Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Fame the Musical


Wrote William James on perspectivism: “We are practical beings, each of us with limited functions and duties to perform. Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his own duties and the significance of the situations that call these forth. But this feeling is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to others. The others are too much absorbed in their own vital secrets to take an interest in ours. Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, so far as they deal with the significance of alien lives. Hence the falsity of our judgments, so far as they presume to decide in an absolute way on the value of other persons' conditions or ideals.”

Perspectivism as a philosophical tradition has a history way back to Xenophanes and is a fancy-pants way of suggesting that you may say “tomato” and I may say “tom-ah-to” and we can both be right. Anti-perspectivists might claim that if you go on to say “potato” and I respond with “po-tah-to” then you have every right to say “po-tah-to isn't a word, fool” and to assert that I have committed some kind of error here. Personally, in this situation, I'd be more concerned about my undiagnosed echolalia combined with an inability to pronounce the names of foodstuffs correctly.

In any case, all of this is one method of explaining why I can say “awkward misfire of a production” while you say “delightful musical romp” and we can both be describing the same thing. The thing in this case is Fame the Musical.

Review: Richard III


By Melbourne Theatre Company.

A few months ago I was having a conversation with my neighbour after our front windows were smashed on two different occasions. He's in his 60s and even though he left Italy when he was 11 he still has a really thick accent and some strangely pre-WWII attitudes. For instance, he's certain that the brick through his window was the result of a centuries-old, transcontinental enmity between Lebanese and Jewish people, and the idea that he's an innocent victim of a bizarre imagined race war makes for entertaining banter at least.

He's a lovely fellow with some odd opinions, is what I'm telling ya. When he started up about how he sadly had to hand over all of his guns during a firearm amnesty a couple of decades back, I got a bit concerned. He then went on to explain that if he'd caught the baddies he wouldn't have shot them anyway – of course – because that just gets you into more trouble. A better solution would be to do what they did back under Mussolini's reign: get a pint of castor oil and force the vandals to drink it. For the next six months they'd be crapping themselves several times a day, which would mean they couldn't hold down a job or live a normal life. That sounded like a suitable punishment, by his reckoning, and it's a sad thing that nowadays you can end up the criminal if you get caught forcing a man to drink a pint of castor oil. Look at Italy under Mussolini, though: no criminals there, he said.

And then came the clincher: “I'm not saying we need a fascist leader,” he explained. A shrug. “Weeeell. Maybe for a little bit.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comedy Fest: Things Missed Along the Way

Golly gumbucks, it's over. There were craploads of shows I didn't get time to mention here so here's a quick purge of half-baked things that accreted along the way. There are another ten or so that don't get a mention (including some brilliant stuff) but hey, Capital Idea doesn't pay by the word and let's face it: more ill-thought-through commentary by me written for the sake of completeness isn't enriching anyone's life. If you do care to read on, knock yourself out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 MICF Barry nominees

I'll keep it quick. The shortlist for this year's Barry award are:

Asher Treleaven - Secret Door
Damian Callinan - The Merger: Sportsman’s Night 2
Josh Thomas - Surprise
The List Operators For Kids - More Fun Than A Wii
Sammy J and Randy - Rickett’s Lane
Wil Anderson - Wilful Misconduct

Some interesting facts: the winner(s) will be male and Australian. For the first time ever a kids' show may score the top prize. Or a puppet. None of the nominees are newcomers to the festival. Quite a few are playing relatively small rooms. They're all very worthy of the award.

Golden Gibbo noms are:

Asher Treleaven - Secret Door
Geraldine Quinn - Shut Up And Sing
Sam Simmons and David Quirk - The Incident
Poet Laureate Telia Neville - While I'm Away
Stevn Shefl And His Translator Fatima 

The winner (and winners of Best Newcomer, Age Critics Award, Piece of Wood and Festival Directors' Award) will be announced at some godless hour of Sunday morning next week.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Accurate History of the Fall of the Roman Empire


Anyone attending one of Andrew McClelland's history shows is bound to learn something. I learned that I'm a bigger nerd than I'd previously realised. Also: some barbarians lathered up in their own shit before going into battle. Isn't that all I have to say to get you along to this one?

Comedy Fest review: Jon Richardson - This Guy at Night


There are two kinds of people in the world, says Jon Richardson, and I instantly cringe. But go with his generalisation and you'll find the key to his surprisingly engaging comedy. The tongue-in-cheek division is between Putters and Leavers. Ask someone where their keys are. A Putter will answer “they're where I put them”. A Leaver will reply “Wherever I left them!” Richardson is, unquestionably, a Putter. He's a man for whom everything must be Just So, and since things are usually a lot messier than that allows for, he's also a fairly miserable and disappointed finder of human failings.

Comedy Fest review: +1 Sword


If some wizened gnome had prophesied that I'd be fronting up to two comedy festival shows based on Dungeons & Dragons this year, I'd have laughed heartily. If the same godforsaken goblin had then told me I'd thoroughly enjoy both I would have had to deliver him a kick in the scrying ball. But what rude and arcane enchantment is upon me! I did like 'em! Liked 'em both!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Sam Simmons & David Quirk - The Incident


I mentioned in my last post that I'm not a hat-wearer but I should clarify that I do wear a helmet when I'm on my bicycle or in the bath. That doesn't count as a hat, though, because there's no way in hell you can tilt a bike helmet at a rakish angle without seriously compromising your road safety and I want to make clear that I don't condone that kind of recklessness at all. Also, you might want to wear a helmet to The Incident because it presents a reckonable risk of brain injury.

Comedy Fest review: Tripod vs the Dragon


Though not a hat-wearer myself, I do maintain a dilettante's fascination with the three schools of millinery expression; namely, tilting, raising and doffing. Within these umbrella categories are, of course, an endless array of sub-disciplines (why, tilting alone has to canvas the entire radius of angles from 'jaunty' to 'rakish') and I'll admit that my interest waned in the great circumcranial rim displacement debates that seared the globe during the 90s after baseball caps began to revolve in almost fractally intricate ways. On the other hand, after catching Tripod's latest show I was tempted to knock a nearby punter down so that I could steal their hat and pointedly doff it in the direction of the geeky trio.

Comedy Fest review: Stevl Shefn and his Translator Fatima


I've always loved Jerry Seinfeld's description of the final episodes of his long-running TV series as less the kind of all-star high-five you might expect and more the feeling you get when you're standing at a public urinal and notice your untied shoelace lying in a suspicious pool of liquid on the floor. This pretty much sums up a lot of comedy.

Not that I expect fireworks from every show I see, but when you're living on the razor's edge like I am you just ain't got time for people dragging their feet. Get to the punchline, punk! Well, not really, but I was a bit concerned when I got my head around Stevl Shefn's shtick: he performs a stand-up routine in an invented language while his burqa-clad assistant provides translations. There's potential for great comedy here – I was expecting the disjunction between Stevl's physical performance and the deadpan Fatima's interpretation to generate laughs, especially when his routine heads towards the perverse territory of adult video stores, hermaphrodites and animal sex. That didn't quite happen for me (the laughs, not the animal sex), though I'm not sure why. It just seemed that a pretty middling stand-up routine was being stretched to double the length by requiring every joke to be presented twice, first in unintelligible form and then in English.

It's been highly praised by quite a few comedy aficionados I know, though, and some of the routines (especially his dialogue with a vacuum-cleaner) have been big hits with them. I'll give that credit and suggest that this may have to be one you decide on for yourself.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Comedy Fest review: The Polar Bearings - Songs for the Sea, Major?


In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I know both halves of The Polar Bearings. Stuart Bowden used to live with my girlfriend so I've met him plenty of times and Margaret Paul sometimes writes for The Age so I've met her plenty of times too, and once I was going to the milk bar and she came out holding a bunch of broccoli and we talked about the broccoli for a bit then went our way. Now that I think of it, maybe it was me who was holding the broccoli. My memory is unclear on that. The point is: broccoli was held.

Comedy Fest review: Adrian Calear - Code Grey


See this show.

Comedy Fest review: Nina Conti - Talk to the Hand


If you haven't seen Nina Conti live you're missing out – her 2008 show deservedly won a Barry and she seems to have become a MICF regular since. I don't know that you can rekindle that first experience, though, and while her 2010 outing is deceptively heroic it lacks the wow factor I felt the first time I caught her act.

Conti's a ventriloquist who reinvigorates the art by inverting its familiar conventions or introducing other modes of comedy normally alien to a dummy routine. She also invigorates the art by being a pretty lady. That's not exactly reinventing the wheel but if you know much of the history of ventriloquism you'll know it's no fashion parade.

Comedy Fest review: Tim Vine - The Joke-amotive


Tim Vine's comedy seems less a series of artistic choices and more a pathological condition. He's unable to speak for more than a few seconds without finding the potential for a pun, and I have little doubt that this extends to his life offstage. I don't know if a doctor would actually diagnose him with Foerster's syndrome, the brain disorder that causes uncontrollable punning, but by my stars the guy is one of the oddest showmen around.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Comedy Fest review: Talking Dirty in the Dark


Here's a story for you: a while back two comics were in Adelaide and decided to have a bit of a competition. The contest was to find the ugliest woman who'd sleep with them, and the result saw them taking back to their hostel (obviously living the glamorous comedian lifestyle) a midget and a woman with a brain injury. I think it was a midget – it may have been a dwarf and my shock-addled memory is playing tricks on me. Then again, it may have been that the people telling this story weren't aware of the difference anyway. The point is: isn't that a hilarious tale?!

Comedy Fest review: The List Operators for Kids


I saw The List Operators' Richard Higgins do a kids show at the Adelaide Fringe last year and was impressed – this pair treat comedy for children with the kind of seriousness it requires and this show gives kids a lot of what they want: the chance to swear, for instance. It's quite clever that way.

But what makes shows like this most interesting for me is the chance to observe the audience (I don't mean that to sound as creepy as it does). At the List Operators' show I noticed that kid audiences bear a lot of similarities to adult audiences in terms of variety of makeup. There was the bunch of little boys who spread out and sat slack-jawed until the opportunity to throw things at the performers came up and they went nutso; the kids who were desperate to be picked when audience involvement arose, and those who shrunk in fear; the ones who over-invested in the fantasy on stage and flinched or gasped at each turn; the ones who seemed very serious and attentive; the ones who wanted to be heard laughing and the ones embarrassed at their own response. You could sort of guess who'd grow up to be the bunch of blokes who turn up to comedy gigs in sombreros demanding big laughs, and who'd be looking for involving narratives and charming storytelling, and even who might end up a critic.

Of course people change, so those projections are pretty lightweight. I don't have a childling of my own so I don't know how the show really goes for kids, but the crowd jumping around outside seemed to have had a great time, as did the adultoids with them.

Comedy Fest review: Nick Sun - Joymeat


Nick Sun's shows fall apart before they've even begun. He's a shambles possessed of keen comic talent but is so suspicious of comedy conventions that watching him ladle out the funnies is like watching someone bench-pressing 100 kilos of custard. A lot of audience members tend to run like hell, but he's developed a committed following (myself included) who find great interest in the way he cobbles together a comedy show quite unlike any other. He has an hour of quality material this year but it's as if there's a part of his brain that constantly questions each of his instincts, so he ends up surprising nobody more than himself. If you haven't seen Sun then you're missing something – you may well hate him (and his best nights are in fact his worst) but he is to comedy what the Fluxus movement was to modern art.