Maggot

By Colin Flaherty

Maggot is a sketch show by the New Zealand trio known as The Scungebags (Angela Fouhy, Freya Finch and Elle Wootton) that pushes absurdity into the red. They create a world of bizarre characters such as rat loving cowboys, quarreling cats, desert travelers of indeterminate ethnicity and cheeky elves that delights and confuses.

The central conceit was “Internationally famous pop-sensations” The Baby Girls (Wootton the perky one, Finch’s surly one and Fouhy as the slightly feral sex pot) wanting to branch out into serious art… or at least it seemed to. The absence of links between most scenes made it unclear if these actors were playing characters who are were in turn playing characters or this was just a random collection of sketches. The scenes came dangerously close to outstaying their welcome at times with extended repetition and usually didn’t lead anywhere substantial with most of the laughs coming from the strange journey these “worthy artistic statements” took, rather than leading up to a punchline. What would be detrimental to another show actually enhanced this performance by creating unpredictability and mayhem.

They often employed the help of some audience members and made it reasonably harmless so punters were more than willing to contribute to the fun. Even if they met reluctance, this trio had clever workarounds to keep things on track. The audience reactions allowed them to show off some improv skills with a clever quip or two, often with a feminist bent.

The ladies were easily able to garner a laugh with a merest glance or gesture. Their character work was brilliant with an effortless portrayal of each weirdo in the menagerie. Boundaries between performers were non existent as inappropriate groping and bumping and grinding titillated the giggling punters. The scripted dialogue was suitably strange and delivered with wild abandon to match the physical silliness.

Maggot has been collecting awards in New Zealand and they are sure to add some more. This anarchic show was a wonderful showcase of clowning by an extremely talented group.

Maggot is on at Arts House – Parlour Room until September 21
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/maggot/

Annie Louey: Before I Forget

By Lisa Clark

Annie Louey is annoyed at her forgetful nature, not worried enough to seek medical help but intrigued enough to create a festival show exploring memory and forgetfulness.

There’s not a lot of scientific research behind Before I Forget. Louey’s research tends to be of the Family Feud kind – asking friends and audiences about their experiences and that means; yes, us. About 10 minutes into the show Annie drags some audience members on stage and gets them to draw things from memory. I thought, gosh this is a bit early, we haven’t even really gotten to know Annie very well enough to know whether she’s trustworthy! It’s a bit of a risk on both sides, but it turns out that the vast majority of the show revolves around some genial audience participation and luckily Annie is friendly and kind to participants. She is not highly skilled at the witty banter, and doesn’t have a lot of prepared jokes, so it’s just friendly chit chat. I always think in audience participation heavy festival shows: ‘what will the performer do on the quiet night when there are only 4 people in the audience? They will have a lot of work to do!’ Hopefully Annie won’t have to find this out.

The games include; an Australian icon Pictionary (that includes drawing Annie, which doesn’t require memory because she’s right there on stage), Lost at Bingo (that strays from the memory loss theme somewhat and doesn’t seem to have a reason other than listing silly places you can lose your virginity) and, inevitably, a sort of mini Family Feud that goes on a bit too long. In between she has some amusing stories to tell about herself and people she knows. Annie is an engaging, relaxed and pleasant host with a talent for putting audience members at ease.

Towards the end Annie brings out some delightful photos from her dad’s early life and here I think should have been the heart of the show. If she works more around these and puts more into her show about the worth and beauty of memories and how we keep and store our memories and how this has changed recently, it may become a stronger show. She touches on these ideas, but I think there is a lot more humour and depth to be mined here.

It is a small space, so chances are you will be part of the show. If that’s not your bag, sit in an inaccessible spot up the back and near the wall. Before I Forget is not slick, deep or side splitting, but it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour with some nice laughs along the way.

Before I Forget is on at Lithuanian Club – Son of Loft & Arts House – Warehouse until September 29
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/annie-louey-before-i-forget/

Stark and Dormy by Bunk Puppets

By Hooi Khaw 

Stark and Dormy is a cleverly produced performance piece that is a testament to the creativity and innovation of the Bunk Puppets team. It is impressive to see the result of all the creative problem solving that must have gone into bringing this story to the stage, and to the screen. The logistics of this required the integration of shadow puppetry on two separate screens, and live action story telling from actors in the theatre.

Although, for this particular show there seemed to be a disconnect between the performers (Jeff Achtem & James Pratt) and the audience in the initial stages of the show. There were jokes that were objectively well constructed, which fell flat with the audience. This may have been caused by the disruptive nature of switching between the mediums, or the introduction of the piece, which left the audience to infer the who, what, and where from context clues that were dropped over the next few scenes.

However, once the set up was clear and the story had built up momentum, the audience was won over with some creative action scenes and comedic character work. The comedy in this show also came from the absurd storyline, and the props and techniques that were used to create the projections on the screen.

As a comedic piece, they had to work for the laughs, and got them when they portrayed characters and situations in a way that rang true with the audience, or when they devised particularly clever ways to tell the story. As a technical piece, this was a masterful display of creative shadow puppetry, and credit should be given to the creators and performers for pulling this off.

Stark and Dormy is on at The Fringe Hub: Arts House – Studio 1.

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/stark-and-dormy/

Where’s Jerome?

By Colin Flaherty

I was rather concerned in the opening moments of Where’s Jerome? With its Millennial Screech delivery and many turns of phrase attached to that generation, it was clear that this show was clearly aimed at a younger audience than I. Add in all the worst traits of drama student theatrics and I thought that I was in for quite an ordeal.

There was a point in the show where it dawned on me that something else was going on under the hood. This duo pranced around with exaggerated theatrical gestures and amusingly stilted delivery to portray inept characters that we could laugh at. They weren’t just relying on mugging to get laughs as there were actually plenty of clever ideas in this script. Amongst all the things thrown at the wall, I happened upon some that tickled my funny bone and I was soon chuckling heartily. Some personal favourite scenes were during their lampooning of various websites in the online search for their friend.

Using the theme of the missing Jerome as a linking device, this was really a random collection of scenarios that mainly poked fun at celebrity culture. Extremely pregnant pauses, rhythmic repetition and general goofiness were some of the tools in their kit. They employed lots of lo-fi props, cringe-worthy songs, half arsed mimicry and shonky puppetry to escalate the absurdity to a nose bleed level.

Alice Albon and Sam Coats are so young and perky that it was exhausting watching the pair bounce around the performance area. This duo expertly crafted a world of extreme stage artifice in which these clowns could thrive. They certainly weren’t afraid to make themselves look foolish for a laugh as Coats shoved surprising items in his mouth and both faces became smeared and messy.

A very Fringe performance, this show is a great showcase for this pair of talented comedic actors.

Where’s Jerome? is on at Errol’s & Co until September 18
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/wheres-jerome/

Wool! A History of Australia’s Wool Industry: The Musical

By Lisa Clark

Squirrel writer Peter Newling got a peek at some of the songs from this that were performed by Kit Richards in the Lemon Showcase and he was pretty excited about them. He had a right to be, Wool! A History of Australia’s Wool Industry: The Musical is fricken Awesome.

I found Australian history as boring as bat shit back at high school, maybe because of the way it was taught, but Kit’s enthusiasm, grand songs and gentle humour really bring the world of 18th and 19th century Australia to life. This show focuses on the lives of John and Elizabeth MacArthur. Yes; he of the old $5 note and she of The Chair on Sydney Harbour. The couple who introduced the Merino sheep to Australia and began the wool industry. Kit uses hats and scarves and great comedy acting to denote characters pretty effortlessly.

Now history is messy and complicated, luckily Kit is not too fussed with the nitty gritty of it all, she’s more interested in telling a cracking tale well. This show reminded me of Drunk History, where history buffs might get annoyed at the lack of detailed research but the storytellers are passionate about their subject and don’t let the details get in the way of a good story. Meanwhile the audience has a ball laughing their arses off and learns something along the way.

The songs are lush and romantic and often quite funny with “Merino Sheep” being a standout. The songs fit together well as a score, but could possibly do with some different rhythms and tempos. She also admits that they don’t all flatter her singing voice, as she’s a bit weak in the high register, some voice tutoring should be able to sort that out. This is also a show that could possibly be performed by a group of performers, but for now it’s quite the tour de Force for writer/composer Kit Richards.

Kit is quick to point out that there are four people putting on the production: her on-stage pianist, who occasionally plays a part and sings, Kyria Webster, the very able tech person and director Lucy Rees, who’s done a great job at moving Kit around the stage so everyone gets to see her. Kit is enjoyable to watch, with great facial expressions and an endearing personality. Kit’s between song banter is also very winning, she claims to improvise it differently every night. I enjoy that she gives us some background to her songs, with some jokes and asides. Her passion for history is palpable, but she manages to convey it in a pretty relaxed manner.

This is a very dorky, sweet, comedy musical show about early Australian history that would be great to bring your teens to. Everyone will have fun and may discover a new interest in the history of Australia’s wool industry.

Wool! A History of Australia’s Wool Industry: The Musical is on at The Lithuanian Club (Son Of Loft) until September 22
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/wool-a-history-of-australias-wool-industry-the-musical/

Montreal – Love, Loss & Heartbreak

By Will Erskine 

A show about professional wrestling, that’s surely enough to divide the audience there right? If you’re a fan of WWE you will enjoy it, if you aren’t you won’t – simple?

That is not at all the case with Paul Richard’s show. Yes Montreal is about wrestling, but I have seen comedians talk about marriages breaking down without ever having been married and without enjoying watching relationships fail. Explore this show with an open mind and non-wrestling fans are in for a great time.

Witnessing a knowledgeable person talk about a topic they are passionate about is a rare treat, and Montreal delivers this in spades. Paul has clearly done his homework, although I’m not sure he actually needed to do that much research as he seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of wrestling and wrestling history already. He tells a beautiful interpretation of the most famous wrestling story of all-time, with enough background information to bring non-wrestling fans along for the ride. He discusses the history of wrestling, its cultural impact and makes a wonderful case for why pro-wrestling is the best thing ever.

Paul’s presentation is slick and as with his superb previous show Echo Chamber at MICF 2017, he makes excellent use of technology to present key visuals and audio to accompany his stand-up. He is as accomplished as a story teller as he is a comedian, and has a rare ability to convey detailed information while keeping the atmosphere light and the laughs flowing. If you are a fan of comedy where you may actually learn something or gain understanding, this is a good one for you.

For full disclosure, I am a wrestling fan, and I would’ve quite happily watched the 2 hour directors cut of this show which Paul assures the audience is what he started with before brutal editing to bring it into 45 minutes. However my fiancée joined me to watch this, she is not a wrestling fan and she also loved it. Which as Paul pointed out to me, means that both kinds of people will love the show.

If you have even a passing interest in wrestling then it’s basically mandatory that you see this show. If you’re not a fan, but enjoy experiencing different perspectives and are interested in exploring the cultural fringe, Paul’s energy and enthusiasm will make you love this show too.

Montreal plays at Pilgrim Bar until September 19th

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/montreal/