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Fringe is better when it goes over the meta edge

When I was a kid I used to love going to the circus once a year. The whole family would roll up at some dusty warehouse in Wanneroo and we’d ogle and have our jaws drop at the sight of freakish clowns and fabulous beasts, bearded ladies and other oddities.

Now that I’m all grown up I still love my freak shows and fabulous outings, which is why I frequent many of the events on at Fringe World Perth.

What I’ve found this year is that when a production is very well polished, it’s a cut above the rest and sees Fringe’s credibility reaching glass-shattering (well, tarpaulin-tearing) proportions.

But the shows don’t have to be all big, brash and brassy like, say, Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club or Briefs. It can be a one-woman or one-man show in a dingy bar in Northbridge and it still manages to rock my brain and shake my world.

Throw in some meta antics and I don’t care if the artist is playing to an audience of one; it can be that mind-bendingly good.

Last night I saw two shows that shook up my perception and increased my appreciation of peripheral performance art. The first was a one-woman performance by fab comedian activist Kate Smurthwaite whose 55-minute show, Bitch proved to be less of an angry-feminist-versus-the-male-patriarchy monologue (which I thought it may veer toward) and more of a hilarious feminist take on the insults thrown at her to date – simply for being a woman who stands her ground and has her fair say.

What was mind-boggling about this show is how a champion of human rights such as Kate can stand under the limelight and turn a tough (and sometimes touchy) subject into an outright laugh fest. This girl had her humble audience eating out of her hands, whether she’s getting Freudian about the estranged relationship with her dad or downright Monty Python-like with her throwaway anecdotes of pretentious art, polyamorous affairs or carpark ‘dogging’ (Google it).

Indeed, the Monty aspect hits home to the point that master of comedy John Cleese himself called Kate “fun, energetic and full of ideas.”

It’s the way Kate crushes big ideas we’ve been subjected to believe as ‘fact’ into scraps of comedic nothingness that makes her stand-up work so meta. It’s a fresh brand of female comedy – still replete with critique of conservative men but forgiving in its messenger’s own admission of occasionally depraved bedroom (and possibly carpark) activity.

On the subject of open-ended sex, another meta-great show I saw was Sinsuality: Love presented by innovative drag artist Barbie Q and her hyper-athletic team, Kinetica. Having enjoyed previous incarnations of Sinsuality – which sees performers translate the seven deadly sins into brilliant circus artistry and the odd hilarious skit, I wondered if Q and Co could pull off another outlandish and outrageous show to supersede these. Indeed, they managed to do so.

Barbie is Amazonian in her high blonde coif and six-inch fuck-me boots but when she speaks, she’s as ocker as the ol’ bastard next door at a Saturday arvo barbie.

Barbie’s witty banter alone is meta in mighty drag guise. The gal is Amazonian in her high blonde coif a la Madonna and six-inch fuck-me boots. But when she speaks, she’s as ocker as the ol’ bastard next door at a Saturday arvo barbie. Never remorseful in her regular dropping of f-bombs and c-words, Barbie’s too busy getting on with her next comedic anecdote or fab protege’s act to have to apologise.

Her crew this year included partner-in-crime Karl Kayoss whose choice of industrial soundtrack to lip-sync to is just as gender-fucking excellent as his boylesque teases in a tiny splash pool.

Also a highlight are the cunning calisthenics of Kinetica’s Sarah and Bec and the slippery pole moves of unabashedly opulent Ruby Lai.

But the Meta Award for ‘Best Mindfuck of a Solo Act’ from this year’s entire Fringe program must go to Bec for her Willy Wonka-inspired performance with the help of a giant rubber balloon.

The artist comes out of the curtains lip-synching to a monologue by Violet Bulegard out of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. But once she’s finished rattling on about the joys of bubble gum, she is literally swallowed whole by a giant blue bubble. I swear, this balloon-thing must have been about a metre-and-a-half in diameter. One minute Bec has the gigantic lofty thing bopping around her head; the next she’s inside it popping her hands and head out like some sort of OTT fisting-fetish nightmare played in reverse. It really and truly is out-of-this-fucking-world.

Sinsuality: Love is not all as lovey-dovey as its title might suggest. In fact, forget trickling down any of the in-yer-face antics on stage for this lot of energetic troupers; they’ve increased the twisted factor by a hundred percent.
Antonino Tati

Kate Smurthwaite’s ‘Bitch’ (★★★★) is on at Tiki As Fk Cocktail Lounge in James Street, Northbridge until Sunday 16 February. Kate is also performing with Pamela DeMenthe in ‘Secret Sunday Night Screw About’ at Tiki this Sunday night. Donation on exit.
Sinsuality: Love (★★★★) is on at the Edith Spiegeltent in Yagan Square until Sunday 16 February.

For tickets visit www.fringeworld.com.au.

Photographs provided by the artists except photos 3 and 4 by Antonino Tati and Karen Lamond, respectively.

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