Almost Face To Face

La Mama
Melbourne Fringe
Reviewed September 21st 2014

A brutal one man piece delving into the psyche of an artist lost in the drug and drink debauchery of Dublin’s seedy underbelly.

Staged with powerful simplicity in the intimacy of Melbourne’s La Mama theatre, the piece, performed by actor/writer Stephen House, is hard-hitting and sad, leavened with the occasional wry aside and comedic turn of phrase.  House has some serious acting chops, and the story of a bunch of Dublin down-and-outs and their intertwining lives is neatly structured and well-told - the work has a polish that sets it apart from much Fringe fare.

It is not ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyable’ but it is definitely ‘good’, and indirectly inspires a wealth of conversations over the rest of the evening about the purpose of art, and comedy versus drama.  I love laughing.  It is so easy and feels so right.  I hate crying.  It hurts and feels so exhausting.  I suppose a balanced diet includes both.

Regardless of your preferred medium, this is a notable and engaging piece of work.  An impressive performance of some pretty heavy material, that left me feeling steam-rolled.

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

WOMANz

The Loft
Melbourne Fringe
Reviewed 21st September 2014

My favourite thing about Fringe is when you take a punt on something and it is gloriously and unexpectedly bizarre.  This is one of those shows.

WOMANz (alter-ego of comedian Tessa Waters) is the celestial by-product of the love affair between a star and a rock.  She has come to earth with big hair, leotards and 80’s dance moves to share an evening of good times with the Melbourne Fringe.

The show is a quirky mix of comedy, character, clown and dance, barely worth describing because this is all about the performance.  WOMANz has the audience in the palm of her hand, and under her confident direction and lascivious eyebrow lifts we duly krump, whack, and fondle our crotchal regions.  The room is in stitches, with a heady atmosphere of self-love and surreality.  In the hands of a lesser performer the repetition would become tedious, and the accent could be cringe-worthy, but Waters holds us throughout.

A really fun time. Recommended.

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

The Bookworm

Melbourne Fringe
Reviewed 16th September 2014

Punnily named Paige Turner is a bookworm.  She eats books. Literally. 

Ensconced in a ‘living room’ set built into a church space in Footscray, decorated in a shabby vintage chic, and lit with an impressive array of charming practical lamps, solo performer Belinda Campbell invites us into the workings of Paige’s mind, and slowly reveals the history that has led her to her current state.

This is Campbell’s first solo show.  Her character is lovingly realised, and it is clear a great deal of devoted care has gone into the production.  There are many beautiful moments, a tape recorder used to provide sound, the detailed and intricate set and props, the careful switching on and off of the lamps.  There is endearing comedy at the outset, although the balance between light and shade falls off in the latter part of the show as the story takes a darker turn.

The ending is abrupt, and I wonder if perhaps we are missing a story point at about the three-quarter mark, something to counter the general downward spiral of Paige’s life, and our experience.  The script needs an edit, and parts of the performance could afford to be tightened up, but for a first outing this is a lovingly made piece of theatre, with lots of heart. 

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

The Worlds Inside

Melbourne Fringe
Reviewed 20th September 2014

An investigation of the imagination of the child told through low-fi lighting, object manipulation and some scanty dialogue, this occasionally charming piece could be a launching place for a bigger story.

Centred around Brian, an 11 year old boy with well developed imagination contending with some equally well developed anger and attention management disorders, we see how Brian interprets his world, and how he reacts to change in his home and school life.

There are some charming theatrical devices, and inventive and creative staging (though sightline issues mean that much of this is lost on those not sitting in the front row). 

The script is very slight, and the storyline underdeveloped – several scenes are laboriously set up to deliver a single line of dialogue, and the plot seems insufficient to carry our attention through the length of the show.  Transitions between scenes have been carefully and lovingly worked, but a similar focus needs to be devoted to the scenes themselves.

If the script is given a serious re-draft, this work has plenty of theatrical potential.  There is clearly a talented team with an eye for scenographic detail and interesting visual choices.

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

Showstopper

Agent Cleave
Melbourne Fringe

Reviewed 18th September 2014
 

Agent Cleave starts his show in a campy pirate get-up with an a-mazing hairpiece curling its way down his shoulder. Possessed of stage presence, excellent eye makeup and some seriously on point eyebrow game, his opening number promises an engaging hour of queer cabaret performance antics.  But impressive costuming aside, there is not enough here to engage for a full-length show.

A loosely conceived noir-inspired story is briefly advanced, but then just as quickly dropped, and a series of unusual characters in amazing costumes (a mermaid suit is particularly memorable) provide the basis for a series of covers.

Agent Cleave’s shout-singing style (in an unnecessary American accent) starts to grate after a while, and neither he, nor his band, seem to be striving for musical excellence.  This would be fine if the necessary audience rapport was present – in the first number, Cleave was giving so much energy he had the front row eating out of his hand, but this quickly faded.

I can imagine shorter versions of this act going great guns at a variety night, or even in a double bill with some other performer, but not enough to sustain interest for a full length show.

 

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

A Show From Nothing

The Old 505
Sydney Fringe
reviewed 11th September 2014

I have seen a bunch of Gaulier trained clown shows in the last two years.  They have exploded onto the Australasian scene scattering genial surreal idiocy and chuckling punters in their collective wake.

Edan Lacey trained at the famous clown school in Paris, and this is his first solo show.  He emerges from a pile of newspapers at the back of the stage as if in a drunken stupor, and begins an hour of discovery and exploration. The game is simple: around the room are scattered a multitude of objects; Lacey examines them, and makes of them what he can. 

The usual rules of clowning inform the game – the performer is an idiot, but an inventive, creative and occasionally incredibly insightful idiot.  Lacey explores the possibilities of feathers, balloons, a camping stool, salt, and most memorably and successfully, a watermelon.

It is not really a show from nothing.  There are a large number of pre-set ‘things’ which are used as prompts, and I wonder if the enterprise would be more successful if there were fewer props, and more time spent developing the mime.  The work is clearly in an early stage of development, and while parts of it are funny and hold promise, others need to be weeded out.  The ending, however, is spectacular, and worth the entry all by itself.

Interesting, and often funny, I would go to his next show.

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

Irene Nichola: A Post-Modern Strip Tease

The Imperial Hotel
reviewed 7th September
Sydney Fringe

Well.  I am not sure what I was expecting but it was definitely not what I got.

A Post-Modern Striptease is Irene’s first full-length solo show, built from a number of smaller development seasons.  It is an experimental cabaret – not stripping but post-modern stripping - we are told in no uncertain terms. Nichola combines vignettes of comedy, song and dance in which she explicitly comments on herself as a performer, the choices she makes, and the reactions she elicits from her audience.

Nichola’s stage presence is sweet, and her comedic personality could be endearing.  She seems nervous, and perhaps needs to log more hours on the stage before she will be fully confident in the pacing and delivery of her material. The funniest two moments are when she plays a little trumpet solo through her lips, and when she does bit on Bertolt Brecht that she finds so funny that she starts laughing at herself.  In these instants the show feels light-hearted and effortless; however much of the rest is wooden, the dance routines rote-learned, the comic material a little too glib.  It isn’t until she hops on the keyboard and starts to play and sing that she seems confident enough to relax.  Nichola has a strong voice, and her songs have an off-beat Fiona Apple quality which is appealing.

The act follows a simple structure: we get a comedy routine, then a song, and then a strip dance.  In the transitions between strips Nichola nips back behind a wooden screen to re-clothe herself, and we listen to instalments of a peculiar radio drama (credited to Sam Wade). In these interludes a little boy called Timmy is pushed ‘down the weir’ by his father before being rescued by a vigilante wolf.  It is completely nuts, and completely unrelated to the rest of what is going on in the show – but kind of incredible for this reason.  At any rate, I find this one of the most fascinating aspects of the piece, and am very intrigued as to the creative conversation that led to its inclusion.

In the end neither the weird weir story, nor any of the other diverse threads, come together in a meaningful way.  The ‘post-modern’ conceit of explaining to the crowd exactly what we are seeing and how we are re-acting to it is abandoned for the last fifteen minutes or so, and Nichola accompanies herself on the keyboard singing a variety of unrelated tunes.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that something labelled post-modern fails to deliver on any really satisfying narrative or conclusion, but, I am.  

A promising performer, but the show would benefit from more coherent content, and she needs to build up her audience rapport and confidence in order to really fly.

 

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com

The Mountebank

Whitirea NZ and Long Cloud Youth Theatre

4th-12th September
109 Dixon Street

One part Twin Peaks, and one part murder mystery role-play, The Mountebank – the latest offering from Long Cloud Youth Theatre - is a befuddling promenade installation in which you get out only as much as you put in.

The company have taken over an empty commercial property on Dixon St and transformed it into the Mountebank Hotel (another successful deal from Urban Dream Brokerage) a clean and modern contemporary hotel, with white walls, shiny wooden floors and glass and aluminium fittings.  The audience are the guests at a party, and the caterers, musicians, function manager, and other hotel staff are all working for a shadowy figure known as ‘The Host’.  The guests are presented with a series of word puzzles to solve, and philosophical questions to answer as we mill and mingle awkwardly  - until eventually we spill out of the conference room and explore the rest of the hotel.

There is plenty to discover, and the nature of the work is one in which every participant will take a different path and experience a different journey.  A series of clues and coincidences send me to play cards with a pianist, to answer a riddle from the functions manager, to the surveillance room where I receive a mysterious phone call and eventually to an inner enclave with red party hats and fortune cookies.  Others have been drawn there also, by different means.  We have reached the end of the line.  Who is the Host?

The game of it is pretty fun, and the atmosphere of surreal intrigue created by the company (under the direction of Stella Reid with assistance from Daniel Emms) is impressively maintained.  There are some powerful visuals and clever details: the reception desk at the end of a long shadowy hallway, a brochure advertising the conference facilities containing a word game for those with sharp eyes.

Unfortunately the final revelation does not satisfy, or live up to the games that have preceded it.  On opening night a group of girls in the final chamber refused to believe that the ending presented could be anything more than a trick – they were so certain there had to be a better payoff.

There was a lot of stuff about this show that I enjoyed - I love puzzles and mysterious thrillers, so the content was right up my alley – but the ending needs to punch as hard as the show that has preceded it.

Reviewed by Hannah Smith. 
 

When she's not making theatre, Hannah likes critiquing it, and is a contributing theatre reviewer for Theatreview, the New Zealand Listener, Broadway Baby and The Wireless.

To request a review email trickofthelighttheatreco@gmail.com