Festivals, Stage

Adelaide Fringe reviews: Scotch and Soda, Limbo, Fear and Delight, Hot Brown Honey, Smashed

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Now two weekends into a four week season, the Adelaide Fringe continues to expand. In its amorphous, uncurated way it grows ever more confident and inclusive and the citizens love it. Even before the calendar page has officially turned to “Mad March” the city is feeling festive. The nights are warm, and everyone is out strolling to bars, cafes, eateries — and to see a show.
There is plenty to choose from. Adelaide has the second biggest Fringe outside Edinburgh, and like its Scottish older sibling, it has been going more than 40 years. And, again, this year’s program with over a thousand listed events is the biggest yet. It is also the fastest selling, with the highest box office — and so on. The Fringe, it seems, is like the Magic Pudding.
There are venues scattered across the city. Holden Street Theatres at Hindmarsh, The Bakehouse in Angas Street, Tuxedo Cat in Hyde Street, La Boheme in Grote Street, The Rhino Room on Frome — the A-Z of venues runs to 379 listings.
A favourite, now in its 11th year of operation, is The Garden of Unearthly Delights in Rundle Park in the East End. With its carny fairground bustle and punter-friendly program, it shrewdly mixes familiar acts — TV celebs and established comic favourites — with cabaret and nouveau circus shows which have wit, flair and an enticingly darker purpose.
Company 2 (pictured above) whose show Cantina has deservedly become something of a classic, has returned this year with a new work, Scotch and Soda. With a raucous Rum Corps visual style, it provides another demi-monde context for the theatrical invention of company directors Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry, the gymnastic prowess of Mozes, and features percussionist and composer, Ben Walsh with the Crusty Suitcase Band.
Performing in the gilded glass surrounds of the Aurora Spiegeltent, this motley crew in scruffy militaria burst into brassy syncopation while the acrobats stand on tables — and each others shoulders, three high. Chelsea McGuffin, in one of her signature stunts, walks on top of wine bottles before joining the saturnine Mozes (sporting a beard like a dead squirrel) on the trapeze for a series of eye-popping manoeuvres suspended only by their ankles and our disbelief.
It is fast paced, zany and, at times, contemplative. Inside a scrim tent McGuffin gently guides three little green budgies on to a music stand and twirls them upside down while Ben Walsh plays sweet melodies on a hammered dulcimer.
There is trick cycling, Mozes does another trapeze solo, McGuffin demolishes Carberry in a tumbling contest with more than a hint of subtext, and the whole ensemble flip each other from  springboards in ever more alarming ways. Scotch and Soda is still finding its shape but, with terrific music and Company 2’s exceptional talent, it is a very likeable dram.
Making a third consecutive return to the Garden is the Strut and Fret production, Limbo and it is better than ever. Directed by Scott Maidment, it is an outstanding example of the wave of innovative Australian circus cabaret which has evolved since the days of Rock and Roll Circus, Circus Oz and many others. With frizz haired MC, Sxip Shirey’s unrelenting beatbox voice fx and harmonica, supported by musicians Grant Arthur and Mick Stuart on banjo, percussion and a host of other instruments, Limbo glides from one bedazzling spectacle to another.
Contortionist Aurelia Oudot articulates himself like a human mantis, while pole master Mikael Bres and tap dancer Hilton Denis add to the energy. Hand balancer Danik Abishev only gets more extraordinary each time he performs and Coney Island star, Heather Holliday, sword and light-saber swallower, as well as  fire eater, is fearless and peerless. There is never a lull with Limbo, every exit, every entrance, every cue and scene shift is carefully choreographed. It is magic to watch.


Fear and Delight is a new work also from Strut and Fret. Shrouded in mystery, the show is in three parts. The Complete Experience includes “a sensual journey where ground-breaking theatre is matched with delicious drinks and a designer menu by internationally renowned food architects Didier Prince and Roy Wiggers.” The after party is at the DJ dancefloor of The Devil’s Lighthouse with more “curated” cocktails.
Maybe the food architecture is the key to this event, or maybe it creates a cocktail Stockholm Effect for the audience. I only went to The Show, the performance part after the food and before the Lighthouse. The Show consisted of a 40 minute wait while masked ushers, dressed in harlequin black and white, took us on an Eyes Wide Shut meander across the road to Rymill Park to an outdoor bar for more waiting. Then we proceeded to the large outdoor stage with a high rig for what I imagined would be extensive aerial display.
The music features well-regarded UK duo, Mr Bruce and DJ Chuck, aka The Correspondents. Fear and Delight is a single from their first album Puppet Loosely Strung and their breezy electro swing beat is most appealing. Unfortunately, despite Mr Bruce’s valiant vocal efforts, the rest of the show is a ragged mix of desultory acrobatics and self-conscious interpretive dance.
The main problem seems to be that, unlike their comrades over in the cramped, urgent confines of the Spiegeltent, the performers in Fear and  Delight are left to flounder on a vast stage (which only enhances the meagre quality of the stage movement) under a huge night sky which diminishes the sound and tempts the performers to play larger than  plausibility and our forbearance will allow.
Fear and Delight in its present form is a miscalculation. It is not as intriguing and delightful as it needs to be, and thinks it is. The sooner it gets indoors the better. Mr Bruce’s delicate whimsies don’t belong on a parade ground. In hindsight, perhaps the hanged man at the beginning of the show is a portent. Not even a curated cocktail is going to help, I regret to report.


The new enlarged program at the Royal Croquet Club in Victoria Square is proving extremely popular.  Performing at the Ukiyo is the fabulously provocative political burlesque show Hot Brown Honey, girl brainchild of Samoan Australian Lisa Fa’alafi from Polytoxic Dance Theatre and DJ and musical director  Kim “Busty Beats” Bowers, a South African born black woman also now living in Australia.
Hot Brown Honey takes racial and gender stereotypes and gives them a damn good shake. Introduced  by DJ Busty Beats at the turntable, the Honeys are fun and fabulously defiant. As Busty delivers the Brook Candy hip hop tune Don’t Touch My Hair Hoe, three of the sistas toss their long hair in unison. From PNG Heru Pinkasova sings an aria from Carmen while Koori woman Juanita Duncan, as Decolonised Woman removes her Australian flag face gag, recovering her Aboriginality to the tune of I Still Call Australia Home.
Lisa Fa’alafi in Carmen Miranda headgear sings Belafonte’s Coconut Woman and also brilliantly satirises a patronising newsreel view of a “Polynesian native” weaving. Indonesian born Crystal Stacey, with hula hoops and on the stirrup swing, brings circus into the ring as well as sending up bogan girls behaving badly in Bali.
Booty twerking, voodoo, Adidas leisure suit striptease, and then beatboxing from Hope Haami aka Hope One — everything is thrown into this joyful, assertive mix. A highlight is when the women throw down their brooms and shed their hotel chambermaid aprons and uniforms, pick up their cleavers and sing India Arie’s Brown Skin. Hot Brown Honey is about breaking the shackles and no mistake.


Also at the Croquet Club, is the mesmerising Smashed, from Gandini Juggling, nine performers led by Sean Gandini and Kati Anneli Yla-Hokkala who with the aid of 80 apples and four sets of crockery present an hour of brilliant technique and thoughtful mayhem.
Inspired by the work of innovative choreographer Pina Bausch, Smashed opens with the performers parading to the crooning refrain of Little Jack Little’s I’ve Always Wanted to Dance in Berlin. In its slightly mocking urbanity it effortlessly evokes Bausch, except that all the while the performers are flawlessly juggling apples. Why apples? Gandini said he had forbidden fruit in mind, but also Isaac Newton (gravity — the nemesis of  jugglers perhaps ?) also featured.
Seated in a row on bentwood chairs, the men, dressed in lounge suits or cardigans and ties, and the women, in formal dress, continuously juggle four apples while various Bausch themes — reminiscent of works like Café Muller and Kontakthof – begin to appear. The metaphor of juggling — our social anxieties, our self esteem, the unwelcome attention of men to women, our composure when others deliberately undermine our work — operates with almost subliminal ease. Smashed brilliantly represents those tipping points, when our applecart, or someone else’s, is boorishly and cruelly overturned.
The music — songs such as I Like Bananas, Don’t Say No It’s the End of the World, Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry, Louis Armstrong singing  Under the Shade of the Old Apple Tree — cleverly underscores the dramatic (and physical) tension of the work. The tea ceremony, introduced in Tourettesian manner by the Jacques Tati-like Malte Steinmetz, is a lengthy turning point in the work. Accompanied by an extended Bach piano transcription it powerfully depicts the disintegration of fragile social codes. Smashed is an inspired work, intelligent, virtuosic — and Pina to the core.


For more festival reviews see Ben Brookers’ Daily Review round-ups here and here
[box]Go to the Adelaide Fringe program for performance dates and times [/box]

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