A dinner to die for

A Dinner to Die For, part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is a very specific type of show that will appeal to quite a few, but not all, festival goers this year.

In the tradition of the murder-at-the-English-country house narratives à la Agatha Christie and all of those derived from it, Bare Elements Productions puts on a chaotic, funny, borderline too cheesy, camp crime drama that strives to include the audience –who are all given roles to play – in the action.

The show takes place predominantly in the function room at The Retreat hotel in Abbotsford, a gorgeous little pub that was used as a set for the classic Australian soap The Sullivans (a little before my time, unfortunately, but copiously referenced in The Late Show, which was definitely during my time). From the moment you walk through the door you are greeted by a throng of punters dressed in their best, or closest to, twenties period gear, name tags blazing and ready to go. It is the audience that is the most unpredictable part of the evening: a certain amount of enthusiasm needs to be created and maintained, so don’t bring your grumpy friends, or you’ll regret it.

The cast of seven have varying abilities to hold a room that is being distracted by the dinner and drinks and plotlines that are firing across it. The most successful of this was the McDaventry/Braithwaite Ramsey characters/actor, who served as a sort of narrator, and therefore needed to be able to command attention. Lord Daventry gave a more subtle performance, a vehicle to pad out the story a little more, but you had to work harder to get information out of him.

You cannot get anywhere near a sense of complete consistency, let alone period consistency, when you are directing, cajoling and reacting to thirty increasingly lubricated diners, all with various abilities at participation. The actors involved did a stellar job of making the guests feel they could contribute to the story, put on silly accents, make silly quips and double entendres, and generally throw themselves into the night. By the end most of the audience was participating in sing-alongs and catchphrases, seaside concert hall style.

That being said little niggling details could have been fixed up to make a more cohesive late 1920’s atmosphere, most glaringly to me was the music chosen; very hot jazz that seemed out of context. But I suppose the delicious parma that I was eating would therefore had been disqualified as well, and I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice that.

In short, bring friends to this event, but only ones that are willing to play. Those there on the night who were obviously dragged there, stuck out of a group of patrons who wanted to do something a little different with their dinner out.

A Dinner to Die For

Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Date: 27 March – 10 April

Times: 7.30pm

Duration: 180 minutes

Venue: The Retreat Hotel *
226 Nicholson St, Abbotsford
* Licensed venue. Under 18s must be accompanied by a Parent or Legal Guardian.

Prices: Dinner and Show $80

Bookings: Venue Bookings 03 9417 2693

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/a-dinner-to-die-for-180897?sc=1

Eddie Ifft

Eddie Ifft is back in Melbourne for the Comedy Festival. To pass the rigorous Festival entrance exam, he answered a few questions for Beat.

Tell us about your upcoming show for the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

This year’s show [his second] is about not keeping my big mouth shut. It’s called Things I Shouldn’t Have Said and it’s a compilation of jokes and stories that I have said over the years that have had me banned from radio and TV, fired from jobs, even thrown in jail a few times. 

What thing/person/idea are you most obsessed with at this time? 

Crossfit. It’s kind of a workout cult I am in, that all the military special forces do.. After 14 years of touring, partying and destroying my body, I have decided to clean it up… I still party a little. I got really drunk in Vegas recently, so drunk that I walked out of a nightclub at 5am and people were going to the Las Vegas Marathon. On a bet with my friends, I ended up changing my clothes and running the race on no sleep and 10 vodkas.

Which city has been your favourite to play at (apart from Melbourne)?

I played a place called Prominent Hill. It wasn’t really a city but a makeshift gold mining town in the bush. It was really different for me. If you blind folded me and took me there and told me that we were on Mars, I would have believed you.

A lot of comedians from the USA have had an easier trot these past few years in terms of available source material for them to make fun of.  Does the current political climate in the US mean that you have more, or less comedy fodder?

George Bush made it really easy for a while. There was a reprieve for a while with Obama, but as… the hype around Obama has died down, people have started to realise that it isn’t the politician, but the system … My country and our celebrity culture never cease to amaze me either. We have more people on death row than any other country, but yet we have a whale that is responsible for three deaths at Sea World and he is probably doing back flips for the crowd right now…. It’s not the whale’s fault either. You put me in a swimming pool and make me synchronize swim with a ball on my nose, for fat dumb people, I’d want to drown someone too.

Are you a Winter Olympics fan?

I can’t believe some of the events. The Skeleton? What is that? It’s the event, where they luge downhill on their stomach, head first. These people get to go to the Olympics and call themselves Olympians. I mean good for them, but I don’t remember skeleton tryouts in high school… I’m pretty sure everyone that tries out makes the squad, because there are probably only three people in the country that even do the sport.

Beat Magazine, Issue #1210, March 24th, 2010

Dead Cat Bounce

Dead Cat Bounce – the musical comedy band from Dublin – are making all kinds of waves during their trip to Australia. Call him a trooper, I spoke to bassist Shane the day after the group discovered all the gear from their Adelaide venue had been stolen ten minutes before they were due to go on. “I’ve spent the day getting new equipment and filling in police reports so this is a bit of a break,” he told me over the phone. 

Is this your first time in Australia?

“I was here once back when I was ten, but this is the first time we have the opportunity to really explore the place, and we’ve been reading up. I don’t know if you’ve seen photos of Damien [drums], but he’s the most ginger man you’ve seen in your life, he burns instantly. Luckily it’s been pretty overcast lately.”

Despite a string of sell out shows, their trip seems to have formed a pattern in terms of luck; “Yesterday I woke up with a huntsman beside my face.”

Any other encounters with wildlife? “We went to one of those wildlife parks, and we saw this emu running around, kicking the kangaroos and chasing people. As we were leaving we said to one of the keepers, you know, ‘Should you really have that emu running around like that? It’s pretty vicious,’ and they just said, ‘the emu’s escaped again!?’”

The four members of Dead Cat Bounce met at Trinity College in Dublin, finally deciding to combine their comedy and band experiences after they became housemates. Their break came with their first gig, which comedian Will Ferrel just happened to be in the audience for. “It was a very weird experience, he walked into the room and the tone just changed. [The audience] were watching for when he laughed, and they would laugh even more. The next day we got a development deal with Irish Television.”

Dead Cat Bounce are an amalgamation of two great loves, comedy and rock ‘n roll. “A lot of what we do is the big eighties hair rock, taking the excess of various genres and making it fun and interesting and different. Our show goes from 80’s hair metal to barbershop to hip hop. We’re like The Muppet Show really, but bigger, and we try and make each night a bit different.” After the massive amount of buzz from Adelaide, is there anything special in store for Melbourne? “Well, we heard it was an amazing city for music, and we were planning on having a go at one of our ‘Bootlegs’, a live band mash up set that we do. It started out as a party piece, but now we’re asked to do it all the time. The last one was of Back in Black with You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrissette. We set up outside on the balcony of our venue in Adelaide, brought all the PA’s and speakers out, but we were shut down by the police fifteen minutes in.” Very AC/DC.

Beat Magazine, Issue #1210, March 24th, 2010

Andrew O’Neill: Occult Comedian

Andrew O’Neill, The Occult Comedian, is about to debut his show in Australia. He took some time out to answer some questions.

What number Melbourne Comedy Festival is this for you?

This will be my first. I’ve never been south of the Equator before, although I did once live with an Australian, and I worked in Mambo in Covent Garden for a bit so I reckon I’ve got the country pretty well figured out. The stars are different. That is scary.

Tell us about your show.

It’s called Occult Comedian and it explores my dabblings in black magic, as well as my weirdo lifestyle choices. It’s mad and surreal and fast-paced and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever written. I’m a transvestite, too, so you’ll see me looking pretty.

How did you end up doing comedy?

I’ve always been a massive comedy fan and it was really just a natural extension of trying to make my mates laugh all the time. I am 100% less annoying in social situations now. Well… 50%…

What thing/person/idea are you most obsessed with at this time?

A Croatian black metal band called Drudkh are making me very happy indeed, and the Jonas Brothers continue to be alive, which makes me very unhappy. Alan Moore continues to be my biggest influence and various entities that I converse with are helping through the first phase of this trip.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

Josie Long is sublime, Jason Cook is brilliant… my hot tip is a little show called Eric’s Tales Of The Sea… 100% true stories of a man’s life on Royal Navy submarines. It’s completely hilarious and heartbreaking and real. You have to see it.

Can you tell us about your extracurricular activities?

Aside from sending myself mad doing ritual magick, I’m in a steampunk band called The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. We’ve just recorded an album called Now That’s What I Call Steampunk! Volume 1… We dress like Victorian misfits and we sound like early 80s British punk mixed with Victorian music-hall and a dash of death metal.

What about your affair with Jack the Ripper?

I used to work in the Cabinet War Rooms, which is where Winston Churchill fought WW2. I was reading my 20th book on the Ripper and wondered how old Churchill was in 1888. He was 13. Bingo. So I wrote a show called Winston Churchill was Jack The Ripper, which took on a life of its own… I now perform that show round the actual murder sites.

Do you have anything in the works right now?

I’m slowly working on a psychogeography-themed series of shows based on… places that have had most influence on my life. I have a DVD in the pipeline and my band’s album comes out in May.

Would you rather not wash your towel for three months, or your bed sheets for three months?

I’m a metal-head. This happens more than you’d think…

Beat Magazine, Issue #1210, March 24th, 2010

At the Sans Hotel

At the Sans Hotel, playing at Theatre Works in St. Kilda, is one of the finest pieces of theatre put on in Melbourne for years. Nicola Gunn has created a remarkable and indescribable character study – of which character you’re never entirely sure – pulling together threads of story, seen and unseen, into a blistering, funny and moving piece of performance art.

It is hard to describe what happens in At the Sans Hotel. Not to worry though – a telltale sign that something is good is when it is indescribable. The character that Nicola Gunn has created is an unstable figure in the Theatre Works space, a space purposefully made cavernous, part bureaucratic small town meeting, part decrepit, and crumbling hotel ballroom. Gunn starts off as Sophie, a French community centre worker, baffling the audience who sit scraping in their old school chairs, peeking between shoulders, each one trying to connect to what is happing – a meandering yet utterly absorbing journey along the mind of this woman, whoever she may be. Gunn was partly inspired by the story of Cornelia Rau, a schizophrenic woman who was detained as an illegal immigrant for eighteen months, unable to remember her name or even her true nationality, speaking German or English with a bad accent, using a different name, unable to find a reason for her deception.

The space is a character in itself, both immune to her identity and searching for it with her, refusing it with her. The piece works in the anticipation that someone else will join Sophie: Cornelia Rau? Anna Schmidt? Nicola Gunn? The character morphs at beautifully timed moments, created by a web of lies, and the desire to distance herself from them, to not have told them in the first place, to curb the compulsion that brings her into a slowly closing circle of herself. But, as with all tragic pieces that are somehow funny, her hell is inescapable, so what is she going to do with it? Stuffing her face with cake, talking down the phone to a dead line, acknowledging stolen plot lines while trying to explain the show to the viewer, the absurdity is something to be laughed at by everyone but the victim – who also happens to be the creator – of the situation.

The visual aesthetic arches slowly out of the piece as it progresses. What starts out as a visually basic piece slowly transforms into an intricate and sublime building of imagery, with the help of a series of unique, bold and thoughtful lighting states. Pieces on the ever growing stage area are each put there for a reason, a reason that is not drummed into you when it finally makes itself clear. Running around this massive stage with a portable stereo in hand, her safety net, Gunn is clearly in charge of her environment, whilst simultaneously being swallowed by it. And always there is the glimpse of a whole other world through a twin set of doorways. It is obvious that Gunn’s collaboration with Gwendolyna Holmberg-Gilchrist and Rebecca Etchell has paid massive dividends.

I’ll shut up now. Go see this thing, as soon as you can.

At the Sans Hotel, playing at Theatre Works

Date: 16 Mar 2010 – 27 Mar 2010

14 Acland St, St Kilda
Bookings: 03 9534 3388
Office: 03 9534 4879

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/at-the-sans-hotel-180839?sc=1

Simon & Susy

Simon & Susy is a two hander piece about the awkward love blossoming between a couple of social misfits. Susy is a shut in, terrified of the outside world, but greatly attracted to a call centre worker, Simon. The attraction is mutual, and it is with great, awkward patience that the two are brought together at Susy’s apartment. Simon starts off on the other side of Susy’s door, and he slowly gains her trust, with quite a few setbacks, enough to be allowed into her house. Through stop-start conversation, the two characters get to know each other, trying to break through the various misunderstandings that come up when anybody puts their heart on the line.

The first section of the play, where Susy is warming to Simon as he waits in the hallway to be let in is a cracker in terms of timing. Some of the jokes are fairly good, but it is soon after Simon’s entrance that weaknesses start to appear in the characterisation of the two leads. This becomes most apparent when the character of Simon inexplicably launches into a ten minute long explanation of the tertiary public education system, followed by a slightly shorter but even more awkward monologue on how interest rates work. These two long pieces of filler might have been better accepted had either of the two characters had a greater depth to them, but unfortunately these well turned rants highlight the fact that Simon and Susy are really just vehicles for either comedy or an extension of the writer’s psyche. While there is nothing wrong with Simon’s argument about public education, it doesn’t extend the story. At the end of the speech Simon apologises for being boring. When Susy, with lacklustre, reassures him that it was interesting, it indicates that maybe the monologue should not have been included in the script. With Simon once again retreating back into awkwardness, you find that you have discovered nothing new about the character, nor have you found yourself more endeared to him.

Similarly with Susy, the initial presentation of her character – highly strung, awkward yet endearing – turns into the entirety of her being. Her sporadic sexual confidence comes from nowhere, and her reactions to the unfolding situation is incoherent. It is incoherent in that the nature of her mental state is at no point established, again meaning that there can be no extension of her character beyond that. Plainly, her illness is her whole being, her entire personality, whether it is meant to be or not. In short Susy comes off as wacky and hysterical. When the time comes for her to speak about what is important to her, partly in response to Simon’s talk about student politics, she vaguely asserts her fears about the environment, a monologue that makes her appear, in opposition to Simon’s brief gift of eloquence, inarticulate, hysterical, patronised.

There were many likeable parts to Simon & Susy. The acting was mannered and well timed, the set and lighting was unobtrusive, the initial concept of the whole piece was interesting, but it needed much more depth, both to the concept and characters, so that it played as more than a comedy sketch or a direct reflection of the creators’ thoughts.

Simon & Susy playing at Cromwell Rd Theatre, South Yarra 3141, 27a Cromwell Rd, 8pm 3rd-7th of March

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/simon-and-susy-180654?sc=1

John Waters – This filthy world

John Waters’ This Filthy World, was a one-off, one man show playing Hamer Hall, with the speaker covering his long, trash-addled career at a speeding, frenetic space. The show was less of a polished act than an open acknowledgement by audience and speaker of the significance of a life lived in a less than conventional way. It was presented as a celebration of the sidelines of life, the gutter and trash that we all watch, but hate to admit that we love. Waters discussed some of his most significant films as a chronology, moving from his early influences of Fassbinder and William Castle, towards his breakthrough to the mainstream with films like Hairspray and Serial Mom.

Waters has had a long career and there is a lot to cover in the hour and a half show, so it was expected that he would only be able to skim over some of the events and films that have meant so much to so many varied groups of people. There is something about Waters’ show that is less than engaging, however. He is sharp almost to a fault, running with films, people, ideas that you can tell have raced straight from script to mouth, with little shaping or editing done in between. The show was a FAQ, a set of answers to questions that he has been asked again and again. Having decades to refine his response, Waters emphasises the anecdote and plays down the tragedy, so that by the end you feel that you’re not getting as much of an emotional attachment as you’d hope. The most obvious of this comes with the figure of Divine, who is often mentioned but rarely recounted with any level of intimacy, a few crumbs being fed to a hopeful audience, his character and stories kept secret. And who can blame Waters for that? An ageing man who makes films as easy as breathing, but, like so many of the survivors of artistic movements and events, are expected to be the storytellers, the chroniclers of an era, their own personal involvement stripped down to anecdote, to the recounting of forty years of filmmaking in a ninety minute show.

Many one man shows are aware of this pull, of stories complex by their very existence refined into a digestible format for public consumption. Maybe this it the transaction that the audience enters into when they take their seat in the auditorium. Maybe that is why the most successful one man shows embrace that inability to convey a whole experience, to translate the memories into a story that captures the feeling of certain events. Maybe this is where Waters falls short. Instead of a story we are presented with a chronology. An interesting chronology, but recounted at such a scripted and frenetic pace that we are not allowed to connect with the characters Waters is speaking of, let alone Waters himself.

Nevertheless Waters is a strong and shameless figurehead of trash, of the creators of art that will always remains in the sidelines. He reminds us of the respect that should come with a trip into this filthy world, a point emphasised during the question time at the end of the show. Traci Lords is a former porn star who acted in many of Waters’ films, and when an audience member boasted to him about owning the video pornography she had made when still underage, Waters reminded her of Lords’ life now, quiet, with a husband and children and books to her name, of the distance she has travelled from an exploited youth. The love Waters has for his artists is great, something that didn’t always hit the mark with the audience.

John Waters – This Filthy World
27 February 2010 
Presented By: Maggie Gerrand
Venue: Hamer Hall

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/john-waters-this-filthy-world-180634?sc=1