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The last show I’m reviewing for mindshare is #nofilter, a blend of dramatic theatre and music at the Marion Cultural Centre last night.

Offering “a backstage voyeuristic view of The Black Dog Circus”, this was an intense experience from beginning to end, exploring themes of suicide, drugs, gender, rape, body dysmorphia and violence, with the audience seated at tables equipped with popcorn, glitter, tissues and patient clinical assessments of each of the casts’ characters.

In the first scene, we see a young girl who, after saying goodbye to her friend for the day, battles with demons, literally, as she tries to reconcile her fears and worries aided by an angel of sorts who is soon overpowered, culminating in the girl slitting her wrists in the bath.

The next scene opens with a clip of two schoolgirls sitting on a bed chatting, enter mum who is furious at their intimacy, throwing one out while she screams at the other (her daughter), packing her bags, so she can leave. Next, we see the daughter sleeping rough, shooting up, prostituting herself, the final part an overdose played out to an excellent cover of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, accompanied by a talented violinist.

One of the most poignant scenes centred around a girl wheeled onto the stage in a chair by one of the demons, who then proceeds to wind her up like a doll to perform, until she remembers her body and reveals a scar across her belly like a rictus. She spies three balloons at the top of a pole and scales it lithely to pop each one, watching as they explode into glitter.

In fact, balloons bookend the show – black ones escape from a box like desperate thoughts through to yellows rising indicative of hope, not before a single one of the latter kind is examined by each cast member as if confused by its bright presence.

And so, the show progresses deeper and deeper, each scene standing alone, but connected with the dark at play in our lives, how you keep it in check or not, the human condition stripped and raw. This was my top pick last year, but it was cancelled due to one of the cast members taking their own life, one of many images of young people flashed on the screen as the remainder sing a beautifully moving rendition of Coldplay’s Fix You to sobs in the crowd.

 

The purpose of the show, with part proceeds going to suicide awareness, is to normalise the conversation about mental health, to reassure people it’s okay to not be okay and that no perception of shame is too great to seek help. Powerful doesn’t cut it.

My fourth mental-health themed show to review for mindshare was Rose Callaghan’s 12 Rules for Life performed at the Rhino Rooms last night.

Originally from Melbourne, Rose moved to Sydney for, in her own words, ‘dick’, having been single for 7 years, which is almost 3 Olympics and in Australia, about 15 Prime Ministers. Rose thinks dating apps are ‘rivers of shit’, as many state their occupation as ‘CEO and Founder’, which she interprets as an overconfident Uber driver with an ABN.

So now armed with boyfriend and having grown out her fringe, which she refers to as ‘face curtains’ (and interestingly, men’s pubes as ‘dick beards’), Rose is seeking some rules for life. And that’s when she discovered Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and author of self-help books, aka ‘a Trojan horse for masochism’. Rose played some audio clips to demonstrate this, in which Peterson draws comparisons between humans and lobsters amongst other things, prompting Rose to exclaim:

He’s so sexist, he makes Trump look like Clementine Ford’s moon cup!

(at which point Rose checks the audience knows what a moon cup is, explaining it should be called what it is – ‘blood bucket’). Rose is a feminist, belonging to many groups on Facebook until they start fighting each other, at which point she cancels herself and joins a smaller group, until they start fighting each other and so on, until she’s in a group with just herself where ‘things are a lot calmer’. Suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, this is ideal for Rose.

Rose believes only homeowners watch The Block and they should invent The Renters Block Edition, where the winner gets their bond back. Continuing the house theme, Rose spoke about how her baby boomer parents no longer have space for her small collection of childhood things, despite their huge empty house where her bedroom is now a study, which most in the audience could relate to, along with the way men come to bed and simply announce ‘I’m sleeping now’ and do just that.

Rose was entertaining, and when sharing her own life rules before closing the show, there were some fundamental messages – ‘own your mental health’ and ‘respect people’s mental health’, something we should all do, despite the challenges we’re often faced with. So, what are your rules for life? Mine’s simply ‘Life’s short, make fun of it.’

My third show to review for mindshare was Singin’ in the Pain last night at Nexus Arts in the Lion Arts Centre.

This is burlesque with a definitive kick, produced by Diana Divine who began by sharing her own story. On strong painkillers after putting her back out, which she later discovered she was allergic to, Diana performed a show in excruciating pain et voila, the title!

Diana removed her back brace to music to demonstrate burlesque for those unfamiliar with it and then sang about trying to accomplish things with a constantly shifting finish line. Her voice was amazing.

Diana introduced the first act – Jaqueline Boxx (aka Miss Disa-burly-tease) from the US. With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects connective tissues, Jacqueline performed in a wheelchair as pertinent messages flashed across the screen behind, such as You don’t look ill and the one below, culminating in a defiant pose giving the finger.

Next up was the recently crowned burlesque idol SA who, with one hand deformed, fascinated with a fan dance, her energy and stage-coverage exhausting, quickly followed by Moisty Magic who shared her history of mental illness through song. Moisty’s voice wasn’t as strong as Diana’s and having Googled her, I found a far more profound performance she gave called Unique.

Madame Savage graced the stage next, drunk on love and high on prescriptions, who, suffering from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to name a few, demonstrated difficulties in the bedroom. Her act finished with a release of medical waste from above – empty blister packs, syringes, boxes, etc. – representing just a few months’ worth. Imagine this for everyone managing a debilitating condition.

The next act enthralled me – Laetitia Stitch who, after visiting ER with endless bleeding, was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Laetitia presented herself as a bandage, head to foot in white, which when peeled, revealed its symbolic red lining. Living with endometriosis myself, this resonated.

While the acts were not as polished as some I’ve seen at the Fringe, they were brave and the concept’s quite brilliant, in its attempt to shatter the assumptions associated with disability, highlight individual experience and demonstrate that accessibility shouldn’t be a barrier. I believe it achieved its goals.

My second Fringe show to review was Mickey D: CAN DO! at The Little Sparrow in Masonic Lodge, Gluttony’s new venue this year.

Deemed “a show with attitude, about attitude”, Mickey began by laying down some ground rules in his bandit basement comedy – there are no rules and we’re just here to laugh. A good start.

An advert for Cotton On in his “tropical dad shirt” and chequered socks (all about the finish line!), Mickey discusses the various greetings with accents using the obligatory how do you feel? replying with that’s why we have you ladies as men (some, most, all?) are construed as empty vessels when it comes to emotion.

His wife’s name is Beth, aka Boss, who is British so unaccustomed to how cold it can get here:

Beth – Can we turn the heating on?

Mickey – Heating?! We don’t have any heating! Heating fucked off in March!!

Beth is apparently 6 ft 8 and so rather than spooning, Mickey says she ladles him; he could be there for months. Mickey talks about his kids – his daughter whose accent is half Adelaidean, half Brummie so jokes they’re hanging out for a disability benefit and his son, who just sits there all day, staring, doesn’t do anything as Mickey snaps his fingers trying to get his attention, later revealing he’s only 10 months old.

When Mickey argues with his wife, he knows he’ll never win so simply relocates, however you ladies have freaky hearing and even then, she can detect his muffled words when he’s in his shed, head zipped into an empty golf bag. Beth’s nickname is Wolf – my wife will eat your wife! – then things turn serious (?) when Mickey shares that she helped him beat drugs, gambling and alcohol 15 years ago.

Mickey talks about ice, how he got tired of it when he found himself doing a tour of someone else’s home and confronting a “sharkie” in an On the Run at two in the morning (buying cheese Twisties for his daughter’s lunch) who asks him what the fuck you looking at? to which Mickey tells us, now I love a quiz. And then we hear the best heckle ever. Mickey explains how he went to the Middle East to gig for the troops there when an audience member mutters haven’t they been through enough?! A brilliant come back, flooring us all, including Mickey!

After closing the show with the words of his ex-girlfriend I’m leaving you now, Mickey then treats us to a bonus outside on the steps, incorporating passers-by and even the trams.

Underneath the joking, piss-taking and bravado there are pertinent messages – try anything once, take every opportunity, but most of all, have fun, something which can be increasingly difficult in today’s shock-cultured world. At this venue, it’s a sold-out show, but if you want some laughs elsewhere and are not easily offended, I’d recommend it.

As a Fringe reviewer of mental health-themed shows for mindshare, my first was Whiplash last night at the National Wine Centre.

Opening with You know the story; it starts with a date, Scott Wings invites us on his self-exploration, literally, as his heart abandons him on a date, apt for Valentine’s Day. A clever mix of physicality and poetry, there’s some stunning imagery, as Scott relays:

In darkness my heart packs its bags. The streets are all clots. There, an old thought begs for change.

Heart is a person, has a mind of its own, leaves the taxi in iambic pentameter mimicked by Scott. And so he goes inside himself to search for heart while on the date, chats with the café proprietor of his stomach, past his appendix, an old lego brick he swallowed years ago, skillfully personifying each body part. He checks his spine, which asks the cliched have you checked out your sleeve lately? and then dick interferes with a romantic brush of hands as they reach for their wine.

He goes to his tailbone to mess with the monkeys there, encounters the brain ship with its powerful, all-knowing presence, eventually reaching his shoulder blade on which he sits, feet dangling, to watch the date unfold. There’s a tree in his collarbone where he encounters himself at different ages – 16, 18, 25, 28, etc. – masturbating to porn, smoking a bong, until a fight breaks out, with his 30-year-old self shouting none of you fuckers have ever done any of your taxes! And when the wine sloshes down, his discomfort increases as he desperately tries to find something to say.

Scott’s array of emotions and energy is boundless, as he takes us through an evolutionary dance, encouraging audience participation, starting with one cell, which multiplies, becomes a worm, which sprouts legs, becomes a lizard and so on, until the brain ship looms large.

I found this concept particularly fascinating, as Scott’s headspace gets re-arranged with spider-like hands shifting thoughts, questions, worries, culminating in when will anyone prioritise me…?

All this time he’s still on the date until, when it comes to goodbye, she says:

Your stories are great and thanks for sharing, but you didn’t ask me a single question all night

causing his brain to fight with his heart, now returned. The ending is poignant – his six-year-old self appears with a flower and places it where his heart is; together they watch it bloom.

It was an incredible show, up there with some of the best we’ve seen at the Fringe and we’ve seen many. With fundamental themes of self-doubt and anxiety, ingeniously expressed through theatrical gestures and words back-grounded with music and mood lighting, it has something for everyone, go see.

5-stars

This morning I recorded one of my poems for PBA FM’s ‘Well Versed’ Program, to be aired during next year’s Adelaide Fringe as part of Salisbury’s Secret Garden.

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PBA FM is a community radio station offering a diverse range of programs, giving voice to those who may feel excluded or find it difficult to participate in social, cultural and political aspects of everyday life.

One such program is ‘Well Versed’ devised by Joanne Baker. Poets were invited to submit work to be broadcast as part of the program and those selected by the judges, invited to record their poem in the studio. Joanne was keen to have poets read their own work rather than an announcer, so listeners get the true interpretation of the piece. Joanne also hosts ‘Words Out Loud’.

It was a great experience, a first for me, and wonderful to meet others who are passionate about getting poetry out there. A CD will be compiled of all the readings available to buy, with each being aired next February/March. So as well as hoping to be a reviewer again, I’ll be a Fringe artist, yay!

Having reviewed her son’s show, Susan Belperio asked if I’d review her photography exhibition, Under the Lens, currently on display at the same venue, The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

A former medical practitioner and in addition to here, Susan’s work has been displayed in Queensland and the Northern Territory; she also had an image in a human rights exhibition in Tibet opened by the Dalai Lama.

For me, the exhibition comprises three parts, beginning with a stunning black and white photo of Josh either dressing or undressing for his show (it’s the voyeur’s choice), revealing the eight-inch scar travelling his skin. It’s an intimate scene, one of a mother portraying the glittering remnant of her son’s near-death experience.

In the cluster of black and white images that follow, hands and feet feature, snapshots of movement stilled. Two pairs of feet dangle carefreely from a balcony overlooking the beach. A pair of hands are clasped on a lap, the red painted nails the only colour calling. A circle of polished feet appears as if talking and a child’s hands are being introduced to the piano. Interspersed with images of the moon, birds, roads and the sea, they denote a journey well-travelled, be it flying, driving or sailing, elements that lead neatly into the final part.

The colour series is called Life’s a Beach, in which Susan conveys the multi-faceted sea, what it can give and take away. It’s a colour spangled dreamscape with each image expertly placed to both singularly shine and complement its neighbours. Humans are juxtaposed with the man-made and wild – the shadow of a plane over water, a lone feather, a child’s spade in the shallows, the ripples and twists found in the sand and sky. The sea dons day and night, carries time effortlessly, simultaneously evoking a distant longing and home.

Susan has an incredible ability to capture the everyday in a way that is not, to present indelible moments, to stop and embrace life. The exhibition, which is free to view, only runs until 17 March as part of the Fringe, so if you’d like to immerse yourself in some hauntingly beautiful images, I highly recommend a visit.

So I went to review my second Fringe show Friday night for mindshareScarred for Life at The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

With the headline Man falls off bike, becomes star, Josh Belperio relays the time he flew over the handlebars of his bicycle, ruptured his spleen and nearly bled to death through a series of comical and clever songs on the piano, reminiscent of Tim Minchin.

Josh began by taking us back to when he was little, where he was held back in ‘fun skills’ because of his slight touch of autism, before finding his place at the piano and then falling from it (literally), which won him $500 in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos courtesy of his mum filming it. His first scar came at 15 from running through a plate glass door, severing the tendon and artery, with thankfully no nerve damage.

The day of his accident he was anxious and rushing to the Festival Theatre to workshop ‘The Unmentionable Musical’ as he calls it, approached a roundabout too fast, as did a car from his right. He slammed on his brakes. The bike stopped, he didn’t. And as he gets to his feet he feels strange, as if his body’s trying to process something, all this to terse music.

At home his parents (both doctors) put him to bed and monitor him, until Josh wakes feeling strange again. His mother takes one look at him and rushes him to hospital, not before Josh collapses and asks his boyfriend Matthew am I dying? A CT scan reveals a ruptured spleen, which requires immediate surgery and as the mask comes down, all Josh can think of is all the music he has left to write.

Having lost 2 litres of blood, Josh is transferred to ICU, which is the title of a highly entertaining song through the eyes of the ICU nurse, followed by ‘Sample pack of information for families of deceased patients – spare copies’ where Josh summarises each pamphlet inside. My favourite song was ‘Watching me pee into a bottle’, a tender exchange between Josh and Matthew, in which love and affection grows like my urinal collection.

Towards the end Josh reveals his eight-inch medical marvel (his scar), an angry looking welt, which he thinks ugly, but to Matthew it’s beautiful because it represents how his life was saved. The mental health aspect of the show is anxiety and how Josh manages it – present before his accident and escalating after – to enable him to live the life he wants, to not be scared, to make peace with his scar and most importantly, to get back on his bike. Josh is a talented artist, and gave a funny and moving performance through theatrical song. It’s a show I’d recommend.

As a Fringe reviewer of shows with a mental health theme for mindshare, I went along to my first one Monday night; It’s Not Easy Being Green, a cabaret at the Chateaux Apollo.

Written and performed by Karen Lee Roberts accompanied by Mr Sunshine (aka Jeff Usher) on keys, it was an insight into a struggle with mental wellness (not illness) via a series of scenes, opening with Christmas Eve where everything was unravelling. Karen, in character, compared her state of mind to algae – green and always on edge, waiting to be devoured by something bigger – and talked about how depression is still taboo, asking can’t people bear to hear the truth??

Each scene explored acceptable conversation versus reality – the dinner party where she declared the food far better than what she’d received in hospital when mentally unstable; the photos of her wedding in which professionals expertly covered her self-harming scars; and the change in her behaviour when she came off her meds, the dark places she visited trapped by her myriads of faults and flaws.

And each snapshot was framed in song – ‘Problem solver’ and ‘Chameleon’ to name a few, the latter advising to keep your skin, don’t rearrange, a poignant message. Karen had an amazing voice pitched with feeling, all songs self-written to be made into a CD shortly. Then my husband became part of the show being invited on stage to play Daniel, the guy she’d met on Tinder, an amusing interlude to say the least!

The hour offered a raw, honest account of a person stripped bare – juggling demons, meds and their inevitable side effects with healthy eating, exercise and positive action – and revisited the Christmas Eve scene, a clever bookend, where the tree in the distance no longer represented something to hang from, but life itself.

I’m not a big fan of cabaret, so this wasn’t a show I chose to review, but because of its ability to leap beyond comfy mental health, I’m glad I did. Unfortunately the last performance was yesterday (it ran for three nights only), but if it returns next year I’d recommend the experience. Until then I’ll leave you with the closing line – it’s not easy being green, but it’s better than being blue.     

Sunday evening was a divine mixture of fine food and company, as we devoured a three-course meal and the words of five Adelaide-based poets and novelists who shared a series of water-themed readings.

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Held in Sarah’s Sustainable Café in Semaphore as part of Adelaide’s Fringe-frenzy month, the line-up was impressive – Ray Tyndale, Mag Merrilees, Rachael Mead, Heather Taylor Johnson and Alison Flett – and Stuart Gifford, and his partner and co-chef Marian Prosser, did an amazing job of hosting and feeding!

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Ray was first up, a local poet living by the sea in Semaphore who writes a poem a day (impressive). Ray opened her set with a poem called ‘Dolphins’ written last July, describing how a mother and baby were ‘turning and surging in the shallows’, an image you could so clearly see.  Next up was a poem called ‘Menace’ where the sea ‘claims at least one to itself each year’ followed by ‘The kite-surfer’ where it ‘erupted into white horses’.  In ‘Winter on Semaphore beach’, there is ‘half a rainbow, a brilliant half’ and in ‘Blue seaweed’ ‘magic happened’.  Ray read well, was both warm and engaging, her work painting a picture of everyday events we could all relate to, as well as making reference to the highly variable temperatures in our state when ‘thunder rumbled like an upset stomach’.

Just before the main course was served, Mag started by explaining how she is primarily a novelist who dips into poetry. Mag began with an old poem, ‘The whales’, written 25 years ago about the time when these glorious mammals came back into Encounter Bay, watching as they were ‘rocked weightless by the waves’.  Next up was a poem about Kangaroo Island where she was ‘drawn homeward by moonlight’ followed by another short piece, ‘Flotsam’, which she later learnt was a Haibu (Haiku embedded in prose).  Mag’s last share was ‘Sea ground stones’, a much longer piece, both interesting and entertaining, which opened with the line ‘letters from my sister start mid-thought’ and then went onto explain Mag’s ‘digestion song’, and how she plans ‘to meet every pebble on the beach’ referring to them as ‘crumbs of mountain’.

Rachael was up next who confessed she had to trawl through the archives living in the hills, so began with a poem about a beach walk she took to calm down after a rather irritating visitor had left, where she ‘was the only one with untamed hair and sneakers’ and ‘the idea of day makes the hills blush’. Rachael then read a series of sonnets about her encounter with a great white shark while cage diving in Port Lincoln (on our to do list!) from her new chapbook, The Quiet Blue World and Other Poems, published by Garron Publishing and having heard them before, they were just as stunning.  ‘In the kayak’ followed, a very atmospheric piece likening the paddles to cutlery which ‘feast on platelets of silence’ and in ‘After crossing the bridge the first time’ to Hindmarsh Island, ‘an ant crawls across the page like punctuation gone wild’.  Rachael finished with a poem called ‘Lost on the coast road’ ‘in a car like a metaphor gone wrong’ through ‘a tangle of stars and streetlights’.

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As we were tucking into a delicious dessert, Heather began reading an excerpt from her new novel due out next year from University of Queensland Press, which focuses on a character called Jean Harley who is either dead or in a coma (Heather’s own words!). The passage was from a chapter called ‘The house of noise’ from the viewpoint of the mother-in-law Marion, who describes her daughter-in-law as ‘a sunken body in white sheets’ and tells of her own secret battle with cancer where ‘she lived on a lake, but today it sounded like an ocean’.  On a trip to West Beach with her son Stan and grandson Orion, Marion has a rare moment of contact with the former when ‘she cherished the linger, felt safe she could melt’ and then of Orion, ‘his smile as vast as the shoreline’.  The next passage was from the chapter ‘Very Viv’, where Viv is beach walking during that time of the month when ‘her uterus is emptying itself’ as she contemplates her affair with a professor who had had a fling with Jean before she married Stan.  What Heather shared was enough to make me want to buy the book and read more!  Heather finished with the poem ‘Gearing up’ about Adelaide’s Fringe season from her collection Thirsting for Lemonade published by Interactive Press, just perfect.

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Alison rounded off the readings who, having been in Australia now for five years from Scotland and a former resident poet in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens, began with a poem called ‘First creek’ in the shape of a creek on a scroll of paper. With ‘surfaces reflecting scraps of sky’, water that ‘petered into pools and puddles’ and the ‘sun repeatedly paddle-beating my skull’, we were there with Alison on her journey.  The creek is compared with her sweat and the water at lunch, as she notes how ‘magpies look the same but make the strangest of noises’ and what is brilliantly referred to as the ‘disappointment of crows’ (so true!).  Alison then read ‘Pittance’, a poem that talks of the primeval presence trailing them, the animal they once were, followed by ‘Five ways to hear the ocean’ which was just that.  Alison finished with a poem I’ve heard her read before and just love, ‘The map of belonging’, which will form part of the new collection she’s working on funded by an Arts SA grant, ‘where home is a paper folded and torn’ and ‘you find yourself landless’, beautiful.

And there endeth a wonderful evening! A fantastic experience I was thrilled to be a part of.  And if you’re ever in Semaphore check out the cafe, it’s well worth a visit.

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