The Melbourne Fringe is officially open and choosing Fringe shows is a daunting task that makes voting below the line simple. Trusting reviews can be a bit like voting above the line and hoping that the reviewer has your best interests at heart, so I’m all for choosing your own program.
Take a punt and see a show that grabs your attention. It might be it’s great title or that the venue is on your tram route or that it starts in five minutes and you don’t want to wait half an hour for another show. Whatever your system, just see shows.
Remember that Fringes are open access festivals, which means that anyone can be in the program. This also means that the quality will range from sensational to dire, but most shows are under an hour and there’s always beer or coffee and cake to be had at the end of a less-than-perfect show.
Open access also means that the works are the kind of work that the artists and creators WANT to make. Fringes are a time to refine and experiment and find those people who see the world through similar eyes.
I’ve already been to one show that I thought was astonishing and a friend thought it was atrocious. I left MKA’s Kids Killing Kids raving about it (LOVED it), she refused to even clap at the end.
I’m trying to see a lot this year and expect my share of shows that aren’t going to speak to me, but I will share the shows that I loved and those that see the world in ways I understand.
Two that are already highlights for me are Bushpig and They Saw a Thylacine. Both are performed by the writers and both are story telling that evokes worlds so much bigger than the tiny stages they are told on.
Bushpig is one of three shows on at The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond. Remember that Fringe gems often shine in venues that aren’t in the North Melbourne Fringe Hub. If you’re in for a big night, there’s some great acting in Eight, and even if I didn’t love Kissing Booth, it has some endearing performances and terrific one-liners. But Bushpig was hands down my winner.
Bushpig lives near a forrest in the town of Funnel with her dad and dreams of being IN the television. And her dreams may come true when her frightening Aunt Vivian gives her enough money to go the Big Smoke to become a star.
Writer and performer Hannah Malarski tells the story and plays all the delightfully odd characters. With a writer’s voice that is so her own, she slips effortlessly between third person narrative and first person here-and-now and interacts so gorgeously with her audience that it feels like being tucked into bed and being read your favourite story by your favourite eccentric aunt.
The humour is dark and there’s a sinister undertone that keeps the tension high, but it’s told with such love and understanding that it’s an utter delight to spend time in Bushpig’s world.
They Saw A Thylacine is on in the heart of the Fringe, the Hub in and around the North Melbourne Town Hall.
It’s two stories about women who have done something that I will never be able to do: they saw a thylacine. I loved They Saw A Thylacine as much as I love thylacines. And I dream of there being a pack of Tasmanian tigers hidden deep in a Tasmanian forest.
Written and performed by Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell, it’s the imagined stories of two women who saw the last of the thylacines. One tracks a creature to sell it to a zoo, one lives in a zoo where a female thylacine is in a cage.
With writing that kept the audience silent and spell bound, each story takes us into a world where a thylacine is almost within patting distance – and I’m making it sound like an extinction rant. It’s nothing like that (apart from a bit at the end that isn’t needed because the subtext and design have been screaming it).
Told from within a cage where the human specimens have fruit, water and dry ice, the design creates the context and two thylacine skulls say everything that needs to be said, which leaves the women free to tell their tales. With pitch-perfect performances, Sarah and Justine tell perfectly structured stories that never lose tension, are as funny as they are heartbreaking, and sound just like their characters. With a touch of poetic lyricism, their stories are gently brought into the world of theatre and given the freedom to roam and play and imagine an ending where they can stretch out and sleep safely in front of a fire after a meal of roast possum.