast gave it passion and energy and actor Brent Dolahenty as Christie/Clarke was impressive as were Trent Kidd and Timothy Monley in their soft-shoe shuffling and Irish-jigging duos. There are some catchy tunes, played with skill, and although too thin for theatre yet, it might have something there worth building on. There were some genuinely funny moments.
And thus ends my Fringe experiences for 2012. Thanks to all who offered tickets and sorry I couldn’t get to more shows but right now, I’m off to swim with the crocodiles up north. Thankfully, the theatre scene has prepared me for this very adventure.