Two guys in a pub, or a bar, or a nightclub, old mates, or maybe strangers, can't tell, don't want to give too much away or I mean I don't want to give the wrong impression here, but you know, you know what I'm implying so I don't need to say it, or maybe you are thinking the wrong thing entirely but that's not what I said is it, I haven't even said anything, but you should see this show, you should check it out at least, see if it's for you, I loved it, you should try it at least, probably not for everyone, I reckon you'd love it though.
Possibly the most engaging, hilarious and edge-of-your-seat-can't-look-away piece at this year's Fringe. A lot of booze is consumed, a lot of things aren't said, a lot of emotion erupts when least expected. Can't say any more. Mustn't say any more.
At Tuxedo Cat until Oct 8.
SO BLUE, SO CALM
This new work from Mutation Theatre employs a tone and setting similar to Bunny but to vastly different effect. A couple of dudes are hanging around in a suburban backyard, talking crap, playing tunes, occasionally making a pointed observation on life. Some people have compared it (unfavourably) to Ranters' sublime Holiday, but I don't think that's quite right. There are any number of companies working within the loose mould of the post-dramatic, and every element of this production could have emerged without any knowledge of Ranters. Hell, Holiday didn't spring forth from a void itself.
Unfortunately, So Blue, So Calm still doesn't quite work even on its own terms. Where it does aim for poignancy, it falls a bit short. If it was intended to be a piece exploring the way young men's 'profound' ideas are really pretty shallow, it might have been closer to the mark, but there's a sense that the work itself is meant to be deep, if understated, and I couldn't find that much to engage with. It could also be the slippage between text and performance: the actors wear their faces and speak their lines as if they were someone else's, and there are a few more layers of polish that need to be stripped back before this will have that almost translucent shimmer that turns banality into something entirely engrossing. There's much promise to the experiment, but it's still at the trial stage, and I'm interested to see where the ambitions displayed here will eventually lead.
At Mutation Theatre, 294 Smith St until Oct 8.
You don't find experiences like this outside of festivals – I was killing some time in one of the Fringe bars when someone invited me behind a curtain for a six-minute performance. Sure, why not? It's a tiny as it is short – one performer with a guitar and a few props, and only two or three audience members at most. A couple of songs about the love between vegetables in a refrigerator, a casual chat once it's done, and back off into the night. Modest but pleasant.
The Warren, Fringe Hub until Oct 8.
At Hairy Little Sista until Oct 8.
ADHD is usually thought of as a problem limited to children, with public discussion centring on kids jacked up on energy drinks and videogames, doped out on Ritalin, or victims of the over-pathologising of childhood itself (“kids are meant to be distracted! It's just their lovely imaginations at work!”). But as Kelda Kellie makes clear here, the disorder of the constantly restless mind is for life – sufferers don't get over it, they just get used to faking. Kellie isn't that good at faking, though, and the flaws of this production are also integral to its success. It's messy, disjointed, meanders off track every couple of minutes and often fails to resolve itself. This is because Kellie can't help it, despite her efforts, and it's through the constant state of collapse that the show conveys a real sense of the terrible burden of the disorder.
The performer was only diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, in her late 30s. She was listening to a doctor on RRR talking about it and when a checklist of symptoms was offered, she began ticking off the boxes. It was a revelation, as if someone was describing her entire life and experience of the world. Though she only came to the realisation recently, it's fascinating how obvious the signs were from the beginning and how we write them off as personality quirks. The show is presented as a kind of lecture or seminar in which Kellie takes us on a tour of her childhood (I think there may have been a lot more about her adult life which she had to discard on opening night since we were running overtime, again due to those incessant digressions). But even limiting the material to her youth, there's much insight to be gained here.
When Kellie reads out her report cards from prep to Year 12, the descriptions given to her by teachers provide glimpses of how we rationalise the disorder: Kellie is routinely told that she's not applying herself, that she doesn't try or, far too often, that's she's just not very clever. To grow up with your elders constantly instilling this idea that you're somewhat stupid is one of the heartbreaking revelations of the show, but it's not the only one. Kellie's difference meant she was singled out not just by her class, but by her entire school, and even the tech school next door, and she was mercilessly bullied. As one casual aside puts it, if she'd known about the concept of suicide as a nine-year-old, she probably would have gone there.
Again, the whole doesn't hang together very well, but the result is something that lingers in your mind and even disorders your own thinking a little. I'd had a long day when I saw this but combined with its successor, Bunny, I ended up with a huge amount to think about when I got home. Which in turn led to a bout of...
INSOMNIA CAT CAME TO STAY
I don't really suffer insomnia (though I have), and it was a shock to have a mostly sleepless night recently. It's nothing – not a speck – on Fleur Kilpatrick's experiences, though. As a chronic insomniac she's faced innumerable long nights that see her wide awake at five in the morning, hyperalert and gnawed at by the knowledge that tomorrow will be another day spent in a stupor. Somehow she's used those moments in the wee hours to write a journal reflecting on the experience, and instead of garbled, wake-drunk ramblings, the results are quietly fascinating. These thoughts are couched in a much broader framework that posits facts about the illness, poetic ruminations and personal anecdote, along with a bunch of songs that break up proceedings (I thought they were the weakest and least necessary part of the show).
There's an ingenious set – Kilpatrick is strapped into an arrangement of sheets that evoke both a bed and a pair of wings – and while this renders her pretty much immobile, some animations projected onto the space provide a great sense of movement. The effect is hypnotic but not soporific, and it does a great deal to evoke that sense of intensely focused but not entirely awake consciousness that comes with insomnia, a kind of clarity narrowed down to a sharp point.
The title is a surprisingly apt metaphor, too, with insomnia's comparison to a stray cat you didn't ask for, don't feed or pat but can't keep off your property one that rings true throughout. A small but finely considered piece, though thankfully not one to keep you up at night yourself.
At Loop until Oct 8.
LESS THAN <3 THREE, BECAUSE I HEART U – THE OVERDRAMATIC LIFE OF KYLE MCCONNELLY
The last show I saw by this company, The Play About Nothing, was a winner – an immersive night with a couple of deliquents as they travelled around Melbourne getting up to no good. Each audience member played a character in the tale, and there was a sense of energy and unpredictability that really got to the heart of the disaffected kids under scrutiny.
That promise really took a wrong turn here. Where TPAN was stylistically innovative, Less Than <3 is a straight-up comic play, and not a great one. Some hammy performances, an uninspired plot and high-school level jokes prevent it from really going anywhere interesting, and while its predecessor really brought to life a particular culture of youth, this one distances us from its emo and hipster subjects, who themselves are merely thin caricature.
Kyle is the last emo, shunned by his school peers, his only friend a Tamagotchi and his only outlet for expression a livejournal account and angst-ridden vlogs. There's potential for something here, if Kyle was treated with any seriousness, but for much of the piece he's inexplicably shunted aside to make room for a confusing plot surrounding a media project by his cool schoolmates and a homeless artist taken in by an unscrupulous gallery owner (the artist is haunted by a really annoying clown for no reason I could fathom).
There's some kind of statement about postmodernism going on, but damned if I could hear it through all the noise. I think it might have boiled down to “postmodernism is a bit wanky” and given that there's a mention of John Docker's Postmodernism and Popular Culture I have to assume that the company has at least encountered the subject somewhere, but nothing here resembles a coherent comment on, well, anything.
Luckily none of this undermines the interest generated by The Play About Nothing, which wasn't just a happy accident. There's talent in here somewhere that got lost during this piece's development. Hopefully it'll return to the fore next time.
Fringe Hub until Oct 8.