Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The 2018 Turnstiles Fringe Marathon

It’s finally over. A month of midnight oil, fingers cramped with chalk, cajoling, delicate negotiation and out-an-out begging and Turnstiles finally has its 2018 Fringe Marathon in place.
As always it’s tinged with frustration at the prospect of shows missed (including, more often than not, the Martin Sims Award-winner), but when you’re only able to fit around five per cent of the 750-odd shows on offer into your run, that’s inevitable.
The marathon is even more directed to theatre than usual, out of necessity as much as choice. Turnstiles loves a good laugh, a jaw-dropping highwire act or a sequined song and dance as much as any other mere mortal blog, but you’ve got to get your knitting done first. 

Speaking of first, the marathon kicks off with maybe the most intriguing show on our list, Christa Hughes’s   The World According to Farts and other Extraordinary Sounds of the Human Body. Okay, it’s a kid’s show, but Ms Hughes has done more really adult stuff than a battalions of performers (from Machine Gun Fellatio to Circus Oz, Bowie, blues and boogie woogie) and I can’t wait to see her entertain the kids. Sadly we’re going to miss her very grown-up night gig with Imogen Kelly in The Candy Box, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

Tomas Ford’s Fxxk Yxu line-up in the Rosemount Hotel’s FourFiveNine room looks quite a ticket, and Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore (about, as the title suggests, a girl who works the phones) has won fringe awards from Texas to Canada. Ford has promised that we will need to steel ourselves. Let’s hope so.
Kate Smurthwaite has done it all in her native UK, and is here making some big claims about “open relationships and her non-monogamous lifestyle” (well she would say that, now wouldn’t she) in ForniKATEtress. The hideous Gary Orsun says he’s never once laughed at anything she’s done, and that’s praise enough for me.

Also from the UK, In Bed With My Brother’s We Are Ian takes us back to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Thatcher’s Britain circa 1989 with some full-on song and dance that sounds suspiciously like agitprop. I don’t want to go there. You don’t want to go there. So let’s go there.

Oh, oh, those Summer Nights. The Blue Room’s 30-show programme of (mostly) indie theatre is the core of the Fringe, and the Turnstiles Marathon. And that’s not just because the Blue Room bar (entry with a ticket to any Summer Nights show that night) is the best, brightest – and cheapest ­– watering hole in the Fringe.

By a nice coincidence, it turns out that the first show of the night is by the Blue Room's legendary bartender, Matt Penny. The magician and illusionist has mixed up a con-man cocktail in Find the Lady and I’m looking forward to trying to.

A quick libation and it’s back in for Power Ballad. New Zealander Julia Croft was here last year with if there’s no dancing at the revolution i’m not coming, an hilarious and fierce strip – but not tease – of the veneer of the flicks and how they objectify women. I’ve been warned this year’s model is angrier, maybe more didactic, certainly more confronting. I’m up for it. 

If Power Ballad hasn’t knocked me senseless, I’ve got an hour to refuel at the aforementioned bar before finishing the night at CULL, in which, I’m told, “Honor and Patrick delete their Facebook friends, one b**tch at a time”. It’s promo shot is very fake-bloody. Okay – I’ll buy that. 

Another night, and more Summer Nights, this time next door in the Studio at the State Theatre Centre. Lucy Clements made a dark but auspicious Blue Room debut a couple of years back and returns from Sydney with a bunch of fellow expat WA talent, including the lustrous Whitney Richards, in The Wind in the Underground.

The director Mel Cantwell and Pinjarra-boy-making-good iOTA combined to much acclaim last Fringe in The Average Joe, and they team up again, joined by Russell Leonard and a 12-piece orchestra in Slap and Tickle (iOTA is Slap the clown; Leonard his gimp) in a show that sounds like it won’t easily be forgotten. 

Another marathon night ends, still in the STC studio, with more bloodshed and mayhem from a bunch of WAAPA grads in Minus One Sister, the Electra story all kitted out with iPhones and Instagram. Modern communication has turned cop shows on their ear – let’s see what it does to Greek tragedy!

Anna Morris is another funny person from the better class of British sitcom (in her case, Outnumbered and Bad Bridesmaid) who’ve clearly been told about our shark-free beaches and dirt cheap coffee. Her wedding rehearsal show, It’s Got to be Perfect, has got to be worth it.

Then it’s up Perth’s own Sunset Boulevard, Beaufort Street, to Lazy Susan’s in the Brisbane Hotel for the luxuriously –bearded Canuck Al Lafrance’s yarn, I Think I’m Dead. Since I watched The Handmaid’s Tale I’ve made it my business to make friends with as many Canadians as possible.

My only trip to the big top, so far at least, is for Sediment, Company 2’s award-winning circus and dance theatre inspired by that old clown Dostoyevsky and the dark nature of humanity. Goes without saying, I suppose.
Ever since Bernadette Byrne of EastEnd Cabaret sat on my lap and crooned some filthy song in my ear back in 2013, I have never really been the same. “Don’t go”, I croaked pathetically as she prepared to go in search of another victim. She’s back (sadly without the wonderful Vickty Victoria) to host a bit of late-night debauchery called, in the boring English version of the euphemism, Little Death Club. And, like a moth to flame, I will be too… 

If you don’t want to see a show called Children are Stinky, you’ve obviously got no business being around them. The little show from Victoria has set Edinburgh alight the last couple of years with all the stuff you need to keep the grommets enthralled for a whole 45 minutes.

Week two starts with an old favourite, Stuart Lightbody and his aptly-named Artifice. The South African sleight-of-hander has blossomed over the past five or so fringes into a bewildering and confident performer. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.

Back to Summer Nights, and Clare Testoni’s gothic/feminist/multimediamedia/erotic horror story, The Beast and the Bride. I missed last year’s West of the Moon, and, by all accounts, that’s a mistake I shouldn’t make again. Testoni is working with the skilled writer and director Finn O’Brainigan, and I get the feeling this isn’t going to be particularly Disney.

I’m fascinated by the idea of Seventeen – not the Janis Ian song, or a Michael Apted documentary (although maybe a bit of both. A bunch of over-60s actors playing teenagers might be terribly schmucky, but, on the other hand, it just might work!

Scott McArdle is the Kid Eager of Perth Theatre, and his Leika: A Radio Play was one of the big hits of 2017. Josephine! is his first play for children, and with some seasoned directors and performers working with him and a bunch of kids, I'm expecting lots of energy, lots of fun, and maybe even more!
Joan of Arc was history's most famous gender-bender, and the only surprise is that it's taken so long for her to become a drag act. Lucy Jane Parkinson's Joan does plenty of bending of its own, and was a multi-award winner at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. It's likely to storm the battlements here as well.

How to Kill the Queen of Pop? Well, I've got nothing at all against Vanessa Amarosi, but a drag show about her back-up singers' plot to bring her down at the Opening of the Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics really shouldn't be missed.  

There's something about Portland, Oregon that makes it kind of sad and fun at the same time. Maybe it's all the rivers. Or the volcanoes. Jake Simonds comes from there, and his likenobodieswatching might be sad and fun too. It's the volcanoes, I think.

At least I managed to catch one of last year’s joint Martin Sims Award-winners, Izzy McDonald’s heartwarming Bus Boy, and I’m certainly not going to miss the return season of the other, Lucy Peach’s My Greatest Period Ever.

Okay, here it comes. Every so often a single-handed triumph heats up the Fringe like an induction hob. Back in 2012 it was Neil Watkin’s The Year of Magical Wanking. In 2015 it was Bryony Kimmings’ Sex Idiot. The goat’s entrails are auspicious for another one, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag. The only mystery about this show (the six-part TV series of the play won Waller-Bridge last years BAFTA for actress in a comedy; it, and her previous Crashing, have been lauded both sides of the Atlantic, she’s in next year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story and has upcoming projects and big-time offers (she’ll forgive me for this) coming out of her arse) is how the producers at the Blue Room managed to get her for a two week season in their, what, 80-seat theatre.

Still to come in the Turnstiles Fringe Marathon…

Cactus and the Mime
A Modern Guide to Heroism and Sidekickery
What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger
The Three Deaths of Ebony Black
Crunchy Silk
Jessie Gordon is Ruining Your Night
Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden Herstory – Leading Ladies

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Comedy Lounge Perth City

The comedy business has had a somewhat chequered career in Perth, despite producing some big time comedians and much terrific material (Minchin, Creasey, Armadale, Eagles supporters).
For a while the Perth Comedy Festival, based in and around Mt Lawley, looked like it would be the springboard for an ongoing comedy scene, but, for one reason or another, it has subsided into a spin-off of the Melbourne Comedy Festival with no particular local character or sense of place.
That’s left rooms in suburban pubs like the estimable Lazy Susan’s, squeezed upstairs at The Brisbane, and the Charles Hotel carrying the can. Comedy badly needed a place a wider demographic of Perth pleasure-seekers would want to come out for.
There’s no denying comedy’s popularity in Perth – the bulging comedy programme at Fringe World attests to that ­– but, somehow, it has struggled to find that vital ingredient - a home that’s an attraction in itself.
It’s early days, but it looks like that room has arrived.
The newly-opened Comedy Lounge has a lot going for it. It’s got genuine date night black-is-the-new-black style, some sexy lighting, cute little tables (which you can book) on raked levels, and a bar you don’t have to go downstairs to get to that you can mill around in, and even slip out to during the show (choose your comedian carefully). There’s a decent, albeit uneventful, snack menu at reasonable prices and a maître de who seems to get everyone sorted and seated more than satisfactorily.
Which is a long way of saying that this is a fairly cool place to be, located in an increasingly hot part of town among the jazzed-up laneways around Murray Street West.
Which brings on the comedy, and, on the six-pack stand-up night I went, it was well and truly up to scratch.
The great thing about stand-up comedy, of course, is how easy it is to get to you. A change of clothes and a single seat on a Tiger Air red-eye flight and a funny person can be delivered all the way to Perth without the usual logistical impediments to such an outcome.
The other great thing about stand-up nights is that, at ten or so minutes a stand, you can ease your way through the unmemorable, or even the truly awful (though none of this night’s bill, which included Damien Fleming’s little brother Justin, Shayne Hunter, Sean Conway and Marty Bright were anything like that) while you wait for inspiration.
You didn’t have to wait long. Greg Fleet anchored the show, and was as erudite, thorny, self-battering and hilarious as always. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of Fleet and his fellow senior laughmeister, Pete Rowsthorn, at the Lounge, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
On the bill proper, Perth export Rory Lowe’s is droll and dreadlocked with the sort of insights we fondly imagine only a stoner could have. He’s got that greatest of assets a comedian can have – we all know someone who’s just like him. Only he’s funny.
And then along came Townsville’s Danielle Walker. She’s that rare beast, the comedian you don’t know what to make of. For my humour, which runs most to the likes of Neil Hamburger and Paul Foot, Walker is the ant’s pants. She sniggers at her own jokes (so she should), she draws pictures of pigs with amputated legs. She’s just a little bit demented and, like I said, it’s hard to know what to make of her.
And I don’t know if any of us know anyone quite like her.

The Comedy Lounge gets underway in 2018 on January 11, and will have a strong presence during Fringe. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it becomes a place to be as the year cranks up.

The Comedy Lounge Perth City is upstairs at 403 Murray Street, Perth. Shows generally run from Thursday through Saturday, and tickets seem to range from $20 to $35.