Fringe World launched with a flash and sizzle this week. I checked out the media opening at the Spiegeltent (with kids in tow) and we got a glimpse of what Matthew thought were the best acrobats in the world:
A Simple Space – raw and exhilarating acrobatics
Over the weekend I checked out (sans kids) the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra on stage in Slap and Tickle. As expected the 11-piece band under Mace Francis were incredibly tight and brought unexpected heart to this cabaret show. The WAYJO commission involved Helpmann award winner iOTA as Slap the clown and Russell Leonard as his sidekick Tickle. iOTA’s songs – a mix of clever rhymes and catchy melodies – were given extra crunch and slickness in arrangements for big band by Francis.
Slap was a twisted egomaniac who teased Tickle relentlessly, but a darker vulnerability emerged as he portrayed the various characters in his cabaret show. There was Eva the Diva dreaming of success, Wayne the Brain whose brainreading ability resulted in an unexpected explosion, Sirena the Mistress of the Sea (an opportunity for falsetto, a feather bower and enormous heels), Wolf Man with his dirty blues number and a melancholic ballad about fishing. As iOTA transformed from one character to the next it became clear he is a man with not just a penchant for dress ups but with an instinctive use of body-language, phenomenal vocal agility and an unerring sense of clowning pathos.
Tickle, wearing just blundies and leather shorts endured harassment while providing props and tidying up. He stole the microphone for a short ditty about himself which went something along the lines of “I’m Tickle”. Leonard caught the audience by surprise by slipping the splits or a head stand into his otherwise mundane role. His remarkable agility was fully revealed in a final dance routine that blurred the line between poignant choreography and overtly comic stock gestures.
I also caught the last performance of Human Services, a satirical opera composed a la Gilbert and Sullivan style by local writer William Smith. The thinly-veiled Centrelink send up was staged by David Hardie of Queens Hall Music (the music company who brought Threepenny Opera to Fringe World in 2015). The story followed an unemployed man (Wesley Williams) waiting on the phone to the Department for Human Services, complete with hold music played live by pianist Ben Chia (an attentive accompanist for the entire show). The call was never answered but a chorus of “physically, mentally and morally superior” support workers arrived at the man’s home, followed by a doctor (Rowan Swarbrick) only too happy to diagnose ‘dismotivational disease’ in order to pocket the medicare payments and a teacher (Belinda Cox) who was delighted to run PD for the workers on dismotivational disease. A news reporter (Brooke McKnight) and politician (William Smith) joined the fray. When it was discovered the man iwas actually employed and simply having a day off the bureaucratic structure began to crumble: “Without a dismotivated victim we will be unemployed”. There was a mad scramble to reinstate the ‘victim’ and the semblance or order was restored.
The 50 minute show had strong echoes of Yes Minister and Utopia with the overt stereotypes and clever use and abuse of bureaucratic jargon. The music added an extra dimension with its easy melodies and self-parodying structures: “At this point we don’t know what to do so let’s just sing a fugue”.
Somehow, despite the clever ideas and energy Human Services didn’t quite reach its potential. Perhaps because of the inexperienced cast – there were pitch and diction issues. But it was a brave attempt and there were moments of wonderful chorus singing and great humour. I love that Fringe provides a stage for local talent like this and it was great to see a good turn out in the audience.