February 18, 2016

Four of the Best of the Adelaide Fringe …So Far

Filed under: 2016,Archive,Cabaret,Fringe

The Adelaide Fringe gets ever bigger and more successful. This year an estimated sixty-six thousand citizens turned out for last week’s opening parade marking the beginning of the month long Fringe season. On the same day a record 10,000 tickets were sold. With more than 1100 events and 5000 artists, it is the second largest (and second oldest) Fringe after the legendary Edinburgh fixture.

The venues spread around the Adelaide CBD have all been packed. At Rundle Park, Rymill Park and adjacent precincts in Adelaide’s East End, The Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony have attracted punters in ever greater numbers, while The Royal Croquet Club, back for a third time, is hooping it up at Victoria Square. Here are some of their top performances.

Torte E Mort
(Ukiyo, Royal Croquet Club, 8 pm until Feb 21. Four Stars.)

“I don’t do Burlesque” bellows Marie Antoinette aka Anye Anastasia in the deliciously witty Torte E Morte. She may not do burlesque but, peeling off her gloves with her teeth and levering herself out of her 18th century French frock and corset seems suspiciously like it.

Marie-Antoinette is back from the French Revolution of 1789 to put the record straight and rehabilitate her reputation at the same time. “There are so many ways to lose your head,” she croons in a blizzard of puns, accompanying herself on electric keyboard while a baleful lady-in-waiting holds the mic and musical associate (and occasional hooded executioner) Bec Matthews provides the drums, kazoos, whistles and other aural garnishes.

“I never said let them eat cake,” Marie-A protests, “it‘ll go straight to your hips.” But her comeback performance is not having too much success – her options hardly befit a celeb. She becomes a ghost, then a she-Devil in horns and kinky red satin (“there’s a Sexpo in Hell”) and finally a talking head singing “I Ain’t Got No-body.” The idea is droll guignol and the execution is terrific. Torte E Mort – I’ve been dying to say this – takes the cake.

Sam Halmarack and the Miserablites
(The Parlour, Croquet Club, 7.30. Until Feb 21. Four Stars)

What happens when you’re lead singer and the band doesn’t turn up ? That’s the problem for UK performer Sam Halmarack, guiding light for his band The Miserablites. He is left alone in his headband and zip-up satin jacket like an Echo without The Bunnymen. Fortunately he has a rehearsal DVD to show us -complete with lyrics, vocal charts, and key changes.

Drawing us closer to the stage like moths to the smoke machine, Sam recruits new members for the band. A young woman is picking out notes on an elderly Roland keyboard, another needs no encouragement to set up behind the drum kit. Sam is musical director, while his DVD shows us his rehearsal room (full of his mum’s un-ironed washing) and he glosses his often deeply personal lyrics. I am not a has-been he explains because I Never Was Been. A particularly hectic tirade is, he reminds us, ironically entitled This Is Romance.

This show is a neat little parcel of deadpan wit. To the land of Norman Gunston, such sustained gormlessness is a welcome visitor. We Will Never Give Up, Sam Halmarack sings above our choral refrain- and he doesn’t . Nor does his shrewdly fond send-up of 90’s electro-pop. It has the crowd calling itself back for an encore.

The Pianist
(The Panama Club, Croquet Club, 6 pm. Until Feb 28. Five Stars)

There is no more strict decorum than that of piano recital. To be serious, dignified, self possessed : these are essential elements – and in The Pianist, Thomas Monckton knows this well. It is unfortunate, then, that it takes him six minutes to even find his way through the curtains to come on stage. And then there is the forgotten sheet music, and the chandelier that is right in his way when he approaches the ever-elusive keyboard. And the lid that won’t open, and the leg …

With perfect timing, Monckton’s gangly musician, battles with the multiple – and multiplying – adversities which beset him. This excellent, silent slapstick, is cued down to the nanosecond and brimming with visual gags. His sorties into the audience- to remonstrate with the lighting desk operator, or to find a functioning chair – are further thwarted by the fact that he requires someone from the crowd to load him, in ungainly fashion, back on to the podium.

This is splendid physical comedy. Monckton’s sustained invention , his rubbery contortions, and his capacity for self-inflicted excruciations remind us of Roadrunner’s Coyote. The Pianist is classical Looney Tunes.

(Ukiyo, The Croquet Club, 6.30. Until Feb 28. (Four and a Half Stars)

Fag/Stag is about Jimmy and Corgan, old friends who have much in common. For instance, they both fell in love with, and parted company with, Tamara, who is now getting married to some bloke neither of them like. There were very different reasons for their break-ups though. Jimmy discovered that he really was gay and girls, not even Tamara, could not be for him. And Corgan, cocooned in privilege and parental hand-outs, just couldn’t commit and retreated back into his laddish distractions. Now they both have to get suited up for a milestone occasion which challenges them to think about their own thirty-something lives. Slumped in front of their never-ending game of Donkey Kong, both bemoan the fact they can’t move to the next level.

Fag/Stag written and performed in alternating monologues by Jeffrey Jay Fowler (Jimmy) and Chris Isaacs (Corgan) is about much more than the divide between gay and straight friends, although it is a shrewd and articulate study of Australian masculinities. It is also provides wider perspectives : on the quiet desperation behind Tinder and Grindr, on self-image anxiety, and suppressed anger and violence.

Funny, satiric, and stylishly written Fag/Stag is both entertaining and unsettling in its candour. Both characters reveal the kind of unhappiness and uncertainty few young men willingly admit. Never indulging in mawkishness, Fag/Stag is revelatory – and very prepared to take Donkey Kong to a higher level.

Daily Review, February 18, 2016

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