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March 02, 2017

The Best of the Adelaide Fringe(So Far) # 2

Daily Review
More Adelaide Fringe

Murray Bramwell

Fauna
Ukiyo, Royal Croquet Club
February 26.
FOUR stars

The creatures in Fauna have come from a variety of circus habitats.
Matt Basquet has a background in martial arts and acro/movement. Imogen Huzel, also from the UK but based in Stockholm, has links with the Belgian Poive Rose company; Finnish trapeze artiste, Enni Maria Lymi works with NoFit State Circus; and the married duo – Rhiannon Cave-Walker (a member of Gravity & Other Myths) and her partner, Daniel Cave-Walker, hail from Byron Bay and Bristol respectively.

This impressive quintet has joined forces for their premiere venture at the Royal Croquet Club, in collaboration with percussive guitarist Geordie Little, from Adelaide, now currently based in Berlin.

“Switch off your devices and switch on your cerebrals “ the show announces as all five glide in slow motion unison bathed in pastel light. A statement about Fauna being a place of discovery disintegrates into deliberate gibberish as the performers break off into a series of impressive routines – handstands, splits, flips, duet cartwheels, precarious workouts on hand balancing stands and dynamic trapeze stunts.

Fauna are a highly-skilled troupe and on stage with them, Geordie Little’s nimble guitar accompaniment, along with a range of FX pedals, loops and other phase effects completes the virtuosic spectacle.

As the company undertakes a succession of dazzling acrobatics, some of it akin to dance choreography, various animal personas are presented. Pecking orders are established, males lock horns in rivalry, mateship rituals are played out and predators and foragers challenge the status quo.

But this is where the ambition of the narrative is perhaps not equal to the technical excellence of the piece. In parts where expressive acting is required the work becomes self-conscious and awkwardly solemn when playful humour would better serve.

We are told, by voiceover, belatedly in the performance, that Fauna is exploring instinctual, primal animal behaviours. But, like the abandoned introduction, it seems ponderous and insufficient commentary. Fauna either needs more dramaturgy or none at all. The company’s physical gifts are splendid enough – especially the group set pieces which conclude the performance. Maybe the best way to describe our inner mammal is to lighten up a little.

I Am Somebody
Sirqus Alfon
Ukiyo, Royal Croquet Club
February 26.
FOUR stars

An image of an antiquated computer appears on a large screen: the words read : Sirqus Alfon, with a dot matrix message inviting us to use our phones throughout the performance and post videos on social media with the Sirqus hashtag. Everything here is public domain. The show is called I am Somebody and its exuberant intention is to make everyone part of the entertainment.

Presented by an endearingly hyper-manic trio of musical pranksters – Babham, Emilio, and Ejve (a.k.a. Martin Ostman and Erik Rosales, from Sweden, plus Norwegian Henrik Strindberg) – this is circus with an S, pumped with techno pop, performed against back-projections of vintage Nintendo games from the pixellated 80s, and featuring delightfully inventive audience interaction.

Dressed in pastel military tunics, they look like clowns from a banana republic. With name patches on their lapels and 1950s soda fountain caps they take up instruments – megaphone, electric bass and a baby drum kit – and caper like a boy band. It is clever and fast and fun.

They simulate a boxing fight inside giant computer graphics from Nintendo’s KO or something similar, they spray webs of lasers through the crowd and perform air drum solos in perfect sync with the well-drilled soundtrack.

Babham has the crowd singing I am Somebody– like an anthem at a revival meeting. It is satiric. But when he puts his phone on a selfie stick and films the crowd and the images instantly spring up on the big screen, it makes participation feel like a nice idea.

Later, he takes us through a number of disconnected gestures, including miming the bowing action on a violin, and films it all. We are distracted by a funny old Three Stooges clown act with a stolen banana, and then in quick succession, a rapid edit with added sound effects and zany music turns the random video footage of the audience into an orchestral celebration and a memento of a night at the retro-cyber circus.

Sirqus Alfon are brimming with low tech/ high tech bright ideas. The green lasers plucked like instrument strings create a lyrical effect and the daffy Olympic acrobatics, simulated by the trio lying on the floor and their moves projected vertically on to the screen, is low comedy so inviting that members of the audience jumped up and had a shot at it too. In this show, being a big screen somebody is irresistible. .

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
The Factory, The Garden of Unearthly Delights
February 24.
FOUR stars

Hannah Gadsby has called her latest show: Nanette. As she says, she needed a title and that’s what came up. But there’s more to it than that. Gadsby recalls going into an un-named café in an unidentified small town in regional Australia and the sign on the counter read ; “Today’s barista is Nanette. “ Nanette, she recalls had a kind face- the kind of face you could chop wood on. The encounter was fleeting, unfriendly, and dismissive. And took Gadsby back to her early life growing up as an often ostracised outsider, as a young unfeminine-looking lesbian woman, in North West Tasmania.

Gadsby’s narrative is a stream of very cogent consciousness. She has an effortlessly comic gift and the laughs come readily. But here also there is a persistent and often disturbing thread of sadness which is never far from the surface. She makes it clear that she is not finding her usual humorous groove. I hate comedy, she says flatly, it’s a joke. Laughter is not the best medicine . She’d recommend penicillin.

Recent events have some bearing on her perspective, she notes. Like when she wrote an uncharacteristically forthright Facebook post condemning the idea of the Australian plebiscite to determine legislation on same-sex marriage. Being hostage to the Nanettes of the world made her gloomy- and angry – and the viral impact of her on-line comments unexpectedly drew her into a different kind of public prominence. Including being invited to write an op-ed column for The New York Times.

Buoyed by her late grandmother’s favourite expression – “It’s all part of the soup. It’s too late to take out the onions now “, Hannah Gadsby broods on the way she used jokes to deflect the pain of coming out as a homosexual woman, and to repress and reframe and deep and abiding abuses and traumas in her teens and early twenties. She realises she does want to take the onions out of the soup – and is close to tears as she does so.

Encouraged by a strongly supportive audience, Hannah Gadsby is taking the comedy format into personal/political territory that is beyond jokes and deals with a very different kind of punch line. It seems to have its own disturbing momentum, but is also articulate and skilfully managed. She is testing boundaries and, at times, steps over them, at some risk to herself . But Gadsby is lighting up dark and nasty corners and exorcising those demons of covert, unpunished sexual abuse that are very much in the public mind in Australia at the present time.

Despite the gravity of some of the subject matter, Hannah Gadsby also memorably steers her way through the kind of droll, witty material that only she can deliver. And Nanette does come back at the end. Go and see this brave, socially incisive and mordantly funny show – and find out for yourself what happens next.

“The Best of the Adelaide Fringe(So Far) # 2”, Daily Review, March 2, 2017.

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