Friday, 29 September 2017

Reviews: Melbourne Fringe Festival 2017

It's time again for Melbourne Fringe, the annual festival of performing arts which pushes boundaries. As Narrelle Harris and I were in Britain for most of this year's fest, we've only had a chance to catch a few shows in its final week. Here's what we've seen...

1. Narrelle's Fringe Diary.

The Yonder
Until 30 September 2017, Lithuanian Club

Title and Deed: Monologue for a Slightly Foreign Man
Until 30 September 2017, Arts House

It’s a challenge attending the Fringe Festival when you’ve returned home from the UK just the previous evening.

Fortunately, a great show can keep you alert even when your body’s circadian rhythms are staring dry-eyed into the stage lights and on to infinity.

Sadly though, the first show of the evening is not that show.

The Yonder, a “stupid race through deep space” is sadly just that. Three actors (Elizabeth Davie, Ezel Doruk and Shannan Lim, pictured above) play out a science fiction farce via tropes that were already outdated by the '80s.

The gay love sub-plot gives the best moments in a show that otherwise lacks pace, punch or originality. Otherwise it makes me miss the genius of the 4 Noels, or Rama Nicholas, who's so ably taken up where they left off.

But hurrah for Title and Deed, exactly the tonic my jetlagged brain requires. Keith Brockett (pictured left) plays a traveller, a stranger in our land – a man in transit in the world and in life.

He tells us stories of an unidentified home and a half understood ‘here’ that render both places odd and liminal.

Brockett delivers Will Eno’s script with Wildean deftness, superb timing, and a fine sense of its absurdity and pathos.

It’s a performance which is funny, clever and often surprisingly contemplative. It’s also full of the joy of words and imagery, drawing together meanings and contrasts.

My head was full of three weeks of England and Wales; so the themes of countries, cultures and life being strange places where we are all lost sometimes was resonant.

Kudos to director Laura Maitland too. Kudos to everyone. Title and Deed is charming, funny, a delight.

I shall now resume staring into lights until I can see infinity.

(Oh, there it is).

2. Tim's Fringe Diary.

The Interpenetration of Opposites
Until 30 September 2017, Howey Downstairs

The Basement Tapes
Until 30 September 2017, Arts House

In one of PG Wodehouse's short stories, a character decries novels which feature "married couples who find life grey, and can't stick each other at any price."

I try to banish this amusing line from my mind as a recorded voiceover strikes up an argument between an apparent couple later in life, arguing over the everyday grind.

But The Interpenetration of Opposites is, in fact, that kind of story. It actually starts years earlier, with the actors portraying friends at university who progress from uncertainties about their study choices to uncertainties about their life choices.

There's tension between the pursuit of personal fulfilment, versus grasping for hard-edged security. Which could make the spine of a good drama, if the actors were up to the challenge. Unfortunately there's a lot of flat and unconvincing delivery onstage, leavened by the occasional dash of sarcastic intonation.

It doesn't help that the cast make the already difficult sightlines worse by sitting in the front row when not performing. Overall it's hard to like any of the characters, or even to identify with them. Maybe Wodehouse had it right after all.

I have more luck in North Melbourne, after hopping the 57 tram back to Arts House for The Basement Tapes.

In the Warehouse venue behind it, a young woman (played by Stella Reid) is fossicking among a jumbled collection of household objects.

They turn out to be the contents of her deceased grandmother's basement, which she's sorting through.

Then she finds an old cassette tape which her grandma recorded her memories on, and things take a sharp turn into strangeness.

No spoilers here, but what follows is an intriguing - at times, frightening - piece of theatre that's expertly delivered. Reid gives us a sympathetic, emotionally awkward character who we warm to, adding weight to her fate.

Everything about The Basement Tapes is well judged - including Jane Yonge's direction and Thomas Lambert's sound, which adds an eerie depth to this small-scale production.

It's a perfect piece of Fringe theatre, the sort of work that stays with you for some time. Even if it gives you nightmares.

The Melbourne Fringe Festival continues to 1 October 2017. Find program details and buy tickets at its website.