Richard Watts  |  Artshub  |  Tuesday 16 September, 2014

Over 400 shows involving more than 5000 artists feature in this year’s Fringe; choosing what to see doesn’t have to be a chore.

Image: Ludwig&Lohengrin. Photo by Jonathan Brower.

There are many ways of selecting what shows to see in an event the size of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, ranging from the tried and true option of sticking with the work of artists you already know, to opening the 184-page program at random and booking tickets for the first show your eyes land on.

Alternatively, you can read through the entire program, research the artists involved, weight up the risks and travel times involved, and book tickets based on the outcomes – the time-consuming option. Which is why we’ve decided to do some of the legwork for you.

Here are 11 shows in this year’s Fringe that we think will be entertaining, innovative and memorable.

We don’t claim that these will be the absolute best of the festival – there are always shows that fly under the radar until word of mouth builds to a critical mass – nor that these shows will please everybody: art is, after all, incredibly subjective. What we do know is that all these shows encapsulate the spirit of the Fringe – they’re exciting, exploratory, bold, and risk-taking. Some are by Melbourne artists; others are by acclaimed visitors. All of them are intriguing.

Happy Fringing!

Angry Sexx
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne
27 September – 4 October

Social media has empowered bedroom activists to campaign for equality, facilitated community outrage over the hiring of homophobic opera singers, and given hundreds of thousands of people a voice. Sometimes, however, that voice is one which drips with misogynist bile.

Rachel Perks’ Angry Sexx is a new Australian play written in response to the outpouring of anonymous cyber-hatred that is all too common online – cyber-hatred that is sometimes supported by women themselves.

As Perks herself says: ‘Every day I would wake up and trawl through Twitter only to stumble on hundreds of threads concerning crimes against women. Soon I started realizing to my horror these were crimes often exacerbated or condoned by women. I became obsessed with this insidious cauldron of feminine self-hatred so I decided to deal with it the only way I knew how: write an absurd sci-fi comedy about it.’

A Saucy Little Secret 
Revolt, Kensington
30 September – 4 October

This acclaimed Western Australian production follows the lives of five women famous not only for their music, but also for their progressive and alternative attitudes to sexuality, race issues and relationships. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Gladys Bentley, Ethel Waters and Alberta Hunter transcended childhoods marred by rape, abuse and desperate poverty to break into the music scene of Harlem; each becoming successful and wealthy recording artists.

After sold out seasons in Perth and in the 2013 Melbourne Cabaret Festival, A Saucy Little Secret is returning for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, with a culturally diverse cast comprising some of Perth’s most renowned jazz, blues, swing and soul performers, including Paula Parore, Libby Hammer, Ofa Fotu (Odette Mercy), Natalie Gillespie and Harry Deluxe, supported by MC Magnus Danger Magnus, and a talented blues band lead by up-and-coming musical director Leah Van der Meulen. A rare chance to celebrate the lives and music of some of the most influential early ladies of the blues.

Come Heckle Hockey
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne
28 September

An interactive political comedy from the creator of the infamous Come Heckle Christ, Joshua Ladgrove’s latest one-man show allows the public to broach their concerns about the government’s budget with ‘Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’ (Ladgrove). Totally improvised and interactive, it’s a show that’s largely dependent on the quality of the heckles thrown at Ladgrove by his audience for its laughs, so if you’re planning to attend, have your best political barbs at the ready!

Glamping with Bobby and the Pins
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne
19-26 September

When one goes camping, maintaining certain standards of comfort and glamour is de rigueur – thus, ‘glamping’. In this perfectly poised and well-coiffured cabaret show, Bobby and the Pins will sing classic 1950s tunes while satirising 1950s values, throwing some smooth choreography and glamour dilemmas into the mix. With musical direction from Jessica Joan Graham (musical work seen in the critically acclaimed Choir Girl), you know you’re in for a treat.

Just Us
The Substation, Newport
17th – 22nd September

Featuring the work of more than 30 artists across a range of disciplines – physical theatre, circus, dance, puppetry, installations, music and projections – and utilising a promenade theatre technique inspired in part by the work of La Fura Dels Baus (Spain) and Punch Drunk (UK), this provocative and intriguing production will place its audience inside a functioning court room in order to explore issues around justice and accountability in our increasingly law-and-order obsessed society. Staged in a custom-built environment inside Newport venue The Substation, and developed by a creative team who are driven by a need to discuss the Kafka-esque nature of bureaucracy, recidivism, and inequality, Just Us is exactly the kind of work Fringe festivals were made for.

‘When you see a court room in action it’s innately theatrical,’ says director Mitch Jones, ‘and that theatre of the legal system is something I really wanted to draw out and satirise, in a sense, because this process is so performative and deliberate; and the results that it often has are often catastrophic for people. Some people get to home at the end of the day and live comfortable lives, and then some people who are on the receiving end of the justice and legal system have their lives completely controlled, and sometimes ruined, by fairly arbitrary judgements based on things like level of income and level of education. The show is a commentary on socio-economic distinctions … and we wanted to put people inside that experience and try and give them an opportunity to really empathise with what it feels like to be inside a court room.’

Ludwig&Lohengrin: a fairytale for adults
The Owl and the Pussycat, Richmond
17-28 September

Were it not for the extravagances of King Ludwig II of Bavaria – sometimes dubbed ‘Mad King Ludwig’ – Germany would lack one of its most famous tourist attractions: the fanciful, fairy-tale architecture of Neuschwanstein Castle. Inspired by the operas of his friend Richard Wagner, as well as by his own romanticised ideals of the Middle Ages, Neuschwanstein was designed as a personal refuge for the reclusive King Ludwig – whose life is the subject of Fringe production Ludwig&Lohengrin.

Written, directed and performed by Canadian theatre-maker Kyall Rakoz (winner, Best Solo Performance at the 2014 Calgary Critics Awards), the production has been praised as ‘a triumph of concept, staging, writing and acting’ by the Calgary Sun. Renowned for his patronage of the arts, King Ludwig struggled to reconcile his homosexuality with his religious views. In later life he was declared insane, removed from power, and found dead under mysterious circumstances. With the simplest of props – a white sheet and an origami swan – Rakoz brings Ludwig’s fascinating story to life.

Quippings: Freaktastic Fringe
The Melba Spiegeltent, Collingwood
1-5 October

Some Fringe productions challenge our preconceptions about art form boundaries; others – like this celebration of ‘freaks’ in carnivals and circus shows – challenge our ideas about physicality and ‘normality’. A showcase of emerging and established performers with disabilities, Quippings: Freaktastic Fringe features disability and queer activist Jax Jacki Brown as MC, with a line-up that includes comedian Stella Young (winner of Best Newcomer at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival); triple-threat performer Emma J Hawkins; and award-winning poet Andy Jackson. The ultimate crip-tease!

Richard II
Northcote Town Hall
17-28 September

Presented by the dynamic MKA Theatre, and performed by Mark Wilson (whose transgressive Unsex Me was a memorable highlight of last year’s Fringe) Shakespeare’s Richard II tells the story of England’s King Richard the Second, a patron of the arts, architecture and literature who was widely criticised for wasting England’s money on pointless wars and implementing unfair taxes. In Shakespeare’s somewhat colourful portrait, Richard’s increasingly tyrannical rule sets events in motion which lead ultimately to his deposition and death. Performed by Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo, this stripped back adaptation ofRichard II explores celebrity, corruption and power, and promises to be a timely and scathing allegory of Australia’s own political leadership in the 21st century.

The Melba Spiegeltent, Collingwood
1-5 OctoberIn past productions, circus performer Skye Gellmann has refined the circus arts to their minimal best; spider-webbed himself and his performance space in gladwrap; and performed naked in near darkness, lit only by his audience’s mobile phones. We don’t know what he’s going to do in his new production, which promises to immerse the audience in ‘a world where the senses are provoked and amplified,’ but we can’t wait to find out!

The Explorers Club: Antarctica
Melbourne Fringe Hub, North Melbourne
27 September— 4 October

Part concert by Kiwi alt-folksters Bond Street Bridge, part centenary celebration of Ernest Shackleton’s celebrated Endurance expedition, The Explorers Club: Antarctica is a cross-art form homage to the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Utilising stories drawn from original diaries and letters, neo-folk songs, heritage images and new illustrations commissioned from artist Emily Cater, the band bring the tales of Scott, Shackleton, and other Antarctic explorers to life in a production that saw them awarded the Best Music gong at the 2013 New Zealand Fringe Awards. Thereafter, The Explorers Club: Antarctica has seen Bond Street Bridge invited to present their show at some of New Zealand’s top museums and festivals; they’ve also performed at some of the country’s premier live music venues as touring support for Billy Bragg. Now it’s Melbourne’s turn to experience the show the Dominion Post called ‘a perfect evening of music’ as part of this year’s Fringe.

The Worst of Scottee
Theatre Works, St Kilda
30 September – 4 October

A remarkable piece of confessional theatre, abject, moving and strikingly directed and performed, The Worst of Scottee had a short season at Theatre Works as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival. Performed in a photo booth, Scottee – Time Out’s Performer of the Year – encounters past flames, ex-friends and people who no longer like him in attempt to find out where his live went off the rails. We’ve all told lies and done things we shouldn’t have – but few of us so spectacularly. ‘As a work of drama, it doesn’t just create the illusion of emotion – it manifests it, tangibly and dramatically … Melbourne’s first must-see production for 2014,’ we said of The Worst of Scottee back in January. Its return season is not to be missed.

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2014
17 September – 5 October

Image:  Jonathan Brower (Ludwig&Lohengrin)