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The Melbourne Fringe has kicked off! Here you can find a collection of reviews covering theatre and performing arts events across the festival.
Bradbury the Musical | George Glass ★★★
Trades Hall, Until October 22
Musicals inspired by famous Australians have produced notable flops and successes. How anyone could think Manning Clark’s A History of Australia – The Musical a viable idea is beyond me. On the other hand, Casey Bennetto’s Keating! went from humble beginnings to national tour, with Mike McLeish singing I Wanna Do You Slowly as the Zegna-wearing former PM and delighting audiences across the country.
Bradbury the Musical: Rough-hewn energy and tasteless humour.Credit: Nic Conway
Having seen figures from Shane Warne to Margaret Fulton bursting into song onstage (the latter at a show subtitled Queen of the Dessert), I’m pretty hard to surprise. But then, no one saw Steven Bradbury coming, did they?
Bradbury was immortalised when he won Australia’s first ever gold medal at a Winter Olympics in 2002. He was trailing the pack for the entirety of the speed-skating final, before cruising to victory when all other competitors came a cropper in a massive pile-up on the final turn.
It’s an underdog story with an outrageous dollop of luck, and this homegrown homage gives it outrageously irreverent treatment. Bradbury the Musical mixes idiotic sports spoof and shamelessly puerile satire. Think Blades of Glory meets South Park.
Here Bradbury is literally born with skates on his feet, much to his mother’s dismay. Even so, the path to gold seems out of reach.
Yet our hero resists temptation, first when disgraced figure-skater Tonya Harding rocks up with a baseball bat, urging him to kneecap the opposition, then as Lance Armstrong and his demonic Russian dealer offer illicit performance-enhancing drugs.
Absurdity continues to spiral from there.
Bradbury the Musical possesses the kind of rough-hewn energy and tasteless humour you might find in a university revue. Don’t expect much polish, though memorably silly live songs, weird and appalling visual comedy, and the crash-on-through attitude of the performers will have you laughing despite yourself.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
An Evening with JK | Anna Piper Scott
Trades Hall, until October 22
An Evening with JK takes place at a fictitious literary event where “any similarity to people living or dead inside is purely coincidental”. Magical author JK (Anna Piper Scott) is here to be interviewed, but unfortunately the MC has had to withdraw. Never mind, fellow author and fan Matilda Quinn (Sasha Chong) can step in. One stumbling point: Quinn is trans. Will this derail JK? Is being a fan of the work enough for Quinn to put aside the politics of the author?
Anna Piper Scott in An Evening with JK: The conversation trans people don’t get to have.Credit: Wayne Taylor
What follows is the conversation trans people don’t get to have. To face critics who hide behind anonymous social media accounts or speak into microphones on stages trans people don’t have access to. Disingenuous people who disengage when challenged. Here a trans person asks to be seen in their humanity and elicits more than evasive talking points.
There’s a belief in social justice circles that you shouldn’t myth-bust your opposition’s points, that what you’re doing is spreading their message for them. This show forensically airs the arguments TERFs put forward and pressures JK to go beyond obfuscation and speak her views plainly. It allows the movement’s own hypocrisy to damn itself, rather than spreading its message. When you scratch the surface of “concern”, what do you find? A lack of compassion and the absence of decency.
Piper Scott’s satire goes beyond low-hanging fruit. In an acutely powerful monologue, she evokes compassion by exploring valid reasons JK fears men. Tackling this fraught territory simultaneously humanises her and lays bare her misguided logic. Arguments are followed to their logical conclusion and the destination is ugly. There is satisfaction in seeing it laid bare, however. It’s rare that transphobia is called to account for itself in an unflinching light rather than being aired in the media or public life as weasel words and dog whistling. Cold, hard examination is overdue.
Reviewed by Lefa Singleton Norton
A Dodgeball Named Desire | Bloomshed ★★★
45downstairs, until October 29
A Streetcar Named Desire mashed into a dodgeball game? Well, I don’t see why not, although describing the text as “dead words” and “the debris of a faded playscript” strikes me as either posturing or an access issue. No one who’d seen Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert, Gillian Anderson, and Sigrid Thornton as Blanche Dubois could fail to acknowledge the play is very much alive and well in the 21st century.
A Dodgeball Named Desire: Motes of pathos glimmer through all the sporty shenanigansCredit: Cameron Grant
When Bloomshed staged Animal Farm, its anarchic performance style was tethered to a spirited and inventive adaptation of George Orwell. Its sport/art experiment with this Tennessee Williams classic can seem more like a seance for unbelievers – we are invited to relish the savage immediacy of physical competition overpowering the pretensions of dramatic art.
The playwright himself is referee for the dodgeball match, doubling as a heavily pregnant Stella. He presides over Team Stanley and Team Blanche, who go head-to-head in a gendered conflict that pits the dreamy feminine stereotype of the Southern belle against a hypermasculine one which manifests through obnoxious sports commentary and the brusque cliche of post-match interviews.
Our three Blanches reach moments of glory, performing key scenes from Streetcar and viciously tagging enemy Stanleys into the bargain. The adrenaline of the game tends to upstage everything else, so it’s a credit to the performers that motes of pathos do glimmer through all the sporty shenanigans and shambolic theatrical critique.
It’s a funny and frenetic show, and there’s the chance for audience participation if you fancy your dodgeball skills. As a creative engagement with Streetcar, however, the disdain Bloomshed appears to flaunt can sometimes result in troubling shallowness. The blithe silencing of the homophobic incident that lurks behind the play, for instance, carries the risk of replicating – rather than representing – the queer erasure Tennessee Williams did so much to resist.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
Enemies of Grooviness Eat Sh!t | Betty Grumble ★★★★★
Arts House, until October 21
Mastication. Masturbation. Meditation. Mobility. These are four Ms that cult performance artist Emma May Gibson (aka Betty Grumble) abides by in her new show, Enemies of Grooviness Eat Sh!t. I won’t say too much more – this is delightfully not a show to be sacrificed at the altar of arts criticism.
Betty Grumble’s Enemies of Grooviness Eat Sh!t: A tribute to the late poet Candy Royalle.Credit: Joseph Mayers
What I will say, however, is that the show is a tribute to the late poet Candy Royalle, who died in 2018, and whom Gibson is continuing to grieve. It also pays homage to sex worker artist-provocateurs Elizabeth Burton and Annie Sprinkle, past and present mentors to Gibson. It’s easy to see their influences in Gibson’s show –it’s an all-out celebration, a collective grieving and utter queer joy.
Created as an incantation to ward against ecocide and the rampant violence increasingly permeating our realities, emotions conjured are decidedly non-linear. And it makes sure the audience knows that as well, while opening up possibilities towards holding space particularly as Gibson dissolves the binary between audience and performer. Together with Megana Halliday as Betty Grumble’s strong and silent sidekick, Craig, Gibson strings what on the surface appears as decontextualised references along a transparent wire, trapeze artist style. It’s a riot.
Reviewed by Cher Tan
The Astonishing Comet Boombox ★★★★
Bluestone Church Arts Space, until October 21
Invoke AI in these times and you get all kinds of answers. Plagiarism, charity, access, therapy, replacement paranoia, blah blah blah. Its almost-sudden existence among us generates a feeling of unease – it’s difficult to discern reality.
The Astonishing Comet Boombox.Credit: Vivian Nguyen
The Astonishing Boom Box, created by Chenturan Aran, Vivian Nguyen and Ruby Duncan, seems to operate from this core. Performed by Duncan across a number of roles via body, voice and screen (with Nguyen seamlessly operating the show’s guts), we follow an influencer’s relationship with her robot friend across several years, from its genesis to its aftermath, when the robot doesn’t outlive its planned obsolescence.
Duncan’s performance is riveting throughout as she cycles through multiple characters without much missing a beat. Nguyen, as well, has impeccable timing. The play is as inventive as it is intriguing and intelligent, as it interrogates the idea of authenticity in an age where technology has accelerated beyond our comprehension. It never takes itself too seriously, yet in the play’s attempt to pack in so many ideas it loses steam in parts where it could have been more succinct. Luckily Duncan’s performance is able to sustain it.
Reviewed by Cher Tan
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