World War Wonderful – Review from 10/4/2009

This was originally reviewed by The Groggy Squirrel at the 2009 Melbourne Comedy Festival, it is being re printed because it will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe 2012

By Dan Nicholls

The central conceit behind World War Wonderful is that the punters take on the role of an audience of soldiers that are watching an old-fashioned ‘USO’ show, starring the three ‘Wonderful Sisters’, a trio of singers that seem reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. Indeed, the entire all-singing, all-dancing show takes place in a strange parallel universe where World War IV is underway, America occupies Australia, and an inebriated Winston Churchill is their President. There’s something of the Fates about the three sisters, they are almost elemental in the way that they seem to have been performing in every war that has taken place over the past century. But what happens to them when peace breaks out?

This is the question the show attempts to answer, and it does so via a combination of boogie-woogie musical numbers, projected ‘information films’ and dialogue sequences that flesh out the plot. From top to bottom this is a very slick show. The songs were written by Karin Muiznieks, who was one of the writers on last year’s phenomenal Give My Regards to Broady, and every single one is as catchy as all get-out. The information films documenting the history of the Wonderfuls are wonderfully produced to look like grainy WWII-era footage. The three performers (Erin Newington and Louise McCrae, alongside author Karin) don’t just sing and dance, they are incredibly funny as well.

From the very first song there is a rich vein of satire running through these numbers that are perversely feel-good about how great war can be, and it only grows richer and darker as the show progresses. However it’s the final solo number that elevates things to another level – it is as devastating as it is brilliant, and gives a completely unexpected emotional punch to the show that left the audience gasping audibly.

This isn’t just a musical with toe-tappingly good songs (although it certainly is that), it’s a fiercely intelligent, laugh-out-loud funny hour that deserves to be playing to sell-out audiences at the Regent. This show is highly recommended – miss it at your peril.

For Edinburgh Fringe 2012 details visit http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/world-war-wonderful

The Faulty Towers Experience – Review from 7/8/2008

This review is from the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe, it was originally published by The Groggy Squirrel on 7/8/2008. It is being performed again (as it has been most years) in 2012. The restaurant in 2012 is B’est Restaurant

By Ron Bingham

This was one of the most madcap and fun packed dining experiences I can recall. I laughed so hard my jaw is aching. The combination of a very nice three course lunch and very close-up floor show is one that I find hard to fault. Sure, the limitations of performing around the tables in a restaurant mean that at some points in the show, all the action may be happening at the other end of the room, but that does not diminish the fun. Of course the alternative is having them right in front of you, removing your cutlery or giving you someone else’s dishes. Having Basil stare at you for keeping your elbows on the table is a very scary experience, let me tell you.

The show starts before we enter the restaurant and the seating is part of our introduction to the afternoon (or night if you are in for dinner). Chaos and mayhem follow as everything disastrous you could imagine taking place will somehow occur, and a few things you certainly wouldn’t imagine will also jump out at you. To tell too much would be to give away some of the magic. Suffice to say, this was one of the most entertaining lunches I can recall and for fans of Fawlty Towers, it is a must see experience. I did see a couple of youngsters who looked bemused and can only assume their comedy education has been lacking.

The cast handled the whole affair with a timing and flair that can only come with extended planning, rehearsal and a lot of performances. These people are at the top of their game and this is one of the must-see shows at Edinburgh. The food is tasty as well.

Booking info for 2012 Edinburgh fringe can be found here http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/faulty-towers-the-dining-experience

 

Barry Morgan’s World of Organs – A Review from 26/9/2010

This is a review from Barry’s performance at The Melbourne Fringe Festival originally published by The Groggy Squirrel on 26/9/2010. We are re publishing it because Barry is taking his gorgeous organ to Edinburgh.

By Colin Flaherty

Barry Morgan (aka Stephen Teakle) came to national attention through his appearance on Spicks and Specks earlier this year and now Adelaide’s ultimate organ salesman has come to the Melbourne Fringe to demonstrate the features of his 1981 Hammond Aurora Classic. Decked out in a Safari Suit and plenty of bling, he treated us to many original and familiar tunes in this brilliantly cheesy show.

When Barry stated at the outset that this was a sales pitch I’m sure many in the audience got very nervous, however their fears were unnecessary. This character was an old school salesman who was a far cry from any high pressure shysters in modern sales. He had a gentle manner that put everyone at ease with audience interaction and participation that was very playful and harmless.

The show was littered with lots of innuendo that were variations on the same idea but Barry was such a delightful personality that the crowd tittered and giggled every time. He didn’t employ an overly camp persona, instead it was suitably understated with a veneer of innocence. In addition to the double entedres there were other sources of humour in this performance. Every gesture was exaggerated so even the smallest hand movement got a laugh. He was a whirlwind of flashing teeth and silly dance moves.

There were also laughs to be found in the music itself. This was not exactly musical comedy per se as his selection of songs were not parodies or genre altered hits which are the usual tools of trade. He instead relied on the humour of recognition as well as his animated performance. His organ was a comedic device in itself with the varied (and not so varied) sounds it created. His amazing talent at this highly complicated keyboard was a sight to behold and Barry’s extreme enthusiasm was so infectious that the audience were happy to bop and sing along throughout.

This is a wonderful show that is suitable for the entire family. This performance was far from cutting edge but it was a nicely nostalgic and fun show that had plenty of heart. Youngsters and the prudes could happily let the veiled vulgarity sail over their heads and still get plenty of laughs from the silliness. Be quick to book as this show has been so popular that an extra show has been added to cope with the demand.

Visit the Website for booking details. http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/barry-morgan-s-world-of-organs

Jon Bennett’s Pretending Things are a Cock – Review from 2/4/2010

This show was originally reviewed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival on 2/4/2010 on the Groggy Squirrel website, we are republishing it here because Jon is taking this show to Edinburgh Fringe 2012. We don’t know if the show will be exactly as this one was 2 years ago, but this review should give you an idea.

Review

By Colin Flaherty.

This could possibly be the most ambitious project of the festival. For the better part of the last couple of years, Jon Bennett has travelled the world, posing for photographs that utilised all manner of phallic objects. This has resulted in a website, a facebook page where fans submit their own ‘cocks’, an exhibition, a coffee table book (available for sale from Jon) and this art/standup hybrid. It has become a worldwide phenomenon!

The first ten or fifteen minutes was time for the punters to enter the gallery and peruse the art at their leisure. The works were exactly as you would expect; Jon with all manner of objects projecting from his groinal region and an intense expression on his face. Each photo was accompanied by a title describing the object being used, my personal favorite being ‘Paper, Scissors, Cock’. It was all rather puerile and silly but a cellist playing in the background gave the event a tongue in cheek classy tone. After being handed an instructional pamphlet we were encouraged to make use of the various objects provided to create our own ‘cocks’.

Jon conducted a gallery tour of sorts by pointing out various photos and giving us some background to their creation, reciting some hilarious travel tales. Despite not being prepared enough to point out where exactly they were located in the room, this presentation was delightful and enthralling.

Moving into the theatre area of the venue, the performance became a type of storytelling show with Jon seated in a small armchair on the stage. He used individual photos from the collection as a launching point for various tales. He didn’t go into technical details about the photos but more their importance to his life and experiences. In this instance, he told us a fair bit about his family and upbringing; pondering how he became obsessed with penises. There were also tales involving a couple of people he met and befriended on his travels. These tended to veer into drug stories but were very well told so as to appeal to all. Jon promised he would have different tales each time so multiple visits may be worthwhile.

On the surface this show appeared to be merely reliant on the most base of concepts, but Jon had successfully used this silly obsession as a basis for some much deeper comedy. His brilliant tales of relationships and male sexuality revealed plenty of warmth and insight into Jon as a person. This was a unique event that is worth checking out.

For booking details at Edinburgh Fringe http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/pretending-things-are-a-c-ck

Sexytime Fundraiser and Review from 22/2/2011

By Lisa Clark

The Following is a Review from last year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival originally published on Chortle.au. Sexytime was one of my favourite shows of the 2011 Fringe. It’s being re published because Tessa & Kai are taking this show to the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is a huge undertaking for artists and on Wednesday 13th of June at 8pm they will be performing the show at The Order of Melbourne as a fundraiser for the trip. If you missed the show at Fringe or at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival,  I can highly recommend you go see it and help them on their way

Details can be found Here

Sexytime – Review from 22/2/2011

Tessa Waters and Kai Smythe are very brave. Not only because they are performing a comedy show with barely any words, but because they begin it with barely anything on.

Where else to begin an exploration of sex, but with Genesis? In little more than flesh coloured underwear and leaves, they give us an amusing take on Adam & Eve. The leaves drop and reveal naughty bits drawn on with Texta. It’s a sort of extreme version of the nude suits that Judith Lucy, Denise Scott and Linda Gibson used to wear, and it can be a bit confronting in the front row.

Tessa and Kai obviously have a very close relationship off stage, for they often get quite intimate. Between sketches their on-stage interaction reminds me of Die Roten Punkte, with Tessa’s Germanic accent sealing this impression. Kai does not speak at all but still manages to create a fabulous sleazy yet somehow endearing persona. Their flirting with the audience has a consequence that surprises everyone when a girl’s dad kisses Kai on the cheek. He reacts perfectly by going all coy, yet strangely delighted.

The show itself is a neat 50 minutes of silent skits set to music, all about sex. They tend to involve a lot of mime and interpretive dance, so if these aren’t your thing, you might want to find some stand-up. Still if you stayed you might be pleasantly surprised, as was I. Tessa and Kai are simply  hilarious at what they do. I particularly enjoyed the armed combat with cardboard ‘penis and boob’ shield vs cardboard ‘cross with Bible’ shield, played out to the overdramatic strains of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana. Appropriate music, with lyrics that are a celebration of sex, gambling and drinking written by some very naughty monks.

Their final and longest sketch presented all the awkward horrors and delights of a first date that lasts ’til morning. Stripped back down to their undies, the sweet ending mirrors the opening sketch but with an appropriately happier, healthier outcome. Not all the sketches are as brilliant, but their kooky characters are able to pull it all off – so to speak – and keep the audience in fits.

Tessa Waters and Kai Smythe are performing Sexytime at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012 at Underbelly Cowgate Check out the website for details

The Variety Collective

By Colin Flaherty

For almost a year The Variety Collective have been providing Melbourne with a weekly dose of good old fashioned variety. In the cosy and decorative surrounds of the theatrette in The Brunswick Green, punters are treated to short sets by comedians, jugglers, magicians, balance acts and many more weird and wonderful performers. I spoke to magician, comedian and professional swindler, Nicholas Johnson about this exciting and fun show.

Whose idea was it to come up with The Collective?

The Variety Collective was started by five of us and we were sitting around talking about how hard it was to find places for variety performers to put their stuff on. [It is] myself, Sarah Jones, Tom Davis, Elena Kirschbaum and Michael Connell. We’re all from different types of variety entertainment and wanted a place where we could put on our stuff without being tacked onto the end of a stand up comedy night or put into a circus show.

Have the themes been a part of the shows from the beginning or have they just happened naturally?

It’s because each of the five of us produces a night and we were trying to top each other. We started off without themes and then someone proposed a really ridiculous theme. Then next week the next person tried to top it with a more ridiculous theme. We had an Australia Day theme and an Easter theme that we had in February for some reason. We had a “Matt Special” where all the performers were called Matt just because I thought that it would be funny. It also means that the regulars get rewarded with something a bit special. Like with our Geek Night for people like Noel the Doctor Who fan who comes every week. It’s nice to have something for the regulars.

Have the performers readily embraced the themes?

They just leap at it, it’s amazing. I think it’s because the audiences are so giving and supportive. Basically it’s anything goes and as long as it is professional and entertaining you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to fit some sort of strict criteria so as soon as we give them a theme to work with, they’re prepared to take risks and chances and try out crazy ideas. If they crash, the audience is there to catch them and are forgiving. It’s that kind of crowd.

How do you see yourself in the scheme of things? It is just a place to give these performers stage time or is there a bigger plan?

We chose a venue that was a modest venue which was fairly easy to fill each week. The whole idea was just to make it about the show. Each week we are going to put on a show and then work out ‘What’s something else we can do that’s going to keep people coming back through the door?’ I used to run the Catchpenny Club that got bigger and bigger and then we turned it into a TV show for Channel 31 and it got really stressful. This is fun, easy to do and enjoyable. It’s kind of like a playground for performers to come and have fun.

How do you tackle curating your nights? Do you have people approaching you?

We have a lot of people who contact us and want to perform but we stress that it’s not an open mic night. If they say that they’ve got an act that’s a bit different we will grab them and use them. We’re really supportive of those who are trying something new or might be a new talent. We have a lot of people from NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) who might not have a lot of stage time but have incredible skills and do the most amazing things but haven’t necessarily performed in front of an audience before. We are happy to support them in that way but it’s not the sort of place to drunkenly tell dick jokes (unless you’re really good at it!).

We had a guy last week that I found on YouTube. He’s a unicyclist who does Extreme Unicycling which is basically skateboard tricks on a unicycle. He’d never performed on stage in his life, so we put on some Blink 182 while he jumped all over packing crates and it was incredible.

You have a lot of circus acts. Is the small stage a restriction?

It totally is, it’s hilariously limiting. When we first started there wasn’t a light hanging over the stage. We didn’t notice it until a ladder act climbed to the top of their ladder and hit their head on the light. If we had a bigger stage we would have a bigger audience which would add to the stress. We can fit jugglers, we’ve had acrobats who’d throw each other around, the unicyclist, stilt walkers and fire acts. Last week we had a stuntman who rode a minibike up onto the stage and did wheelies. It’s limiting but at the same time is a four metre squared box where anything can happen. They may start with their back against the wall and finish with their nose against the wall but they do incredible things between those two moments.

How did you end up here at The Brunswick Green?

We started at a venue that was a really great cafe but there was no stage and we performed next to the front door. We’d have someone balancing an umbrella on their nose about to eat fire and some people would wander in hoping to get some crepes, walking through the middle of the “stage”. So we moved here where we have a nice stage and curtains set up with a nice high ceiling for juggling. Matthew Keneally, who runs Political Asylum here every month, put us on to the venue.

It’s a nice set up here in that the bar is separate to the performance space.

Yeah. We had to make it just theatrical enough so that you could still enjoy a drink with the show but not have people wandering in and out all night. This breaks the performer’s heart: even if someone goes to the bathroom, they think “They don’t love me!”

I also noticed that you didn’t have an interval tonight. That’s unusual.

Sometimes we have an interval and perhaps tonight we could have done with one. Last week we did a “Ten In One” show which is a old vaudeville idea where you see ten acts in twenty minutes. We had ten different acts with only a three minute break to quickly move things around. We don’t want the audience to get bored with an act that goes on too long, we want a quick five minute spot then onto the next performer. If you give the audience an interval it breaks that flow.

The performers heckle each other and some get distracted so sometimes the show goes on a little longer than it was supposed to. The whole idea is to make it feel like an old show that Graham Kennedy had where things were a little bit falling apart at times. A lot of nights are a little too slick and shiny whereas we try to make it so that the audience are involved and they can suggest things.

The Variety Collective have their first birthday coming up at the end of the month. In addition to very special guest acts, Sarah Jones will be providing face painting, Michael Connell will conduct a game of Pass The Parcel while Nicholas will be doing some magic to entertain the punters. And of course there will be cake!

The Variety Collective happens every Wednesday at The Brunswick Green (313 Sydney Road, Brunswick) The show starts at 8pm and entry is $10.

Information can be found at http://www.thevarietycollective.com/

Many thanks to Nicholas for his time.