The most wonderful time of year

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Late summer/early autumn, February-March, is the best time to visit Adelaide, South Australia. Often regarded as ‘conservative’, the city comes alive during the twin events of the Adelaide Festival and Fringe. For three Covid-conscious festival seasons audiences and artists alike laboured under a cloud of anxiety. Would their show be cancelled? Would a key cast member be forced to isolate? Would anyone turn up? And, if they did, masked and socially-distanced, would they stay safe?

Not so this year. The dark clouds of Covid seem a distant dream (although there are still hundreds of cases, some serious) and the joy is back: the colour, the craziness, the excess, the experimental and the downright weird. The major Fringe hubs: Gluttony (above) the Garden of Unearthly Delights, and the Wonderland Spiegeltent (below) as well as smaller venues are buzzing. East end restaurants and bars are packed. Attendances at shows are up. The roads are jammed late into the night. It is most unlike recent seasons.

WIth over 1,000 shows in 14 genres on offer it’s hard to choose what to see. Do you want to laugh, cry, sing, dance, reflect, eat, drink, wonder, watch, play, or be stirred, titillated, stretched or amazed? This blog can only highlight a few personal favourites:

Come together: the Beatles rock show is a frenzied, high energy re-imaging Beatles music spanning the entire ouvre of this most innovative of bands. Rachel Vidoni, aided by two female dancers and two female singers, bounds across the Yellow-Submarine themed stage belting out the songs but still finding pockets of emotional intimacy amongst the driving rock rhythms and riffing of the excellent backing band including some spectacular shredding from guitarist Ben Whittington.

The Marvellous Elephant Man: the musical, based on the real life Victorian-age Joseph Merrick, is an unlikely source of comedy but manages to strike the balance between hilarity and sympathy, mercilessly ridiculing his oppressors and parodying polite society of the time. Strong performances from the lead, the lead villain and the multi-characters played by the front man of the band Vaudeville Smash carry the narrative superbly. They are ably supported by the cast and live band (members of Vaudeville Smash). The production, directed by award-winning Guy Masterton, is slick, the costumes are dazzling and the original music rarely strays into standard musical theatre schmalz. This is a show that could hold its own in London’s West End or Broadway.

THE GODS THE GODS THE GODS is an immersive piece of story-telling, music and theatre from previous Fringe Award-winners Wright and Grainger. The three performers: two spoken voice, one musician, are placed in a triangular formation around the standing audience who are encouraged to dance and sing. The performers make occasional forays into the crowd to give a direct individual face-to-face delivery. Three stories are intertwined exploring themes of science, spirituality, belief, life, death and love. The music is beat-intensive electro expertly mixed with live guitar and vocals- this is no mere backing track- it is a performance in its own right delivered by the technical crew. This is the sort of show that you walk into unsuspecting and come out of as a different person.

Soweto Gospel Choir – Hope. Fusing anti-apartheid freedom songs, gospel, spirituals and even Leonard Cohen’s Hallejujah, and backed by a single piano and African percussion, Hope made for a powerful experience. Imagine a dozen Aretha Franklins and Ray Charles singing their hearts out in a mixture of eleven African languages and English with moves, beats and costume. No need to understand all the words, the music spoke for itself. Colour, movement, emotion, inspiration- like detox for the soul.

Sooo many other great shows and only four weeks in which to experience them. This is Fringe season, the most wonderful time of the year.

Gallery: Vaudeville Smash; A touch of Formosa Heart; California Dreams; Wonderfull: a celebration of Stevie Wonder; Craig Silvey, Adelaide Writers Week; the Backyarders.

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