Elizabeth Davie – Apex Predator

By Colin Flaherty

In a world where danger lurks around every corner, Elizabeth Davie has her clown Lucretia Mackintosh to do the things that she can’t. This dark performance verged on a rather extreme form of Radical Feminism, playing out revenge fantasies as a form of catharsis with plenty of gallows humour.

The clown is a classic device used to say and do the forbidden and wow does Lucretia do that. She was an intriguing character – fairly disarming initially with a timid demeanour and a child-like desire to play, but once the red mist descended she was quite a demented being. Action hero styled quips after an altercation regularly raised the laughter level above nervous titters giving the audience some welcome relief following a gruesome mime.

The inclusion of an excerpt from King Lear was an interesting way of providing some background into Lucretia’s creation but digging deeper doesn’t really reveal any deeper meaning. Lear’s fool was a voice of reason while Davie’s clown was an outlet (an empowering but potentially dangerous one) so the reference seemed to just serve as an explanation as to how she became desensitized to violence.

The deliberate pacing and repetition (with only changes to the triggering comments) made watching this a bit of a slog but I could see the reasoning behind this structure. We saw variations of the same act play out over and over to reflect that violence against women happens with shocking regularity.

Aside from Lucretia telling a child to “not to play by all the rules”, I was disappointed that this show didn’t seem to do anything beyond being fed up with being under constant attack from unwanted male attention and the secret desire for revenge. It was focused on shouting at the world about the injustice and giving us a slightly perverse delight in seeing the traditional predators getting their comeuppance.

Apex Predator is a worthy addition to the Fringe and despite the seriousness of this topic delivered enough dark laughs to satisfy. It’s also worth seeing to help Davies donate to the organisation Wire Women’s Information (https://www.wire.org.au/).

Apex Predator is on at Trades Hall until September 29
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/apex-predator/

Kiwifruit – An Autobiography

By Colin Flaherty

Simon Hawkings has been kicking around the Melbourne scene as part of sketch troupes and performing with the Improv Conspiracy. In Kiwifruit he branched out on his own with a one man cavalcade of characters in a story that was funny and personal.

The show was framed in a wonderful manner – the elderly Hawkings addressing his large family with the subtle sound of a crackling fire setting the scene for this lounge room chat. He engaged with us (his descendants) in a delightful way and, even though we weren’t sure how he expected us to respond, it was a great device. When he was addressing no one in particular it made us feel part of the family, relieved that we weren’t the one being scolded.

As he recounted his life, Hawkings played all the parts of various people close to him using simple costuming to transform between them. It wasn’t a particularly extraordinary life but he found plenty of laughs in New Zealand suburbia. Characters including his manipulative mother, bullying brother and inner demons, all were played big and broad to sell them perfectly. There were a couple of scenes where the relevance to his life was a little tenuous but they were wonderfully exaggerated and fitted in well thematically.

The narrative was propelled along at quite a good clip – belting out some songs as exposition dumps and spouting plenty of amusing lines to tickle your fancy. He milked excessive repetition as a joke for all its worth but his cheeky demeanour gave him the narrowest of passes. There were some dark moments in the show in which he didn’t quite extract enough humour to cut through the seriousness. It was during these times that it felt like more like therapy on stage rather than comedy but hey, contrast is a good thing.

This was a great solo outing from Hawkings which highlighted his talent as a wonderful comedic actor. Bravo sir!

Kiwifruit – An Autobiography is on at Crowded in the Vaults until September 22
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/kiwifruit-an-autobiography/

Creatures Lost

By Lisa Clark

The performance group Picked Last for Sport are an impressively multi-talented bunch of artists and they have created a delightful Fringe show with original songs, handmade puppets, charming characters and silly choreography. The songs are intelligently written and catchy, the stories are compelling, the jokes funny, the singing in tune with beautiful harmonies and they are all very good puppeteers. The theme of species extinction is fairly serious one, but the talented team of performers have found ways to make the show very funny and accessible.

We are welcomed into the room by a turtle who is on stage as we arrive. The first thing to impress me about Creatures Lost is the puppetry. Not spectacular but simple and extremely well done in a Muppet kind of way. The Dancing Dodos were wonderfully silly, and then the woolly mammoth came out to move our hearts and make us giggle, I think she was my fave because it was such a fantastically realised puppet and made from a woolly jumper. No, no… it’s more ingenious than you are imagining and one of the most gorgeously sung songs on the night. The Orangutan was also a truly showstopper of a puppet. It’s song was a lament and the performance suitably sweet and sad. The group was smart enough to have most of the humour play out around the already long-extinct animals and the poignant numbers were given to animals that are alive but endangered.

Creatures Lost is a cabaret show so is mostly made up of a collection of musical numbers which are all different in style and vibe but all about the same topic and amazingly pretty much all really entertaining and catchy. There are dance numbers that are simply and often amusingly choreographed. It’s actually hard to pick a highlight because they were all highlights. The T Rex Rap is the first funny song with fantastic dinosaur masks. The Sabertooth Tiger brings some 1960s GoGo to the stage, the Thylacine is a 1940s film Noir style jazzy mystery man and there is also a singing cowboy.

Despite the puppets this was not actually a “kids show” as such, but it is one you can take your kids to and they will love it as much as you do. The themes of animal extinction and climate change are very relevant but the show is only gently political and not too didactic. Yes, some of it is preaching to the converted, a Fringe audience at the Butterfly Club are unsurprisingly onside but I loved it anyway. There was a beautiful balance of the funny and the serious along with some very interesting true stories. I could see Creatures Lost as it is now easily touring schools and community groups successfully. This is not a highly polished production but it is a very entertaining one. The beautifully made puppets show that with a bit more money this wildly talented team could really do amazing things.

Creatures Lost is on at The Butterfly Club until September 22
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/creatures-lost/

Sweet and Sour Dilemmas

By Hooi Khaw 

Sweet and Sour Dilemmas serves up the perfect balance of side-splitting comedy and heart-warming character work. Crafted from personal experiences and ideas, writer/performer Brendan Wan draws in the audience first through comedy, then through emotionally truthful storytelling that packs a punch.

As soon as the audience steps into the theatre, they are introduced to the main character, Chef Chung. Chef Chung is immediately likeable, utilising tongue in cheek humour to get the audience onside before delving deeper into the narrative.

Though the show touches on the idea of stereotyping and racial discrimination, Wan manages to maintain tonal levity, and avoids preaching. He creates a safe space to share these experiences without judgement. The beauty of this work is
how deftly Wan alternates between the honesty of these moments, and the light-hearted nature of his jokes, juggling both with ease and precision.

Though the narrative is filtered through the lens of a very specific character that has led a very specific life, the content is extremely relatable. Wan compels the audience with a one-way conversation that examines love, life, work, and family, with a particular focus on identity – our need to carve out our own, in conflict with our need to fit in.

Sweet and Sour Dilemmas masterfully explores the human condition through a migrant tale. Stripped of the specifics, the content is highly relatable to any human being. This show will have you in tears, trying to figure out if you are laughing or crying, and will give you additional insight into the complexity of multicultural identities. Wan does an exceptional job of emphasizing that there are a multitude of different versions that exist, and also highlights that all of our stories are the same at heart.

Sweet and Sour Dilemmas is on at the Trades Hall.

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/sweet-sour-dilemmas/

Chaddyslap!

By Colin Flaherty

A cast of characters trapped in the shopping mecca Chadstone was an intriguing concept for a sketch show. Largely inspired by Naomi Klein’s book “No Logo”, Chaddyslap! attempted to be an absurdist critique of our consumerist society but as a work of satire it fell well short.

One scene was prefaced with a warning that it was less a sketch and more a blunt analogy of the capitalist machine, but I found this was the case with the majority of the sketches presented here. They tried to poke fun at the retail trade but they often punched down on the downtrodden workers which I ultimately found depressing rather than hilarious. On the whole, this show maintained too much of the seriousness of Klein’s tome without finding enough amusing angles. Similarly their “parody” songs replaced the lyrics of popular tunes with dry facts about the evils of consumerism and lots of marketing buzzwords, but failed to include any jokes.

Attempts at being surreal resulted in some nicely strange situations, suitably kooky characters and clever anthropomorphized brands. These were enjoyable enough to raise some smiles but they were surface level observations and lacked punchlines. The cast did their valiant best in selling the script with plenty of mugging and exaggerated delivery, but it wasn’t enough.

The production values were very impressive with creative staging, clever props and elaborate costuming. The main attraction was a screen showing the characters filmed guerrilla-style at Chadstone, allowing them to transition from screen to stage at the start of scenes. This screen also displayed lyrics (and a ridiculously lengthy quote from Klein) but with the cast always milling about in front of it, reading the text was next to impossible. There was plenty of razzle dazzle with some song and dance numbers that, despite not all the cast having tuneful voices, were fun.

With most of Klein’s observations/accusations still a concern twenty years on, this can be seen as a worthy performance. It was enjoyable enough as a piece of semi-serious theatre but don’t expect to be doubled over with laughter.

Chaddyslap! is on at Trades Halls until September 29
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/chaddyslap/

Geraldine Hickey – Things Are Going Well

By Lisa Clark 

A lot of great comedy, and art, comes from anger, heartache and loss. So what does a comedian do when her life is suddenly coming up roses and massive engagement rings? Geraldine Hickey proves that she is a brilliant comedian and takes the audience on an exhilarating rollercoaster ride.

There is a very gentle build up to this show, a left turn at Albuquerque and a fabulous finale that sends the audience out in a high. Geraldine has had a lot of rough times in the past and there is a joy underlying this show because, generally, Things ARE going Well for her and she has a lot of stories to tell. Tales of Christmases with her new welcoming in-laws, being able to afford to visit the great theme parks in California, including Disneyland, performing at cool music festivals and visiting wildlife parks. Her levels of enjoyment of bird shows at wildlife parks is a highlight. The hilarious description of a lame bird show is where I lost it and am still giggling about it the next day.

Geraldine is a relaxed and friendly performer who brings with her quite a large fanbase, she’s built over the years, even before she started working on the Breakfasters on 3RRR. I’ve always found her to be a pretty sure bet in a festival and this show is stunning. She has smartly provided her show with a solid structure of viewing her life as half glass full, then half glass empty with a priceless finale that almost flies by too quickly and has the audience in fits. This is clearly a brilliantly written and beautifully polished performance.

I tried but couldn’t get into this sold out show during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival earlier this year. If you get a chance to see Geraldine Hickey performing Things Are Going Well (or any future show), don’t miss it.

Geraldine Hickey – Things Are Going Well has sadly finished it’s run

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/geraldine-hickey-things-are-going-well/