Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment

Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment
The Tuxedo Cat, 28 February 2012


"I am not a comedian.  I am a comic actor.  This means that if you are laughing, I must be doing a very good job.  If not, blame the writers."

Charles Barrington welcomes us in to his studio apartment with these words, but he need not have feared.  The small but enthusiastic audience did indeed laugh a good deal, and rightly so.  Barrington (as portrayed by Anthony Rogers, runner-up in the 2009 Raw Comedy Awards) is an engaging if somewhat shambolic character who has a fine way with a joke.  There is a sense of self-deprecation and arrogance at work in him at the same time; he wants us to laugh but at the same time he couldn't care less if we do.  This makes for a style that is laconic and throwaway at times, at others declamatory, and this mix creates a somewhat unique tone to the performance.

The riffs on bee keeping and making a garden salad are beautifully timed and well constructed, and he is a performer who is not afraid to take his time and let his material wash over us.  No machine-gun, rapid fire delivery in this show (which is entirely right and perfectly in keeping with the persona of Charles Barrington), while the pseudo-rap version of Shakespeare demonstrated Mr Rogers' innate sense of timing and rhythm exceptionally well.  We have always enjoyed characters that seek to undermine the pomposity of performers (think back to Nigel Planer and Christopher Douglas' creation in the 1990s, Nicholas Craig) and there are the beginnings in Mr Rogers' Charles Barrington of a similarly entertaining comic persona.

However, ultimately this is a show in search of a dramatist (or at the very least, a good script editor).  In order to give his character a chance to really grow and breathe, there needs to be a greater sense of structure and some reworking of the material.  By this I don't mean the jokes - many of these are extremely funny indeed - but in the way the character of Barrington comes to the jokes.  There is no real journey in the show, no sense, for want of a better word, of a format.  If you think about the most successful solo character creations of recent years (Alan Partridge, Giles Wemmbley-Hogg, Ed Reardon), they all have strong narratives from which their comedy can grow.  Mr Rogers' show could do with some similar sense of coherence; an evening with him in his apartment is a good enough starting point, but there seems to be no real reason for our being there - there is nothing in particular he wants to tell us, no great revelation to drive the show along.  If the performance could be developed in such a way as to find a strong narrative line which could be used as the starting point for the jokes, anecdotes and recollections, then there is the potential for Charles Barrington, actor, writer, director and bee keeper to become a significant comic figure.

Similarly, the actorly anecdotes include his impersonating people like Marlon Brando, Michael Caine and Christopher Walken (these impersonations are done very, very badly and I am assuming that this is intentional).  Yet there must be more contemporary figures in the Australian theatrical scene worthy of parody.  It is in this way that the selection and style of the material perhaps needs some development, or at least a critical outsider's eye cast over it; in essence, it needs to go further in its satire, to be perhaps more contemporary in its choice of celebrity.

I should say, however, that I am talking here about making a good show into an exceptional one.  I enjoyed Mr Rogers as a performer a great deal and he clearly knows how to write a joke and to make it work very well.   If he can team up with the right writer or editor, and perhaps sharpen the focus of the material and ground the character more firmly in a world in which he can grow and flourish, there are the foundations here for an extremely entertaining comic persona. As it stands we have a very funny show that is well worth seeing, but one that leaves us with the sneaking suspicion that we could have seen even more.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Judith Lucy: Nothing Fancy

Judith Lucy @ Thebarton Theatre Friday 24 February

Judith Lucy's new show Nothing Fancy comes to Adelaide after a run in Sydney, and we are undoubtedly the beneficiaries of this.  The show is well-timed, her material is well chosen, and she is clearly in confident and buoyant form.

Ms Lucy has two great strengths as a performer - her warmth and the sense of physical control she exhibits on stage.  The show began with some interplay with members of the audience in which she interacted and improvised with the punters in a way that set the mood for the evening, in that her aim was not to mock and denigrate as is often the case with less secure performers - instead, the comedy came from the way in which she took the audience's contributions and then built upon them.  She was not afraid to give these exchanges time and space and was rewarded with rich material that she then proceeded to develop.  Throughout these exchanges, there was never the sense that audience were potential 'victims' - rather, they were contributors and appreciated as such.

On stage, Ms Lucy is probably not generally thought of as a particularly physical performer, but this is to underestimate the level of physical mastery she has over her craft.  Not for her the annoying tics and idiosyncrasies that seem to afflict less accomplished performers when they attempt to inject 'energy' into their routines.  Instead, her movements are measured when necessary, exaggerated when desirable, but at all times there is a sense that how she moves is indelibly linked to and reflective of her material and has been well planned and considered.  She does not wander aimlessly about the stage, use redundant gestures or seem uncertain as to what she should do with her hands.  The theatre was very nearly full and Ms Lucy was all there was to look at, and so her movement and her entire physical demeanour reflected a sense of design and careful thought.  Watching a solo performer can sometimes be dull, sometimes be downright tiring, but with Ms Lucy no gesture is wasted or unnecessary and you are watching a performer who is confident and in control.

I am sure we are not the first people to remark that Ms Lucy's voice can at times resemble that of Dame Edna, or that the frock she chose to wear made her look (in the opinion of one member of our party) a little 'frumpy', but these are very minor caveats.  Much of the material in Nothing Fancy related to Ms Lucy's experiences while making her recent television series and this made us want to see it, in order to be able to see more of her.  This seems to us as about as high a recommendation as we can make.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Classic Books for Boys


Our Man in Havana (1958)  Graham Greene
The archetypal Greene work, the novel is set in Cuba prior to Castro coming to power.  James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, is enlisted by the British secret service and agrees  to ‘spy’ for them in order to cover his teenage daughter’s very expensive tastes.  However, Wormold’s spying is at first entirely imaginary, but his life begins to unravel when his fantasy world and the real world begin to coincide.
A classic work for boys in terms of its subject matter, but more importantly Greene’s direct yet poetic prose style has turned many a sceptic into an enthusiastic reader.
Rogue Male (1939) Geoffrey Household
A British sportsman attempts to assassinate Hitler in his rural retreat. However, he is captured and tortured although he finally manages to escape. He then finds himself on the run from a mysterious figure and the two engage in a riveting and deadly game of hide and seek (the scenes in the London Underground are a particular highlight).

Part military survival manual, part thriller, part old fashioned heroic tale, the pace is gripping, the descriptions of the protagonists’ plans and tactics for survival are compelling and right triumphs at the end.  A boy can ask for no more.
The 39 Steps (1915) John Buchan
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Richard Hannay has returned to London from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) when a mysterious man calls upon him and desperately seeks his help to stop a group of German spies known as the Black Stone.  However, when the man is murdered in Hannay’s flat he is forced to go on the run.
A complicated and twisting plot, treachery, betrayal and some good old fashioned murder and mayhem make this the father of all ‘man on the run’ novels and films.  This, combined with the glimpse back in time to a world that no longer exists, makes it a vital and necessary part of every young man’s education.
Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) PG Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster finds himself in one of his usual scrapes: trying to reunite his friend Tuppy Glossop with his estranged fiancée Angela, avoiding getting married to the soppy Madeline Bassett and trying to stay on his Aunt Dahlia’s good side so that she doesn’t ban him from eating any more of her peerless chef Anatole’s (“God’s gift to the gastric juices”) sumptuous dinners. Thankfully, at Bertie’s side throughout is the inimitable Jeeves, his gentleman’s personal gentleman, who is always there to ensure that he avoids the ultimate peril.  A classic set piece is the laugh-out-loud scene in which Bertie’s friend Gussie Fink-Nottle drunkenly presents the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, which once read will be never be forgotten.
Quite simply, this is the funniest, most well-written, warmly generous book in twentieth-century English literature.  Life would be unbearable without it.
Lucky Jim (1954) Kingsley Amis
The eponymous hero Jim Dixon is a Medieval History lecturer at a provincial university in the north of England. Despite the ironic title, nothing quite seems to work out for Jim and he struggles to find a place in the world, a world from which he feels increasingly isolated.
In this great ‘outsider’ novel, Amis captures the anger and frustration of a young man who sees his way thwarted by those with better connections but far less talent. A must-read novel both for its delicious humour and its fascinating evocation of a grim, grey post-war England.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) Erich-Maria Remarque
Paul Bäumer joins the German army at the beginning of the First World War. He arrives at the Western Front with a diverse group of friends whose fates intertwine. The book focuses not so much on warfare and fighting, but rather the horrendous conditions in which Paul and his comrades find themselves living year after year.
The book is always a favourite amongst boys for its toilet humour, scenes of mayhem and schoolboy pranks that all take place against a backdrop of terrible doom and danger. The last chapter of the book, a single paragraph from which the title is taken, is painfully moving and only serves to highlight the senselessness of conflict.
The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Stephen Crane
The novel is set during the American Civil War and has as its hero Henry Fleming, a private in the Union Army. Much of the book revolves around Henry’s questioning of his own (untested) courage: how will he react in the face of the enemy? In several graphic yet honest depictions of conflict, Henry discovers more about himself than he cared to know.
A truly great war novel in which Crane is interested in exploring concepts of valour, duty and loyalty, but from a surprisingly modern standpoint given the the time at which the book was written.  It is also extremely interesting to read in the light of what society was to learn about the nature of warfare only twenty years later.
Animal Farm (1945) George Orwell
The animals on Manor Farm rebel and overthrow the farmer.  They then assume control of the farm themselves.  The novel (invitingly short!) details the trials and tribulations of the animals as they fight to control their own destiny amid attempts to destroy their solidarity both from without and within.
Orwell’s classic parable of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union is flawless. The writing has a directness that is unparalleled and this, combined with his restless and ruthless search for truth behind ideology, makes this the greatest political novel ever written. However, it is far from a polemic and there are moments of real human (animal?) tragedy that would move even the most dialectically detached Marxist!
Of Mice and Men (1937) John Steinbeck
One of the first credit crunch novels. George and Lennie, two itinerant workers in California during the Great Depression, land casual jobs on a ranch, hoping to “work up a stake” and buy a place of their own. However Lennie, who despite his immense physical presence has the mind of a child, accidentally brings tragedy and misfortune down upon the two friends’ heads.
A road novel, an astute piece of social analysis, a brilliant study in character and dialogue – all of this and more can be said about this masterpiece.  Popular with boys, initially at lest because it’s short (I am sorry parents, but it’s true - this matters a lot!), the story soon engulfs all but the most unwilling reader. You’d have to be made of stone not to be moved to tears by the book’s concluding moments.
The Diary of a Nobody (1888-89) George Grossmith (illustrated by Weedon Grossmith)
This hilarious pseudo-diary first appeared in Punch magazine in 1888-89. Mr Charles Pooter is a social climbing, irredeemably snobby clerk in the City and his diary details his everyday life as well as significant social and family occasions. Mr Pooter’s pretensions and lack of self-awareness provide the richest veins of humour, but nevertheless he is a lovable figure and is perhaps one of the finest examples of the inconsequential suburban hero.
This book, helped in no small measure by its charming illustrations, cannot but help to delight. It serves in one sense as a fascinating social document in the way that it lays bare lower-middle-class life in the Victorian age, but is also startlingly modern at times, especially in the depiction of the strained relationship between Mr Pooter and his son Lupin, which is stunningly contemporary in the way it dissects the generation gap and the despair a father feels at seeing his son’s potential go to waste. This is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable books you will ever read.


Saturday, 11 February 2012

What we will be seeing during the 2012 Adelaide Festival and Fringe

It is always the same with major festivals - how is it possible to fit in everything you want to see along with still trying to do at least some work, keep up with research and still find the time to do all the other things that go along with modern life?

Therefore, after much deliberation, juggling of calendars, shifting of appointments and generally clearing the decks, the Cadogan and Hall Festival and Fringe programme of events is as follows:

Judith Lucy: Nothing Fancy - Thebarton Theatre, Friday 24 February @ 8.45pm
Charles Barrington:  Inside the Actors Studio Apartment - Tuxedo Cat, Tuesday 28 February @ 8.30pm
5-Step Guide to Being German - The Austral, Wednesday 29 February @ 8.15pm
All My Friends are Leaving Adelaide - Pembroke School, Friday 2 March @ 7.30pm
Wee Andy - Holden Street Theatre, Saturday 3 March @ 9.00pm
Legacy of the Tiger Mother - Adelaide Town Hall, Sunday 4 March @ 7.30pm
Bob Franklin:  An Audience with Sir Robert - Rhino Room, Wednesday 7 March @ 7.15pm
The Right Dishonourable Dickie Daventry - The Austral, Saturday 10 March @ 5.45pm
Your Days are Numbered: The Maths of Death - Science Exchange, Saturday 10 March @ 8.00pm
The Ham Funeral - Odeon Theatre Norwood, Sunday 11 March @ 3.00pm
Sarah Furtner:  The Good German - Gluttony, Sunday 11 March @ 6.00pm
The Caretaker - Her Majesty's Theatre, Tuesday 13 March @ 6.30pm
Bob Downe:  20 Golden Greats - Arts Theatre, Wednesday 14 March @ 7.00pm
Iolanthe - Opera Studio, Friday 16 March @ 8.00pm

Thoughts on this list appreciated - have we made some terrible mistakes?  Any sure-fire winners amongst this crowd?  Where have we wasted our money or where are we amongst the avant-garde?

Reviews will follow in due course...