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Sydney Comedy Festival Gala

A taster to whet the appetite.

Photo of Joe Lycett by Ben Sanford

As a taster for what you can see at the Sydney Comedy Festival, the Gala event is quite the degustation banquet.  Our host for this delectable feast is Joe Lycett. His solo show I'm About To Lose Control and I Think Joe Lycett sold out quickly so this was Sydney’s last chance to see him. And what a delight he turned out to be.

Relaxed and chatty with the crowd and perched on the edge of the Concert Hall stage of the Sydney Opera House stage, he is quick witted and engaging as he tells us this is the best bill he has ever been on. He also has enormous loving fun with the audience close to him as his charm and obvious interest in people whets the appetite for the comedy to come.

There’s a range of international acts here and as the accents and unique perspectives hit the stage the audience gets to see themselves as others see us. And on Anzac Day!

Tahir referenced his Turkish heritage for one of the best, most respectful Anzac jokes ever and Ivan Aristeguieta summed up the Australian experience of language in three words. My companion is of Chinese origins and that conversation took up our interval! Phil Wang’s Canberra contribution to that discussion adding to the fun. Not to mention Georgie Carroll’s Adelaide accent. And her hilarious assassination of other school mums.

Lots of skewering on this night. The Chaser Quarterly & Shovel made  War On The F*#king Election 2019 and Larry Dean’s self-deprecating gay Glaswegian didn’t hold back with the eye acting and sweet persona.  There’s salty here too. Fern Brady somehow manages to discuss the taste of semen in her potted review of getting caught up in a DUP scandal at home.

There was, though, a worm at the table. A worm and his dad, as a downbeat Mark Forward explained his jokes into a superbly deconstructed art. Jamali Maddix had strong opinions on species-ism and random flavours kept the audience’ hands in motion and heads thrown back.  Secrets were shared after interval as Sean McLoughlin made google his BF and Lauren Pattinson shared the recipe for a delicacy of blending posh and working class.  Mix in Tom Allen’s harried, harassed and had-it teacher and this is a bite-into comedy menu which can’t be bettered.

Always amazing how laughter brings 2000 plus people to the same place. Sore tummy or head shaking in disbelief the Gala had something for everyone. Even Millennials got a fillip when Tom Ballard took on us Baby Boomers … for the kids!  With his unintentional mic stand choreography and his friendliness and charisma, Joe was the perfect host.  Even if his description of vegan toilet habits might have put you off dessert.

To round out the evening was my favourite after dinner mint.  I have been a long time News Quiz pod listener and to experience Phil Jupitus live was to be relished.  His sly humour sending us out jostling and laughing with lip-smacking enjoyment ready to launch into our Sydney Comedy Festival treats.

Sydney Comedy Festival details and program here.

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from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus

The old timers, the flyers, speak of it.  That moment in a circus show where a trapezeist suspends in the air, for the death of a second between mortal and celestial. JUNK from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus takes their cast to that magical place so many times and as these 8 -18 year olds pass through that moment they take their audience with them.  With awe and thrill, we and our young ones understand how beautiful life is.

Artistic Director, Jodie Farrugia has crafted a show which brings skill and daring into the theatre.  Her cast is made up of students from the Circus School attached to the Fruities in Albury/ Wodonga and they are on tour, landing for a few performances at Riverside Theatres.

Finding its origins from discussions with elder citizens about what they did for kid’s play back when, the production is set in a junkyard and the possibilities are endless.   The viewer is treated to enormous fun as the setting affords infinite ways for the cast to entertain.  It begins in darkness and a single piano note as we meet a modern boy.  A boy preparing for guided, safe play.  Safety gear just keeps on coming as he gets ready for the dangers of mucking about.  Through the show this young man will learn from the spirits of the junkyard that bubble wrap isn’t needed if you balance sensible and daring.   

That’s what I love most about Farrugia’s approach to the production, it doesn’t look easy … it’s skilful.   There’s a traditional trope in circus where you fail first time to show how hard it is.  What the Fruities show instead is the preparation.  When the trick is in the air or on the apparatus it looks effortless but we see the planning, the signals, the checking and adjusting… the sweat.  That is what many of us want for our children.  Assess the risk, control it and then attack it with enthusiasm. 

No shortage of the latter either, as these young people laugh across the footlights and interact with the crowd and each other, excited and loving their performing as a range of skills keep the show hurling at speed.  The act names are in the program and it is a lovely way to debrief with the family.  An odd collection of phrases come up then … oohs and ahs and how did they do thats mingle with I would love to learn how to do that.  It’s as joyous as the experience itself.

The rigging is masterful and allows the young people do all on-stage practicalities.  The breathtaking duo straps is entirely tethered by, and musically accompanied by, the children with such an encompassing and moving emotional impact. The production’s audio score utilises the whole team, too, in the sensational creation of sound - body percussion and odd instruments like washboard and slapstick yet it can let loose with drums and brass for the tramp wall.

In a production where boys fly and don’t just catch, where girls use strength and brains equally, where teamwork leads the show and exhilaration rules the space, remember these young circus professionals.  Scour the program, commit the names to memory, follow their careers as they grow to be keepers of the mysteries and wonders.

RbJ:        4 ½ Audience Gasps

Junk from The Flying Fruit Fly Circus plays Riverside Theatres, April 17 -18.

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360 All Stars

This is urban circus with terrific scope for opening up conversations with the younger family members. See the write-up I did for Arts Hub.

Photo credit- Tom Loncar

Babes Ablaze : Photo Kris Ezergailis

Babes Ablaze

A night of strutting their stuff … with flames!

Photo of Sophie deLightful and Cast : Kris Ezergailis

Grey hair, handbag, torn jeans, nike knockoffs and all, I sailed into a group of young people who were having a smoke break outside.  “We welcome your weirdness” says one impeccably suited young man with approving whoops from the cosplay dressed and very goth-glammed diverse group of people around him.  Welcome to Babes Ablaze a raging, fun night of fire obsessed acts in cabaret mode.

What fun we had.  Lots of people, including some of the artist’s mums, a welcoming vibe and an exciting lineup of thrilling, skilled performers who craft their work with care.  That’s what the take-home is actually.  The exhilaration of watching them stays with you but when you have a chance to brood, there comes an understanding of the commitment to excellence you have witnessed.

Under the sultry, sexy hostess Sophie deLightful … she of the superb singing voice, witty, responsive emceeing and wicked taste for trouble … juggle and aerial and burlesque and balance and acro and zephyrs appear - with fire as the leitmotif.  A dedicated Fire Fairy flares the imagination before each set and the audience is quiet and receptive in places and genuinely, enthusiastically loud in others. 

As each item struts their stuff it’s obvious that the performers have been carefully curated by Sophie, who is also the producer.  I’ve encountered her work before and just adore that rich voice and open attitude to musical standards.  All the music is terrific on the night, prepared with care, never too loud and orchestrated to tap into a mesmerism which flames in the watcher.  Slow rock mingles with fast, fluid beats with foot tapping inevitable and head banging optional.

There’s the lost art of pastie wearing; a heart ripped from the willing chest of an audience volunteer; a superb semi-acoustic steel string guitar back-up; a dual spider fan of tiny flickers; a brilliance of crystal balls appearing to float by a dexterity more than human.  The highlight for me was a clear quartz hilted sword ablaze then a flame extinguished with a swoop to obfuscate the user with the smoke of mystery. 

Not just welcoming and fun but thrilling!   

Babes Ablaze only played one night at the Red Rattler but you can look out for it again by following Sophie at her website and Facebook


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Up Close and Intimate

Caroline O’Connor reprises her cabaret for one night only …to a sold out house.

Photo of Caroline O’Connor in Up Close and Intimate by Peter Rubie

You have to open up a bit, which I didn’t want to do, but tell the stories of how you got the job, the tricky things and the good things.” Caroline O’Connor told me in interview.  The reality is, that with a star like O’Connor on the stage, you could just delight in the voice singing the hits and still have a great time.  But when she finishes the first song and walks toward the audience with a relaxed and welcoming smile and a flash in the eyes, you know, you just know, that this is a night of presence and connection. ‘Up Close and Intimate’ had a sold out return season last night with a standing ovation and a knock-out performance.

There’s a Velma feel to the simple, fringed, form fitting black dress that O’Connor wears for the first act and she doesn’t disappoint Chicago fans with a couple of select pieces from the show.  Including the Cell Block Tango … all 6 roles!  But there’s other favourites to relax into or to make you sit upright and lean in.  Like when Cool from West Side Story is given a unique femaleness and when the master singer sits still in a shamrock green to interpret an Irish heritage ballad.  

It’s rare for this restless artist to stay still as she engages the audience in stories about her career between the well-chosen songs.  The dancer is never far in the litheness of the walk and the sinuous carriage. In the chat between, she’s funny and accessible and the memories are shared with detail that brings the meaning even closer to the listener.  Her stories about a gypsy life in London and on the Great White Way are cleverly interspersed and we have the added frisson of watching the artistry of mood creation.

O’Connor has a lovely relationship with her Musical Director and virtuosic accompanist, Daniel Edmonds as she checks in with what’s next and enthusiastically pays attention to his work in the more spectacular piano interludes.  However, it is when she responds to his prompts with a ‘I need to prepare for that one’ that the real meaning of live-in-cabaret catches the breath.  We see the transformation of a moment when an honesty and openness to share brings the nuanced emotion forward… that genuiness of feeling which will allows the words to float on the music to the heart of the watcher. 

It’s thrilling to see this artist live.

And the full house loves the show.  So comfortable are we with this shining star that 200 pairs of hands draw together before the final notes of a song fade and the What’s That Tune quiz brings smiles and laughs all over as a winner beams.  Up Close and Intimate is delicately balanced between craft and spontaneity to be a marvellous night in the presence of a great lady of the theatre.

Caroline O’Connor’s Up Close and Intimate for Darlinghurst Theatre Company was one night only, Friday April 12.    


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Eishan Ensemble

Deb Waterhouse-Watson reviews this ensemble of Persian masters of Middle Eastern Jazz Fusion - tar and oud gets the crowd on its feet.

Hamed Sadeghi tells us that ‘Eishan’ just means ‘these guys’, but this is typical Sadeghi – understated ‘These guys’ are highly skilled musicians – masters of improvisation – who weave awe-inspiring soundscapes that will have you hanging on every note. You’ll be amazed at how seamlessly Persian and jazz fuse – though the harmony and rhythm are distinctly Persian, there’s a contemporary flavour, and the expansive improvised solos passed from instrument to instrument are familiar from the jazz tradition.

Venue 505 provided the perfect relaxed ambience in which to enjoy a quiet drink or a meal while watching the performance. It’s a little quirky, with kids’ toys given out in place of table numbers, and patrons perched on stools along the walls or steps as often as at tables; once the show began, all eyes and ears were fixed firmly on the stage.

Persian-Australian Sadeghi is warm, funny and humble, introducing the group and various pieces, and the music itself is just as welcoming, whether you’re a dedicated fan of Middle Eastern jazz fusion or this is your first taste.

There are no vocals, and the music is built on melodic and rhythmic riffs and refrains that repeat throughout a piece – like a catchy chorus in a rock song, but with instruments – that become more and more familiar as the piece develops.

Sadeghi starts out playing the tar, a plucked, fretted string instrument with a long neck and small body. The first number has a driving rhythm that gets toes tapping, featuring solos that highlight the virtuoso talent of regular band member Michael Avgenicos and local percussionist Adem Yilmaz. Yilmaz has a full palette of percussive tones at his fingertips, from different drum tones to chimes and brushes.

The sets are a mix of old and new, with some established, some never performed before, and others in the process of reinvention. The second number is one of their new works, Black and White, which certainly lives up to its name: melancholy and a touch dark, in a minor key, with passages of brilliance and a bittersweet undertone.

Sadeghi swaps to the oud, a fretless, many-stringed instrument with a large, pear-shaped body. A lyrical saxophone line introduces the piece, a line which is doubled on the oud and passed around the instruments – a distinctive feature of Eishan’s music. Though the tones of sax, bass and guitar might be familiar to most audiences, the scale and rhythms are distinctly Persian. This allows the audience to hear exciting new possibilities in these instruments, with glissando, tremolo and trills providing ornamentation and rhythmic drive.

My favourite number of the night was the second to last, Future, a track which appeared on their debut album but is now being reinvented and possibly re-recorded, to reflect how the band has developed. Future starts with percussion and an insistent guitar drone – a single note repeated – with the other instruments layering on top, driven on by a relentless drum beat. The bass solo by Sydney local Elsen Price is played with a bow, and features lush vibrato high up the G-string and plunging tremolo runs that have the audience gasping.

Wind, another new piece, rounds out the night. It’s an intense journey, with a lot of tar and bass shredding (Sadeghi half-apologetically explains that it’s necessary) and at times repeated percussive sounds from several instruments while another solos. Rapid-fire runs build up to the fullest sound of the evening, before the tension is finally released.

The crowd is on its feet, celebrating a flawless performance from a very talented group of musicians. Don’t miss the chance to see Eishan Ensemble up close at their next gig!

Eishan Ensemble played Venue 505 on Saturday April 30. Find out more about Eishan Ensemble: Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Bandcamp. Their first album Nim Dong was released in late 2018, to critical acclaim. 

RbJ Rating: Five Breathtaking Bass Solos!  

What our ratings mean: 5- Definitely don’t miss this. 4 - You’ll be sorry if you miss this. 3 - If you are not interested in the topic, give it a miss. 2 - You can miss this unless you’re keen. 1 - Definitely on the miss list.