By Sofia Monkiewicz 

Improvisation always impresses me when it is done well. The concept of creating a scene on the spot in front of an audience is a real talent, and to actually put together an entire play with a plot, characters and themes, well, I think that is just incredible. This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival had several improv shows in its program, but none quite like Shakesprovisation.

Created by Brianna Williams, Shakesprovisation is a completely improvised play conducted entirely in Elizabethan language. With different actors and comedians taking the stage each night to participate, the show is based on an audience suggestion for the title of the performance, and a flip of a coin determines whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. The results are hilarious, and you don’t have to know much about William Shakespeare and his plays (or even like them) to enjoy this high-energy fifty minutes of fun, chaotic theatre.

Audience interaction is important in order to get the show rolling when it comes to improvisation, and we are directly introduced to the five players of the evening at the beginning of the performance. On the particular night that I went along to Shakesprovisation, the improvisers were: Brianna Williams, Roland Lewis, Daniel Pavatich, Sarah Reuben and Ben Russell, and a coin toss decided that the play would be a comedy. Shakespearean comedies tend to have several recurring themes that appear sporadically throughout the Bard’s works, and this showcase was no different. The performers managed to not only base a play off of random words provided to them by the audience (‘The Most Excellente Comedie of the Squishy Recycling Bin’ was the challenging title of this night’s masterpiece), but also incorporated royalty, star-crossed lovers, a fool, hysterically vulgar innuendo, and 280 weddings. Not an easy task to say the least.

Each performer seemed to be well-equipped with an extensive vocabulary for a Shakespearean play; some of the words and phrases they spontaneously burst out with were unbelievably perfect for the scene they were conducting. Williams switches from character to character with ease, and it’s plain to see that she is not a stranger to the world of improv. Her quick wit and upbeat confidence enhanced every scene that she was a part of, and her professionalism was a pleasure to watch. Her scenes with Russell in particular were terrific, and each time they interacted resulted in utter hilarity. It is always great to see actors enjoying themselves while performing, and Russell consistently looked like he was having the time of his life on that stage. His depiction of ‘Lonely Paul’ was particularly hysterical.

Reuben and Lewis were equally talented in creating typical Shakespearean characters on the spot, respectively incorporating a sulky Duke and an eager-to-be-wed damsel into the performance. Pavatich seemed to be less confident than his fellow performers. Unlike the others, he did not attempt to use Elizabethan language, and instead opted for a crass Australian tone. This was a little disappointing to begin with, however his ‘lack of poetry’ was addressed in the performance, and the stark contrast between his vocabulary and the other improvisers’ became quite comedic.

Light-hearted and silly, Shakesprovisation is a great homage to the Bard himself, combining sharp humour and classic themes with tight spontaneous theatre. It is certainly a fun and entertaining night out, and is guaranteed to leave audience members with a newfound appreciation for both improvisation and Shakespeare.

Shakesprovisation was on at the Portland Hotel from September 30 until October 5

Anthony Jeannot is Unaccept-a-bubble

By Elyce Phillips 

Bubbles are magical things. We all have memories of playing with them as children, of how they can lift your spirits as they float in the wind. However, they are also fragile, impermanent, and destined to dissolve. In Unaccept-a-bubble Anthony Jeannot explores moments of helplessness and acceptance in his life via the metaphor of bubbles. The show is funny, sweet and uplifting, cleverly constructed around its theme.

Unaccept-a-bubble is a very personal show, but its subject matter will be familiar to many – health scares, relationship troubles, missions for self-improvement. Jeannot finds the humour in moments of crisis during his mid-20s, tying it all together with a beautiful and heartwarming message. The topics aren’t particularly ground-breaking, however, Jeannot offers a unique perspective with his personal honesty. There are moments where you don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, such as an excruciating tale of a girlfriend with some surprising personality flaws – and it’s with these kind of stories that Jeannot is at his best. His brutal honesty about ethical dilemmas was often hilarious.

Jeannot appears to be a little uncomfortable on stage, but his material is solid and kept the audience laughing. While he may not have the presence of a more seasoned performer, Jeannot has a knack for storytelling, and is endearing and relatable. It feels rather like you are catching up with a particularly funny friend who you haven’t seen in a couple of years. The mood worked well in the more intimate setting of a room at Tuxedo Cat.

Unaccept-a-bubble is a strong show from an up-and-coming comic. With material like this, Jeannot is only going to get better, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. You can catch the last Fringe performance of this show tonight.

Anthony Jeannot is Unaccept-a-bubble is on at Urchin at Tuxedo Cat until October 5

The Melbourne Fringe Festival Awards

By Lisa Clark

It’s the last Saturday night of Fringe so it must be Fringe Awards Night. We’re very pleased and excited to announce that the Winner of Best Comedy catagory is Watson for their comedy Horror show Who’s Afraid of The Dark which was set in Melbourne Gaol. Watson are mostly Tegan Higginbotham and Adam McKenzie, this time Liam Ryan also had a large role, then there was the large cast of ghastly ghouls…. Genuinely frightening and seriously funny. Well Done!!

Congratulations also go to the talented and hilarious Tessa Waters who’s show Womanz won Three awards! They were given by Brisbane Powerhouse, Adelaide Fringe and Perth World Fringe. Tessa developed this show while living overseas and it looks like more travel is on the cards.

More congratulations to all involved in Bucket’s List for winning the Tiki Tour Ready Award from Aukland. Esp to Sarah Collins,  Justin Kennedy and Rhys Auteri for their gorgeous, sweet and whimsical little show. Have fun in New Zealand!

Other related catagory congratulations go to  Bethany Simons and Peter de Jager who won Best Cabaret for their “original, hilarious and wonderfully honest” Reception the Musical.

We were also rapt to see the Courthouse Hotel win The Best Venue Award. We saw a lot of great comedy there over Fringe, and ate some yummy food.

Congratulations to all the winners and everyone who put their hearts and souls into giving us a fantastic 2014 Fringe Festival.

For More information about this year’s Award Winners checkout the Fringe Website

For current info check their twitter feed

Lee Naimo in Finding Lee

By Lisa Clark 

You might know Lee Naimo better as the guy with the guitar in the widely and wildly popular rock comedy act Axis of Awesome, he is also well known in impro circles as a National Theatre Sports Champion and was involved in the festival show Scrabble Unscripted. Here he is alone in what appears to be his first solo show, but his many years of experience are evident in a stunning and hilarious show.

It was a little slow to get going with Lee explaining that he was not long off the plane from the UK which is fairly obvious in his exhausted looking eyes and the first couple of skits not going so well, but pay attention because they pay off as the show goes along.

Lee has created some delightful sketches around interesting characters that have had great names bestowed upon them. The third sketch in and I was nearly on the floor in tears about Mr Vampire Man who runs a very silly theatre restaurant. We could not explain what tickled us but clearly it was Lee’s comedic skills.

Further highlights included a sexy bassoonist, a nasty foam puppet and The Pied Piper of Hamlyn. There is some gentle fun poking at Live Role Playing and a special guest appearance by The Sorting Hat. He has a good running gag no doubt inspired by his recent travels and proves that he knows a bit about creating magic.

Be prepared to join in with the fun as Lee incorporates an almost dangerous level of audience participation and relies upon our good will for many of his sketches to work. Luckily his years of impro pay off in his ease with audience interaction and it’s all a lot of fun.

Lee proves a widely skilled performer, this show obviously allows him to show off what he is capable of away from his role in The Axis of Awesome. The sketches feel pretty random yet ultimately you realise it is expertly and beautifully constructed with an ending that made the audience gasp.

Finding Lee is on at The Imperial Hotel until Oct 5

Laura Davis – Pillow of Strength

By Hannah Frazer

A refreshingly honest storytelling of love, loving and kick in the guts heartbreak. Laura Davis is unashamedly bold and unique in her show Pillow of Strength.

From the moment you enter the room you begin to gain a greater understanding of the personality that is Davis. Music playing, she dances around her stage without a care in the world as the audience take their seats. Her inhibitions are non-existent while she loses herself in the music.

Davis bravely tells her brutally personal tale of woe which are so present it is almost like she is reliving those moments in front of you. From the heart skipping nervous excitement of its beginning, to the soul destroying pain of its demise, Davis gives an energetic illustration of what she was thinking and feeling as her relationship was coming to what would seem to be its enviable end.

So deeply in love from the moment of their first meeting, Davis depicts the agony of trying to deny her initial feelings and how that was a painstakingly useless task. The trouble being that these strong emotions would only make the loss that much more painful to bare. This relationship would also set a precedent for any future relationships here on after.

So easily Davis can turn this raw, heartbreaking and private story into an hour of entrancing light entertainment. A rare talent, Davis takes this sensitive topic and makes it ok to laugh at it. With some moments being so uncomfortably familiar to most, you will be left cringing on the edge of your seat, while others leaving you doubled over gasping for air as you try not to laugh and snort your appreciation for her carefully crafted material too obnoxiously.

A quirky, edgy and defiantly original performer, Davis doesn’t hold back. She bares all, and is completely and rightfully unapologetic. Captivating and entertaining never looked so easy or so simple. Davis depicts the confidence that most woman and men strive to achieve.

Laura Davis is on at The Lithuanian Club until Oct 4


Clem Bastow – Escape From L.A.

By Elyce Phillips

When she was 13 years old, Clem Bastow decided she was going to move to Hollywood and become a screenwriter. Over a decade later, she put her plan into motion and set off for East LA with a work visa and a dream. Not everything went to plan. An existential crisis or two was had. Now back in Melbourne, Bastow may not have an Oscar, but she does have an hour of terrific comedy.

Escape From LA is bittersweet. The realities of making it in the entertainment business may be harsh, but Bastow has transformed them into something hilarious, from tales of working the junket circuit, to assisting friendly gangstas, to the constant anxiety-inducing threat of earthquakes. DJ Slig (complete with Oddworld-style gas mask) runs interference on the soundboard throughout. The zany sound effects clash wonderfully with the more sombre material in the show, even if they’re overzealous at times. Paired with the occasional light show, it’s trashy, over-the-top, and befitting of a show about Hollywood. Bastow and Slig have a belligerent chemistry that adds a layer of anarchy to the mood created.

In the later half of the show, Bastow’s tale of her search for an identity was very relatable. As someone who currently has some abandoned derby skates, a Final Fantasy costume and a Russian Punch Embroidery kit languishing in her cupboard, it almost got a bit too real. While her material deals with very personal, difficult moments in her recent past, her delivery is spot-on and you never feel uncomfortable about laughing.

Escape From LA is an honest and cleverly written piece from a talented performer, encapsulating the chaotic highs and lows of the Hollywood experience. Bastow has created a fantastic show here, and it’s well worth checking out before the Fringe ends.

Clem Bastow – Escape From LA is on at Bar Open until October 4