Saturday, 14 September 2019

Reviews: Melbourne Fringe Festival 2019 (Part 1)

The Melbourne Fringe Festival is on again, and Narrelle Harris and I have been seeing shows. Here's our first set of reviews from the 2019 program...


1. It All Sparks Joy
Reviewed by Tim Richards

As far as staging goes, It All Sparks Joy is an intriguing production. Crammed into a tiny room on the first floor of Trades Hall, its clutter of books and household objects allows just ten audience members to sit along one wall. Performer Dylan Cole stands within his character’s banked-up personal possessions, as if within a fort.

They do represent a fortification of sorts, an emotional one, which he’s vowed to break down in order to move on from divorce and related trauma in his recent past. Aiding him in this task is a pile of self-help books: the more genteel ones with “The Art of...” in their titles, the raffish newer ones with the word “F*ck”.

Flipping through them, starting with Marie Kondo’s volumes, he tries to discard items from his broken past, and fails utterly as nothing ends up in the discard pile. No matter how useless or torn the object, it has links with his history which he’s not ready or able to sunder.

In the meantime, an occasionally ringing phone hints at something so dark and traumatic that the experts’ advice becomes quite trivial. This is a moving performance, amplified by the compact venue, and a reminder that not every human hurt can be solved by the trite formulations of media-friendly gurus.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]


2. Wednesday Morning 3am
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

The tagline for this show is “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you," and that seems apt. Its likeable presenter, Doctor Thomas D Richards, begins by weaving a rich tapestry of theories of how the universe was created, adding his feeling that such a huge and sudden event probably happened on a Wednesday morning at 3am, when humans are at their most vulnerable.

That’s the show’s most coherent point, after which it clambers through aspects of pigeon taxonomy, the intersection of pigeons and background radiation,  moon landings, origami, and a strange and superfluous sequence of the Earth as a little girl and her inappropriate daddy, before winding down into a weird entropy.

The pacing is choppy though the blend of science, chaos and mysticism is engaging even when the slow pace undermines it.

It’s admittedly very Fringe, and there’s a sense of a stronger though still surreal show lurking behind the space dust. Richards has a gentle, goofy, knowledgeable charm which holds this odd act together better than you’d expect.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]


3. Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-y
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

In a world where social progressives and religious conservatives seem at irreconcilable odds, Grace de Morgan’s play takes a refreshing look at the challenges of Christian faith in modern society. In it, three friends are helping a fourth to celebrate a significant birthday. To make Agnes’ 30th just that bit more significant, it’s revealed that she’s still a virgin.

Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-y covers a lot of ground in its uninterrupted 85 minutes. With Australia's equal marriage plebiscite in the background, discussions encompass being gay and Christian, attitudes to pre-marital sex and virginity, different approaches to faith, shifting power in group dynamics, love, lies, honesty, loyalty, forgiveness, and growing up and apart from the friends of your youth.

Every character is nuanced, in turns being sympathetic and “a bag of dicks”. Their innate humanness makes them warm and funny, and the conflicts very real. I’ve had similar discussions on faith and modern society with friends and family, so the play's concerns feel immediate and credible. It approaches these topics with compassion as well as humour, so we feel engaged rather than preached at.

The performances lack a little confidence at the beginning, and need more confident projection. But the ensemble cast is excellent, and uniformly believable as adults who are now less certain of the friendships and attitudes formed in their youth group days.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]


4. Sweet & Sour Dilemmas
Reviewed by Tim Richards

In the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in a Victorian country town, a chef is forming dumplings while chatting to us about his life. We can see he's doing the former, as his benchtop is projected onto the side wall of the room, with the dumplings being shaped in pace with the monologue.

Its subject is migrant life in Australia, as seen through the eyes of a recent arrival with Chinese heritage via Indonesia and Malaysia. It's complicated, but not so to his Australian customers, who see him simply as "Chinese".

Peter the chef (played by Brendan Wan) is a likeable character dropping observations on his strange new homeland one by one, and pondering whether his newborn son would fare better in Australia, where he might not fit in, or in Indonesia, where he'd have less opportunity.

Some of Wan's broader gags fall flat, and the actor's timing needs work to make the most of his material. But overall it's an enjoyable patter, with effective (and often funny) observations of Australian culture: including a curious origin story for the Westernised marvel that is sweet and sour sauce.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

More reviews next week. Enjoy the festival!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Inside Guide to Melbourne (Part 4: South)

Continuing my guide to Melbourne's hotspots, taken from a downloadable guide I once wrote which is no longer available in that format (don't worry, I've updated it). Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Visit Victoria

Day 3 – Cross the River

Gritty laneways and converted shopfronts have their appeal, but Melbourne’s natural attractions are also worth seeing. Catch any tram except the number 1 down St Kilda Road to Stop 19. Walk across the road and up the green slopes beyond, pausing at the impressive Shrine of Remembrance and the old Melbourne Observatory, then enter the Royal Botanic Gardens.

This vast and beautiful collection of plant life is arranged between green lawns and a lake, and is threaded by pathways and dotted with decorative buildings. Created from a swampy arm of the Yarra River in the 19th century, the gardens are the lungs of central Melbourne. Wander, admire, then stretch out on the grass and enjoy the serenity.

Find it:
Shrine of Remembrance (Birdwood Ave, shrine.org.au)
Melbourne Observatory (Birdwood Ave, rbg.vic.gov.au)
Royal Botanic Gardens (Birdwood Ave, rbg.vic.gov.au)

Photo courtesy of Visit Victoria

Cakes and the bay

Catch a number 3a or number 16 tram from St Kilda Road to the bayside suburb of St Kilda. Overlooking the broad, placid waters of Port Phillip Bay, this area has long been Melbourne’s playground.

A short walk from Stop 138 (Luna Park/Esplanade) is Acland Street, famous for its old-fashioned cake shops which were set up by an early wave of migrants from Central Europe; my favourite is the Europa.

Walking along the Esplanade, you encounter some magnificent buildings including the Palais Theatre, which often hosts live music, and the Coney Island-style Luna Park with its famous roller-coaster and other amusement park rides.

For lunch at a local secret unknown to the tourist hordes, visit Cowderoy’s Dairy. This former grocery is now home to a popular cafĂ© within a residential zone, overlooking a small park.

After that, if the weather is warm enough, take a dip in the bay at sandy St Kilda Beach, or relax in the palm-tree-studded Catani Gardens. If you feel like some exercise, follow the trail for walking, cycling and rollerblading which stretches from St Kilda to Port Melbourne, with continuous water views.

Find it:
Europa Cake Shop (81 Acland St, europacakeshop.com.au)
Palais Theatre (12 Lower Esplanade, palaistheatre.com.au)
Luna Park (18 Lower Esplanade, lunapark.com.au)
Cowderoy’s Dairy (14 Cowderoy St, cowderoysdairy.com.au)

Fine food and entertainment on tap

In the evening, have dinner at one of the many restaurants on busy Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. You could treat yourself to tasty Mediterranean dishes at Prince Dining Room, or top-quality modern Chinese food at Lau’s Family Kitchen.

To finish the evening you have two options: either take in a new Australian theatre production at Theatre Works, or enjoy some live music at the Esplanade Hotel. The Espy, as it’s affectionately known, is the home of live music in St Kilda and often has free gigs in its basement bar. With a beer in hand and live music to listen to, it’s a great place to end your Melbourne visit.

Find it:
Prince Dining Room (2 Acland St, theprince.com.au)
Lau’s Family Kitchen (4 Acland St, lauskitchen.com.au)
Theatre Works (14 Acland St, theatreworks.org.au)
Esplanade Hotel (11 The Esplanade, hotelesplanade.com.au)

Conclusion

There’s so much more to see in Melbourne. If you have more time, check out the ultra-modern architecture of Federation Square and visit its great museums, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the National Gallery of Victoria. Take the lift to the Eureka Skydeck at the top of the strikingly modern Eureka Tower and dangle above the city streets via its Edge Experience.

Even better, jump on one of the city’s iconic trams at random and explore a neighbourhood along the route. You never know what you might discover.