March 30, 2007

Fringe Notes

Filed under: Archive,Fringe

Adelaide Fringe 07
Ends March 31.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

With the Fringe in its final week, Artistic Director Christie Anthoney can be well pleased. The festival met its hundred thousand ticket sales target by the mid-way point and has kept powering on. The Garden of Unearthly Delights has proven popular with venues offering everything from carny shows, the late night So Co Cargo club and a program of musicians at the excellent Bosco Theater. Elsewhere, the grunge Fringe ambience is alive and well – at the Fringe Factory off Light Square, Higher Ground, and at the grimy Hindley Street storefront that is the Black Lung Theatre.

Theatre in the Fringe has been adventurous, vibrant, unvarnished and, in many cases, underdone. Without the rivalry of the Festival this year the limits to the Fringe’s claims for innovation have been more clearly revealed. There have been a number of experimental productions but few which really hit the mark. Early on, Melbourne company Ignite’s version of Jet of Blood demonstrated that French pioneer Antonin Artaud is,ultimately, more an adjective than a playwright. Faithfully adhering to his early 20th century surrealist text, with its filmic dissolves and nightmare images of scorpions and sacrilegious travesty, Olivia Allen’s production has many strengths, including Adam Gardnir’s design and Hayley Forward’s terrific soundscape. But its targets are mere curiosities to us now and we must conclude that the still-potent essence of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty resides elsewhere than in his own culturally frozen neurosis.

Sakura Sayer, from Japanese company, Theatre Gumbo, brought to Holden Street a mélange of Ninja Turtles, Ed Wood sci-fi, Tokyo gameshow and teen pop sentimentality in energetic bursts of humour and pathos. The painstaking effort to deliver in English, and even include Australian references, was touching – and the show, in its mix of naïve emotion and fearless satire on such no-go areas as 9/11, has left us fascinated and bemused.

At the Black Lung Theatre, in residence in an enterprisingly transformed derelict space in the West End, sentiment and satire are separated in two works. Kissy Kissy, featuring Mark Winter and Sarah-Jane St Clair and directed by Daniel Koerner, followed the rise and fall of a relationship from courtship to bustup, using pop music, romance and authentic banality, while Rubeville, a bitter portrait of an underclass ménage, written by Thomas Henning, deconstructed its own misogynist nastiness only to restate it. It is energetic theatre (with an excellent band) but is yet another in a long line from Burroughs and Bukowski to the smirky nihilism of Pulp Fiction. Maybe it’s time to find another vein. Black Lung have given us that genuine Fringe edge, though, and close the festival with their musical without music, Avast.

In a more experiential style is A Fractured Feeling, directed by Goldele Osmond and performed by a Melbourne group calling themselves Transcendent Circle. The subject is Dissociated Identity Disorder – the retreat into multiple identities to escape trauma. The representation of the divided self is strongly achieved and well suited, of course, to theatrical presentation. Uneven, over-ambitious and raw, this is also brave and perceptive theatre.

Differently intriguing is Politely Savage by My Darling Patricia, a Sydney based company presented by Vitalstatistix. Part installation, part mystery tour, MDP use retro-lounge décor and audience participation cocktails to disorient us for a dreamy narrative about Alice Springs, the dry-bed Todd River and its subsequent flooding – bringing with it the remains of past crimes and lost souls. It is Twin Peaks with puppets, tiny flickering animated films and ladies in sixties bridesmaid frocks drifting through the reeds. Cryptic, oddly over-written, hectoring at times, painterly in presentation, it succeeds in being strangely memorable.

And what is the Fringe without comedy ? Notable among a long list of usual suspects is Rod Quantock, who didn’t talk about John and Jeanette, as planned, but proved he is still a tremendously resourceful ad lib, despite a tendency to show-stopping pessimism. Also, local comic Mark Trenwith, who with a droll use of short films, iPod and other power points, animatedly described his attempts to be a more publicly friendly, and Mark Watson, a diffident and very funny Welshman, who has had too many bad encounters with muggers and beggars to trust anyone much. But the pick of the funnies (at least before Ardal O’Hanlon and Dylan Moran arrive) is Fiona O’Loughlin, hilariously negligent mother of five, and marvellously understated speaker of what oft we thought, but ne’er so well-expressed.

The Adelaide Review, No.313, March 30, 2007, p.18.

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