Alexander Sparrow is ENIGMA

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Reviewed by Nikita Rybak

Alexander Sparrow is ENIGMA, a man so big his greatness cannot be contained by lowercase letters. Like Fire Fist, McLovin and RobotNinjaxXx, ENIGMA is a blowfish of a name. It’s an over-confident facade to protect a vulnerable child inside. It’s also a perfect name for this character, for you see, ENIGMA is a pick-up artist.

On top of being ENIGMA, Alexander Sparrow is really funny. He uses real life observations to create a character who is both true and over the top, both sympathetic and comical, more awkward and less angry version of Tom Cruise character from Magnolia. He uses real PUAs’ affinity for slang and dials ridiculous to 11 with terms like PCA (Pro Coitus Activist) and AFL (average fuckhead looser). He takes all the usual peacock accessories, like aviator glasses, waistcoat and spiked leather wristbands, puts them on at the same time and then brags about them (“note that the second belt serves no practical purpose”).

One of the show’s pleasant surprises is that those observations aren’t limited to ENIGMA’s dress and demeanour, we’re also offered a glimpse of his inner life. Over the course of an hour, ENIGMA’s painstakingly built facade crumbles, one slab of baroque plaster at a time, and we see the ugly brick face underneath. It’s a man who is fearful of connection, desperate for love and has no idea what to do around women. Even his hip aviator cap turns out to be a mask, hiding a dent in the skull his father left him.

The whole show (“social skills seminar”) builds up to a practical demonstration in the end, where ENIGMA shows one lucky AFL how to seduce an attractive audience member. His secret move, which I won’t spoil here, turns out to be as hilarious as it is ineffectual. Yet, despite being the perfect pick up advice for a man called ENIGMA, the ending is also the show’s biggest disappointment. Despite being totally clueless, ENIGMA is never confronted by reality. Reality just shrugs its shoulders and ENIGMA remains the lord of seduction. It’s like watching a man walk on a banana peel and not slip. Possible, yes, but monumentally unsatisfying. I was left wishing for more silly seduction techniques, more practical examples and to see ENIGMA deal with their inevitable failure. It’s no fun watching Homer Simpson fail at home renovation once and give up. I want to see him fail repeatedly, until his living room looks like a nuclear test site, and then explain to Marge that the dog did it.

What was I on about? Oh yes, endings. Alexander Sparrow is ENIGMA is great. It’s fun, it’s funny and at times charming. All-around good time.

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Toxic Mas

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Reviewed by Aimee Smith

A comedy show about toxic masculinity? That’s sure to offer a good feminist giggle at the expense of the patriarchy, I hear you say. In actuality, Cameron McLeod’s show doesn’t quite deliver the expected fare. Whilst we do enjoy a few laughs at the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes painful, effects of the patriarchy, the rollercoaster we’re taken on is both completely unprecedented, and also far more worthy our time that the title promises.

In a very broad sense, the content of the show shines a light on the challenges and pressures placed on McLeod growing up male, and our expectations of masculinity. I know many a feminist would eye-roll at the concept of some white dude telling stories about how much masculinity can suck, but McLeod approaches the content from a pro-feminist angle that elicits sympathy and understanding. Hearing his tirade tearing down the well-worn phrase ‘Not all men’, is both as funny as it is refreshing coming out of the mouth of a bloke.  

The performance McLeod gives is high energy, and his interaction with the audience skilled. He isn’t afraid to push boundaries with his audience members (a well known fact to anyone who has seen his show ‘This is Steve’) but he never crosses the line into uncomfortable provocation. Even his profound disgust with realising a vast majority of his audience hasn’t seen ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ leaves the crowd feeling laughed with, rather than laughed at. Somehow, it feels like McLeod ends up as the willing butt of the joke.

McLeod’s approach to decoding ‘toxic masculinity’ is a very personal one. We hear stories about his hormones, his sex life, his relationships. This is what makes the show stand out from yet another show telling us things we already know about feminism. The experiences McLeod shares with us are painful and confusing, but McLeod owns the humour that exists in these challenging situations. While the specifics of each story are uniquely his own, he finds the universal elements in each that reflect emotions we’ve all struggled with. You can feel that collective murmur of agreement throughout the audience as he details uncomfortable conversations with a potential lover. While each of our stories and shames may differ, it’s undeniable – we’ve all been there.

The emotional sucker-punch of the show is when McLeod shares stories about his father’s death. Thanks to gently warming us up with his prior tales of young adult vulnerability, we feel ready to go to this place with him. McLeod gives us some of the weirdest and most wonderful stories I hear from the Nelson Fringe; a bizarre epic which stars himself and his family holidaying in Hollywood, whilst on a secret mission to scatter his father’s ashes. It definitely falls within the realm of ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ – the fact that it’s all so ridiculous, yet real, creates a cocktail that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

To me, that’s the most marvellous thing about this show. I had no expectation that a show titled ‘Toxic Mas’ would end in an audience that felt moved to put their arms around each other. Some of us cried, and some of us comforted. It’s not an experience I would ever think to ask of a comedy show – but it’s undeniable that the world is left a little better from seeing theatre that leaves us feeling a little less alone, and a little bit more loving.

Things that Funny

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Reviewed by George Fenn

Things That Funny is the debut show of Nikita Rybak in which he plays the dysfunctional family of the young birthday boy, Putin.

These characters are tastefully rendered with functional costume pieces and aptly animated with distinct posture and functional gesture.

Structurally the show is airtight, cramming all all the hallmarks of an hour of clown. Silly songs, interactive games and mystery boxes. Combined with the contrasting characters creates a delightful journey through the day.

Because the show is so packed with content, and also since this was his first performance ever there were a few things to watch for future performances. Rybak could take more time to sit in each moment of realisation. There are plenty of surprises in the performance that would be bigger with more suspense.

Also never wear socks on a stage floor, you can die. (If you want to wear socks for dramatic reasons, wear the bottoms of the sock down with sandpaper so your skin can grip to the stage and you won’t fall over.)

An interesting unplanned moment was when the show was hijacked by a merry family in the front row. Rybak playing the moral authority on acceptability, Putin’s grandmother, lost control of the show for a moment. Although in theory his instinct of finding the solution in the audience was valid, another is skill is recognising when to get people to shut up.

Things that Funny is a very promising performance in both delivery and composition from a fresh talent, what a great addition to the Nelson Fringe.

The Bubble Show

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By Jess D’Ath

 

A review by my four year old…as transcribed from a number of conversations. Abridged.

“We went to a bubble show and he had been to bubble land and they had bubble sheep and bubble horses and even square bubbles! And it was amazing! You have to watch my bubble show now! Look I can bounce a bubble! I want to go to bubble land. Did you see that bubble try to escape? He was magic. I will be magic! Let’s make bubble mixture now so I can do my show! Mum, watch me watch me make this giant bubble!”

Does anyone else think the word bubble looks a bit weird all of a sudden?

Five stars Mr Bubbles. Your show was inspirational, and has spawned at least one promising young protege (and also her father), to actively practise the art of bubble blowing in lounges, on rainy days.

Inside

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Reviewed by Nikita Rybak

Inside is a window into one person’s relationship with a dark cloud in her life. A shadow. Misery. Depression. That person is never aware of a cloud that follows her everywhere, but she can feel its effects her every waking moment. The cloud is played by a young actress with uncomfortable intensity of an extremely possessive lover, the kind who cannot bear being more than a centimetre away from you and wants a say on your every body movement.

That relationship manages to both portray one woman’s relationship with her inner sadness and to generate a lot of tension, gripping audience whole way through. That intensity, however, has its drawbacks. The shadow starts off with such force and such quiet violence that there’s no way to escalate from there. Ten minutes in, we have already seen the shadow to arm wrestle the woman, to be dragged around by her like a backpack full of rocks and to strangle her by the neck. There’s nothing else she can do to top that and so tension flatlines.

The actress who plays shadow’s owner, however, does fantastic job of portraying one person’s descend into anguish, going from functional and defiant to a complete wreck one subtle change at a time. She is helped by sparse use of words, with only dialogue being in the form of phone calls where we only hear one side. Her conversations with her boss are particularly effective. By vocalising universal frustrations and indignities of employment, those calls both made me relate to the protagonist and injected some humour into otherwise grim play. (“Of course I don’t mind coming on Saturday and Sunday, Mr Boss. Have fun with your kids.”)

But besides all of those things, Inside is also a marvel. It combines elements rarely seen together to create a powerful production, riveting audience whole way through while also providing a sliver of hope in the end.

The War Prayer Concert

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The War Prayer Concert

 

May 4th, 2018

Ghostlight Theatre

Nelson Fringe Festival

 

Reviewed by Lisa Allan

 

The back wall of Ghost Light Theatre is adorned with a suitably 60’s inspired floral projection, setting the scene for the anti-war performance that is, The War Prayer Concert. The show is a coming together of the lyrical, both through music and poetry, with the pièce de résistance being Mark Twain’s posthumously published work, ‘The War Prayer.’

Another Mark, one Mr Raffills, is our host for the night and he gets things off to a nostalgic start by reciting the first verse of ‘Blowing in the Wind.’ My heart strings are plucked and I  am simultaneously thrust into my childhood, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, gluing the lyrics of this song into my scrap book and further back, to a time of flowers and long hair and bare-feet and the strong sentiments that saw a generation of youngsters stand up to have their say. Musicians Lisa Williams (guitar/ vocals), Leigh Strange (keyboard/ vocals) and Phill Simmonds (octave mandolin/ harmonica/ vocals) come in on the chorus. Harmonies weaving in and out like a sweet breeze inviting us to ask ourselves the big question… ‘How many times?’

Each of the four performers has their own style and connection to the material. We discover that Lisa has a son in the military, another in government. As she serenades us with her original song, University of Peace, we hope that the words of their mother might still have sway, might reach them and touch them as they go about their jobs… “just let love and peace remain…”

Phill tells us about his Dad and the strong ideals that passed from the older man to the younger one. He paints us a picture of the last moments of his Dad’s life, the gathering together of family and the request for Phill to play his song, Watch the Fire, during his last moments. We hear that this song was written for Phill’s ex-wife, just after their divorce and the heart and soul of this special man shine through as he shares his music with us. Perhaps it’s just my imagination swept up in the magical web of the past but it seems to me that the music extends out of him like an aura of hope.

The crowd appreciates the way Leigh shares herself through her two religious songs. I would have loved a wee story from her, to help us connect to her like we were able to do so with the other performers.

Mark Raffills commands the stage with his experience and conviction. He takes us into his family home, introduces us to his sons and shares a poem, conversationally inviting us to march down the street saying ‘no more, no more.’ He drops into ‘The War Prayer’ with a change in energy. His voice, clear and simple, drawing us into this powerful piece of writing. Accompanied by poignant projections and choice direction by Ronnie Short, we are introduced to the two sides of a congregations prayer for victory at war. I was spellbound as Mark described the old man, everything fell away and I wanted to lean in and in and in as his voice lowered and I saw the stranger forming before my eyes. Mark is a beautiful storyteller and this particular moment was the highlight of the show for me. After the impact of this prayer, I needed stillness, simplicity and gravitas.

The particular version of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ that followed shook me out of the prayer and the musicians found it a bit hard to chime in. It was the perfect choice of song to end with but didn’t need to be fancy, fancy detracted from the message, putting the focus onto the quality of the vocals (which was lovely by the way, just not suitable for that moment).    

These small critiques aside, I do recommend getting along to The War Prayer Concert, if it comes your way. The show was a gentle hand-raising, an echo through time that seemed to say ‘I’m still here, I still disagree with war, I haven’t given up.’

Strangers

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Reviewed by Georgina Sivier

Taking my seat in the sold out Refinery Art Gallery I was excited to see some improvisation that isn’t just about the laughs. As Impulse theatre’s definition of their show Strangers states: ‘What happens when two strangers meet? Do they pass like ships in the night, have a brief moment of connection, or form a lifelong friendship? Do they fall in love, or become mortal enemies?’ 

The start of the show is fantastically engaging, the players enter the stage and get on a bus, as we watch these strangers, completely disconnected, on public transport, excitement builds. Each performer’s character is inspired by a card that they draw out of a bucket on stage and the audience is privy to an introductory monologue that helps ground the characters we are about to see.

 

‘I need to vent.’

‘I want sex.’

‘I’m a friend of Sam’s.’

‘I love animals.’

‘I create art.’

‘I want to make a difference.’

 

The players build an entire story based on these six statements which impresses the audience to no end. I did however find myself wishing that these provocations were taken a bit further, as I found that some players seemed to forget their’s as time went on.

Connections were found and relationships formed. I took immense pleasure in watching friendships blossoming, romances developing and even some frictions beginning.  The performers did a great job managing the story that was being created but I did find that the pacing needed to be varied. Lots of scenes began with some moments of silence as the scene was set, and often the rhythm of the scenes were not differing which at some times made it hard to stay engaged.

It is clear to see that these performers work regularly with each other, they expertly navigated each other characters and created relationships that I wanted to know about.

 

If Strangers comes to your town, I urge you to see it.

Is Suicide an Option?

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Reviewed by Sue Beesley

A shambling shy bear of a man bumbled into his stories of his mental health problems- and the awful experiences he has had being “helped” and the audience met him with empathy and warmth and laughter at his dark humour. When he told the story of finally finding courage to ask a girl out and she refused,  a long aaaaw sighed from us all. We so wanted him to succeed. He had some special moments when we were in the palm of his hand.
A tender first performance that will shine as practice polishes it.

The Bubble Soap Workshop

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Reviewed by Kahu Gillespie

The ‘Bubble Man Workshop’ is a heart-warming; interactive experience for children. Although at 19 I don’t exactly fit into the recommended age group, I went to the two workshops today (5th May 2018) to take pictures for the Fringe Festival, as a part of my professional practice as an NMIT student. Unfortunately, I missed the main performance, however, it didn’t seem to matter, ‘The Highland Joker’ AKA Eran ‘The Bubble Man’ is a classic example of a great children’s performer. He never faltered in keeping the audience involved and was always enthused when talking to them. His outfit was pretty cool and quirky, with a waistcoat and even goggles on top of his hat!

I stayed for both the 20-minute workshops, they started with him introducing himself to everyone and giving them all a plate and a straw. The Bubble Man then showed how best to blow bubbles from it with a quick demonstration, almost everyone managed to get some good bubbles going right away, anyone that had trouble immediately got some help from him or their parents (a couple of parents had some trouble at first as well). Once everyone got the hand of it he told them to spread some of the bubble-soap over their plates and start to make some bigger ‘cake’ bubbles! They stuck to the edge of the plates because of the soap, the next step was to blow some smaller bubbles (cherries) on top and then Eran came around to fill them up with smoke so they could pop them into smoke clouds!

The next activity was a bit crafty, as Eran handed out red cotton string and some bamboo sticks so that they could all make their own big bubble makers! At this point people got up and about to use them and blow all kinds of big bubbles around, some even passed bubbles to each other like a ball, using their bubble maker to catch them. After all this it was time for the finale, anyone that wanted to be inside a giant bubble (yes even adults – these really are big bubbles) would go up to the stage and The Highland Joker would use a big-bubble-ring to make a colossal bubble around them!

I think it’s a brilliant little experience for anyone with a child out there, take them along and watch their face light up watching all the spectacular bubbles!

Drop the Mask

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Reviewed by John Cohen-Du Four.
Ghost Light Theatre becomes a bar, complete with piano player in the back of the room. The audience arrives as bar owner Pauline struggles to be the gracious host, endlessly greeting, fretting and wiping tables – a well-intended buffoon soon to be host to an ever-changing coterie of characters, both masked and unmasked. They mix and intermingle, their lives briefly entwined in largely unspoken encounters.

This is the neat set-up for Trance Mask’s Nelson Fringe improv show, Drop the Mask. And at times it works brilliantly. Like when a punter at a table on stage has his hair nonchalantly trimmed by a masked wannabe hairdresser; or when another masked punter takes to a mic on stage and, in total silence, mimes a stand-up routine where no one knows what the gags are, but the entire audience willingly claps and laughs enthusiastically every time the comic stamps his foot to indicate a punchline; or when neck massages around the table cause the masked recipients to delightfully ooze their way to the floor; and whenever the confused and ever-apologetic (and interestingly, unmasked) Pauline takes the spotlight to help steady the ship of this unscripted – and, at times, uneven – hour.

Mask is a beautiful art form. At its best it serves to illuminate the human condition – the ultimate in embodiment and nuance. But it is also unforgiving; as was evidenced in the clumsy movements of those inexperienced with the masks they wore. It can put an audience on edge when they are inadvertently watching the stage for slips, trips and falls, rather than getting lost in the story. Wardrobe malfunctions such as a repeatedly falling hat, unless intended for humour, need to be ditched immediately, not struggled with endlessly.

For the performers, it is never enough to merely hide behind the mask – they need to gloriously inhabit it, fill their characters out completely with everything but a changing facial expression. This lack of experience showed in the locally assembled troupe, and meant the show fell, from time to time, into theatrical holes; not helped by the fact that when (unmasked) actors did speak, more often than not they were poorly heard within the busy theatre space. That said, the audience was forgiving, and there for a good time – which they largely got.

There is never enough theatre of the absurd, certainly not in Nelson – making this a welcome, if somewhat patchy, visitation.