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!

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