Saturday, 22 February 2014

Second Hands – Fringe World (22 February 2014)

This jet black comedy begins as a standard relationship drama about the lives of two couples - one about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary; the other a “cougar” and her photographer lover - until, almost casually, the question is asked about the married woman’s "new hands". Yes, this is a world where people can buy the hands of (usually) 16 year olds that have been cropped at the wrist. In fact, people can have multiple hands though more than 5 pairs is rare. The other woman, Patrice, actually works at an establishment that provides this service with a shipment of prize Sri Lankan hands due soon. She is appalled at the cheap hands her friend’s husband has purchased from a rival store. The 5th character in this dark tale is the photographer’s younger lover who desires ‘smaller hands’ and chooses those of an 8 year old from Patrice’s store.

Okay, yes, this is pretty twisted and clearly takes a hug swipe at Western consumerism, the exploitation of the third world, and the hollowness of vulgar status symbols. There is plenty of talk about families from places such as China and India donating their children’s hands so that they may live a better life. The quality of hands and how much they cost is also a point of discussion and conflict.

What I didn’t get though was the context of how this came to be – why it was that hands were coveted. How an industry, and a seemingly legal one at that, had grown up around this. How there seemed to be mass acceptance and that people with their original hands were somehow inferior. It just was. Yet this seemed ripe for exploration especially when there is talk about the ethics of what can only be described as a reprehensible business. Sure, I get that it’s an allegory but it didn’t seem rooted in anything believable that would have made it far more potent.

The thread that did interest me most was Patrice’s reaction to the request for the smaller hands. I had been waiting for opposition, for someone to decry the absurdity and cruelty of it all and here are the inklings of it. There is genuine disgust and later the character is speechless when admonishing the younger lover who points out they are readily available for sale in her very store. The hypocrisy bites hard.

This is taken further when Patrice (played by Georgia King) tells the story about a murder only a few streets away from where she lives with her philandering lover. The conclusion of that tale is truly shocking and her statement that “we’re all sick” really resonates. This is the end of that story strand and the penultimate scene of the play yet it felt more like a beginning.

It’s an uncomfortable tale, deliberately so, and certainly shocked the audience I was with. It makes its point in no uncertain terms but I was left with a sense that there is far more to explore in this dark, twisted world Jeffrey Jay Fowler has created.

Stars Austin Castiglione, Holly Garvey, Georgia King, Renee Newman-Storen and Nick Maclaine.

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things - Fringe World (22 February 2014)

This hour long, one woman cabaret show by Gillian Cosgriff was staged at the intimate Noodle Bar, a part of the old Piccadilly Cinemas in the city. A front row seat meant I was only 2-3 metres away from Cosgriff who proved to be a vivacious, witty, and very charismatic presence as she combined original songs with insights into her life and that of her generation, those of the already nostalgic mid-twenties. The theme – we are oftentimes our own worst enemy whether it be through procrastination, poor choices, nostalgia… or the mysterious power of band-aids.

The songs are terrific – smart, funny, pointed – and Cosgriff has a wonderful voice and range. I did not have a programme so apologies if I don’t get the song titles correct, however, “The Great Procrastinator” certainly brought a wry smile to my face. Spot on observation of the things we do to avoid doing the things we really should do like, you know, become an adult (“Adulthood”). The songs also incorporated wonderful storytelling – “The Vegan and the Beekeeper” – where Megan the Vegan falls for Leigh the Beekeeper, unaware of the hives he keeps on the roof. Once discovered, she is badly stung and only the bees’ honey can save her – quite the dilemma for our heroine who we soon learn is firmly rooted in Cosgriff’s real world as a work colleague (sorry, Vicky).

And that is the beauty of this show – everything is based on true events. When not singing and playing the keyboard (and eventually the ukele after an amusing tuning mishap), Cosgriff gives hilarious anecdotes about her life and the creation of the show itself. We are told of ex-boyfriend Jasper, not the sharpest tool in the tool box but certainly the shiniest, who sent a serious of text messages after our heroine dumped him. These became the lyrics to “Jasper’s Lament”, mispronunciations and all (lolz). Then there was James whose indiscretions led to a pure tirade of a song that was devastating and funny in its honesty and brutality (and apparently just as satisfying every time to the singer!). An amusing sequence involves recorded messages of a drunken Cosgriff ringing ex-lovers and then there is the epic “Band-Aid Trilogy” where the shaving of legs badly can lead to all kinds of consequences.

When an audience member (take a bow Dennis) briefly left the Noodle Palace only to return later he became a part of the show in both banter and adjusted song lyrics. This is where Cosgriff’s real strength lies – she has a real flair for showmanship and is very sharp. The lyrics to one of the final numbers, “Prematurely Nostalgic”, were funny and perceptive … as is the whole show. Beautifully written and performed.

I was very happy I was able to see this – an extra and final show put on, no doubt, due to the tremendous response to this very talented performer.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Point & Shoot: A New Musical - Holland St Productions (16 February 2014)

I finally saw my first show at Fringeworld for 2014 and what a show to see - the original musical 'Point & Shoot' by Perth's own Robert Woods and Tyler Jacob Jones, starring those two plus Erin Hutchinson and Tamara Woolrych.

This is a hilarious and pointed satire of Hollywood and the filmmaking business with a clever plot ("twist") and biting lyrics. The four actors play multiple roles and instruments and all are in fine voice. The transitions are seamless and this rockets along at a frenetic pace.

In, I think it was, 2042 the Hollywood blockbuster is but a memory having collapsed as a viable business in 2015. Now the Independents rule the roost - smart movies for smart people. But a screenwriter dreams of writing his own blockbuster like the good old days and is given the opportunity by a newly arrived actress who has the rights to a black and white television series from the 60s that may be the only property never optioned. What follows is a deliciously wicked romp with great songs and plenty of surprises.

At 75 minutes this moves so briskly and the audience I was with lapped it up. The talent on display is impressive - all four actors play everything from piano to saxophone to flute to cello while changing into several characters as the screenwriter and his muse battle the independents, greed, ambition and surprise antagonists at every turn. A screen is also used to show, firstly, the "original" television series; the teaser trailer of the blockbuster adaptation; and the climactic ending of the film itself.

Very happy that an extra show was put on (I can see why) and that I had a chance to see this. The couple I was sitting next to had been before and were laughing as hard as I was throughout.

Excellent production and perfect for Fringe. Extra points for the best rhyme ever with the word "verbatim"!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Closer - Fresh Bred Productions (15 February 2014)

Take a razor sharp script, four talented and committed actors, a fresh approach from a first time director then add an original score played live and you end up with this excellent production of Patrick Marber's Closer.

Marber's script is first class, delighting in pointed and brutal verbal exchanges, wry observations of modern relationships and deliberately shocking language such as the infamous chat room scene. It plays with time as these four people become entwined in each others lives for good and bad over several years. Love, sex, truth, sexual politics, intimacy and betrayal are all fair game here. This isn't a delicate examination, however. This is warts and all with real anger and hurt amongst the declarations of love and moments of tenderness. All is underlined by an almost cruel and biting wit.

The acting across the board is very good - Brodie Masini as Dan, the failed novelist who writes obituaries whilst also masquerading as something altogether different online; Natasha Stiven as the mysterious and vulnerable stripper Alice; Jason Dohle as Larry, the doctor who becomes embroiled in proceedings after Dan's online practical joke; and Diana Oliver as the photographer, Anna, who falls for Dan's advances at a photo shoot and later Larry at their "chance" meeting.

In fact they are very good indeed. Masini's Dan is the more idealistic and earnest of the two men compared to Dohle's passionate and temperamental portrayal of Larry. Oliver's Anna is down to earth and grounded while Stiven's Alice is playful yet fragile. The characters are so well drawn that each actor can really throw themselves at the material and what a volatile mix it is.

Relationships wax and wane as revelations of deceit and betrayal cause major shifts in the power dynamic between each of them. There was never a moment I didn't believe the truth of what was being portrayed in what is a complex emotional journey for all of these characters. There are also scenes that require total commitment, notably the strip club scene at the start of the second act. Kudos then to all four actors for their fine performances.

The set is minimal with draped sheets forming the entire backdrop with cutaways for entrances/exits. This was used ingeniously to project images onto to give a sense of place like moving fish at the Aquarium or stills at the Art Museum... and of course the explicit online chat between Larry and Dan (posing as Anna). It also allowed "opening credits" (like a movie) to be shown and my only regret is when I discovered later there was no programme and therefore should have been playing more attention to these!

Scene changes are made swiftly and economically and there are occasions when pairings of actors are playing scenes side by side. This works seamlessly especially the sequence when both women leave their respective lover.

A key decision was not only to utilise an original score - written by Kohan van Sambeeck - but to have himself (piano) and Stephanie-Jane Lewendon-Lowe (violin) perform on stage behind the sheeted backdrop. This added enormously to the tone and immediacy of the action without ever being intrusive. Great to see then both musicians come on stage to take a bow as they are an integral part of what is an, at times, in your face and nothing less than compelling production.

Directed by Jack McKenzie and Produced by Craig Griffen with an original score written by Kohan van Sambeeck, Closer is a treat. I would tell you to go and see it but, alas, the run is already over. It does, however, show that the Koorliny Arts Centre is off to a cracking 2014 with this and Young Frankensteinalready having been staged. I look forward to my next trip down the freeway to Kwinana!