The Adelaide Fringe has been going more than a week now and has spread its ever-larger network around the city. With more than 1300 events, 5,200 participating artists and an estimated turnout of 75,000 punters at the opening weekend parade, the proud claim to being second only to Edinburgh’s mega-Fringe event is further strengthened. The number of events clamouring for attention is astonishing – 290 comedy shows, 248 music performances, 143 theatre listings , 132 cabaret events and 43 circus and physical theatre productions.
And, as always, the Fringe has its familiar precincts – The Garden of Unearthly Delights is set up in East End’s Rundle Park like a pop-up village, with fun fair rides, bars and food kiosks, and exotic retail. And, of course, its familiar tents and spiegeltents offer the usual canny mix of household TV comedy faces, hyper-manic burlesque shows, and off-beat eccentrics all spruiking for attention.
Across the way in Rymill Park, Gluttony has 102 acts in seven venues also capturing the roaming throng, while, over in nearby Grenfell Street, Tandanya is hosting events throughout the season. At Holden Street Theatres, Martha Lott has again assembled a program of theatre, comedy and cabaret. As in previous years HST is sponsoring and hosting UK productions selected by Lott from the best of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – including two outstanding monologues – Scorch by Stacey Gregg and Henry Naylor’s new work, Angel.
Moving from its previous location in Victoria Square to the section of the Torrens riverbank known as Pinky Flat, The Royal Croquet Club has had a new lease of life with a more extensive layout and the Adelaide Oval footbridge to deliver the flow of Fringe dwellers visiting the more than 40 shows at six venues.
The Adelaide Fringe runs until March 19.
Here are some highlights so far:
It’s Not For Everyone, Menagerie, Royal Croquet Club – Five Stars
“Old acrobats become clowns. So be it.” So say Jo Lancaster and Simon Yates (pictured above), founding members and movers and shakers in a 22 year circus theatre project that has broken rules and redefined almost every convention of physical entertainment. Back at the Adelaide Fringe for the first time in nine years with a new show, It’s Not for Everyone, Acrobat are still bending hearts and minds and flipping them back to us, to make of …what we will.
Arriving at the edge of the Menagerie tent stage, are two codgers in clown costume. He’s on his trick cycle, with a pink button nose and wearing an ancient bike helmet and a floral shirt. She’s in a helmet too, on top of a red fright wig and is sporting a particoloured mishmash of florals and stripes as she hauls a supermarket trolley full of stuff and tries unsuccessfully to hoist it on to the stage.
This is bitter clowning and the meanings are sinister and unflinching. But the shifts of focus are fast and fascinating.
From there the show – animated by sound designer Tim Barrass’ splendid fizzling, squelching, klaxon honking, music and effects tape – takes off. The two performers break out into bike stunts, pratfalls, Punch and Judy squabbling and other irresistibly funny clowning routines. Yates struts self importantly, Lancaster has a fixed expression of puzzlement and covert resistance. He sits in a chair while she pours improbable objects down his throat, his stomach inflates and he gives birth to a balloon amidst a cacophony of wheezing and farting.
The pace is brilliantly managed with split-second sound cues and blackouts. There are buzzers, pedals and gizmos all around the stage ready to be release looney tunes, chook noises and other aural and visual ambushes.
And, as the clown costumes are taken off, the show spreads out into a series of unpredictable tangents – beauty pageants, satirising body image with cardboard cut-outs and slogans : “Get less ugly”. The physicality becomes more menacing as tensions emerge. While a record plays with a cheesy crooner singing “You and Me Together”, Yates is hauling Lancaster upside down with an aerial strap on one ankle, like a carcass ready for filleting. This is bitter clowning and the meanings are sinister and unflinching.
But the shifts of focus are fast and fascinating. With a series of nano- second blackouts, Lancaster presents herself as a slideshow series of snapshot images – “This is me – objectified, this is me- commodified; matching top knickers in a knot; transparent; out of focus.” It is so simple, and wonderfully smart.
Calling their show It’s Not for Everyone suggests a challenge to the audience but with its theatrical flair and invention, it is one easily taken up. Even as they morph from daffy entertainers on a bike to wrestling bodies smeared in mud, there is a sense that we are being presented with a series of very understandable yet absurdist propositions. Lancaster and Yates are like Estragon and Vladimir in Godot, or maybe Hamm and Clov in their dustbins in Endgame. No wonder Samuel Beckett loved clowns so much. He would have loved Acrobat.
Butt Kapinski, Campanile, The Garden of Unearthly Delights – Four Stars
Appearing through the curtain in fedora and trench coat comes Deanna Fleysher aka Butt Kapinski, film noir hero and self-described private dick. With a battered reading lamp incongruously sprouting out of his coat collar, Butt not only provides his own moody chiaroscuro but is able to shine a bright light on the dirty deeds in the naked city.
Butt Kapinski is an honest joe staring down the crooked cops, crazed junkies, priests, Mexicans, and psychopathic murderers that have jumped from the pages of American pulp writers such as Mickey Spillane, Ellery Queen , Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy.
Fleysher’s Kapinski is a deadpan gumshoe with the voice of Elmer Fudd and the heart of Phillip Marlowe.
The audience is recruited to play bit parts and provide the soundtrack. Someone is given a microphone to add beatbox FX and jazz trumpet flourishes while Kapinski meanders through the crime scenes, flashes his lamp in unsuspecting faces, moving constantly between our chairs – at the same time defining the tropes of film noir cinema and its relation to American culture in the 1940s.
Deanna Fleysher cleverly navigates the improvisational chaos that she creates and the audience loves the gentle, conspiratorial comedy, as well as the gender satire and political topicality. Her Kapinski is a deadpan gumshoe with the voice of Elmer Fudd and the heart of Phillip Marlowe. He is hilarious. But there is more. Butt Kapinski is on a mission of deconstruction.
Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady, Written and directed by Maureen Sherlock, GC (German Club, Flinders St.) – Four Stars
The story of Coral Browne has all the hallmarks of legend. Born in 1913 in Footscray in Melbourne she became a leading actor in the Australian theatre by the time she was seventeen. By the age of 21 she had emigrated to England with 50 quid, a letter of introduction from Dame Sybil Thorndike and her mother in tow.
In London she added an E to her surname and proceeded to make her way in the West End. She played opposite matinee idol, Jack Buchanan, one of the many loves in her life, began film acting in 1936, and, with money borrowed from her dentist, made a packet producing the first London production of The Man Who Came for Dinner in 1941.
This is a lively portrait of a remarkable woman and a slice of theatre history that is rich in incident and anecdote.
It is no wonder – and our good fortune – that playwright Maureen Sherlock saw the potential for her engaging and enlightening monologue, This F***ing Lady. Browne was a fabulous gossip, a prodigious and emancipated lover, and an unending source of “bon and four letter mots”. Her bisexual affairs and friendships were those of a free spirit, and her candour and salty epithets both terrifying and exhilarating.
Performed with impish vivacity by Genevieve Mooy, the portrait begins with Browne in 1984, at age 71, winning the BAFTA award for her performance as herself in Alan Bennett’s brilliant TV drama about the spy Guy Burgess, An Englishman Abroad.
Mooy captures Browne’s forensic wit, her carefree sexuality, and her deep commitment to the two men she married – Philip Pearman who died at 53, and Vincent Price, the grand guignol horror star whom she met on the set of Theatre of Blood and married in 1974. She also plays the role of Browne’s difficult and manipulative mother, who never acknowledged the achievements of her dutiful only child and peevishly undermined her until death at the age of 99.
This is a lively portrait of a remarkable woman and a slice of theatre history that is rich in incident and anecdote. Maureen Sherlock has vivdly reminded us about an Australian actress whose 60 years of fame were largely unknown in her own country. Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady definitely deserves a life beyond the Fringe