Wake In Fright

Wake In FrightAdelaide Fringe. Yabba Productions. Holden Street Theatres. 6 Mar 2014

If you are unfamiliar with Kenneth Cook's book or Canadian Ted Kotcheff's movie, Wake In Fright, please return your Australian passport - you haven't been paying attention.  Wikipedia says Nick Cave called Wake in Fright "the best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence."  Well, of course he would, it's right up his alley.  I was appalled and enthralled viewing the 2009 restored digital re-release of the movie, and this stage adaptation by Bob Pavlich - which he also designed and directed for the 2010 world premiere - is a terrific piece of work.

You know what?  I'm not going to tell you anything about it.  If you're familiar with the story, I don't need to, and if you're not, well, why not accompany Grant when he lobs into the outback town of Bundanyabba for a night in transit, but instead is engulfed in a beer-fuelled nightmare of 1950s hospitality Australian-style far removed from latte society?

From the opening and all through the play, guitarist Mick Hansby tickles the strings to yield David Wright's tension filled and brooding soundtrack.  All set designer Darren Lever needed was some rough wooden chairs, three tables and plenty of Cooper's cans to facilitate the pubs of Bundanyabba and all other locations fashioned out of the various arrangements of this sparse furniture.  

The ensemble unfailingly captures the crudity and menace inherent that might have inhabited an isolated and heat stroked outback town.  We, hopefully, smugly look back at '50s rural Australia and cringe at the pub culture, insecurity and casual brawling, while others will see today's urbanised version in king hit punches.  And with little steps, Grant goes down and down and down in self-degradation until there is only one way out.

With exception, the characterisations were well developed yet somewhat unskillfully played.  Leigh Ormsby as the traveller Grant had by far the most difficult role but failed to convince in any of the states of drunkenness, exhilaration, fear, shame or despair.  On the other hand, Madeliene Stewart's Janette was seductive and dangerous, while Phil Roberts as her father and in other parts was authentic ocker.  Stuart Duffield and Jacob Pruden were energetically awesome as a couple of crudely rambunctious ex-service lads exerting a force like vice jaws on the hapless Grant.  Unfortunately, they were prone to losing vocal clarity in situations of anger and squeezed out the space for menace to linger in.  Shannon Woollard showed little of the world-weariness necessary for his Doc Tydon, and Kurt Mottershead just got by with his town cop.  Clare Callow was every bit a bored or jaded country girl in her roles.  

Director Renee Palmer pieced together a graphical and confronting portrayal.  Getting the best out of the actors aside, this is a must-see production of an Australian classic.

David Grybowski

When: 9 to 15 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Studio
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon

AgamemnonAdelaide Fringe. Presented by Jethro Compton in association with The Centre for International Theatre and Joanne Hartstone Ltd. The Bunker. 7 Mar 2014

Written by Jamie Wilkes, ‘Agamemnon’ is one of the so-called Bunker Trilogy plays directed and designed by Jethro Compton.  As for the other plays in the trilogy, it borrows themes and story lines from a classic text but then locates the action in the trenches of Western Europe in Word War One.

In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae who led the Greek invasion of Troy to rescue Helen, the wife of Menelaus, who was abducted by Paris of Troy.  To earn the favour of the Gods in his warring endeavours, Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter and upon his return from Troy he was murdered by Aegisthus, his wife’s lover, or in some versions of the myth, by Clymenestra, his wife, in concert with Aegisthus, which is the version re-imagined in Wilkes’ gritty play.

Not knowing the Agamemnon myth does not diminish one’s enjoyment of the play, but knowing it also leads to a certain amount of confusion until you come to fully realise that Wilkes’ script has parallel streams in it: that which is real, and that which is imagined by Agamemnon as he lay dying in the trenches feverishly hallucinating about Clymenestra and how she might seek revenge on him for an act of infidelity he has committed during the war.

This play was marginally less satisfying than the other plays in the trilogy, especially compared to ‘Morgana’, because in the confines of a 60 minute performance the text tended to skate over character development and thinned out the actual story line.  For example, I was never fully convinced that Aegisthus (gently played by Hayden Wood) could have been so besotted by Clymenestra that he would so easily agree to help murder Agamemnon when he returned from the war.

However, as in the other two plays, the acting was superb and James Marlow as Agamemnon was just stunning.  He played the role with such intensity you could almost feel the agonising pain of Agamemnon’s mortal injuries received in his last “over the top”.  Bebe Saunders gave us both love and loathing disappointment in her well crafted portrayal of Clymenestra.  Sam Donnelly provided strong support as the other soldier in the trench who comforted Agamemnon in his final hours.

The empathetic and at times downright disturbing soundscape by composer Jonny Sims and sound designer Ella Wahlstrom added to the overall impact of the performance that left you speechless when the final light went out.

Another excellent production from Jethro Compton,

Kym Clayton

When: 9 to 16 Mar
Where: The Bunker
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

Small Talk

Small TalkPresented by That Girl. The Bakehouse Theatre Studio. 6 Mar 2014

If the Adelaide Fringe is the place to premiere brand new shows, then The Bakehouse Theatre Studio is the place to “jump off the cliff with a brand new show” (in the words of the creator/ performer, Lana Schwarcz with her current production ‘Small Talk’).

‘Small Talk’ is a mixture of puppetry, multiple characters, fun with the set and props, and fun with the audience across the fourth wall. The premise of ‘Small Talk’: What if the inner child within each adult was revealed and extracted; brought into the rough and tumble of the outer world? How would it cope? How would the host parent cope? And what if the child was prevented from returning to the inner world? What are the ramifications of losing our inner child as adults?

The setting is the Overside Community Centre’s new Mother’s Club for inner children, run by the zany, weird and not-quite-there convenor, Tilly Scott. Tilly runs her sessions as a sort of cross between an ABC TV children’s show and an adult psych session. Her clients are likewise unusual. There is Margarite, Jason (is he really looking for an explanation or looking for a girlfriend?) and Rachael.

The inner children, once revealed, are an odd assortment of personalities. There is Little Margarite who pees into the audience through her eyes (Fright Night for the front row, but funnier); Little Jason, invisible except for his Spider Man t-shirt and asthmatic breathing; and the angry Little Rachael.

The themes covered during the therapy session are varied - there is violence, racism, red heads, arson, death - personified in drawings on the spin wheel of Safety.

This show is full of quick one liners, astute social reflection, and interesting interactions between the characters during and after the session, all delivered by Schwarcz in quick morphings between adult characters and the puppet children.

Schwarcz is at her best when manipulating the puppets (shadow and life sized) and develops moments of sublime believability when she brings to life the life sized puppet children. A remarkable connection.

The main difficulty at this stage of the show’s development is that the performer is still mastering the complexity of manipulating the set, the props, and aspects of the puppetry. Sometimes lines were fluffed and links between characters confusing. A sympathetic audience was able to see beyond these hiccups and enjoy the show as a refreshing look at the link between the adult and the child fighting for survival in all of us.

Stephen Dean turned in an invisible but silk smooth performance operating the lights and sound. Dean is a huge asset for The Bakehouse Theatre to have on staff.

I was happy to jump off the cliff with Lana Schwarcz and Small Talk. Time to have a sympathetic chat with my inner child.

Martin Christmas

When: 7 to 15 Mar
Where: The Bakehouse Theatre Studio
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

The Event by John Clancy

The EventAdelaide Fringe. Kevin Crease Studio Live from Channel Nine. 8 Mar 2014

The theatre is rich with stories of heroic stand-ins. That it be the case of an actor supporting another actor in a one-hander about the perilous nature of an actor's life has a certain special piquance.

So it comes to pass that Bob Paisley is back in town - the Kansas actor who charmed audiences with his Driving Miss Daisy in the CIT series presented through Guy Masterson. And, it is Masterson for whom he is doing the eleventh hour stand-in. Masterson had to forgo his Fringe 2014 season for family reasons in the UK.

Happily, Paisley knows the award-winning John Clancy piece well. He has performed it in Edinburgh and the US. When Adelaide audiences last saw The Event in 2010, however, it was performed by David Calvitto who promptly won a Fringe Award. Paisley is probably going the same way.

It would be hard to find a more masterful replacement for Masterson. He is personable and able. His performance sweeps easily through the moods and styles of dramatic training - from formal delivery through direct address to the fourth wall, displays of deference, whimsy, heated expostulations, denunciations and comedy. It's a quaint and intense script intended as a virtuoso piece. It is delivered almost entirely in the third person.

It seeks to depict the isolation of the actor, his vulnerability as mouthpiece for the words of playwrights and his predicament at the mercy of costume-designers and directors. It looks at the composition of the audience, referred to as "strangers" and the question of whether or not a real relationship can evolve between stage and audience. It plays upon the devices of the theatre, snipes at the undercurrents of backstage politics and uses all the arts of the stage to present a wry abstract on how peculiar a beast is the theatre.

It also touches on life itself, the idea that every man is an island and, indeed, the existential questions of reality itself.

It's quite a piece. It takes quite an actor.

And there he is, outstanding in a pool of light in that wonderful new Fringe venue called the Kevin Crease Studios. It is a show to be recommended.

Samela Harris

When: 8 to 15 Mar
Where: Kevin Crease Studio Live from Channel Nine
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

Notoriously Yours

Notoriously YoursAdelaide Fringe. Kevin Crease Studio Live from Channel Nine. 8 Mar 2014

Those who supported five.point,one through Pozible may ruffle their feathers with pride. Our young Adelaide company has done the city and the online funding system proud.

‘Notoriously Yours’ is an exciting piece of theatre.

It is brave and right on the zeitgeist of popular technology.

Who knew there were so many stagecraft applications for the mobile phone? Instant video projections, mirror, tape recorder, car headlights...

‘Notoriously Yours’ has been written and directed by Van Badham with the support of a tight and talented five.point.one team.

It is a thriller.

It is vivid in black and white - that being presented by the tight suits of the men in ties and the striking off-the-shoulder polka dot costume of the one female. Set against a big white screen, every scene creates aesthetics of black and white, be it tableaux and shadow play or giant video images.

It is a work of outstanding design values.

The narrative follows a libidinous Croatian Australian girl who hooks up with a hacker on an online dating site. But the game of anonymous sex is subverted by national surveillance and she is swept into a complex and intimidating scenario of spies, politics and national security.

Van Badham keeps the action sharp and snappy. It is one of those "where-did-the-time-go?" shows. One forgets that the seats are uncomfortable and could not care if one is hot or cold. The play is the thing.

The actors have already made their mark in Adelaide theatre and here they simply show why they always get good reviews. Matt Crook finds a delicate balance between being a ruthlessly purposeful spy and someone falling in love with the plant. Craig Behenna swings convincingly between poker-faced spy and jealous gun-runner. Brad Williams ably embodies sinister brother and sinister sex partner as well as sinister spy. An ill-fiting shirt is surprisingly effective in helping to establish character. Indeed, the costuming is terrific. As is the performance of Claire Glenn as "Her" - the central character whose night of lust turns into a very dangerous adventure.

There are shades of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, there are hints of Tom Clancy, John Le Carre and even Orson Welles. And yet, with all its retro references, it is about as today as superstar selfies - but with a lot more future.

It also proves that very good things are Pozible.

Samela Harris

When: 8 to 12 Mar
Where: Kevin Crease Studio Live from Channel Nine
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

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