Fringe World in Perth is the third largest of its kind in the world and one of the biggest festivals in Australia. With over 700 acts performing over a four-week calendar, Perth city, Northbridge and their surrounding suburbs are abuzz every night of the week with all manner of performance. And though it may look like a logistical nightmare on paper, somehow organisers pull the entire thing off with hardly a visible hitch.
A key theme at this year’s Fringe is sex, oozing its way into just about everything from burlesque and cabaret to slapstick comedy and circus antics.
The second most prominent theme appears to be nostalgia, with the majority of productions so far witnessed having drawn from historic imagery, tactics and entertainment practices to please audiences of all ages.
In just one week, this writer witnessed carnivalesque shenanigans reminiscent of early 20th Century circus scenes (La Soiree), ’60s doo-wop (The Dream Girls), late ’60s-style free lovin’ and eco-sexuality to boot (Erotic Intelligence for Dummies, Betty Grumble: Sex Clown), a totally slick ’70s disco production (Velvet), and some retro ’80s flashbacks for good measure (Gloria’s Glorious Gloryhole, Dave O’Neil in The Summer of ’82).
But what lends these performances a certain contemporary edge are ironic twists that ultimately posit them right into the here and now.
The Dream Girls, for example, sees three divas dressed to the sequinned nines belting out famous ’60s doo-wop songs for the most part, but then sneaking in some Elvis to give the show somewhat of a post-feminist edge. The trio even cover Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking, timely since Sinatra had a few scores to settle with a certain Donald Trump recently. In fact, even with all its girlishness, The Dream Girls is less coquettish Supremes and more possessing the supreme power of having the audience eat out of the trio’s well-manicured hands.
Velvet, an unabashed hyper-polished tribute to everything that was dazzling about the ’70s, could have played into a typical heterosexual storyline but instead has a gay male couple as its central characters. While some members of the audiences walked away from this glitter-fest wondering if it might work better on the stage of, say, Crown Theatre in Perth, others were absolutely smitten by the powerhouse vocals of Marcia Hines, the precise acrobatics of the dancers, and, again, that point-of-difference in narrative.
Gloria’s Glorious Gloryhole and Dave O’Neil in The Summer of ’82 are a pair of one-handers that prove the 1980s might have been the decade that style forgot, but the memories are fluoro-bright. While Gloria’s repertoire is utter electronic pop, her ballsy demeanour is post-fem politic at its most brilliant. And while Dave O’Neil’s stories of the early ’80s smell of the scent of locker rooms and Clag glue, the fact they’re peppered throughout his show more like a diary of a wimpy teen positions them firmly in the new-age sensitive guy vernacular.
As they say, there is nothing new under the sun. God knows theatre and performance art have been rehashing old storylines since Moses broke a couple of tablets up on them hills centuries ago. But to take something classic / vintage / historical / allegorical and turn it into something altogether OMG / LOL / LMFAO is a clever tactic that Fringe-dwellers truly appreciate and applaud.
Speaking of which, I’ve been to several Fringe World festivals in the past and I must say this year has been the first where demand for encores has been very high. Perhaps it’s a sign of audiences wanting even more value for their money, but one thing’s for sure: they’re loving every minute of this long and winding trip down Entertainment Lane. Antonino Tati
For a full review of La Soiree, see here.
‘Dream Girls’ has now completed its Fringe Season with sell-out shows across the board.
‘Velvet’ runs until February 19 at The West Australian Spiegeltent, The Pleasure Garden (tickets: www.velvettheshow.com).
‘Gloria’s Glorious Gloryhole’ is on at Noodle Palace, Northbridge, January 31 and February 1-4 (tickets: www.fringeworld.com.au).
‘Dave O’Neil in The Summer of ’82’ is on at the Comedy Shack, Northbridge, February 2-4 (tickets: www.fringeworld.com.au).