Friday 16 September 2016

Reviews: Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016 (Part 1)

The Melbourne Fringe Festival is one of the city's liveliest cultural events, and this year sees its 35th instalment.

With shows across a wide array of disciplines, including theatre, cabaret, comedy and dance, it's three weeks of new, challenging and stimulating live performance. I always see at least one Fringe show each year which proves to be incredibly moving and memorable, and that's often a simple one-person act in a tiny room.

I'm writing reviews of a number of Fringe shows for The Age again this year, which you can find by clicking here. On top of that, I'll review some additional shows here over two posts.

Let's get started...

1. Girl in the Wood
Reviewed by Tim Richards

A young woman wanders alone in a mysterious wood, searching for her lost brother and encountering threatening characters as she goes. There's an echo of classic fairy tales here, perhaps Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel.

It's not all old-school however, for she's a modern woman with determination and a knife for self-defence. The monster is also more post-modern than a product of Hans Christian Andersen: a formless black blob that's been devouring people and animals, and is holding her brother hostage until she brings it three specific treasures.

In fulfilling this quest she tangles with a scary duo in possession of a diamond ring, and a party of Irishmen wearing strange animal masks; all this in the company of a cowboy whose lost dad was once the sheriff in these parts.

It's an engaging modern fairy tale, with innovative set and costume design.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

2. Blank Tiles
Reviewed by Tim Richards

If one word could describe this one-man play about a former Scrabble champ who's slowly losing his mind, it'd be "bittersweet". And that would be a great word to play across a triple-word score, as Austin (deftly played by Dylan Cole) would no doubt tell you.

Austin is a nerdy guy wearing a vest with multiple pockets, and he deals with a diagnosis of encroaching dementia by recording his memories and storing treasured notes. One of these was from his wife Daisy, an expression of love written before a Scrabble championship, and he returns to it again and again; rarely realising he's already told us about it.

As his story haltingly progresses, we learn about Austin's life and how his grandmother introduced him to the word game. It seems particularly sad that words which so sustained him on the Scrabble board are now so hard to retrieve from his memories, and though we warm to him there's also a sadness as we witness his mind falter.

To one side of the stage is a large Scrabble board on an easel, bearing a set of letters which Austin shifts throughout the night to spell out phrases related to his tale. The precision of this trick - the same set of tiles always providing the needed sentence, without any leftovers - is in tragic contrast with his failing grasp on the mental acuity which once defined him.

Blank Tiles is a great one-hander, poignant and moving.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

See you next week for more Fringe reviews!

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