Straight White Knight

By Colin Flaherty

The blurb for Straight White Knight promised so much. John the Knight was going to “slay privilege, rescue nonbinary royalty, and escape the chokehold of toxic masculinity.” What we got was a socially inept man-child beating his head against a wall with misguided attempts to woo a woman. There’s the possibility that Oliver Cowen was trying convey deeper meaning through symbolism but I certainly didn’t pick up on it.

Groundhog Day loomed large in this performance with our hero going through his daily routine, day after day after day, while trying different techniques to woo a lover while his dreams were haunted by a sinister bear that ridiculed him. Things rapidly broke down and the routines went to shit as John got frustrated. Increasingly gross stunts were performed to repulse and garner laughs at their inappropriateness, but the stakes didn’t increase and there was no character growth. Even though this knight finally found love, it was unclear how he achieved it and why.

Cowen’s silent clowning act was a bit of a shambolic performance that suited the character perfectly. His fumbling for props and stomping around like a needy toddler was amusing enough but the repetition of it did get a bit tiresome. The anticipation of what he would do next was enough to maintain our interest but you had to get through a lot of OCD routines to get there. This act became more like a duration performance art piece rather than a comedy show.

Audience participation was a large part of this show – some tasked with managing props while others played the object of his affection. A large portion of the humour came from the nervous titters and the discomfort as Sir John gazed into punters eyes. There were times where it was unclear how he wanted audience members to play along, but it seemed that our gut reactions were the correct ones and the result was always the same.

Lighting and sound / music cues were great in indicating the time of day and also showing us Sir John’s state of mind. These added immensely to this wordless performance and the title cards of salutations were a cute touch.

Cowen gets several hundred brownie points for creating a show that is accessible for a deaf audience and props for his sheer ambition. We know that festival blurbs are written months ahead of actual show creation but it’s a shame that he barely scratched the surface in his exploration of masculinity.

Straight White Knight is on at Bellville until September 23
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/straight-white-knight/

Things We Found In The Swamp

By Colin Flaherty

A show about “Draining the Swamp” may set up expectations for a tale of sweeping governmental change ala Trump but, despite a little bit of political posturing and low level bureaucracy, this play saves its swamp analogy for the toxicity of keeping dark, personal secrets. Writers Rose Bishop and Elyce Phillips have created a wonderfully kooky world inhabited by some strange individuals who may appear somewhat normal on the surface but have some sliminess underneath, just like their beloved swamp.

The characters were a bunch of oddballs that were all played as broadly as possible. Lukas Quinn as Fergus the Public Servant was brilliant as the straight man reacting to all the weirdness going on around him with flair. Taylor Griffiths portrayed the dim witted dentist Lucy with wonderful naivety. The historian played by Millie Holten was note perfect exaggerated outrage and pedantry, even throwing in some great slapstick. Prue Blake as the Mayor was kooky enough as a self-obsessed sexual predator but not as bold or physical as you would expect from such a role. Pedro Cooray’s Spiritual Healer was given the least to do and his performance was a little shakey but his few words gave off a nice aloofness for such a shady character.

Setting this play in one location was a great move as it avoided any clumsy scene changes and allowed the action to flow in real time, keeping the laughs rolling as the strangeness escalated. A technical hiccup threatened to derail things but the bizarre nature of it fitted with this universe and the improvisational skills of the cast added some additional chuckles. The plot itself wasn’t particularly fast moving with plenty of witty circular conversation stalling the action but spouting many hilarious lines to keep us laughing. Each dirty secret reveal mainly served as a device for adding more jokes rather than raising the stakes. Lovers of straight theatre may grumble over the lack of character growth and consequences but this was essentially some fluffy fun with a bunch of kooky characters.

Things We Found In The Swamp is on at The Courthouse Hotel until September 16
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/things-we-found-in-the-swamp/

The Yonder

By Colin Flaherty
Normal Children

Upon entry, we were welcomed on board the space ship Yonder by the crew. Bound for an unspecified planet to escape a dying Earth, we were in the “capable” hands of Captain Davie (Elizabeth Davie), First Officer Doruk (Ezel Doruk) and Engineer Lim (Shannan Lim). From the first cabin announcement, we knew that we were in for a crazy voyage – that being a space drama of romance, action, treachery and ravenous space squids.

Serious themes such as environmental catastrophe and immigration got glancing mentions in the voice over and plot but the main attraction was the absurd hijinks of the crew, their fight against a common foe and each other. At times it felt as if they were heading into deliberate parody of certain recognisable Sci-Fi scenes but this mash up of many tropes kept us on our toes. They even crammed in some clever jokes about the airline industry and gender roles.

A deliberately lo-fi production, there were plenty of ingenious solutions to portray this tale with as much detail as possible. Adding extra characters to this three hander involved dashing between positions and concealing costumes which added to the insanity. The cast bounced off each other seamlessly and gave knowing glances to the audience when props and gestures were particularly silly. The crowd were more than happy to suspend their disbelief and played their part as passengers when required.

This trio showed off their considerable clowning skills with budget action sequences that rivalled those of early Star Trek and Doctor Who. Tossing themselves about the stage and miming their way through scenes, this was played as broadly as possibly for maximum laughs. The pace wasn’t as swift as you would expect for such an action packed story. Strange distractions and mundane interactions between the crew were taking place while more pressing plot points were at hand. Fortunately these were hilarious by being totally off the wall or served to contrast the ridiculousness of the situations with the matter of fact crew responses.

The Yonder was a wonderfully silly space romp that was immense fun.

The Yonder is on at Lithuanian Club – The Loft until September 30

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-yonder/

Super Woman Money Program by Elizabeth Davie

By Lisa ClarkElizabeth Davie

At first glance in the Fringe Guide this show might look like another business seminar spoof but that is only a small part of a stunning, beautifully structured show about the inequalities of wealth between women and men from the general experience, gradually working its way deep down to the very personal.

It is always a joy to discover a new talented comic performer, but Elizabeth Davie is something else, she has definite star power. Smart, brilliant at both physical comedy and stand up, good character work and not a bad puppeteer. She has created a beautifully arrogant spokesperson for the Super Woman Money Program – which is a real actual thing. I received the email with lame saving tips from my Superannuation fund and when I got to the tip ‘Avoid Divorce’, I thought WTF is this crap?? So did Elizabeth obviously and turned it into a smashing Festival show. I found it not only hilarious fun but quite brave of Elizabeth to name her show after the thing she is lampooning.

Elizabeth’s Super Woman Money Program is beautifully formed from four major interwoven strands that have come from her real life experience. There is her spokeswoman representing the programs for women run by Superannuation companies, her personal stand up comedy about the insecure life of a struggling artist with a HUGE education debt (many in the audience could relate to this!), the adorable and simple puppetry that was the voice of her email inbox and finally a story. Another huge inspiration for this show was Jane Gilmore’s The Cost of Womanhood and Elizabeth makes a rather brave decision to stop the momentum of the hilarious show to read the entire story. There are no laughs here, the audience is silenced as it goes on the journey with Elizabeth.

Another brave decision is to open and close the show by singing (badly) along with Shirley Bassey. We finally discover a shortfall in Elizabeth’s broad talent. But somehow, here the lack of singing ability is not a big problem, it works because it is more like primal screaming; opening the show as an ironic cry of help from a poor player on the stage from a high status character (Hey Big Spender) and the closing song (This is My Life) as a howl of defiance and pride from herself on behalf of us all.

Sadly this fantastically joyful feminist comedy show had a very short run at Melbourne Fringe, particularly as so much work has obviously gone into it. This was everything a great Fringe show should be, a brilliant performer with bags of potential, a show that is wildly entertaining and hilariously funny using different forms of performance, with political nuance that lives with the audience long after the show has ended.

Super Woman Money Program was on at Lithuanian Club – Son of Loft

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/super-woman-money-program/

5 Good Reasons to see COSMONAUT by Ryan Good

1. The show is a countdown of the worst sex tips ever written by Cosmopolitan Magazine

2. You will learn sex moves involving grapes, your hair, pepper, lube, and ukuleles. They are all terrible.

3. You can see a bisexual, polyamorous American storytelling comedian. Mark that one off your bucket list.

4. There is a dream sequence that involves the death of Donald Trump. It’s very (if only temporarily) theraputic.

5. Silver spandex. Light up dildo. Enough said.

COSMONAUT by Ryan Good is on at The Arts House Sept 16 til Oct 1

https://melbournefringe.com.au/program?event/cosmonaut/c9aa70e3-8d65-43c4-8275-f1808627f246/session/606b512e-1032-4ec6-840c-f830ef3c2f5c/

The Astruds: Rent (is Due)

By Lisa Clarkastruds

The Astruds are a musical duo with a show full of great songs, beautiful singing and lots of laughs. Sarah Wall & Freya Long could easily have chosen to be a straight music duo but they have chosen the more interesting comedy song path and they have chosen well.

Opening with Sarah strumming her guitar wearing headphones sitting on the floor in a living room, there is a sense that the Astruds are letting us into their  twenty-something world of life after an arts degree, in a share house on the dole. For anyone who’s older and been there, there is a great deal of enjoyment to be had from the nostalgia, little has changed. Many performers pick a theme and try to shoehorn their non-theme material into it, but The Astruds stay on theme throughout, illustrating their world with songs like “Give me a Job”, “I’m wearing Grandma’s rags”, “The Centrelink Blues”, “When Will I be a Celebrity?” and “Where does the money go” and the lyrics are clever and funny.

The Astruds main inspiration clearly comes from Garfunkle & Oates and Flight of The Conchords in song style, gentle melodic harmonies and also a grunge aesthetic, but then this grungey style may have been specifically implemented to fit in with the show’s theme. The grand finale shows they can do sazzy showbiz and they sprinkle some minor cute costume additions throughout. These are taken on by Sarah and include grandma’s robe for “..Grandma’s Rags”, a Tutti Fruity hat for the charming Brazillian inspired “Fruit Song” and finally a decoupaged sparkly hat with a tribute to Queen B (which I couldn’t see clearly up the back) whom I assumed was Beyonce, but the song “Chocolate” was clearly based on the tune to “Toxic” by another “B” Britney Spears. It had the audience laughing a lot which is the main thing.

Sarah and Freya are very good comedy song writers who only need to put more work into their appealing on stage personas and in-between song banter to have a top comedy festival show on their hands. They need to fearlessly commit to the anger and frustration of sharehouse conflict and dealing with passive aggressive housemates, this helps give the show more dramatic interest and colour. The comedy writing in the songs is so good that comedy banter between the songs should be a piece of cake! My other advice would be for the duo to tell us their names at the top and let us get to know them (or at least the stage version of them) a bit more.

Australia has produced some of the best musical comedy in the world and I’ve been waiting for the new wave of musical comedy talent for a while. Earlier this year I was astonished by the musical comedy talent of Jude Perl and now I’m impressed by The Astruds. Sarah Wall & Freya Long are excellent musicians with gorgeous harmonising voices and funny songs to sing. Things are looking good for musical comedy.

The Astruds perform Rent (is Due) at The Butterfly Club til Sept 18

https://melbournefringe.com.au/program?event/the-astruds-rent-is-due/888ea559-b124-4198-9b07-0dc12ac2fcd7