Wolf Creek the Musical

By Colin Flaherty

Wow! Where to begin in describing the wonderful lunacy that is Wolf Creek the Musical. It was a gleeful hour of murderous mayhem with tunes destined to be earworms, not so subliminal advertising and a mid play coup.

I can’t attest to the accuracy with the source material but they freely admitted that they played fast and loose with the movie plot. Straight-faced overacting (with the odd nudge and a wink) gave things a suitable cartoon flavour; a nice contrast to the darkness lurking beneath but there were still some moments where things almost became too dark (the excessive repetition of “rape shed” only just got over the line as an overly-long gag). Comical signposting and explaining of every single plot point, awkward stage directions, frequent obliteration of the fourth wall and bizarre plot devices gave the performance a hyper-real atmosphere. The laughs came hard and fast with little time to catch your breath.
From the moment you entered the theatre with James McCann using synthesised grunts to play some well known tunes, you know that you were in for a musical treat. All the musical numbers were hilariously demented with some very creative shoehorning of lyrics. You’re sure to leave the show craving seafood! The vocal deliveries were a delightful mixed bag ranging from speak-singing to school concert singing to full on diva extravagance.

All the cast did a brilliant job. Demi Lardner, Chris Knight and Hayman Kent played the hapless victims with extreme naivety, horror movie hysteria and some inspired gender bending. Kel Balnaves inhabited the psychopath role with hilarious creepiness while many guest stars take on the tiny but pivitol role of Clem (Ryan Coffey’s beard on beard disguise was a wonderful touch). Angus Hodge possibly had the most exhausting task of playing all the peripheral roles, even portraying inanimate objects.

The costuming and props were suitably silly and obviously had a lot of work put into them, even when they were only utilised for a fleeting moment. The script regularly commented on how these props couldn’t possibly be adequate analogues for real world items to garner huge laughs.

A beautiful piece of manufactured outsider theatre, Wolf Creek the Musical has been creating quite a buzz around the festival. Believe the hype and go see this awesome show!

Wolf Creek the Musical is on at the Lithuanian Club until October 5
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/wolf-creek-the-musical/

Jude the Obscure

By Colin Flaherty

Despite the title, Jude the Obscure was not a theatrical staging of Thomas Hardy’s tragic novel. Using comedian Judith Lucy as a character in a story about space exploration was a strange premise that certainly piqued the interest of Lucy’s fans. They might expect a story with our hero Judith getting into some comical scrapes while saving the day with some dry, witty comments. The reality however was quite different.

This show was essentially the study of a woman unhappy with her life, wishing to become at one with the universe. It wasn’t exactly clear whether the journey was being described to us after the fact or that departure was imminent. There was speculation into what could be done in zero gravity and a very long scene describing black holes, all tied in with snippets from Lucy’s comedic work and recent “…Spiritual Journey” television series. One interesting section saw the verbatim accounts of trained astronauts describing the emotional view of Earth as seen from space. A perplexing dance routine to “Under the Milky Way” added some colour and movement and, just like Lucy, she was not embarrassed to look like a fool (in this case a bucket on her head as a helmet).

Alice Williams did a good job in mimicking Judith. She certainly looked the part, had a lot of the vocal inflections nailed and her gestures were close. There was something a little unworldly about her, the caked-on face paint and aggressive application of lipstick seemed to suggest that she was going for a sad clown character. Dry Lucy-esque quips tried to inject some laughs amongst the philosophical musings, some worked but generally the timing and delivery were off.

Lucy is known for savage self-deprecation in her comedy and this is what Williams has focused on, but the concepts behind Judith’s routines weren’t really used as a comic device. The topics that Lucy has often mined for comedy (her years of excessive drinking, eccentric adoptive parents and love-life full of pitfalls) were often only mentioned in passing by Alice to relate them to the space storyline. In doing so she paints Lucy as a pitiful character who’s full of self-loathing but has come to accept her lot in life. It’s a one note portrayal, laid on rather thickly, which many fans would object to and claim that this representation of Lucy is no longer relevant (Lucy’s most recent work leaves most of this “woe is me” schtick behind).

There were some interesting ideas to ponder in this forty minutes (not the advertised sixty) but one wonders if the same show using a wholly fictional character would get as many bums on seats. Fans of Judith Lucy will be disappointed by the treatment of her and not learn anything of value about the main character. Those who hate Lucy wouldn’t care to spend this amount of time in her company to learn about the cosmos. People who sit on the fence won’t get many laughs but will hear some nice facts about space and theories about human existence. Such is the beast that is Fringe theatre, the creators are bang up for subverting an audience’s expectations.

Jude the Obscure is on at the Tuxedo Cat until September 28
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/jude-the-obscure/#

Worm Hole

By Colin Flaherty

Marek Platek is here to regale us with tales of travelling back and forth through time and reveal what we can expect in the future. After the world’s most awkward costume change, we meet a time travel ticket inspector who is seeking our assistance in capturing a time fugitive. This is all happening because of a Worm Hole.

Decked out in blue Lycra and aluminum foil, Platek told us of his adventures. There are jokes about meeting himself and getting the chronology wrong. Rather lame facts about future customs and conventions were told with exaggerated gravitas including some social satire that was a bit too blunt to be amusing. There was a brilliant bit of historical political humour in his routine about which country replaces the USA as dominant nation. It was a real mixed bag in terms of humour, all delivered in an almost stream of consciousness manner while he ridiculously slinked about in his wacky outfit.

Although this performance contains enough humorous ideas to catch your interest, you get the feeling that this was two similar ten minute concepts that had been stretched to forty five minutes. It’s essentially a guy from the future bragging about being a time traveller and not much more. There were long sections where the audience were smiling rather than laughing, which he tried to remedy with more slinking about the stage.

A self-penned book (with an impressive cover knock up) was his main prop. He playfully spruiked it to us and read a poem from it (a verbatim reciting of a familiar song with little additional humour added). There were a couple of prop weapons that were briefly referred to in minimal detail and never seen again. It was a wasted opportunity.

There was little in the way of plot development and the main character didn’t actually go on a spiritual or physical journey during our time spent with him. He just did his boasting and posturing before disappearing.

The lone costume change took place behind a sheet held by audience volunteers. He didn’t engage with these punters very much as they were merely glorified tent poles. As he awkwardly changed, he attempted to maintain some banter with the audience which comprised of asking for suggestions of time travel themed movies. Not much was done with these titles beyond saying “yep, that’s a good one.”

Appearing in a different coloured Lycra jumpsuit (breaking his own time travel logic!) and a ridiculous headpiece, the Inspector addressed us in a similar manner to Platek. His inclusion in the show was for a single routine about two similar Hollywood actors. Once done with that bit he wandered out of the venue with the audience not exactly sure if that was the end of the show.

Platek should be applauded for embracing the spirit of the Fringe and going off the beaten path, but in this case it didn’t quite make for a complete show.

Worm Hole is on at Club Voltaire until September 29
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/worm-hole/

A Very Zac & Gotchy

By Colin Flaherty

Billed as a two hander sketch show, A Very Zac and Gotchy (starring Zac Cooper and Matt Gotch) was an exuberant hour by two young actors. This basic set up was quickly abandoned with a nudge and a wink to include Caitlin McInnis in all the female roles.

The humour was a little hit and miss at times but that is generally the case with all sketch shows. I found that it started off with scenes that were silly for silliness sake and relied a little too heavily on mugging to get the laughs. As the show went on, some interesting ideas began to emerge and the consistency of the laughs increased. Personal highlights included a reluctant verbatim performance of a comedy routine that hadn’t aged particularly well and the Hollywood artistic licence taken with a Stephen Hawking biopic.

All the performers played everything extremely broadly which was in keeping with the artificial sitcom styled setting. This initially put me off-side (as it seemed to be at the expense of amusing content) but it did suit the majority of the sketches where surrealism and absurdist lines were the order of the day. Some touches of ironic misogyny, outrageous lines and costuming, and fun with literal misunderstandings tickled our funny bones.

With the main focus usually being on the relationship between “Zac” and “Matt” (or a myriad of other character pairings), they often took on the traditional roles of comedic duo with Gotchy being outwitted by the controlling and manipulative Zac to provide plenty of amusing conflict and twisted wordplay. Matt did manage to add a little subtlety in the unhinged nature of some of his characters but generally they were played with wild abandon and extreme silliness.

They had very apt choices of music between scenes which tied in with the theme explored in the preceding sketches. This made for some grins and titters as the audience heard how they cleverly tied things together. Sometimes the audio happened to be the exact source material used in the sketch to fill the gaps for those unfamiliar with the references. This was useful but perhaps it was used a touch too late to effectively garner laughs from everyone in the room.

Staging this performance in a white cube art gallery helped with the heightened sense of reality. The bright stage lights lit the whole room and gave the performers a slight unworldly look. Artwork hanging in the walls didn’t quite fit with the scenes and made this strange world of strange people all the more weirder.

A fascinating take on the traditional sketch show.

A Very Zac & Gotchy is on at Brunswick St Gallery until September 28.
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/a-very-zac-gotchy/

We’ll Always Have Paris

By Colin Flaherty

Comedy walking tours have been popping up as alternatives to theatre based shows over the past couple of years. One such tour is Jacqueline Mifsud’s We’ll Always Have Paris. This event requires the participants to suspend their disbelief as Mifsud uses Melbourne landmarks in place of Parisian ones while presenting a very accurate yet amusing commentary about the history of Paris.

First to put a preconceived notion to rest: you won’t have to navigate a thick comical French accent, she is not playing a snooty French woman. It was interesting to learn that she spent four years living in Paris and conducted tours for English speaking tourists, demonstrating that she knows her stuff. Including all the humorous lines into this fact heavy script and remembering it all was an impressive feat. She was able to make light of some of the more horrific data about French history with a witty disarming quip.

Numerous pop culture references are thrown into the narrative at every opportunity to add some giggles of recognition. The source materials vary wildly and span many years so it’s unlikely that you will recognise them all, but many will make you smile even when shoehorned into the topic at hand. Also making up the humorous content were plenty of innuendo and self-deprecation which added to her crazy tour guide persona. She generally kept up the fascade of us being in Paris by explaining away many of the Melbourne things staring us in the face which was a nice touch.

Jacqueline had a rather scatty ADHD demeanour to her performance. The constant verbalisation of her inner dialogue and frequent asides gave the show a very loose feel amongst her well executed spiels but also disrupted the flow at times. She was also easily distracted by events around us which gave her opportunities to make amusing off the cuff remarks but more often than not she lost her place in the script.

I was part of the Sunday morning tour (a rather leisurely stroll between the landmarks) and had heard that due to increased foot traffic the evening tours are a little bit chaotic, just like a European city crowded with multiple tour groups and hundreds of lone tourists. If you want to have a more authentic experience the 6pm tour fits the bill. Also note that the route includes a number of staircases so those with mobility issues may experience problems in keeping up with the group.

A wonderful Edu-taining event that appeals to history buffs and comedy fans alike, Jacqueline has created a fun way to kick of your day / evening at Fringe.

We’ll Always Have Paris departs from outside the Melbourne Arts Centre each weekend until October 6.
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/we-ll-always-have-paris/

3 Little Gigs

By Colin Flaherty

What is becoming a fixture of Imperial Comedy programs, 3 Little Gigs showcases the talents of up and coming performers in the safety of a group show. The Melbourne Fringe line up comprises of Arielle Conversi, Cameron Tyeson and Rose Callaghan.

Hailing from the States, Arielle hit the stage with boisterous enthusiasm. When she launched into material about the differences between her birthplace and Australia, a feeling of dread swept over me as this kind of gear is generally hack material by someone just off the plane. This lifted a little as it did actually fit with the way the show was advertised (worldwide comedy from Florida, Tasmania and Port Melbourne!) and she had a few unique observations that were amusing. The remainder of her set comprised of funny stories of working at a strip club where the humour came from her workmates lack of intellect and class. It was quite an enjoyable set.

Tasmanian born Cam was next and also opened with an outsiders view of Melbourne that was little generic but had a few interesting ideas amongst it. His set really hit its straps in the second half with a routine about his tips for dating success complete with hand drawn visual aids. Some of the cards were a little wordy and contained the exact text he was reciting to us but there were plenty of cute cartoons to entertain. His wordplay was sometimes a little forced but some nice surreal concepts kept us laughing.

Local girl Rose rounded out the night and had a strange, varied tone to her delivery. Beginning with embarassment when referring to an un-named feminine hygiene product, she later described various amusing sexual misadventures using plenty of detail and innuendo. She had a lot of interesting ideas beneath it all but often failed to capitalise on them, many of her jokes drifted off into the ether without pay-off. It was as if she was relying too much on the audience to connect the dots to understand the angle from which she was approaching a punchline rather than actually giving us one.

All three performers displayed confidence on stage to effectively sell their material but their inexperience tended to show through. When lines fell flat they highlighted them with some comments to their fellow performers which came dangerously close to blaming the audience for not laughing. It was nice to see their camaraderie and these interactions gave the show a fun, informal feel, but to some it may not be professional enough for a paying audience. The cold hard fact is: if a line fails repeatedly, it probably needs re-evaluation rather than stubbornly persisting with it.

Overall it was a fun show. They were all still rough around the edges and it’s worth keeping an eye open for their future endeavours. Those willing to take the risk on these relative unknowns will have a good time if they take their greenness into account.

3 Little Gigs is on at The Imperial Hotel until September 27

http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/3-little-gigs/