No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Tuxedo Cat

AdlFringe Review: Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

Eyes still open. Brain still spinning. Body still awake.
Every night, sleep eludes this woman. Her bed doesn’t afford her the comfort it should. Instead, it is just the place she struggles, night after night, to find sleep.
Sleepless, life becomes a suspended animation. During the day she never feels as awake as she does at night, when the world has stopped and yet her brain still moves on. And on. And on.

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay is playwright Fleur Kilpatrick’s exploration of insomnia. It is her trying to make sense out of something that is so little spoken about, so little understood. The work carries us through nights and days, a never-ending cycle of wakeful restlessness, of swirling thoughts on sleep, and where it has left this woman.

Through the performance Joanne Sutton attempts to woo sleep; to trick it into coming; she fights for it, and fights against the impact of a never-ending sleeplessness. In a delightful performance, her energies rise and fall with the manipulation of time and being constantly awake.

Sarah Walker’s design traps the woman within the white sheets of her bed. Even as sleep avoids her, she must lie there, trapped, trying to make sense of it all. Hoping, just once, that the sleep will come and find her. Sutton, standing in the same position through the work has only her arms and face to communicate and reach out to her audience with.

Though this primary design set-up is simple, on top of this is built a beautifully complex dance between Kilpatrick’s text, animation by Thomas Russell, and music by Roderick Cairns. These three layers play into and on top of each other, and the animation and music highlight the deep structuring which exists in Kilpatrick’s text. As it is spoken, you can almost feel the way it would sit on the page, and underneath everything, you can truly feel the impetus for Kilpatrick to have written this work. An often ferocious energy to the text suggests the insomnia she suffered caused these words to bubble up and spill out of her with urgency.

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AdlFringe Review: The Unstoppable, Unsung Song of Shaky M


It’s an interesting question, I think, how much our knowledge of a work impacts our reactions to it and how we, as writers, have to measure these up in our responses. I’d seen One for the Ugly Girls in its original production, and while they didn’t make the review, many of my thoughts after the Adelaide Fringe production were concerning the differences that the casting, in particular, made to the presentation of the work.

I’d read Like a Fishbone several months before the Fringe season was announced, and had been familiar with the work even before that through reviews of the Sydney season.

Seeing …him for the second time I wasn’t quite as taken. While I still loved it, perhaps knowing its progression mean I couldn’t be taken on the same journey. I cried the first time: was that the work, or my slight homesickness?

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M was on in the Melbourne Fringe when I was there, and came recommended, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I then saw Rowena Hutson speak on a panel [podcast dated 12/10/12] with several other fringe artists, where she spoke a bit about the show and her background. So I think it’s fair to say I knew quite a bit about the show going in.

And so after I penned down this review, I went to see what Jake Orr wrote about the work. He walked into the show largely blind, and we came out with very different responses. Perhaps, of course, our perspectives would have been exactly the same had our roles been reversed. Who knows? I do know this is why we need multiple voices writing about art. And I do know I’ll greatly miss having Jake in Adelaide to talk about such things.

But then, here I go, my thoughts. How much they’ll mould yours before or after meeting Shaky M, I don’t know.

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M is a small, gently humorous clowning piece about a young woman, Shaky M (Rowena Hutson). As the audience files in and takes their seats, she sits on stage, idly tracing her finger across the ground. Her right foot shakes. A constant jiggle in her ankle. It doesn’t stop shaking for the next hour, as Shaky M tells us her unsung story.

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AdlFringe Review: One for the Ugly Girls

This review contains significant spoilers. 

Playwright Tahli Corin is one on a long list of Adelaide playwrights moved interstate. It is all too rare to see plays by these writers in Adelaide: second-hand reports come in from Sydney, a few will travel to see it and come back, but the reasons they leave are certainly evident. No less than three ex-South Australian playwrights have works debuting at Griffin Theatre in Sydney this year, including Corin, and it is wonderful to see ONFG giving One for the Ugly Girls its Adelaide premiere, directed here by Adriana Bonaccurso.

Alistair (Syd Brisbane) is an artist whose work hangs in the National Gallery. Suffering from a block in his work resulting from his wife’s death, he hires life model Jade (Lori Bell) for inspiration. When Jade arrives, though, she doesn’t match the picture of what he had in his head – or of the image that was posted on the website. After an initial conflict, the two settle into an antagonistic relationship: each pushing each other’s comfort and buttons, until Jade manages to show Alistair a way back into his art.

The audience soon learn that this Jade isn’t the model from the website at all, and eventually with the appearance of the real Jade (Hannah Norris), the first woman is revealed to be Claire, her step-sister. Out with the old and in with the new, as Alistair replaces the raw and contentious Claire with the shiny veneer of Jade.

There is a slight clumsiness to this turning point in the production which neither Corin nor Bonaccurso have managed to resolve. As an audience, we have been given no hints as to how much Alistair himself knew about the manipulation, nor why he was so happy to go along with it for so long. Was it a simple case of loneliness, of the simple energy that is generated their fights? But then why is he so fickle as to replace one with the other so quickly?

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Melbourne Fringe Review: … him

This review contains minor spoilers.

He reads newspapers.

He hoards newspapers.

He re-enacts newspaper stories.

He re-creates the weather.

He does the crosswords.

He lives alone.

He lives alone, behind a locked door, in his room of newspapers. Newspapers pile on top of each other in stacks around the room. Important pages are stuck to the walls. Certain pages from certain sections have their place. Every day, the new paper is delivered through the slot in the door.

In this space, he finds joy. Great joy, sometimes. He reads every page of every paper every day. He knows what’s going on in the world. He’s just not quite part of it.

But in the room, sometimes there is loneliness. Sadness. Sometimes the news isn’t enough of a companion.

…. him from New Zealand artist Barnie Duncan is an uplifting, hilarious show which had the audience laughing uproariously, but then the work turns to find great pathos.

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Fringe Review: A Donkey and A Parrot

When she was a child, Sarah Hamilton tells us, she heard this story. This story of a French Protestant family who fled to London for religious freedom over three-hundred years ago.  First, left the two oldest sons. Then, the daughter and the two youngest sons with the help of a donkey.  Then, their mother, widowed to illness while the rest of her children fled.  The journey to London, treacherous with encounters with representatives of the King and journeys in rickety boats, however, was only the start of the story.  In London it continued with a girl called Bridget, a parrot called Goldie, and a son who went missing for many many years.

But what was different about the story Hamilton heard was it was the story of her ancestors. A true story. A story that has been passed down through her family for generations.  Sure, she tells us, there are some places where there are different versions, and it’s certainly been embellished over the years – so tonight she’s just going to tell us the parts of the story she likes the best.

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Fringe Review: The Beast

In his 2011 Fringe show The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us,  Stuart Bowden brought us the lovely story of a man who chooses to live alone to save the world.  This year, he brings us The Beast, the lovely story of a beast who has always lived alone, looking out over the small town near his cave. With this, Bowden confirms my opinion he is one of the most prepossessing and honest story-tellers we have the pleasure of seeing once a year.

In a ticket mix-up in the multi-theatred Tuxedo Cat, half the audience have been diverted to the wrong theatre.  Bowden has already begun playing his ukulele for the small group gathered, when the audience is doubled.  He quietly tells us to pretend nothing happened, he’ll start again, before looking out over the whole group and saying to us “I hope you’ll all fit!”

But fit we do, and we settle in to laugh and love the story of The Beast – or, as he prefers to be known, of Winslow.  Winslow leads a life of solitude, a long way from town by foot, quite a diversion by taxi, not too far away if you own a helicopter. He alternates his pissing trees, he generally eats his breakfast warm, he wears sturdy work clothes except for when he needs to look a bit special and he wants to bring out his favourite flowered dress.

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Fringe Review: Clown Lights Stage

In a mix up with the lecture theatres at Adelaide University, Alice Mary Cooper, of the University of Sydney, has been forced to present her APAM lecture in an abandoned room of the Tuxedo Cat. Her lecture, something way too intellectual for me to recall here, certainly has something to do post-modern and post-post-modern performance art in Australia as a process of six-months immersive practice. I simultaneously am horrified at the idea of sitting through such a presentation, and actually completely intrigued and know I would probably take time out of my day to listen.

It’s not to be, though. Alice searches through her bag, and realising she has left her notes in the car she asks us to just sit tight one moment. Outside we hear crash, bang, sirens. Silence.

The door at the rear of the theatre opens, and sliding along the wall, wavering smile under her red nose, is Clown (Cooper). A fan, perhaps of Alice, she is her to save the day and perform Alice’s lecture: if only she can face up to her audience.

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What’s new Tuxedo Cat?

This article was original published in the January 2012 Issue of the Adelaide Review.

Adelaide’s “cultural boulevard”, North Terrace is home to heritage institutions the State Library of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of South Australia but the 2012 Fringe will add pop up venues to North Terrace’s list of must see destinations.

Greg Clarke and Jennifer Layther at the first walkthrough of the new Tuxedo Cat. Photo Gary Cockburn.

This festival season a new cultural venue will open on the southern side of North Terrace, the latest incarnation of the Tuxedo Cat. Since 2008, the Tuxedo Cat has established a reputation as one of the most loved Fringe hubs for independent performing
arts work.

Established and run by Bryan Lynagh and Cassandra Tombs, the Cat, as they affectionately call it, started as a rooftop venue in Synagogue Place off Rundle Street, running for three Fringes before the building underwent development. For the 2011 Fringe they opened in Electra House opposite Town Hall, also sitting empty in preparation of development. In 2012, they will be operating in Club 199 and the iconic 200 North Terrace.

“We feel like it’s our best address yet,” says Lynagh over a drink. “I think it’s a good mix having the Art Gallery and Library and Museum just across the road from a grassroots arts venue.”

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Review: Slavery To Star Trek

This review originally appeared on

From Slavery To Star Trek is a great Fringe show for the Youth Education Program not only because it is a reduction of theatre down to perhaps its most elemental–the art of storytelling–but because this is history perhaps at it’s most elemental–the stories of individuals.

African American Australian Andreea Kindryd’s ancestors and relatives swum across the Mississippi to move back in to slavery to be with the people they loved; they had families of eight children, all of whom got an education in a time when many people didn’t; they shot men in the Ku Klux Klan and escaped to California; they wrote hit songs for Elvis. Her mother worked as a hairdresser for many stars, including Nat King Cole, and was distressed by Kindryd’s choice to show off her natural kinky hair.

Kindryd didn’t just live through the civil rights era: she spoke on the radio with Malcolm X; she was Martin Luther King’s PA (“okay, for a day” she admits); and this is only the tip of the iceberg in her friendships with these two men. After college, she moved to New York and worked on a radio station in Harlem, and moving back to California, she was one of two African Americans hired to work for Lucille Ball’s production company Desilu Productions. There she worked on many shows, in particular the original Star Trek, where she worked for producer and inventor of Klingon Gene Coon, and kissed George Takei.

To hear these stories first hand (or second or third hand in a direct ancestral line) in any case would be a privilege, but Kindryd is a generous, funny, loving and exciting storyteller. She not only recounts the stories of her and her family’s lives, she takes on their characters, re-enacting their situations and conversations.

With five minutes left at the end of the show she asked for questions, and her stage manager reminded her she didn’t even talk about William Shatner this time.

Because this is storytelling, and not scripted theatre, because this is the story of such an incredible life, Kindryd presents the very real idea that every show is going to be different from the last.

I think that is part of the adventure with Kindryd’s show: she doesn’t quite know where she’s going to take you, so the audience certainly has no idea.

In the Red Room at the Tuxedo Cat there is little more than a red curtain, a plume of red feathers in a jar, a glass of water, a note book and Kindryd and her stories. And Kindryd is all you need for a great piece of theatre; a great piece of storytelling.

Andreea Kindryd presents Slavery to Star Trek.  Tuxedo Cat Red Room, Adelaide Fringe.  Season Closed.

Review: The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us

The world is old, and tired, and sad, and lonely.  The air is choked with pollution; as the world sits alone in its galaxy, with only the cold, dead moon to keep it company.  How can anyone on earth be happy, when Earth itself is so doleful?

Avian knows this.  Avian knows that the earth can’t be happy when it is so lonely, so alone.  He knows that he can find the earth a friend.  Company.

But in order to save the earth, Avian himself must prepare.  So he goes to the desert, where he lives alone and builds his spaceship, The Story.  This is the story of The Story, and the story of Avian’s three benders – the three times Avian bent the rules, and spent time with another.  It’s the story of the end of the world, told as the best stories of the end of the world are told: it’s the story of one.

On the small stage in Tuxedo Cat, Stuart Bowden creates for us The Story, a tree, a house, out of black milk creates.  He climbs up with his ukulele, he sits with his keyboard, he blows into his harmonica, he peddles the sound loop, and he sprinkles the show with songs of Avian.  Deeply personal and personable, behind his wickedly adorable smile, Bowden narrates his life as Avian and his three passing partners.  Responding to the audience, or responding to the sounds of an ambulance driving past the building, Bowden completely understands the power of the shared space of theatre.

With the softly frolicking melody of a children’s story filled with vodka and pissing jokes, The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us broke me: I finally saw a play and thought, “this has to be a film.” Not a feature in your megaplex, but the soft sketches of a delicate cartoon, in compact episodes, interlaced between the shows and the stories of your everyday life.

Bowden’s language is so visual as it plays through alliteration, through metaphors; he paints a world simple in its design, easy to understand, and yet adorned with the beauty of language.  Seeing it in the tiny Blue Room, with just Bowden to sell the story and the piece of craft which it is, was wonderful.  But to partner his words with images would be something beautiful indeed.

The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us is the simplicity of the mammoth: of the end of the world, of first crushes, of life-long loves, and of pain and beauty in solitary.  Of one-man shows to tiny packed audiences, and how mighty that can really be.

Stuart Bowden presents The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us.  At the Tuxedo Cat, Blue Room, in the Adelaide Fringe.  Season closed.