Arts & Entertainment

Life On The Fringe

Mongrel Mouth presents, Undertaking

By Rita Bratovich

It is one of the most tightly packed festival seasons in this city, yet each year the Sydney Fringe Festival (SFF) adds more to its program. This year it has even grown geographically – extending west to Penrith and Homebush Bay.

“Its terrific to be able to engage with creatives who aren’t right in the city and who want to be a part of the festival,” says Festival Director, Kerri Glasscock, acknowledging the growing arts community in the Greater Sydney region.

The fringe is, as Glasscock describes it, “open access”, meaning they try and say yes to anyone who submits a work, as long as they can find a performing space. Many theatres, art houses and other venues leave their calendar clear during September to accommodate the Fringe program and this year they’ve managed to add some new spaces.

For the first time the SFF will have a festival hub thanks to a vacant commercial building being offered for lease by HPG Property Group. The building is massive and, apart from the endless creative possibilities, it also affords the SFF a chance to do some concrete research into how to use temporary large scale space for arts.

“Hopefully by the end of our tenancy there we’ll be able to have a fantastic report of facts and figures saying ‘this is how you can do this, this is how developers can engage creative organisations and how you can do it safely.’ And that just smashes open a whole new world of opportunity,” explains Glasscock.

The HPG Festival Hub is located in Alexandria and will mostly be open during the evenings. Due to its distance from shops, the hub will host a bar and food trucks. Visitors can walk in and explore exhibitions as well as looped videos from the Stockholm/Nordic Fringe festivals.

Special events at the hub include The Library of Babel, an interactive maze of hexagons within which are mysteries and surprises.

If you’re vegan you’ll want a seat at the table for Alfie’s Kitchen Vegan Feast – a five course meal for 200 guests. Get tickets early for this rare opportunity.

The Heaps Gay Masqueerade (not a typo!) is a masked ball that will take place on two nights. The converted party space will include lots of nooks and crannies and a great entertainment line up and everyone will be masked.

“You can’t tell who’s a performer and who’s an audience member, so you never know what’s about to happen!” says Glasscock.

Fringe Ignite, the traditional SFF opening ceremony will debut another new space: Kensington Street Village at Central Park. Ignite, hosted by unique multi-faceted artist, Ngaiire, will kick off the festival with a nine-stage, mixed program, afternoon/evening of food, music and fun.

SFF will occupy Kensington Street for the whole month of September with two buildings at the end of the street being converted to a comedy club and vaudeville/burlesque style theatre respectively.

“You’ll be able to go down and eat and drink and see some shows – it’ll be really, really fun,” assures Glasscock.

Elevating headpieces beyond haute couture, wig master, Shaun McGrath has created some truly magnificent cranial adornment, selected examples of which will be exhibited at Broadway Centre.

Cinewest is a permanent alternative cinema in the Newington Armery at Homebush Bay. They have teamed with SFF to present a series of film festivals: Women Media Arts and Film; Sydney International Transgender Film; Children’s Film; and Flexiff – Experimental Film.

Girls, Girls, Girls is an all-female, feature length dance performance presented by Bonnie Curtis Projects in the wonderfully transformed church that is now Annandale Creative Arts Centre. The politically charged show deals with modern and perennial issues facing women daily.

One theatre group taking full advantage of the expansive space in the HPG Hub is Mongrel Mouth. Their new work, Undertaking, co-written/co-produced by Duncan Maurice and Sharon Zeeman is, according to Maurice,

“A psychological immersive thriller, where the audience are free to go wherever they want, whenever they want within the space.” That space being twenty rooms in which various scenes occur, all forming part of a narrative but able to be manipulated so that audiences discover, influence or redirect the plot. While there are some established boundaries, audiences are given a lot of latitude to speak and interact with performers, or simply watch passively as the story unfolds.

“We’ve had moments where audiences have barricaded off rooms in previous shows because they know what’s about to befall a particular character because they’ve just overheard another character saying what was going to happen,” says Maurice.

With the central theme revolving around exploitation of power, some scenes include images or references to violence, so the performance comes with a trigger warning, but, as Maurice explains, people can simply leave a scene if they feel uncomfortable.

SFF’s central objective is to bring new works into being, but it also believes in bringing old works to new audiences. Hence, the globally acclaimed classic thriller, Deathtrap will play as part of the festival in the modest King St Theatre. Lead actor, Nicholas Gledhill believes “it’s quite a wonderful space to put the show on because it’s actually quite a claustrophobic theatre if you set it up the right way.” The flat stage means there is no division between audience and performers, giving a sense that everyone is in the same room.

The play was written and set in the 1970s and is a suspense thriller with so many surprises and twists it is virtually impossible to discuss the plot without giving too much away.

“I’m desperately trying to keep my wife and my children away from any spoilers!” says Gledhill.

With regard to this very iconic, mainstream play being part of a fringe festival, Gledhill argues that Deathtrap is an archetypal  murder mystery and example of superlative stage writing that is usually only available to elite audiences, that is now available to all.

“This is about access to theatre – that’s a good thing.”

Sep 1−30, Tickets & Info for all events:

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