Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow


I almost didn't make it to this one – it was 9.45pm on a Monday night and I'd already seen two shows and godammit is it too much to ask for one early night? Yes, yes it is. If this show is anything to go by, anyway. You can sleep when you're dead. So even though I'm starting to feel the physical and mental results of too much comedy, I'm not going to whinge about it here because I know what you're thinking.

Let's press on. Ivan Brackenbury may well be the rightful heir to a long tradition of British comedy that includes Benny Hill, Kenny Everett, The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Big Train and the Fast Show. It's hyperbolic character stuff, a wee bit panto, at times off-colour, sometimes worthy of a groan. In the form of Brackenbury, it's fucking funny.

Comedy Fest review: DeAnne Smith - Ballsy


DeAnne Smith arguably has the most interesting haircut of the festival – it's really sharp and angular with nice flowy bits and weird confronting jagged bits and even a bit of her fringe that goes under her glasses and reappears over one cheek. Most of that is a good description for her comedy, too (except the fringe bit). I found her evil pixie presence uncannily reminiscent of Tina Fey, if Tina Fey were a blonde lesbian from Canada who plays the ukulele.

This is a pretty slight hour in terms of material and some of the jokes are capped off with bits about midgets or Chinese people or whatever that come over as cheap. These are in contrast to the sparkling moments when she plays off her audience directly, and her impro work is ten times more entertaining than her actual stuff. I'd pay to see her work a club night with a big audience, and hopefully she'll get some spots in the festival club or somewhere similar.

Comedy Fest review: Hannah Gadsby - The Cliff Young Shuffle


You can't read a review of Hannah Gadsby that doesn't contain the words 'dry', 'droll' and/or 'deadpan'. These are fair enough descriptors but they don't really do her justice, bringing to mind as they do a Speak 'N' Spell intoning “AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT” or just Elliot Goblet. Gadsby's actually a generous and engaging performer, and for evidence I put forward nothing less than the strong fanbase of genteel white-haired folk who make up a sizeable chunk of her audience. See, despite her fresh-faced visage she's a bit like your favourite auntie who can always be guaranteed to punctuate any family gathering with a stream of ironic lines that highlight the absurdities underlying our conversation and hint at the insane contradictions that form the fundament of civilised existence. You also like her because she gets away with swearing in front of the grandparents.

Comedy Fest review: Jamie Kilstein - Revenge of the Serfs


US comic Jamie Kilstein probably won't be appearing on Good News Week. Or The 7pm Project. Or anything approaching a commercial radio show. It's not particulary revelatory to suggest that the stuff we see on TV or hear on radio is quite astoundingly reactionary, and that Australian comedy is perhaps the most conservative of art forms we have. Kilstein is pretty much the opposite of all that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Asher Treleaven - Secret Door


I felt some kind of mental wall crumble halfway through Asher Treleaven's latest show. Having seen around 40 shows every Comedy Festival for the past half decade, I hadn't realised how this barrier had gradually accreted. I found it increasingly easy to predict punchlines and spot reversals; I saw the same faces and heard the same topics raised and watched the same stock situations again and again. It wasn't that I didn't find things funny, but the fact is that I didn't laugh that much. I recognised the humour without really feeling it.

Treleaven broke the breakwater. I was wiping away tears and convulsing with that kind of laughter you generally only get with friends – not in that crack-a-joke-over-a-beer kind of mate's laugh, but the dense, uncontrollable guffawing that takes half an hour of conversation to build up in strength.

You don't need to know anything else about this show. Some people won't dig it (it's ridiculously filthy and utterly eccentric) but for the simple fact that I can laugh again, this is one of the finest hours of comedy I can recall.

Comedy Fest review: The Pajama Men - The Last Stand to Reason


On a dollar-per-laugh basis these guys have to be the best value comedy act around. My OpenOffice spreadsheet calculations suggest that at $33 a pop you're paying about $0.04 per funny and are guaranteed a giggle mean of .7-1 per 30 seconds. That's statistics, people, and you can't argue with them because they won't listen. Statistics don't even have ears. It is OpenOffice though so the figures might be a bit out of whack.

Comedy Fest review: Cardinal Burns


I feel a bit like the comedy version of Scrooge when I dismiss this likeable UK pair's inaugural Melbourne outing. It does remind me of Tiny Tim, though: short and lame. Unlike Tiny Tim there's no crutch here, which might be part of the problem – this is just a series of sketches with no sense of coherence and, in many cases, no internal motivation, either.

Comedy Fest review: Tim Key - The Slutcracker


They say context is everything but I reckon content should get a look-in once in a while. Tim Key won the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year and I know people who saw that show and raved about it. I was wondering whether the space it played there added something to the piece that was lacking from the thing I saw, but it scored a five star review in yesterday's Age so clearly it's me who's having the problems finding that elusive something in Key's act. I think that something may be comedy.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Well This Is a Bit Shit

I've long marvelled at how one simple word can change a phrase's whole emotional resonance. The "cat" part of "cat burglar" makes it seem like a sneaky pasttime carried out by a cartoon feline to the accompaniment of slinky jazz music. It puts the fun back in to home invasion, really.

Equally, "art thief" is about as glamorous a criminal profession as I can imagine. When I imagine a car thief or serial shoplifter it tends to bring to mind someone from the grubbier, more compulsively-scratching, permanent-bed-hair sectors of the population. "Art thief", on the other hand, sounds like more of a job for a roguish Sean Connery or, at worst, Pierce Brosnan (both have played art thieves in their careers, which might in some small way have helped form that image. Probably not).

You'd have to be a real dick to steal art from an artist-run space, though, wouldn't you?

Kings ARI in King St sent out this release today:

We are writing to ask if anyone knows the whereabouts of a missing artwork in the form of a book. On thursday March 25 a key artwork by Aimee Fairman went missing from her {ultima forsan} exhibition. The work is an old German book titled "Trigonometrie und Stereometrie" by Dr. Friedrich Reidt printed in 1884. The book had a topographical landscape carved into its pages, with a pair of white headphones threaded through the book, and attached to an iPod shuffle, playing a sound work and stored in a cavity in the back of the book. The book has a brown marbled hard-back cover, and when closed, its dimensions are approximately 22cm 15cm.

The work is very precious to Aimee as it holds great personal significance. We ask if anyone hears of its whereabouts that they please contact Kings or Aimee, anonymously if they wish. A reward will be offered for its return, which can be paid anonymously if necessary. Any assistance would be truly and greatly appreciated.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Little Mercy; At the Sans Hotel

The Comedy Fest has just kicked off so free time will be in short supply for the next few weeks, but I wanted to chuck out a couple of reviews while I had a second. These are just quickly written responses to shows I can strongly recommend. I'll be shovelling out the comedy reviews, too, so be warned of the impending deluge.


By Sisters Grimm

The list of classic films to have put the fear into any parent-to-be is almost too shocking to repeat here, so I'll repeat it here. From the still-disarming thrillers of the early postwar period (Village of the Damned, The Bad Seed) to more graphic depictions of nightmare kids of the 70s and 80s (The Omen, The Exorcist, Carrie) to the attempted revival of the genre in the 90s, where The Good Son saw prepubescent Macauley Culkin and Elijah Wood struggling to throw each other off a cliff (and really, whoever loses there is still going to be a win for the audience), there's no monster like the monster you created yourself.

Little Mercy could be titled Rosemary's Baby-Bonus: it's a camp and affectionate reworking of all of the generic cliches of the Evil Child film with suitably hysterical performances and hilarious grotesqueries throughout. A childless American couple are blessed with a little girl from a mysterious orphanage who turns out to be a psychopathic serial killer possibly possessed of infernal powers. It made me laugh.

There are two kinds of laughter genre can provide, and each seems opposed to the other. In the first instance we can laugh at the artificiality of genres, at the obvious formula, the stock characters, the setups and lingo and structure that we see repeated again and again. This isn't the ivory tower laughter of the holier-than-thou critic, however. Laughing at a genre's conventions requires a knowledge of those conventions and the ability to interpret them. This kind of laughter is, for the most part, a complicit, even sympathetic enjoyment of genre.

The other kind is the laughter of the person who doesn't get it: who ridicules the same generic artifice from the position of outsider. How absurd these customs seem to a normal person such as I! How much more absurd must be those who fall for them!

To theorists of genre, the first of these positions is the more critically valid one: to scoff at fans of the popular romance genre, or horror, or whatever, isn't too far off laughing at the silly accents of people whose language you don't speak. There's not a great deal of difference between sneering at soap operas and dissing actual operas if you haven't spent much time with either. Usually the criticism ends up directed toward the assumed audience of each example, and in both cases that target is generally way off the mark. (It's what made Peter Craven's gushing appraisal of Neighbours in a recent Age op-ed so unintentionally hilarious – spend two years (two years!) watching anything and you'll develop a hardwired respect for its nuances. That Craven was so startled at the intricacies of the show at hand appeared to be a weird cross between those two great critical narratives of the modern age: “This is Me Hangin' with the Plebs” and “Oops I Got Me Some Stockholm Syndrome”).

You don't need to know the tropes to enjoy Little Mercy – it helps, but it only adds another tier of pleasure in a piece with plenty more going for it. The performances are super, especially Ash Flanders (who is a pretty lady) and Susie Dee (who is a very odd-looking little girl).


By Nicola Gunn

Don't really want to say too much about this one, but it's an absolute must-see. It's as much about our expectations in a theatre as anything else, so I'd be best off telling you lies about the piece. God knows that's what the advance publicity did, which is brilliant strategy in my book. If it helps, though, it's reminiscent of Forced Entertainment's more successful work and has the generous charm and accessibility of last year's exquisite Floating by Hoipolloi. Get yourself along.

What else, what else? I saw Jersey Boys again last weekend. I can't recall if I've trumpeted it here but, damn, it's one fine show. I can't imagine anyone being less than impressed with it.

And I really want to write something up on Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu (Wrong Skin) but I don't have time to do it justice here – I'll attempt to get onto it this weekend. Short version: definitely worth catching.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: Men


By Straightjacket Productions.

This one's arriving a little late, but I've been super busy of late with this great new hobby. It involves me sitting naked in one corner of my darkened, empty house and trying to throw a hammer into a bucket I've placed in the opposite corner of the room. If I get it in I do a little victory cheer and then go and retrieve the hammer, and if I don't then I sit in silence for a while pondering my existence. Then go and retrieve the hammer. As you can tell, this doesn't leave a lot of time for theatre reviews.

I don't feel too bad about leaving Men so long because the season's sold out. After all of the tickets went out the door the creators put on another matinee this Sunday. That sold out too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Cats


"Give me the child until he is seven," goes the saying, "and I will give you the man." I fundamentally disagree with this, and not only because I think it's wrong to go around asking for other people's children. It's that if this were true, then I would now be surrounded by homemade robots and jetpack-wearing monkeys and would sleep in a bed shaped like a car. As it is, only one of those things turns out to be anything like my reality. Also, as a kid I was really revolted by the idea of Cats (the musical), whereas the adult me couldn't wait to see it.

Review: The Fate of Franklin and his Gallant Crew


By Four Larks Theatre.

If there's one thing we've learnt from history, by which I mean the movies, it's this: any group of men stranded in the wild for more than about an hour will inevitably start chowing down on each other as soon as they get peckish. The chances of this are raised greatly if they're sporting beards and/or uniforms, and if they're gourmands they'll remember the lesson imparted by that movie about the soccer team that got stuck in the Andes: Always Start With the Butt-Cheeks. It's gotten to the point where whenever I go camping with buddies I can sense them drawing dotted lines on my chubbier bits and contemplating whether a dijon or honey-mustard dressing will go better with liver. In short, cannibals are the new whatever-people-are-calling-new-these-days.

I'm not giving much away when I reveal that The Fate of Franklin and his Gallant Crew may involve some Soylent Green stuff. This is because the show isn't really about cannibalism but about the ways in which we construct history. In this case, it's the history of mid-nineteenth century explorer and his crew who get stuck trying to find the fabled Northwest Passage that would allow ships to travel through the Arctic above Canada.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Momentary Lapse of Reason (is another Pink Floyd reference)

Of all the journalists pounding Melbourne's pavements in the quest for a good news story, surely the hardest working of all is my good colleague Staff Writer. 

Here's SW's latest offering - an emotionally-worded opinion piece on the current round of arts funding by the City of Melbourne:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An Interview with John Clancy

When I heard that Red Stitch were putting on a play by John Clancy I immediately went 110% frickin bananas before I realised that I had no idea who this John Clancy character was (is). I knew he wasn’t Tom Clancy, which dashed my hopes of finally watching some submarine-based intrigue on a Melbourne stage, but at least there was no danger of me repeating a Madagascar Moment and spending an hour wondering why the MTC had transformed a delightful animated romp about zoo animals into a completely lemur-free drama. So this is who John Clancy is: he lives in New York and writes and directs theatre and has won five Fringe Firsts in Edinburgh and lots of other awards too. He sounds a little bit like a younger Alan Alda. Let’s have a closer look.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Madagascar


Madagascar is a play that resists superlatives. It’s pretty familiar and pretty forgettable. It’s not very anything. I enjoyed it very much and would happily see it again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An edited conversation with Jin Xing

[Jin Xing is China’s first officially recognised transsexual; a former army colonel; and the force behind the country’s largest and only independent dance company. Her Shanghai Beauty opens tonight at the Arts Centre - having visited Shanghai in December last year, we start by talking about the place.]

I always say that Shanghai is a three-F city: for the outsider it’s fascinating, for the insider it’s frustrating and for both it’s frightening. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what direction it’s going in. We’re so keen to develop the economy, financial development, that we’re losing a lot of our cultural heritage. Especially in education and art education. We did have a strong art education before. Now, the whole country seems so much into economic development and being a strong superpower. There’s so much focus on the numbers. 

We lose a lot at the same time. I mean the traditional morality and values, social issues, what the real idea of life is. The Chinese are good at that, because after thousands and thousands of years of culture we really understand what life is about. Not just numbers and economic achievement. Now we’re losing a lot of those details. The train has to stop speeding up, it’s too fast.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Now with Feeling (part III)

By Danelle Lee.

When we talk (or write, sometimes even think) about theatre we paint from a very limited palette. We call something ‘surreal’ when it ventures anywhere outside of the borders of a very small and badly policed domain of theatremaking; we haul out Shakespeare as a kind of witty shorthand (“sound and fury” gets the gong for most overused review cliché, with honourable mentions to “the play’s the thing”, “what’s in a name?”, and “something is rotten in the state of whatever I basically want to say is shit”); we call something ‘challenging’ or ‘difficult’ when we could be employing a lesser-employed Bardicism, “I am dying, Egypt, dying”; and so often we’re fatally tempted by the gorgon of art: “Good or bad?” That’ll turn you to stone, that one there.