Stage

Adelaide Fringe's honey pot

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The Adelaide Fringe is like a shoebox full of grasshoppers. And it keeps getting voraciously bigger and busier. Second only in size and influence to the Edinburgh Fringe (on which it was modelled 44 years ago), the Fringe went annual in 2008 and each year has set new records for attendance and box office. In 2014, the Fringe has more than 970 events scattered across the Adelaide inner city and beyond.
There are more than 160 venues in the city alone, with as many again in the suburbs and regional centres as far afield as Port Augusta. The recently re-landscaped Victoria Square is a focus this time, with the eccentrically decorated Royal Croquet Club drawing long queues for performances and other entertainments.
Adelaide’s thriving bar and café precinct around Rundle Street in the East End is especially buzzy at this time of year. Across the road in Rundle Park, the Garden of Unearthly Delights, operated by Strut and Fret Productions and Buxton Walker, has been a honey pot of comedy, music, circus and burlesque for thirteen years, and enthusiastic crowds – including, last weekend, fans in town for the Clipsall 500 car race-  wander among the big tents and spiegeltents, kiosks and market stalls looking for a lively show and a bite to eat.
As it is for the Rhino Room, the Arts Theatre and The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, comedy is king at the Garden. Dave Hughes has taken residence for a month of shows, reminding us, whether he’s talking about his domestic life, his dog, his frustrations at the checkout, or riffing off whatever is happening in the room, he is still the Everybloke of Australian comedy, his slacker humour and underdog sympathies, undiminished by TV celebrity.
Originally from New Zealand, comic Cal Wilson’s new show It Could have Been Me, ponders roads not taken and incarnations not inhabited. She has some quirky alter egos including Fairy Robot Sparkle, the obsessively anxious children’s party performer, and Adele, the earnest, linguistically-correct, organiser of the book readers’ club at local store, Fraction too Much Fiction. It is skilled character comedy, sharply observed and mercilessly delivered.
Returning to the Garden from stints in the UK, The Boy With Tape on His Face (pictured above) reminds us that mime can still be quietly amusing. Silenced by a chunk of gaffer tape, the Boy nonetheless successfully summons and organises the audience to participate in lightsaber duels, bullfights, flamenco with false teeth clackers, and golf with ping pong balls. With a soundtrack full of bombastic fanfares – Chariots of Fire, Eye of the Tiger and This Spake Zarathustra – The Boy with Tape adds the mock heroic  to his slapstick pratfalls. His press-ganged co-performers love every minute of his gently disarming whimsy.
Among the circus variety acts, two stand out. Limbo, which debuted at last year’s Fringe, has since toured extensively and  streamlined into a top-rate show with vampy fire-eater and sword swallower Heather Holliday, hand balancer Danik Abishev and pole master Mikael Bres all mind-boggling to watch. The non-stop hyperactive music, led by Sxip Shirey on harmonica, guitar and amazing microphone sound fx, also features banjo, percussion and a ubiquitous euphonium.
In contrast, from Montreal, Vague de Cirque’s Carousel and Clothesline, led by hand balancing duo Alain Boudreau and Noemie Gervaise, is as raggedy as it is highly skilled. Not exactly anti-circus, it enjoys being unfussy, opening with the performers unready, scrambling for their costumes (hence the clothesline) before they begin a succession of stunts – juggling, tumbling, and an extraordinary contortionist putting on shoes while doing the splits. The cloud swing and trapeze acts are astonishing, as are the acrobats – two holding a narrow Russian bar across their shoulders, while a third does a series of vertiginous back flips.
Glory Box is new to Adelaide but Burlesque Hour artist, Moira Finucane is not. Surrounded by wolf-girl Lily Paskas, disco queen Yana Alana (the vocally brilliant Sarah Ward) and fellow divas Jessica Wong, Lilikoi Kaos and Holly Durant, Finucane inhabits a zone that crosses drag, performance art, striptease, glamour and parody. Wherever it is, it a no-man’s-land. Glory Box satirically subverts the male gaze and the result is startling, funny and exhilarating – especially to the legion of female fans in the audience.
Moira Finucane is as brilliant as ever, reprising her vintage solos – the blood-soup lasciviously spooned from a bowl and drooled on to her white satin dress, her Dairy Queen, spraying milk from two-litre paps all over the front row patrons cowering under specially provided plastic sheets, and, dressed in her scarlet spiked bikini, the gargantuan balloon bursting finale. Glory Box is an entertainment package like no other.
Theatre is abundant in the Fringe. With more than 120  listings, there are many companies of all kinds engaged in the Darwinian struggle to find audiences. This has deterred international and interstate companies in recent times and this year even the leading local independent companies are less well represented.
Each year  Holden Street Theatres hosts recent high profile works from Edinburgh. This time their sponsored event is Bitch Boxer from UK company Snuff Box. Written by Charlotte Josephine and featuring Holly Augustine as Chloe, a restless 20 year old with ambitions to compete in the London Olympics, the first time women’s boxing is included in the program. It is an uneven text, but the portrait of a young woman in grief at the death of her father, also her protector and sports trainer, is poignant – especially as she learns only gradually when to throw a punch and when to pull one.
Also at Holden Street is A Special Day. Adapted from the 1977 Italian film by Etto Scola by Mexican company, Por Piedad Teatro, it features Ana Graham and Antonio Vega as a two lonely apartment tenants, watching from their windows as Mussolini’s Italy begins to simmer. Freshly staged with décor mostly provided by improvised chalk drawings, A Special Day is a special experience.
As is Albert Einstein – Relativitively Speaking, a musical lecture based on the famous General Theory of Relativity. With witty songs (accompanied on the Einsteinway by Jo Eagle) and a general unwillingness to dumb down the details, writer and exuberant performer John Hinton has made Einstein even more fascinating and relativity absolutely engaging.
With so much scheduled, especially with the Festival now fully underway, impossible time clashes are inevitable, and there are some excellent productions I am yet  to see. From the UK, The Bunker Trilogy, three plays set in the trenches of World War I,  but featuring literary legends  – Agamemnon, Macbeth and (from the Arthurian cycle) Morgana Le Fay, is playing at The Bunker in Marlborough Street. They have already won Fringe awards and are highly recommended. As is I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe, a welcome return by the talented Dawson Nichols (at The Bakehouse next week) and, replacing UK Fringe regular, Guy Masterson’s now-cancelled Anthems for Doomed Youth, a return of The Event, an intriguing short play by John Clancy, performed by Bob Paisley from March 5 – 16 at the Kevin Crease Studios in Tynte Street.
Also not to be missed are new works from two sparky independent Adelaide companies – You Wanna Talk About it, an interactive project at the German Club by Isthisyours? Company, and Notoriously Yours, a noir thriller on spying and surveillance by Van Badham, presented by Five.Point.One, featuring Brad Williams, Claire Glenn, Craig Behenna and Matt Crook, also at Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios.

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