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/

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/

Laufey Haralds: Nordic Noir

By Ron Bingham

Laufey (pronounced something like hlofay from what I could tell) is from Iceland but lived in the UK for a couple of years before moving back this year. The show starts with Laufey displaying all the Scandinavian stereotypes, most of which she then punctures. Nordic Noir is partly a parody of the Scandi Crime genre (lost on me, I’m afraid) which consisted of short bursts of moody music and Laufey striking a pose and staring into the middle distance. She creates a thrilling crime story on stage that is all fun and inoffensive. The rest of the show was criticism of her fellow Scandinavian countrymen/women, with the occasional erotic poem for Greenland.

There were a few quiet moments but for much of the show it was entertaining and educational. I loved the stories about the cod wars, but refrained from mentioning the Goodies episode which is my total knowledge of this period of UK-Icelandic history. The show takes place in the attic of the Rose Theatre, which is four flights of stairs up, at a venue which is at the Haymarket end of Rose st, and a very long way from the other Gilded Balloon venues. I do wonder why she decided to come and perform a show in Edinburgh after leaving the UK, but I am glad she did. A must for fans of Scandi-crime porn or lovers of Scandinavia in general.

Nordic Noir is on at Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre until August 25
https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/laufey-haralds-nordic-noir

Snjolaug Ludviksdottir: Let It Snow

By Ron Bingham

Poor Snjolaug Ludviksdottir. Living in Iceland, speaking three languages, carving out a career in comedy, and yet she is single and still looking for love (and/or a baby) at thirty-five. Let It Snow starts with Snjolaug explaining where her name came from and what it means (something along the lines of snow water/slush I believe), moving on to living in Paris until she was twelve, then moving back to Iceland to be bullied at school for the next couple of years. She talks about being a very late developer, how excrutiatingly long it took to lose her virginity, and the troubles with dating in Iceland, before moving on to Danish sperm banks and father figures.

I’m starting to think Icelanders really don’t like the Danes (well, not in the two shows I saw). So much for Scandinavian solidarity. Snjolaug is a well spoken and engaging comedian, who has a lot of very funny material and good comic timing. It does get a bit saucy when she starts talking about her body (especially her idea for a waste disposal redesign) and there may have been some swearing, but there was nothing really offensive. It is well worth the trek down to the Old Tollbooth to catch Snjolaug’s performance.

Let It Snow is on at Gilded Balloon at Old Tolbooth Market until August 25

Chris Betts: Dumb but Fair

By Ron Bingham

Dumb but Fair was a show in the Blundabus, that happened to be starting as I was walking past. I’m glad I took the chance as Canadian Chris Betts had some very funny stories about his youth and the indiscretions of his friends (in a downmarket strip club). He also gave us some juicy (but totally unsubstantiated) celebrity gossip. I’m not too sure I appreciated his story about the kinky animals on the horse stud farm, but that’s all a matter of taste. It was a very risque and adult show for someone performing quite loudly on the top deck of a bus in the middle of a major Fringe pedestrian intersection at 5pm but I don’t think Chris cares about the social niceties.

The seating on the bus is not the most comfortable, especially when it was jammed full of people with a couple of extras on the stairwell. I recommend buying a ticket, as I was the last one in before the cut-off, and you don’t want to be forced to listen to the show from down in the street. Chris also has another show at the Fringe, in which he argues the contrary position for any statement, which sounds fascinating.

Dumb but Fair is on at Heroes @ Bob’s BlundaBus until August 25
https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/chris-betts-dumb-but-fair