30 September 2007

I Love You, Bro

I Love You, Bro
30 September 2007
The Loft


I Love You, Bro is an example of why Fringe festivals are so important. This is an outstanding production that lets us see what incredible skill lurks in Melbourne’s independent theatre community.

It’s a brave decision to write, direct and perform a show that is set in front of a computer screen. If you’ve ever sat staring at your Messenger willing someone will appear, you will recognize yourself in Johnny. I Love You, Bro explores deception, obsession and love though the vicarious existence and construction offered by the internet.

Adam J A Cass has written an amazing script. By breaking many storytelling conventions and structures, he has created an authentic voice and style that surpasses expectations and establishes a unique and thoroughly believable world. He combines Johnny’s present story telling, inner dialogue, chat conversations and real life interactions seamlessly. Knowing this is a true story and reading the Vanity Fair article it’s based on, makes me admire this work even more. Cass chose an original perspective and includes just the right amount of story detail. His addition of Johnny’s mother and step father as off stage characters bring an extra and more grounded dimension to the story. I’d like to see it published, as it’s one of those rare scripts that works on the stage, but also begs to be read. The text and structure are so complex that it runs the risk of failing as a performance. Fortunately it was placed in very capable hands.

Yvonne Virsik is firmly establishing herself as a must have young director. She finds the emotional truth of a work and gently guides her actors towards an honest and balanced version of their characters. Johnny is always in front of his computer screen, but Virsik’s staging maintains action and interest. It’s like the audience are watching Johnny and his thoughts from within cyber space.

Jason Lehane’s stark and simple design gently supports and highlights the action. I loved how it reminded audiences that this theatre, by looking like a painted back drop, but came to life by combining the relatively simple technology of lighting and projection.

Finally, there’s Ash Flanders. If he isn’t nominated for best actor in the Fringe Awards, I’ll be surprised. This is a difficult script to perform. The action is minimal, the text is vital and he has to morph from chatting to the audience in the present to chatting on the computer in the past, whist presenting his own multiple characters and Marky Mark, the target of Johnny’s love and deceit. Flanders brings each character vividly to life though Johnny. Johnny himself is played with a delicate balance of sympathy, understanding and judgement. Meanwhile Flanders connects totally and personally with the audience and never lets our attention wander.

My only concern is that the humour isn’t working as strongly as it should. I assumed it was pitch black comedy, but it often felt like straight drama. The audience took a long time to laugh and seemed almost uncomfortable when they did. The writing speaks so strongly about the emotional core of Johnny, that perhaps the audience need more permission to enjoy the humour. True comedy is only a faction of a millimetre away from tragedy; I Love You, Bro needs a small nudge back for the comedy to work.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

28 September 2007

The Outrageous Beverly Parker

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2007
The Outrageous Beverly Parker
28 September 2007
Fringe Hub


Beverly Parker is indeed outrageous. She’s also shocking, irresistible, hilarious, passionate, gorgeous and honest. Her self-titled cabaret show is pretty damn fine as well.

Many outstanding performers use the stage to hide their real selves. Some performers create a character to tell their story. Beverly Parker uses the stage to reveal her true self. Everything you see is a totally honest and that is what makes The Outrageous Beverly Parker such a compelling show.

Parker takes us through some of her life. She’s been a table top dancer, a bikie moll, accidentally provided a training video for the bill in Redding and was the only coloured face in a posh white suburb in South Africa. Her stories are told with a humour that can only come through love and truth. She has structured her tales well and never overwhelms or bores with unnecessary detail.

The shows works with just the outrageous stories and costumes, but what makes it so powerful and ultimately satisfying is Parker’s story of discovering her family in South Africa, as she lost her mother to cancer. We are all complex and diverse souls, no matter how enticing or repelling the exterior.

Her song choice combines disco, jazz and traditional African music. I’m not sure if anyone else could make this combination work so perfectly. Each song is chosen for the story it tells and for the story Parker has just told the audience. Ella Fitzgerald’s Miss Otis Regrets is one of the most powerful works of art created about racism and violence. I’ve heard it performed too many times with the sensitivity of elevator music. Parker’s rendition is the most beautiful, relevant and sincere version I’ve heard. I’m sure Ella would be proud.

And Parker can sing – very, very well. Her voice is as huge as her personality, but her skilled mike technique doesn’t overwhelm the small venue.

Parker plays the tiny North Melbourne Town Hall Tent like it’s the Speigeltent. This show deserves a much bigger venue. Parker’s stage presence could fill the biggest room and she deserves to be seen my many. The classic advice for any artists is “leave ‘em wanting more”. I’m sure that anyone who gets to The Outrageous Beverly Parker will want more and more.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Was It a Cat I Saw

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2007
Was It a Cat I Saw

Luke Whitby
Friday 28 September 2007
Fringe Hub


Luke Whitby certainly loves his words. He loves playing with them and he loves letting lots and lots of them come out of his mouth. Was It a Cat I Saw (it’s a palindrome) is his stand up show about his obsession with words.

Luke’s word play is clever and funny. He’s amiable, engaging and makes his audience feel very comfortable very quickly. He admits he used to be a performance poet and was rather fond of a self indulgent poetic rant. He shared some of his bad poems. All present agreed with Luke’s opinion that he is much better stand up than poet.

This is a show for anyone who has had the religious experience of new stationery from Office Works (why don’t those coloured pens I bought make me write better?), wondered if a call centre operator just swore at you, listened to heavy metal for the lyrics, found themselves at a poetry reading, wondered if God has a my space page or was bored/geeky enough to devise anagrams at work.

There is far too much material in the show. There’s actually enough for two or three good shows. Including it all results in a loss of direction, coherence and pace. He had a perfect ending with an improvised palindrome movie trailer, but then brought the show back to the opening with another joke about Office Works. Full circle is a great structure, but not if you’ve climaxed already.

Ironically, Luke is most comfortable performing his poetry (see this show for "You Are My Godzilla and I am Your Tokyo"). He’s less comfortable as himself. NEVER open a show with “I hope you like it”. Audiences desperately want to like shows; so come out, be confident and show us how good you are. I felt that Luke’s material could work much better if he developed a character to work from. He’s admits to being a nerdy, metal loving, anagram making, call centre worker, but just comes across as a nice guy who’s a little bit nervous.

Luke has some great material about his past obsession with heavy metal lyrics. He supports it beautifully with pictures and words, but we don’t hear a note. I’ll forgive him for not including They Might Be Giants’s song "I Palindrome I", but you can’t do metal material without some soundtrack. There is a similar problem with the final Office Works gag. It’s a great story, but is obviously fictitious and so less powerful without the pen case. Just get something that could be the case and the joke will be so much more effective.

PS The best anagram I could find for my name is “Admire, Near a Pen”. I did the lazy way.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Kin

Kin
Malthouse Theatre 

28 September 2007
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse


Kin is made by one family for all families to share.

Stephen Page has been the Artistic Director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre since 1991 and was Artistic Director of the 2004 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. In Kin, his cast are his son and nephews, who range in age from 10 to 14. His brother David composed the music. This family love working together, but it’s far removed from Von Trapps and Osmonds.

Page says, “The process started with a trip back to Country with my father and we talked about their culture and re-told stories. It was great. The boys’ eyes lit up – you could see this was something in their blood.” And so the boys from the city began creating their interpretation of old stories and telling us their own yarns.

Kin is told by the boys, so it is their view of their own world. Under the clear direction of Page, they don’t avoid the expected issues of racism, referendums and substance abuse, but neither are these issues all that their story is about. Guitars, rap and hip hop are possibly more important in a young teenager’s life.

Humour is a natural part of the telling. This is where the true personalities of the cast are evident and most revel in the audience’s response. There’s frustration and anger in some of the humour, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Don’t miss the joke about the coloured white folk. Page clearly guided the telling of some of the more sensitive issues, especially the very poignant and abstract depiction of petrol sniffing.

Kin is thoroughly captivating. Page captures the honest and raw energy of his cast and blends it seamlessly with his own signature choreography. Content aside, the cast are disciplined, controlled and skilled dancers.

Seeing children and families in the Merlyn together is fabulous. Bring your kids and your nieces and nephews and their friends. Although not recommended for the very little, Friday night’s audience proved Kin is for everyone.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

27 September 2007

Cake

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2007
CakeMalthouse Theatre and Vitalstatistix
27 September 2007
Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse


There are two types of people in this world. Those who will devour a cake the moment they have it in their hands and those who will keep the cake and look at the cake and save the cake. Cake satisfies those who want instant gratification and those who like to savour the details.

Cake was developed through Vitalstatistix’s commission program. Vitals are based in Adelaide and are Australia’s only full time women’s theatre company. Having two years to perfect the recipe has created an original powerful, atmospheric and engaging production. The ingredients of dancer, performer, designer and musician can all be tasted, but none dominate the result.

The final Cake is scrumptious. When you think it’s just going to be filled with cheap cream and cake jokes, you find new layers of dark ganache, light and crisp meringue, bitter-sweet marzipan, intoxicating brandy soaked apricots and finally the sobering piece of cardboard reality at the bottom.

Nostalgic, yet complex, it’s about desire, emptiness and distraction and our need to fill our lives and our selves with something that’s going to satisfy.

The text is poetic and heightened, but anything else would seem wrong in their world. It’s balanced with songs and music and cake puns that are as cheap, but irresistible as a chocolate doughnut. Of course a torte would retort!

Astrid Pill’s performance is fluid and free, but always intricately controlled. She captures the audience and never lets them go. Zoe Barry supports musically and offers a continual and changing reflection of Astrid. Barry’s composition is the raspberry coulis and king island cream to Astrid’s mud cake.

And there are cake puns, cake metaphors, cake references and real cakes. Some of the audience even get given cake. Some ate them instantly, but most held them for the whole show. You can (and should) eat the cake.

If you don’t get a snack, just enjoy the vicarious journey from lamingtons to strawberry and walnut strudel. Even those hideous South Australian frog cakes get a mention. If you’ve never had one, they are real and green and really as nasty as they sound.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

MIAF preview 2007

MIAF Preview 2007
The Free Program

                                                                             John Cage

If I could have my perfect arts festival...Robert Wilson and Peter Brook would direct a show each. Laurie Anderson and Merce Cunningham would drop by. We’d hear lots of John Cage, there’d be a reworking of Shakespeare, contemporary Butoh, some outrageous cabaret, a fabulous festival club and lots of local artists. So, I’m excited about the 2007 Melbourne International Arts Festival program.

The Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) runs 11–27 October. It's Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds third outstanding program. The 2005 and 2006 programs drew a degree of media (and other) criticism for being too far from the mainstream.

Melbourne’s arts audiences certainly don’t seem to mind. Surely those full houses and cheering audiences must count for something?

Edmunds says, “This year’s program presents artists who have, by definition, changed the possibilities of their art form for all time, and whose individual legacies continue to expand, astound and inspire.” The likes of Cunningham, Brooks, Wilson and Anderson don’t need me to promote them.

Edmunds artistic choice and aesthetic certainly isn’t mainstream. But just because you’re a Phantom of The Opera fan doesn’t mean you won’t love a show like Robert Wilson’s The Temptation of St Anthony. The Los Angeles Times said "Wilson drenches the stage in brilliant colour and beguiling movement. It is breathtaking to watch these singers possess the stage. Each is amazing.” If you like sing along music, spectacular costumes, incredible sets and a world class cast; why not give it a go. And you won’t get the B cast or have to pay for a program.

If you’re still not convinced that this festival is for you and you’d rather save for Priscilla, there are 20 free events in the program. You don’t have to spend a cent.

MIAF has a tradition of free events. The twist this year is that many are presented by the main program artists.

Opening Night kicks off with a family sing-a-long in Federation Square with Dan Zanes and Friends. Zanes was a hit at the 2006 festival and recently won himself a Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children. The night promises no minimalist or post modern compositions, just good old sing-your-guts-out fun.

On the other had, if you are partial to a touch of minimalism, get ready of an all nighter on Friday October 26. Starting at 6.48pm is John Cage’s Musicircus. It finishes at 5.20am. Based on a John Cage event first performed in 1967, it’s a large scale simultaneous performance event involving musicians, dancers, visual artists, poets and a pony. Audiences are invited to move around the BMW Edge anytime from dusk to dawn to explore the multiple performances. You never know who’ll be performing when, so have a nap during the day and be prepared for a coffee or two at 3am.

If you’re unfamiliar with Cage, there’s plenty of opportunity to get to know his work before committing to Musicircus. Often described as avant guard, Cage remains one of the most innovative musicians and artists of the last 60 years. One of his best known compositions is 4’33’ (Four Minutes, 33 Seconds). It’s a three movement work where all the notes are silent. To hear it played live is one of the most genuinely incredible musical experiences.

Cage’s way of looking at music, art and life will be on neon display in Federation Square throughout the festival. Cage Quotes is running daily on the ticker panels that usually promote upcoming events. The quote at the bottom of my emails is from Cage. "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.” I refer to it a lot when reviewing.

Cage was also the Music Director to Merce Cunningham Dance Company until his death in 1992. This festival will be remembered for bringing Merce Cunningham to Melbourne. Regarded as a pillar of modernism and simply known as the greatest living choreographer, Cunningham has led his own company since 1953. Always prizing invention over convention, Cunningham has consistently created new languages for dance.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company is performing two programs at the State Theatre, but the highlight promises to be The Melbourne Event in Federation Square on Sunday 21 October. The piece will be created by Cunningham specifically for Melbourne and the Square. It will never be repeated and it’s free.

If by now you’re beginning to like this style of art, head to National Gallery of Victoria for the exhibitions from Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Johns is known as one of the founding fathers of pop, minimalism and conceptual art, while Rauschenberg is one of the leading figures in modern art. Both designed for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Then go to the Gertrude Contemporary Art space for Playground, an exhibition by Daniel Arsham, who has worked with Cunningham more recently.

Other Free Events in Federation Square events include:

  •  Jon Rose’s Sphere of Influence on 23 October. Combining digital technology, live performance and a giant white ball rolling around the square at sunset.
  • Orbotics [network] which fuses the ancient art of origami with robot technology. You’re invited to bring your bluetooth and wifi connected laptop, PDA or mobile phone to network and interact with the oribots.
  • Hidden Inside Mountains at ACMI. With an original score by Laurie Anderson, this film was commissioned in EXPO 2005 in Aichi Japan.

Or, if you’re still a bit unsure about the work you see and have some questions, head to The Speigeltent every lunchtime to join Edmunds in discussion with festival artists.
"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
John Cage
There is so much to see in the festival that is free. So why not try it for a couple of minutes or more. You may find it’s not what you expected. You may find an expression of beauty and wonder that you have not seen before. You may also discover why so many of us love these festival programs that don’t cater for the mainstream.

Here's director Kristy Edmunds talking about the program.

This originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

26 September 2007

MelBorn

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2007
MelBorn

Melbourne Writers Theatre
26 September 2007
Carlton Courthouse


The Melbourne Writers Theatre celebrates its 25th year in true Fringe style with MelBorn. It’s is a collection of 10 terrific stories, written by 10 great writers, told by 10 skilled directors and 10 hot actors. This is what good independent theatre is all about and may be the best value ticket of the Fringe season.

MWT was formed by playwright Jack Hibbard in 1982 and, obviously, focuses on developing great writing for the theatre. Scripts at MWT are developed with panel discussions, readings and workshopping by professional directors and actors. A MWT production will always showcase some of the best written and developed scripts from this town.

The success of Short and Sweet in Melbourne has fanned our interest in short scripts. MelBorn is unique because every work was written by a Melbourne playwright. 150 plays were submitted for selection. The final 10 demonstrate very different styles of writing and different explorations of the short form.

My only concern is that sometimes the focus was on the writing, rather than telling the story. Ironically very good, well crafted writing can actually distract, rather than support a work. At times I found myself listening to the writing, rather than engaging with the characters and their journey. Do we write plays to tell a story or to show how well we can use language?

The New York influence of Artistic Director Christina Cass is evident throughout the production. Cass has ensured that the 10 plays work as a sustained piece, rather than individual moments. This is supported with the highly creative and inventive design by Magdalena Romaniuk.

At two hours, MelBorn is long for a Fringe show, but don’t worry - it’s never dull and even if one story doesn’t interest you, a new one will start very soon.

The Ten Plays

The Elevator
Do we our real personas cease to exist at work? What happens to our work selves out of the office? An exploration of communication and power among women in the corporate world. The dialogue was a bit clumsy at times, but the characters and story keep our attention.

Protocol
Any book about writing will tell you a sure fire way to create a story is to change the status of your characters. This technique works especially well in the short form. Protocol is unexpected and creates the tension needed to capture and sustain the audience’s interest. Sure it’s about a car space, but the writer draws parallels to a much bigger picture, as “you’d be surprised how touchy people get over territory.” This story may work better ending without the obvious resolution though. Very powerful performance by Matt Maloney that at times overpowered Simon Kearney.

Itchy
This is a piece written for the language. A simple story is created to use every clichéd piece of work place jargon. This is clever, witty and playful writing. The story and characters are not that relevant. Itchy is successfully directed for its humour and will tighten up as the performers react to the audience’s enjoyment of the piece, rather than trying to show the audience the funny bits.

Can’t Wait For Love
This is a very well written portrait of an original character, told beautifully though Phil Robert’s performance. He’s engaging and interesting, but it’s illustrative. There is no story, no action and no drama. After a while he’s just telling us things we already know about him, so there’s no real journey for the character or the audience. He belongs in a larger story.

10,000 Cigarettes
A love poem to the cigarette. I think this piece would work very well on paper. As a free form poem, I love its use of language, its humour and its references to brands and famous smoking moments in film. It’s written for 30 and 40 somethings who used to smoke and, in our non-smoking world, many of the jokes were completely missed by younger audience members. I don’t know why it’s a short play. The only action in the script is some coughing. Sorry for the spoiler, but it ends with the hint that those smokes may kill you. That’s no revelation, so why not keep it as the love poem? 10,000 Cigarettes is enjoyable because its very well directed and performed to create life and movement.

Transactions
This was my stand out winner of the night. Scott McAteer has created authentic characters who we care about, a situation that surprises and plot that is always one step ahead of our expectations. Tightly directed by Harry Paternoster and honestly performed by Simon Kearney and Bobbi-Lea Dionysius.

Waiting For Derek
What happens when you husband doesn’t know you, or your best friend, and they both proceed to tell you about their affair? A very clever piece about dementia with a bonus twist that makes the ending more satisfactory than expected. Relies a bit too heavily on exposition and may benefit from more action in the present.

A Drop Would; Be Nothing
There’s an ongoing joke in television that children are only put in stories to get cancer or die in accidents. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a dead child, but sometimes they are just plot devices. There’s some very good writing and exploration about hate and anger in this piece. It questions why people stay in situations when common and every other sense says to leave. It’s sustained by very strong performances, but did it need a dead child cliché to create the situation?

Greener Pastures
Sometimes the telling of a joke can and should take ten minutes. For 9 and a half minutes this is a one joke piece, but the final 30 seconds are the real joke. Greener Pastures is just the telling of a joke, but it’s done very well.

The Painter
This is the second piece of the night that told a complex, authentic and sustained story. What happens when you have a dead rat rather than a Nobel Prize? The main joke of the play is in the title and for too obvious, but it doesn’t detract from the characters or their situation. Original, authentic writing that knows who it’s talking too and never lets the writing become more important than the story.


This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

20 September 2007

Dickens’ Women

Dickens’ Women
Andrew McKinnon

September 20 2007
Playhouse, The Arts Centre


Miriam Margoyles has inspired me to re-read Dickens. Her solo show Dickens’ Women offers a very complex and honest portrait of the author’s life though his personal and literary relationships with women.

Dickens’ Women is the story of Charles Dickens’ life told through the characters in his books. Margoyles presents a series of dramatic readings interwoven with a factual narrative about his life and her personal response to the man and his work. As most of the characters are based on real people, they offer a very revealing picture of a man, who Margoyles admits that she loves and she hates.

Dickens’ women tend to be either idealised 17 year old virgins or grotesques beyond sexuality. She admits he was “such a chauvinist” and if he hadn’t made them laugh so much in researching, she may not be on that stage today. Ultimately she loves his work and loves the characters, but isn’t so keen on the man.

You cannot help but love Margoyles. Her performance is warm and engaging. She is totally at home on the stage and crosses between her 23 chosen characters and herself talking to the audience with ease and grace. The audience loved her and applauded her every reading like she was a diva.

This is where I have concerns about this kind of show. The characters and the performance suffered from a lack of context and appeared almost too “acted”. It was like watching a concert or a series of auditions (of which she would have got every part). I found myself admiring the performance, rather than enjoying the story. Too many laughs came from funny faces or funny voices, rather than the text or the actual character.

Some characters worked better than others. The ones, such as Miss Havisham, who were presented from the replica of Dickens own reading desk were the most successful. Dickens does translate very well to stage (I still remember The Sydney Theatre Company’s amazing Nicholas Nickleby from 1984), but his stories were created to be read – to your self or to others – and this is how they work best.

If you are curious to see this show, love your Dickens or love Miriam Margoyles, you will not be disappointed with Dickens' Women.

PS. It’s just been announced that Dickens will be appearing at the Speigeltent in Melbourne on December 15 and 16. If you want to see how the man himself read his work, don’t miss Phil Zachariah’s in Eagles Nest Theatre’s outstanding production of Charles Dickens Performs A Christmas Carol.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

01 September 2007

Melbourne Fringe 2007

Melbourne Fringe 2007

Melbourne in September sees many passionate folk crowding together to watch something they love. September 29 is the AFL final. It’s also the opening weekend of the Melbourne Fringe festival.

Last year about 200 000 people attended Melbourne Fringe events. That’s about two full capacity MCGs or four near capacity Telstra Domes. Melbourne loves its arts as much as its sport.

This year’s Fringe runs from 26 September to 14 October. With 263 events the program includes theatre, cabaret, circus, comedy, digital art, dance, music, puppetry and visual art, and is Victoria’s largest annual showcase of independent arts.

Creative Producer Kath Melbourne (yes it’s her real name) is guiding her second festival. She says the 2007 program is “bulging at the seams with the kind of unique artistic collaborations and unforgettable events that make Melbourne Fringe synonymous with all things inventive, surprising and diverse”.

What does all of that mean? Isn’t the Fringe just some arty-farty party for naked fire twirlers?

OK, sometimes it is, but there’s a lot more that you might want to discover.

What is a Fringe Festival?

Fringes are unofficially attached to a major arts festival and tend to feature the more unusual art forms. In Melbourne the Fringe starts two weeks before the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the two programs overlap for a few days.

How Do They Select the Program?

They don’t. Anyone can be in the Fringe festival.

Major arts festival programs, like the Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney festivals are selected by an artistic director and the artists are paid. Fringes are open access, meaning there is no selection criteria. Professionals and first timers are treated the same. If you have something that you want to show to an audience, you can be in the Fringe.

You do have to pay a registration fee ($230-270 in Melbourne), which gets you a spot in the guide and advice from the Fringe staff about necessities like public liability insurance and risk management. All that’s left is for you to plan, rehearse, prepare, promote, create or perform your art and hope that people will want see it. The only payment Fringe artists receive is from ticket sales.

For audiences, this style of open program ensures that you never know what is going to turn up each year.

Is it all obscure?

The joy of an open program is that it encourages exploration and risk. This element of risk is what makes a Fringe program either intimidating or exciting.

The umbrella marketing of the festival gives artists a degree of freedom to experiment. This is the festival where you get to see what artists are really passionate about, the show they really want to do or the experiments they really want to try.

A festival program like this gives us punters the chance to easily find these shows and give them a go.

How to decide what to see?

Read the guide

Look out for a cobalt blue magazine in cafes or go to www.melbournefringe.com.au.

The guide can be daunting and full of false promises. Each act is given a mere 50 words to convince you to part with your money and their review quote of “amazing” might have been written by the director’s gran. There is at least one show in this year’s guide that is “award winning”, but fails to mention what awards. Perhaps the writer came second in the 25 metre breaststroke in grade six.

Read the blurbs thoroughly or simply flick though and chose the best or worst picture or title you find. Why not judge a show by its cover? You might strike gold. (Or fools gold. My vote for the worst pitch is Great Golden Showers, accompanied by a picture of an unattractive bloke and a big bowl of yellow liquid.

Read reviews

Not all reviewers agree and not all shows are reviewed, but they will give you a starting point.

Head to a hub

The official Fringe Hub is around the North Melbourne Town Hall in Queensberry St. There are plenty of shows and venues, so just turn up and buy a ticket to whatever is about to start.
You can also try the Northcote Town Hall or Gasworks in St Kilda.

Trust the audiences

A sign of a good show is ticket sales. If you’re buying from the Fringe Box Office (in Federation Square or on the phone), ask what is popular.

Have a drink

Head to the Fringe Club at North Melbourne Town Hall. There will be plenty of punters willing to tell you what’s good.

Be a tightarse

There are many free events, including performances at the Fringe Club six nights a week, 30 visual arts exhibitions and interactive installations in Federation Square.
There are also two for one deals for most shows on 28 September and 6 October.

It’s always going to be a risk going to a Fringe show. It may be spectacular or it may fail spectacularly. That is what it’s all about. And know that your ticket has given an artist some well earned beer money.

Pick of the Program
Based purely on the blue guide, these are my picks.

Death By Chocolate. An “interactive murder mystery installation”, with chocolate tastings at Koko Black in Lygon Street. No idea who this company is, but the KB chocolate is good. A look at their website says that the answer to the mystery isn’t available until the end of the run, because “It would do no good for someone who knows The Answer to turn up to a show and reveal all in the first 10 minutes. We don't want to spoil your experience, so we keep this confidential until a suitable time.” Let’s hope the experience is more important than the resolution.

AARDVARK – The Shitt Family Puppet Show. They promise Shitt jokes and a Shitt time.
Cake. Malthouse Theatre are presenting this very successful production from Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix company. It won real awards at the Adelaide Fringe.

Grit and Gold. Dorothy Porter and Carrie Tiffany talking about their writing. Fringe is for all artists, not just performers

I Love You, Bro. I’m curious to see how a show about chat rooms is translated to the stage, and director Yvonne Virsik recently impressed in An Air Balloon Across Antarctica.

MelBorn. 10-10-10 . A series of 10, 10 minute plays, directed by 10 local directors. The Melbourne Writers Theatre love writers and know how to put good writing on a stage.

OK, I’m 40 Something. Fringe isn’t just for 20 somethings. Yes it is possible to be of “that age” and still run with the crowd.

Pick Ups. Writer Alex Broun is the artistic director of the extremely successful Short And Sweet festival in Melbourne. A show about the “comedy and loneliness of contemporary dating” will surely offer something to anyone who has ever been on a date.

Forever. A 24 hour theatrical event. Local designers and performers will transform an empty space over 24 hours. Described as a one-off experiment in collaboration, improvisation and endurance.

Gilgamesh. Uncle Semolina (and friends) have established themselves as one of the most exciting independent companies in Melbourne. Gilgamesh was last seen at the 2005 Melbourne Festival and there are giving us three performances before heading on an international tour.

Senseless. Conceived online by over 20 writers, film makers, visual artists and designers, but a solo performance.

Spacemunki. Another show that has earned a reputation as an “I wish I’d seen it”. I really enjoyed it a couple of years ago. Here’s another chance for those who missed it.

Testosterone. Described as a swipe at women, a demontage of the mythical male, bursts of male bravado and a bloody mess.

Tadpole. The Fringe is also for the zerosomethings. The Northcote Town Hall has a venue dedicated to puppetry. Tadpole is for kids, but there is Tyrannosauras Sex: A Puppet Rock Opera for those who are fond of a puppet penis.

Bucket of Love. Dark, funny, physically spectacular and always engaging - The Candy Butchers continually show how circus has grown up. This is Derek Ives solo show.

A Record of an OBE. Following the success of Yong Tong (the show about The Goons), let’s see what Shaolin Punk do with The Goodies

Jail Bait. Rod Quantock leads you through the Melbourne Gaol and local comedians tell us about the crime they would love to commit. Worth it just for Rod’s tour.

Was It A Cat I Saw. It’s a nerdy show about words (yes it’s a palindrome). Melbourne Fringe is an anagram of “one fine grumber”. Having my own nerdy word tendancies, how can I resist.

Black Bag. Cabaret with Benn Bennett and Wes Snelling. I’ve seen Wes’ drag chatacter, looking forward to see what he does sans frock.

Yana Alana And Tha Paranas in “Bite Me”. Her performance at the Fringe launch made me laugh - a lot - out loud. “Angry, feminist, spoken word, interpretive dance, burlesque”. This is Fringe and this show is knows that it can be very funny.

This story originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.