Squirrel writers’ 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Round up

So that was the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival. Once again the weather was changeable, with reports that it was the wettest summer in Scotland for 80 years. We arrived in the rain, but the frequent showers were never enough to dampen our enthusiasm. There were four Squirrels in Edinburgh this year and all of us have written below about shows we’ve loved, or not loved, or not had the chance to write about previously.

Hannah GadsbyThe Big news to come out of this special anniversary festival is that Australia’s own multi award winning (The Barry, The Helpmann, Adelaide Best Comedy) comedy champion Hannah Gadsby has won the Best Comedy Show Award at Edinburgh. It was a joint win with John Robins and my impression is that their shows are a sort of yin and yang, with John’s show The Darkness of Robins being an anguished cry of help from the depths of a breakup with his more famous girlfriend Sara Pascoe (who was doing her own take on the breakup in an equally well reviewed but not nominated Fringe show Lads, Lads, Lads) and Hannah’s being a powerful, rallying rant of revelation against the apocalypse, Nanette. Previous Australian winners of Best Comedy at Edinburgh Fringe are Los Trios Ringbarkus, Lano & Woodley, Brendon Burns and Sam Simmons.

Other nominees for the 2017 Edinburgh Best Comedy Award were Ahir Shah, Elf Lyons, Jordan Brookes, Mae Martin, Mat Ewins, Sophie Wilan and Spencer Jones.

Best Newcomer Winner at Edinburgh Fringe was Natalie Palamides for Laid. The Nominees for Best Newcomer were; Chris Washington, Darren Harriott, Ed Night, Kwame Asante, Lauren Pattison, Lucy Pearman and Rob Kemp.

Rob Kemp did win Comedians’ Choice Award for Best Performer and Mat Ewins Presents Adventureman 7: The Return of Adventureman won best Comedians’ Choice Award Best Show.

Hannah will bring Nanette for its premiere season at the Sydney Opera House from  September 27 – October 8, before a string of encore performances at the Arts Centre Melbourne from Nov 18 culminating in Hamer Hall on Dec 1. I shouldn’t have to urge you to see it, if you’ve missed out on it so far.

Squirrel writers’ Edinburgh Fringe Round up

Colin Flaherty

My highlights at Fringe happen to be ones that I have reviewed, in particular Big Howard Little Howard

Big Howard, Little Howard (Howard Read) – Man and Boy

Andrew O’Neill’s Black Magick Fun Hour

Simon Munnery – Renegade Plumber

I also enjoyed Stuart Goldsmith – Like I Mean It, a hilarious hour that follows on from his previous show Compared to What where he continues to explore life with his new wife and son. He presents plenty of brilliant observations and plays around with the bird with clipped wings husband angle perfectly.

One off event WiFi Wars was a hoot, even though many of the games refused to play correctly on my underpowered tablet (I was only expecting to word process and web surf on it after all!). This late night, tech heavy show had punters competing individually as well as in teams. We laughed, we cheered and we got our geek on!

I had high hopes for Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza, an ambitious show featuring complicated puppetry, a crazy blurb and some wacky characters but I found it overlong and not enough laughs to hold my attention. Apart from the wonderful voicing of the characters, the expressionless puppets failed to connect with me.

Lisa Clark

I loved all the shows I reviewed with Jayde Adams (Is Jayded) being the exciting new discovery of the Fringe for me. The following are shows I loved but did not get a Squirrel write up.

Craig Ferguson ShowCraig Ferguson – The Craig Ferguson Show. All the Squirrels saw Craig’s recording of his live radio show and we all enjoyed it. Starting at 11.30pm to go live for drive time in the USA as well as Canada and Mexico, it went for 2 hours and consisted of two very entertaining in-depth chats with performers who were old friends of Craig. In our case an old close friend impressionist/comedian Jan Ravens and Scottish writer Iain Rankin.

Chris Coltrane – Make Love & Smash Fascism – a rather lovely, warm and approachable political comedian who taught me about the evils of Neo Liberalism which is extreme capitalism & pro privatisation of everything which basically seems to be the road to anarchy.

Dave Johns – I, Fillum Star. Dave Johns has been a jobbing comedian all his life and just as he was planning his retirement (he was going to give kids donkey rides at the seaside), he got a part in a film. On the 1st day director Ken Loach said, oh by the way the film is named after your character because you are the lead. I, Daniel Blake won a swag of awards taking Dave to Cannes and the BAFTAs and giving him a cracking tale to tell, and being a great comedian means Dave knows how to tell it for maximum laughs. This was a joy to experience with the message that it’s never too late.

Yianni Agisilaou – Pockets of Equality. As the title suggests, it’s about sexual politics and pockets. More importantly it was a very personal heartwarming show about love and family and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen Yianni do.

Disappointing shows were; Boris & Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza, a puppet show where three puppeteers per puppet failed to give the faceless repulsive puppets any personality, or make an interesting show. Then there was The Great Comedy Cooking Challenge which in no way described the show at all. The two guys had not planned their Festival show at all leaving the audience more bemused than amused and the main one telling the story of how he fell in love with cooking kept saying “I think that might’ve gotten a better laugh”. Nup.

Back to other highlights for me which were the inimitable and indefatigable Doug Anthony Allstars – Near Death Experience, Wifi Wars live online gaming which was a completely different kind of Festival show and finally, Simon Munnery doing a gorgeously crafted show about fixing things, bookended by two great songs. I was lucky to see Simon when Renegade Plumber had been bedded in and found it to be the tightest show I’ve seen of his in years, it was a beautiful blend of the personal and political, with the title perfectly describing the show.

Phoebe O’Brien

Fringe Shows that were highlights not formally reviewed

2 Become 1

The Swipe Right Theatre Company have created a fun and fabulous night that will capture your heart with its upbeat mix of 90’s music. It will also hit you right in the funny bone with A grade performances from a heavenly cast.

The cast of four stunning vocalists sing the hits; from Destiny’s Child to Des’ree to the Spice Girls and so many more! The 90’s bangers are intertwined within a story of friendship and heartbreak, as one of character’s, Jess breaks up with her boyfriend. After the news, her best gal pals do the only thing that would obviously ‘help’ Jess from a breakdown due to the breakup…speed dating.
At its core ‘2 Become 1’ is heartfelt and funny. You can even have a little boogie and sing-a-long of your own while you’re there. Now tell me, what more could you want? Could you really, really want?

David Quirk – Cowboy MouthDavid Quirk Cowboy mouth

After missing David Quirk during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, there was no better option than to catch his show ‘Cowboy Mouth’ at the Fringe. Quirk is the king when it comes to long form narrative story-telling, his tales from his childhood and the awkward meeting with his neighbour were tops.

Amongst the anecdotes, the show was knitted together with audio clips of the recollections of dreams people have had about him.
ps. Quirk performed on a bus and had an excellent jacket. Very cool.

Britney – John
A hidden treasure amongst the thousands of incredible Fringe shows was the sketch duo behind John. Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson are two 20 something year old mates from the UK, who make up ‘Britney’.

In their show ‘John’, the pair reminisce about the time they were just out of high school, exploring America and working on a documentary about president of Congress; John Hancock. For the documentary, they filmed interviews around America with other men with the same name. Their trip abroad became the centre for the show, with critique of the footage and their interviewing technique strong points of the show. Their ability to create stand-alone vignettes and natural storytelling was a highlight, revealing the effort both Clive and Robertson put into their follow up to their previous show ‘Britney’…which is also now the name of their duo, not confusing at all. I strongly believe we will be hearing big things from these two talented performers.

Alice Marshall – Blood
In her show solo show Blood, Alice Marshall captivates her audience with wonderfully executed character sketch comedy. Marshall has great comedic timing, while delivering a punchy hour of pure joy. I can’t wait to see more of her work further down the track.

Ron Bingham

My Squirrel fest started with a couple of excellent Aussie acts which turned out to be highlights Laura Davis (Cake in the Rain) and the Doug Anthony All Stars (Near Death Experience).

The three other shows that made me laugh out loud the most were:

Lucy Pearman – Maid of Cabbage Look What Youu Made Me Do

Demi Lardner – Look What You Made Me Do

Mark Steel – Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright.

Lucy and Demi for their props and general air of controlled chaos, and Mark for his political insights and honesty about his recent marital troubles. I also enjoyed Muriel -(Bad Master) for their use of multimedia and fun sketches and The Canon -(A Literary Sketch Show) for their literary humour

I saw some fabulous new talent (two were deservedly nominated for best newcomer – Lauren Pattison and Lucy Pearman) and caught up with some excellent established acts. Saw some early shows and some late ones, drank a little too much of the free alcohol early on, nearly got blown off the top of Arthurs Seat after seeing a show up there called This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Richie, and missed a lot of acts (ones I regret most not managing to fit into my schedule include Sarah Kendall, Ingrid Oliver and Hannah Gadsby). Importantly I only saw two shows which didn’t achieve the high standard I expect. Met a lot of lovely people, as always, and have already pre-booked for next year.

Sarah Kendall – Shaken

By Lisa Clark
Sarah Kendall

Before starting she gets the housekeeping out of the way with a bit of good advice to the room, it’s going to get hot and you might want to peel off some layers. I find layering is very important at comedy festivals as a lot of the rooms are hot and stuffy. Turning phones off is a good idea too. No that’s just mandatory. Especially in a densely written show like this which requires concentration.

Shaken is part of a trilogy about Sarah Kendall’s teen years in Newcastle, two hours north of Sydney and about the magic of storytelling, the truth and lying. Its called The Australia Trilogy and the other two are called A Day in October and Touchdown. Each one is a fairly neat story of its own and some of the characters reappear.

Once the story proper gets underway there are no diversions from her very tight script and the audience is completely captivated. There are some laughs throughout, mostly from her hilarious impression of her quirky mother with whom she was very close in a fairly friendless teen-hood. It is unsurprising to learn that Sarah as a lonely child learned to “tell stories” to make people interested in her. This is one of those ‘stories’ that gets completely out of hand and more laughs are to be had from Sarah digging herself deeper and deeper into trouble.

I don’t like spoilers, so I didn’t read the blurb for this show, but it would certainly have changed the experience for me. The blurb mentions that the Newcastle earthquake is a backdrop for the story, though in fact the earthquake appears only right at the end as quite a shocking surprise, as earthquakes do. The blurb also mentioned overpriced sausages and there were none of these in the show, so maybe something was missing. It did feel a bit like there was something not quite right with the performance which felt too scripted and a little remote from the audience in the room, then at the end you had no way of knowing what was true and what was not.

As the elderly woman in front of me said as we left “It wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute, but it was interesting”. Sarah Kendall is a great storyteller with a great story to tell and if you are in the mood to listen to a riveting (possibly) biographical story being told to you at the comedy festival then this show is for you.

Sarah Kendall: Shaken is on at The Melbourne Town Hall until April 23


Sarah Kendall – A Day in October

By Sofia Monkiewicz sarah kendall

A story can change how real-life events actually transpired. Reality can be edited, enhanced, or even transformed completely to create a recount that may or may not be entirely accurate. That is the beauty of storytelling – that true events can be artistically altered for personal preference or entertainment value – and Sarah Kendall is an excellent storyteller.

A Day in October is a story about Kendall’s childhood, and a traumatic moment at a pool on a school camp that has remained with her since 1990. On this particular October day, something very unexpected happened to a boy at her high school, and she tells a touching tale about the events that came before and after this significant memory.

We hear about the school she went to, the students who went there, and the constant fear that she experienced day after day as she did her very best to be invisible. She tells us about the town she grew up in and her weekend job, and it becomes clear very quickly that this is not really a comical show; it’s a poignant story about a period of time in Kendall’s childhood, which includes some light-hearted, funny moments in between some fairly dark material.

A story like this one needs to be detailed to be effective, and Kendall has a natural ability to be incredibly descriptive but still maintain a clear and succinct structure. The show flows well, and while there is the occasional throwaway comment that doesn’t seem to fit in with what is being said at that time, this information tends to be of importance further along in the show. Everything interconnects nicely, and makes for a compelling sixty minutes.

Kendall speaks like she is having a casual conversation with friends; she is engaging and likeable, with a ton of energy that she throws into large physical gestures to further inject life into her story. The few moments she briefly moves off-script and interacts with audience members also indicates that her stand-up abilities are great, and it would have been nice to see a little more of that banter in this heavily scripted show. The descriptions about her unpleasant duties at the part-time job she despised are hilariously relatable, and her memories of trying to ‘micro-manage’ a bullied boy at school by suggesting he change who he is as a person is both funny and grim. Not every joke worked, in particular some movie references that few people grasped, and an off-the-cuff remark about looking like an ISIS bride, but Kendall moved on seamlessly, and was not visibly affected by the audience’s undecided reaction.

A harmonic sound effect that she uses to coincide with the couple of times she mentions a creepy store mascot is a little unnecessary, and a bit at the beginning about the plot holes in the movie Aliens does go on for a tad too long, but these are minor critiques which don’t really detract from the story at hand.

Unpredictable and clever, A Day in October is a moving recount with a seamless balance of dark moments and light humour. It is not a show to see if you are looking for fast side-splitting laughs, but the depth and detail to Kendall’s sad story is certainly something special.

Sarah Kendall’s A Day in October is on at Melbourne Town Hall until April 19.


Sarah Kendall : Touchdown

By Caitlin Crowley

Sarah Kendall kicks off Touchdown with a massive call all the way back to her previous show when she wrapped up with a story of being caught calling her teacher the King of Cxxts. She only reprises the joke because after her last show her mum called her on its authenticity, “That’s not what really happened is it dear?” So Kendall is here to set the record straight and as a result takes us on a warts-and-all coming-of-age story about her teenage years in Newcastle.

Touchdown is as well-crafted and satisfying as a 90s teen movie. It’s the tale of the awkward underdog, the prettiest girl in school, a daggy librarian and yearning for love with the perfect boy. The journey is hilarious, moving and unexpected. There are bucket loads of evocative 90s references from Policy Academy to Jaws 4, bad hairstyles and Neil Diamond concert t-shirts.

This is more than an hour of stand-up though, this is story-telling at its finest. Kendall manages to be both bitingly sharp and incredibly warm as she takes us through that time in life when you learn that you can spend your whole life with people but not know anyone at all. The show shifts smoothly from a self-deprecating cack to a tender tale of realising that not everything is as it seems.

Touchdown is a rewarding hour of comedy and Kendall is a master at tying up loose ends. At the end I wanted to see read the book and see the film. I loved it.

Touchdown is on at Melb Town Hall – Old Met Shop until April 20

Sarah Kendall – Persona

By Elyce Phillips.

One of the first topics Sarah Kendall addresses in Persona is reviewers. She’s not huge a fan of them – their hyperbole, in particular. And admittedly, her observations are spot on. There do seem to be an inordinate number of “geniuses” working in comedy, and if you applaud a show until your hands explode you are an idiot. So I am going to tell it to you straight. Persona might not be a work of genius, but it is hilarious. It’s hilarious not because Kendall had some magical brain fart that spurted out a show, but because she has put in the hard work. She had her first solo show in 2000 and has been honing her craft ever since. It shows. Kendall appears to be completely at ease on the stage, as though stand-up is the most natural thing in the world for her.

Persona is, at its heart, a show about gender politics. Kendall talks about the kind of world her young daughter is going to have to grow up in, voicing her concerns about how she will explain our messed up culture of sexualisation to her. She tells wonderful (and horrifying) stories about motherhood and working in the entertainment industry. There really is something amiss in the world when even going to buy a piece of fruit can become a sexual issue. The material may be political, but you never feel as though you are being lectured at. Kendall has a way of perceiving the world that is novel, yet entirely common sense. Her take on the music videos of Pitbull is absolutely inspired. When Kendall warns you that things are going to get hot, you best believe her.

Persona is biting, intelligent and darkly funny. If you want to see the work of a fantastic stand-up comic at the height of her powers, this is a show for you. You even get a bedtime story at the end.

Sarah Kendall – Persona is on at Vic’s Bar at the Victoria Hotel until April 22