Showko: Occasions

By Peter Newling  

Fringe info refers to the Music Room at the Fringe Hub (Melbourne Trades Hall) as ‘our most isolated venue’. And I think this is a reasonable description. Not located within the beautiful old Trades Hall complex, if you head outside and up a desolate stair case, you’ll eventually find it at the end of a couple of poster-bedecked hallways.

It was delightful, then, having found the venue, to come inside and be greeted by a techie rocking out to a Japanese version of “Holding Out For A Hero”. Showko is a high energy act, and it appears that her energy has rubbed off onto her crew.

There is no doubt that Showko (Showko Showfukutei) is very good at what she does. I certainly have no claim to being an expert in ventriloquism, but she certainly ticked all the boxes that this audience member expects of a ventriloquist – a great range of voices, movement-free lips, and a great relationship with her audience and ‘co-stars’. And hey, you don’t get to be a finalist on Australia’s Got Talent (2016) unless you’re good at your craft.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to ventriloquise in one’s second language. Or to sing in a range of voices. But this very experienced performer handled these challenges with great humour and enthusiasm. Whilst admiring the technique, I found some of the content a bit clunky. Some of the gags felt a bit dated or predictable. It’s definitely old school stuff. Billed as kooky and off-beat, I found it a far more gentle kind of humour – nothing biting or vicious or crude. But she does show that a fondness for a fart gag is universal.

Some of the sketches went on a bit too long, and some of the audience involvement was a bit awkward, but Showko’s natural charm and warmth lets her get away with it. Her energy is infectious. She has the enthusiasm of a kids’ party performer. And the finale requires abs of steel.

Always an admirer of brave wardrobe choices, I noticed that Showko has chosen a much more spiky outfit than one would expect of one working with inflatable co-stars.

If you have a liking for old-school comedy styles, gags and routines, head across to the Music Room and meet Showko and her friends. Who knows – you may become one of her co-stars.

Showko – Occasions is playing  Sept 24 – 29 at the Fringe Hub: Trades Hall – Music Room 

Tickets through https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/showko-occasions/

Gillian English – You’re A Good Man Doctor Pirate

By Peter Newling 

Gillian English is a self-described Canadian immigrant living in Tasmania. Her offering for this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival traces her journey from small-town Nova Scotia to the suburbs of Hobart, and the role a clairvoyant-to-the-stars played in the journey.

In a dynamite 55 minutes, English explores the role of fate in our lives – however you choose to hear about it – through clairvoyance, astrology, religion, fairy tales and folklore, or through the predictions of friends and family. She explores the notions of destiny and self-fulfilling prophecy, and how we choose to respond to (or reject) what the universe has in store for us.

Most importantly, this is laugh out loud stuff.

English is first and foremost an amazingly accomplished story teller. She has a breathtaking, rapid fire style that is in equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. If you want to see a display of the mastery of the half beat pause for comic effect, here it is.

It’s a very ‘look at me’ style of comedy (is that the Sagittarius or the Gemini side winning?). It’s brash, confident, high energy and relentless. And the silver sparkly outfit immediately lets you know where your focus needs to be.

The narrative of her verbal tour of her journey to Tasmania, and her search for what’s been promised to her, has been finely crafted and honed. She is able to create amazingly clear mental images of the people who are on the journey with her – including her mum, her friends, her housemates and her partner.

What does the title of the show mean? Well, you’ll just have to go along and find out. It’s a show that deserves a bigger audience than Tuesday night at the Fringe was able to attract!

Gillian English – You’re A Good Man Doctor Pirate is playing Sept 24 – 27 at Coopers Inn t 8:40pm.

Tickets through https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/youre-a-good-man-doctor-pirate/

Game Boys Cinematic Universe

By Lisa Clark

The Game Boys are brothers Eden and Joshua Porter and this is their fifth original show together. It is not surprising that they’ve garnered a swag of award nominations, including one for The Golden Gibbo earlier this year for Cinematic Universe at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. They run their festival show like a well-oiled machine. It’s hilariously funny and highly polished with some improvised audience participation for added danger and surprises.

Eden and Josh welcome us to their fictional Studio Back Lot Tour as Damo and Mark, identically dressed with Theme Park logo polo shirts. The logos that appear throughout are part of the details that are really impressive. They drop the characters  early on, but I’m glad they don’t let them go. Alternating between characters and themselves throughout. Other characters they play include Angela Bishop & Richard Wilkins doing their own version of Entertainment Tonight on the Red carpet.

Cinematic Universe not only shows a love of films and joy of theme parks but also laughs at the ridiculousness of the film industry with clever use of video montages. We learn how many Air Bud/Buddies movies there are (a LOT) and which movie copycats earned the most at the box office (ie. we have to guess between ANTZ & A Bug’s Life). They are also very enthusiastic about, and pay tribute to another theme park satire Jurassic Park. So there is a bit of a Theme Park satire within a Theme Park satire going on which is deliciously meta. There is also a tribute to the lamest of Theme Park shows – such as the Police Academy Stunt Show at Movie World on the Gold Coast. The Game Boys spin on this is very silly.

There is a lot of audience participation in the show, from the undemanding – the audience pretending they are on a Back Lot Tour – to dragging someone on stage. I’m not a fan of extreme audience participation, but having a lot of Fringey performer types in the audience helps this go pretty smoothly. Getting an audience member doing foley sound effects for them goes on way too long though it does showcase their excellent mime skills. The thing that really wows the audience is the technical design which is just remarkable and the tech guy does a stunning job at carrying it all off.

The Game Boys are very much about popular culture, with a nerdy edge and they bounce around enthusiastically with almost too much energy for a rather late night show. Some parts of this production are so sharp and slick that it feels more like choreography than comedy, reminiscent of Aunty Donna or even the Umbilical Brothers. Their content has a wide appeal and they are extremely good at what they do. The packed audience loves them and I can see them performing to very large audiences in the future. See this brilliant, hilarious show while they are in a smaller venue and you can say I saw them when….

Game Boys Cinematic Universe is on at Trades Hall until September 29
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/game-boys-cinematic-universe/

The Briefing by Melissa McGlensey

By Lisa Clark 

Most American comedy TV shows are (unsurprisingly) doing satire about the Trump regime, some good, some painful. It is a surprise to find something that feels somewhat fresh, smart with a local angle to it, covering this territory in a more sophisticated way at Melbourne Fringe. Melissa McGlensey plays President Trump’s former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pretty straight. Not quite as bored and terse as the real thing but much more entertaining.

Melissa doesn’t just ape the Press Secretary and repeat variations of her actual words, she has made up some extreme versions of what might be happening in the White House, added Australian angles and thrown in a bit of impro and audience participation to boot. We the audience are playing the part of the “Ladies and Gentlemen of the press” and with my reviewer’s notepad and pen in hand, it wasn’t too hard to play my part. The impro doesn’t feel shoehorned in. It adds to the show and shows off Melissa’s skills. Though, in hindsight it can be a little hard to tell what is real and what is pre-planned and that is part of the magic of showbiz.

The Briefing isn’t simply about making fun of Sarah or Trump, it also pokes fun at dark parts of Australia’s own politics, garnering some gasps and shocked laughs from the audience. Most impressively the show refers to recent political events, for example the burning of the rainforests and even something that had happened the day before. It’s the sort of show that can change and adapt as the news of the world happens. Not every joke is going to land on opening night, but not only do the majority land, there are a lot of big fat guffaws to be enjoyed.

Props must go to Melissa’s director, the tech who made everything go pretty smoothly for a first show and particularly to her side kick an actor who plays her body guard Gumbo quietly and brilliantly. There were a lot of fantastic small details and surprises. It was all a lot of fun.

This is a brilliant example of political comedy. Much better than anything produced by SNL for example. It was particularly impressive considering it was a preview and the 1st time she’s performed it anywhere. There was a bit of a slip of the tongue in this show that proved to be priceless and had everyone falling about. I hope she keeps it in. Melissa also made a quip referring to the noisy hoons of Lygon St that were drowning her out at one part of the show, showing that she’s pretty tough and ready for whatever Fringe throws at her. I hope it throws great audiences and accolades, she deserves it.

Melissa McGlensey performs The Briefing at Universal Restaurant til Sept 24

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-briefing/

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/