First up, You Took the Stars, a cute-as monkeys romance, staged in an alley way next to the North Melbourne Town Hall.
It merges scenes from an on-again-off-again relationship with true tales of bohemian Melbourne. He loves she, she loves he, sometimes. They talk about the stars, how they’re dying, or already dead. And about fruit of divers varieties. About love, and about loneliness.
It’s as though one of Emily Horne and Joey Comeau’s Softer World strips has been transformed into an intergalactic aventure d’amour, with added sea mammals. This is unabashed sentimentalism; but the love goes deep, and you can feel it all through the production. It has the immediate, lo-fi charm of a handmade zine.
John Shearman and Kasia Kaczmarek as the lovers twain do well to keep the stream of semi-random imagery rooted in the real world, and director Alice Darling seems to relish filling out the alley with action. Matt Furlani accompanies on the acoustic guitar, and holds the meandering narrative together as he weaves in and out of the audience. This is everything you’d expect from a playwright who goes by the name Cat Commander — so no excuse for fwowed brows if twee is not your cup of tea. Four stars
But if you have overdosed on charming comediettas, I can recommend the obliterating cure of Psychoknottheatrics there was smoke in the sky “he said”. This one is billed as a protest play about dance and fun, though it’s not clear whether that means a protest in fun or a protest against fun — probably both, in different senses of the word.
It starts out as subverted promenade theatre. We meet in the locked-down Cathedral Arcade under the Nicholas Building in the CBD where Shelly Shiver — begrimed bare-feet, urchin’s tracksuit pants and tee-shirt, sucking on a free water from Subway — launches us on a weird walking tour of the upstairs studios. Ostensibly, we’re looking for the room where the real performance will be held. Curious ambuscades, dance interludes and awkward-comic asides ensue. From the odd looks of the few residents who pass us in the hall, you wonder if maybe we’re not meant to be here after hours, let alone hurling raw potatoes at a wall.
For the second part, let’s say we find the performance. Here it’s a kind of extremist anti-theatre, pulling us from the fluro-lit hallway into darkness, silence and anarchy. There are collisions, chairs scraping and dancer Geoffrey Watson, discovered by torchlight, dancing like a swan caught in a snare. Rohan Forster plays a creepy bellhop who performs a hopeless puppet show with rolled up newspapers. Lindsay Cox, as Barry Dickens, as a janitor, speaks to the beauty of Edna, who is dead.
It’s an unsettling experience, which transitions into a gruelling experience — all very difficult to fathom. We grope for meaning: who is Enda, the absent subject? The name comes from the Hebrew word for “pleasure”. Is this work a reaction against what the Pyschonots might call “psychonormative” ideas of entertainment, fun and pleasure? Or is name Edna only another daggy ornament? Whatever the case, this is no doubt a company which puts itself on the absolute outer margin of theatrical playfulness. Four stars
Meanwhile, Jono Wants a Wife takes us to yet another extreme: the confessional. I suspect actor Jono Burns really is looking for a wife, and that his Fringe Festival show is actually an OkCupid profile in performance. I wasn’t the only one who walked away from this late-night show feeling as if I’d just experienced a 60 minute marriage proposal.
To show us the character of the man he is today, Jono takes us back to his earliest memories of awkward arousal, through panting adolescence and into a catalogue of his current sexual preferences. Along the way we briefly meet the girls, boys and women who tutored him in love.
The earnestness of Burns’ delivery, his need to pour out the gooey contents of his heart, is genuinely moving. Burns ties his experiences of love and sex to the deaths which seem regularly to have interrupted his life, mingling anguish and exhilaration.
Perhaps the reason this show feels so much like a proposal is that it lacks a conclusion. It is, as it were, still waiting for “yes”. Jono never won back any of his ex-girlfriends and is still living by himself in a Bondi hovel. The only sense of closure we glean is Jono’s reassurance that he is now capable of admitting he has a problem with commitment.
For the frank way in which Burns exposes every nook and cranny of his sex-and-love life, this show has an undeniable voyeuristic fascination. If you’re curious about the appetites of an emotionally-flaky-but-fairly-naice single white man, or if you’re in the market for a husband, Jono Burns is a must see. Three and a half stars
The contemporary dance program is one the strongest features of this year’s Fringe. One highlight is Amy Macpherson’s Soma (pictured above).
It begins with an awakening, a minimalist reactivation, as though resetting the body. Macpherson, in an alien-green bodysuit, moves gradually through routines of self-discovery, coming into a sense of personal space, a feeling of pulse and rhythm, the extension of limbs and the experience of pain.
Macpherson has trained as a contortionist with Circus Oz, and as Soma advances her remarkable flexibility comes more and more to the fore. The body becomes a thing wondrous strange. She walks bridge-wise, does backbends and balances her head on the sole of her foot. And all of it has an astonishing naturalness, as though the body should as easily be doubled over as erect on two feet.
There’s something luxurious in Soma, a sort of yogic calm. It’s the story of a mind that is not distressed to find itself imprisoned in a body, and instead of insisting on separateness, relaxes thought into embodiedness. Four and a half stars
Hominine Sketch No. 1, also dance, is a long way from Macpherson’s studied exploration, but nonetheless has an appealing energy and impulsiveness, full of youthful invention and cheeky imitation. Kate Brennan, Nicola Grear and Olivia Bishop, all relatively raw performers, race through a choppy, quick-changing processional, a clutch of lightning vignettes set to a hectic sound-mash by Tom Wolff, James Hogan and Kate Brennan, with buckets of beats and liberal use of strobe lighting.
It gestures playfully, tantalisingly toward mime and narrative, as though music videos and bedroom-mirror choreography could be rendered as an authentic folk vocabulary — which of course it can. The only thing I really didn’t like was the coda: a super conventional party piece, all high-school irony and drooling fun, as if the dancers were apologising for having been so arty. Otherwise, it’s a neat imitation in miniature of an eclectic, possibly epic dance-theatre. Three stars
Finally, Post Phase: The Summit Is Blue, a two volume piece at Dancehouse by Chloe Chignell and Tim Walsh.
The first volume, Chignell’s contribution, is built around the repetition of shuffling, chunky, flat-footed pirouettes. In her program notes, Chignell speaks of her dissatisfaction with the ephemerality of dance and her desire to create something “lasting”. Perhaps the repetitions are meant to wear a metaphorical groove in the memory of the audience, leaving us with a clear image of one particular figure? Or perhaps it’s a performance which is entirely inward looking, about the way a dancer’s body remembers through repetition?
Tim Walsh presents a more overtly experimental and in some ways more readable piece, which begins with Walsh and Chignell, in their underwear, clutching large hunks of ice to their bodies. This goes on for a while, the ice slowly melting, before, dropping the ice, both dancers suddenly leap into action, running and jumping and pushing themselves until they’re completely exhausted. (Imagine a grande jete beep test.)
Walsh is here seeking to break the bond between movement and dance, as Andre Lepecki might say, by exhausting the body. Pushing the Lepecki connection a bit further, it might be possible to read this work as eco-politics, linking the exhaustion of the polar icecaps to the exhaustion of modernity, signified by constant movement. Or maybe that’s an interpretive stretch?
It’s all very sharply presented, with a clean, white-on-white aesthetic (costumes by Geoffrey Watson, the same Geoffrey Watson from the Nicholas Building) and music by Brian Eno and Steve Reich. Three and a half stars