Monday, March 23, 2015

River - Fringe Review

Bakehouse Theatre’s Studio, Mon Feb 23
River is a loner, but she has crafted a busy enough life for herself.  She frequents a quiet caf├ęteria where she can be alone unnoticed. She has become something of a Google expert, specialising in writing “googlet’ poems based on what Google’s auto-complete function provides when you search for things. She sells self-made aluminium shapes at a weekend market. Her job doesn’t require her to talk to anyone, but she gets some joy from the human contact shared with her colleagues over packets of Arnotts cream biscuits. She relates the minutiae of her daily life in a way that is both touching and tedious.
Her luck begins to turn when she makes the acquaintance of Harry, an aged widower who frequents the same caf├ęteria and is looking for company.
Claire Lovering, the writer and performer of this one person show, has obviously spent a lot of time observing the old and lonely. There is a pathos in the details that her character shares with us, as we slowly learn that her whole life is based on masking the fact that she is alone. And Lovering does an excellent job of portraying this not quite sad and quirky character who is self-conscious, unsure, and excited by little things like chip sandwiches. Her friendship with Harry is short lived but he is the link in a chain that ultimately provides her with a new life where her warmth and care for others can be put to good use.
There’s a simplicity and a charm to this production that grows on you. It’s a poignant reminder that there are many who find it difficult to fit in. They want to be with people but they just don’t know how to do it. Happily in this case a lucky break helps a loner find their niche.
Left unsaid is the fact that many who are alone are not so lucky….
Quite moving in the end. It may well bring a tear of joy and/or sadness.

(also published on The Clothesline)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Meow Meow - Superb Cabaret

Royal Croquet Club’s Menagerie, Sun Feb 22
Meow Meow was a late entry into this year’s Fringe so you won’t find mention of her in the printed program. But do yourself a favour and find you way to The Menagerie at the Royal Croquet Club to see this superstar of cabaret.
I don’t normally borrow catch phrases from the reviews of others but ‘kamikaze cabaret’ is such an apt description of what she does. From the moment she involves the audience in making her opening entrance more spectacular you know you’re in for something different. Nothing is straightforward. Arranging the show as she goes – telling the tech crew to change the lighting, suggesting wardrobe changes for her accompanying pianist and drummer, getting the audience involved in ways you’ve never imagined – contributes to an edge of anticipation that keeps everyone on their toes.
Having played in some of the more prestigious venues around the planet she has a lot of fun making a mockery of ending up ‘in a tent on a roundabout’, and “having to do everything herself”. Like bringing her own dry ice blower! And her stand-in for when she needs a break is pretty impressive too. In short, Meow Meow is hilarious.
And if that isn’t enough she can sing like a bird, like a diva, like a child or a saddened lover… in multiple languages! To boot, most of her songs are her own original material. And she looked fantastic. Meow Meow is the complete package.
Superb comic timing, brilliant audience engagement, wonderful singer – a gifted performer who exemplifies the best of what cabaret can offer.

(also online on The Clothesline)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dave Hughes at the Adelaide Fringe

The Garden Of Unearthly Delights’ Vagabond, Fri Feb 20

It seems a bit superfluous reviewing a Dave Hughes gig. He’s been around the Australian comedy scene a long time and just about everyone knows him. He’s looking good, and even though he has children in kindergarten there are a few grey hairs – something we learn his wife isn’t too rapt about!
He wasted no time tapping into the lives of people in the front row, and a steady stream of latecomers gave him plenty to work with for the first 20 minutes. All those who came late were offered the opportunity to say why they were late and who they blamed! And with the skill of a seasoned veteran he turned episodes of his last few weeks into funny stories that took pot shots at airlines, One Direction fans, and casual meetings with people around Adelaide.
The predictable blokey segment featured cricket tales, the rivalry between the local AFL football teams, his beloved Carlton, and drug-taking swimmers. Lots of jokes about being a dad and his relationship with his wife came next. Anyone who’s had kids can relate to the difficulties of finding time for ‘amorous action’. Clearly the Hughes household, with three children aged five and under (who Hughes refers to as the fun police) is a busy place and adult time is hard to come by, but it’s also a great source of comic material.
Unlike many interstate comedians who seem to deem it mandatory to bag Adelaide, he went the other way and kept telling us how much he liked it. An inside account of what it was like to work on Channel 10’s The Project was entertaining, as were his reasons for leaving the show.
Dave Hughes is a fine comedian. Refreshingly self-deprecating, much of his humour stems from his honesty about his shortcomings, and he appears to genuinely enjoy his work. He told us of course that we were the best audience he’d ever had. We liked hearing it, though we didn’t believe him for a minute. It was a good crowd though. The Vagabond was packed, and most of us were laughing most of the time.
Really enjoyable.
(Also published on The Clothesline)

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Philip Escoffey - Mentalist

Six Impossible Things Before Dinner

The Garden Of Unearthly Delights’ Umbrella Revolution, Tue Feb 17
The art of mentalism continues to be a regular feature on the Adelaide Fringe program, and Phillip Escoffey is back again after a hugely successful run at the 2011 Fringe. And if tonight’s show is any indication he’ll repeat the success this time around. And he deserves nothing less.

Escoffey is a consummate performer. Not only he dazzle his audience with an astounding array of mentalist ‘tricks’, but he also provides a humorous running commentary that is the equal of many A-list comedians. It all adds up to an immensely enjoyable experience.

As these kinds of shows dictate, the audience is a key part of the action. The appeal of a mentalist performance is watching them work out what the chosen members of the audience are thinking – what numbers they choose, which card, which seat, which page of a dictionary – all quite trivial details in the overall scheme of things. But what is far from trivial is how mentalists seem able to either guess what we’re thinking, or use some process of thought transfer to influence our choices.

At regular intervals Escoffey decries the notion that he’s psychic. So how can he know which card you’d pick from a closed deck of cards? Can he read minds? Put thoughts into your head? Or he is simply a clever and manipulative cheat? Or is it a combination of all of these?

A hilarious send up of Tarot card readers is priceless, and then is nonchantly followed up with a stunt where it appears that he is indeed able to predict the future!

So how can he so accurately predict what we are thinking? And do we need to know? Quoting Douglas Adams Escoffey asks: “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful……?” For me it is. For others, this show will be the start of long conversation about whether he is indeed psychic or just a conman. The answer is far from clear.

It’s wonderful to have your preconceptions about reality profoundly challenged on your average night out ;)  Escoffey is an extraordinary talent. You will have a ball. Fantastic entertainment. World class.

(also published on The Clothesline)

Stuart Bowden – Before Us

Tuxedo Cat’s Perske Pavilion, Sun Feb 16

Just about everything Stuart Bowden does in Before Us is inappropriate. Not in any shocking way, or in any way that is embarrassing. Quite the opposite – it’s actually quite endearing. His costume, his dancing, a lot of his singing, the almost stream of consciousness monologue – all inappropriate. And the interesting thing is that when you string together a series of inappropriate activities you kind of get a new genre that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Bowden enjoys talking about death, and this show is loosely built around the story of his father’s death, and our own mortality. Using live looped audio as a backdrop to his strange tales Bowden speaks for all those who have ever felt insecure or vulnerable; for all those who’ve contemplated the big questions about being alive. And dead. Like who were my parents? Why I am here?

He has a charming knack of using apparent nonsense to get us thinking and feeling more deeply about life. It was interesting to notice how the audience moved from behaving like they were at just another comedy show laughing and giggling at every weird quirk or throwaway line, to realising that that there was something deeper going on that was more enjoyable and more meaningful than just cheap laughs.

By then his naive charm and sense of magic had the audience under his spell and you felt the connection between the absurd and the profound, the beautiful and the mysterious - to the point where we were all quite prepared to join in the marvellous final scene and celebrate being alive!

Do something completely different this Fringe and surrender to Stuart Bowden’s spell of weirdness. You will laugh. You may even cry. But you will leave feeling better about life. This play is just a joy.

Star Rating: 4.5

(also published on The Clothesline)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mush and Me

Mush and Me – Karla Chrome
Holden St Theatres’ The Arch, Sat Feb 14

Mush and Me was handpicked by Holden St Theatres to be part of their 2015 Fringe program, and it’s easy to see why. Gabby and Mush(taq) meet on neutral ground in an English call centre. The company’s star performers in telephone sales are drawn to each other as they observe each other in action. Their good natured competitive relationship quickly becomes social and despite the cultural and religious gap between them they find themselves falling love. 

Provoking and challenging each other about the foolishness of their respective beliefs just brings them closer, and the time arrives when they have to confront whether to announce their romance with their families. The scene that has both of them coming out to their families simultaneously is beautifully crafted. 

The difficulties of their cross-cultural relationship are a microcosm of what divides Arabic and Jewish culture. No matter how great their affection for each other layers of past hurt and suspicion complicate their present. ‘Enough of the past” Mush cries out to his mother - desperate for her to understand that not all Jews are wicked.

The obvious attraction between to the two protagonists is beautifully played by Daniella Isaacs  and Jaz Deol, and moments of passionate disagreement and anger typical of Middle Eastern discourse about ‘the problem’ are equally powerful.

A simple and effective set of white shelves displaying icons of both Muslim and Jewish culture are manoeuvred around the stage to accommodate the call centre, a bar, a hospital and lounge room, and at times has both actors pushing shelves together in the dark during scene changes that is neatly symbolic of them growing closer together.

Given the state of the world and the role of their respective cultures in global politics, this is a timely offering. We can enjoy the fact that at least two people have decided to ditch the hatred and pain of the past between their peoples and focus on their mutual love in the present. But we are left with no illusion that it will be an easy road for them.

A great play – excellent writing, well-paced, striking delivery and smart direction.

(Also published on The Clothesline)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Searchers

The Searchers
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Fri Feb 6

The Searchers’ concert was always going to be a walk down memory lane. First formed in 1959 and responsible for a half dozen or so mega hits in the Sixties, The Searchers are still performing to packed houses around the world fifty-five years on. The two remaining original Searchers, Frank Allen and John McNally are in their 70’s. That puts them in the elite category of veteran pop/rock stars who are still performing in the same band decades after they began. Another band that comes to mind in the same category and who also graced Australia’s shores recently are of course the Rolling Stones. But that’s about where the similarity ends.
The Searchers represent the state of pop/rock music before the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones turned it and the rest of the world on its head. Neat, suited, and conservative, they stand and deliver that same engaging brand of poppy tune that catapulted them to pop fame, and in pretty much the same way. Not much rocking or wild cavorting around the stage here – just standing and delivering. And that is entirely appropriate for their style of music.
They play all their hits – the biggest of which arguably were Love Potion No 9 and Needles and Pins – and they still sound brilliant. There was also Walk in the Room, an acknowledged classic originally written and recorded by Jackie DeShannon but driven to international fame via The Searchers’ version. A curious thing about The Searchers is they didn’t write any of these songs. Occasionally songs were written for them, but most of their success came from songs written or recorded by others before The Searchers turned them into hits. And as good as these songs are there are probably around 6-8 gems all up. So the playlist for their two hour concert includes many cover tunes. Del Shannon’s Runaway, Buddy Holly’s (apparently spontaneous) Peggy Sue were obvious choices from their era. A kind of reverse acknowledgment of The Byrds and the role they played in preserving The Searchers’ legacy for another decade or so was the reason for the inclusion of Mr Tambourine Man. (The now famous signature ‘jingle jangle’ guitar tone of The Byrds was first created by John McNally, and The Byrds always acknowledged their debt to The Searchers as their own fame grew.)
A few numbers were clearly included to highlight and exploit the lovely voice of Spencer James – Roy Orbison’s Runnin’ Scared, Neil Sedaka’s Solitaire, and Bette Midler’s The Rose. But the inclusion of Young Girl, originally recorded by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap had me puzzled. I loved it when I was a child, but these days it has a few unfortunate undertones.
The voices of the two original Searchers are still in fine fettle. Sadly though there was a muddy tone to the mix much of the evening with the vocals too far down in the mix and for a band whose songs depend on multiple vocal parts this was really disappointing. Ironically the time when the three singers could be heard most clearly was not on a Searchers song – they sounded clear and pitch perfect as they sang The Rose.
Bass player Frank Allen chatted to the audience throughout the show, filling in bits and pieces of the band’s history, and explaining why each song was chosen. Audiences really appreciate this thoughtful kind of communication. But I found the constant jokes about aging, illness, dementia, etc a bit tiresome. As I’m a way short of 70 maybe it’s something I need to grow into (!) but I’d be pretty sure the Stones weren’t cracking jokes about nursing homes and dementia on their recent tour.
Still, it was great to see, be present, and hear live The Searchers’ contribution to the legacy of pop music. It’s a phenomenal achievement to be still doing live shows after 50 years. Testament to their importance in the history of pop is the fact that several Searchers songs will be remembered long after they finally hang up their guitars. An enjoyable night.

Also published at The Clothesline

Monday, December 15, 2014

Life After Work

About 7 months ago  I left the organisation I had worked with for 25 years. I turned 60 two months later. Until late last year (2013) I had assumed I would continue working in that job until around 65. But things moved rapidly and 6 months later I was unemployed. I chose to leave. I did not retire. Between jobs as they say. And I learnt a great deal very quickly about myself and life.

Initially, for a brief time, the freedom of being unattached was intoxicating. The intoxication was slowly replaced with a far more sober reality that took me a few months to work through. What follows is in no sense of regret. I'm glad I left my job. But realisation #1 was I MISSED THAT JOB! In truth this was no great surprise. I had often told people I had one of the best jobs of anyone I knew. But it had reached a point where I could no longer work for my employer with a clear conscience.

Realisation #2 - my world shrunk. I had a reasonably high profile job that meant that I was in contact with a lot of people in the average week - via email, phone, or face to face conversations or meetings. I'd guess around 50-80 people each week. When I stopped working I had contact with less than 10 people a week. My job was also quite mobile. I would routinely visit several locations a week across the whole city. In the weeks after I quit my job this often was reduced to 'the shops' , and nothing else. Many many fewer people and many fewer locations. My world had shrunk quite drastically.

Realisation #3 - hobbies were no longer hobbies! I have never had a problem filling in my time. Throughout my working life I had to squeeze in music, gardening, travelling, sport, theatre, writing, walking, photography, technology. ....Mostly I did manage to fit these extra-curricular activities into a busy and full life. Now subtract the job. You'd think I'd be rapt to have all this extra time to enjoy these other pastimes. And initially I did. But you see, like I said, I hadn't  retired. I wanted to keep working - I just wasn't sure what it was I wanted to do. So something unexpected happened to my hobbies. They stopped being something I did in my spare time, and became the things I did! And, consequently I began to see each one of them as a potential job, or at least a money earning activity. So... I should practice this guitar piece more, or I should take this more seriously, or I spend so much time doing this I need to work out how to turn it into a part time job, etc. Nothing was purely for pleasure anymore. Things I had enjoyed doing for decades whenever I could fit them in had become weighed down with a sense of responsibility. Quite sad, and all in my own head I realise, but that's what happened.

Realisation #4 (and perhaps the most important of them all) - I had become a creature governed by the recurring rhythms of terms and semesters and holidays - all with their own annual reliability. Always a few weeks holidays at the same times each year. But one always worked in May. I worked in education, and really had no idea how much I had become a creature of its annual cycles. I have always worked hard. But there was always a break just 10 weeks away even if you didn't take it. But psychologically it was there and you could take it if you wanted or needed it. Go  away for a couple of weeks at the end of September if you wanted. And you knew when these breaks were years ahead so you could plan to travel at a set time. Or again, if you felt like making a snap last minute decision to go somewhere there was no stressing about when you might go - that was already decided for you by the pre-ordained holiday dates. But now you're between jobs. What if you decided to take a week off or  book a flight to somewhere and someone offers you work at that time?

The longest break you get in the education world is 5, maybe 6 weeks. (Yes I know much longer than most get but that's another story...). So about  6-8 weeks after I left my job I was ready to work again. 25 years of conditioning had unknowingly  turned  me into this creature who needed to work because I'd had a 6 week break.

Realisation #5 - my identity was intimately connected with my job. I began to feel like I didn't matter so much; that I was less significant than before. I wanted to work and couldn't. I looked longingly at people who had jobs - any job - and thought how lucky they were! I wasn't as important to myself anymore either because I was getting no validation from others that I was doing something worthwhile for them. No pats on the back; no requests to help out with various tasks; to address a meeting; to join a team for a temporary project. Very few people were asking me to do anything. There was no expectation that I would do anything. So all  the  motivation to keep abreast of current practice, look for work, maintain contacts with your persona l learning network had to come from within. Only intrinsic motivation was left to keep you moving. All those people you saw in the average week of your working life had moved on and no longer required your assistance.

Realisation #6 - I was not as self-contained as I thought I was. I needed the company and recognition of others to keep me performing. I'd had it for so long I had ceased to recognise its importance in my life. I thought I was driving myself along kind of under my own steam and that was far from the whole story!

Realisation #7 -no matter what you say people will consider you  'retired.' And assume you are loving all the extra spare time and having a ball. But (back to realisation #5) I only enjoy spare time if I've worked really hard and feel like I've earned it. But it won't a matter a toss to others - they will consider you retired.

Realisation #8. Actually this is more of an assumption than a realisation, and it may not be entirely accurate. I assume that people who plan to retire, and who have known for some time when they will stop working, would not go through all the angst that I have experienced  these last 7 months. They would be planning what they  were going to do and anticipating with great pleasure a time when they can realise their post work dreams. When post work life is upon you suddenly it is an entirely different ball game. I now have a greater appreciation for what those who are suddenly made unemployed must feel.


I have found bits and pieces of part time work that I am enjoying and this has helped me establish a new rhythm of life. I accept that I have to make things happen on my own, and that I can't rely on the inbuilt supports (people, activities, projects) that a long term job provides. And I am now feeling like I'm ready to take on something new - whatever it may be.