March 20, 2009

Box office feed off familiarity

Filed under: Archive,Fringe

Adelaide Fringe 2009
February 27 to March 22
Bookings : FringeTIX – 1300 FRINGE (1300 374 643)

The Adelaide Fringe can surely claim it has something for everyone. Like its Scottish sibling in Edinburgh, and on almost the same scale, uncurated and unexpurgated the Fringe opens its wide arms to all and any. Its sheer size is extraordinary. This year saw more than 500 events listed at an incredible 259 venues. It seems like every nook, cranny, car park, derelict warehouse and former stable has been tricked up to put on a show. At Rundle Park in the city’s East End, the Garden of Unearthly Delights is a carnival of strolling players, hucksters, vendors and the milling mass of Adelaide citizens and visitors checking out the vibe and lining up at venues like the Bosco and the Spiegeltent.

Elsewhere, lines stretch around the block for popular comedians such as Arj Barker and Dave Hughes, Wil Anderson and Judith Lucy. With one more weekend still to go, and an influx of Clipsal 500 fans yet to mingle in with their Ford and Holden regalia, the Fringe has already overshot its box office target with 150,000 tickets sold. The next few days are going to be busy for many, modest for some and, for others, a lean time – often despite good reviews and a positive buzz. The fortunes of the Fringe can be fickle, and certainly unfair, when the familiar and undemanding is generously received and the innovative and challenging is often overlooked.

The Fringe always has its international contingent, smaller this time but strongly represented at Holden Street Theatres by Matthew Zajac, writer and performer of The Tailor of Inverness. An Edinburgh success, it engagingly explores the life of the actor’s father, a Polish refugee whose intriguing military service in three different armies reveals him as an unwitting cipher of history.

Another UK regular is Guy Masterson, this time teaming with SA actress Joanne Hartstone for a season, at the Queen’s Theatre, of David Mamet’s disturbing play, Oleanna, a problematic dialogue between an academic and a research student which challenges, with more than a little contrivance, the power differentials between teacher and student, man and woman. Masterson, responsible for the hugely successful Twelve Angry Men several Fringes ago, also presented his one man Animal Farm for a single performance.

Soloists abound in the keenly cost-sensitive world of the Fringe. A welcome return to the stage is John Wood, famous for TV’s Blue Heelers, and touring with a revival, directed by Dennis Moore and designed by Shaun Gurton, of Jack Hibbert’s Beckettian reverie, A Stretch of the Imagination. Living in a rundown caravan out in the sticks, Monk O’Neill boasts of his past and returns to his regrets as Hibbert’s text revels in everything from profanity, pedantry and mock lyric. Wood offers a most entertaining, if somewhat too genial, version of the misanthropic Monk, a satire of the settler who shoots his dog, kills his horse and cuts down the only tree.

Another voice of bitter comedy is Otis Lee Crenshaw, direct from the US-Australian prisoner exchange program with a fistful of country songs with titles like Roberta, You Gotta Quit that Ku Klux Klan. He is alter ego of sardonic American comedian Rich Hall, who opens his own chaotic, brilliantly mercurial monologue by noting that he lost 58 minutes of material when George Bush left the White House. Also, at the Rhino Room, channeling voices from the front bar of the Criterion Hotel is Damian Callinan whose Last Drinks is a fresh, gently droll take on the Australian way of imbibing – both the amber fluid and the nonsense of life. By contrast, at the Bosco, Sam Wills, The Boy with Tape on his Face, has no voice at all but manages to get his audience up and performing in a mime and cheesy illusion show which is as delightful, ramshackle and inventive as anything you will see – and not quite believe.

The Fringe is when we first see the next round of talents – whether Callinan and Wills – or young theatre tyros, like Benedict Andrews and Geordie Brookman who are now forces on the Australian mainstage. A number of shows indicate future promise– Martha Lott’s production of UK writer Fiona Evans’s Scarborough, a half hour of closely observed mind games for audiences of thirteen in a room the size of – a room, as well as director Daniel Clarke’s show at the Bakehouse, After the End by Dennis Kelly, featuring a couple ( the excellent Hannah Norris and Nick Pelomis) in a bomb shelter escaping an external threat only to find a larger one within. Also, a genuine new writing talent – Caleb Lewis, author of Songs for the Deaf, whose whimsically mordant new monologue for Tamarama Rock Surfers, Death in Bowengabbie (likeably performed by Andrew Brackman at The Tuxedo Cat) has been a deserved favourite.

Murray Bramwell
“Box office feed off familiarity” The Australian, March 20, 2009, p.10.

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