Adelaide Fringe 2018: Orpheus

Where would we be if theatre wasn’t something owned by everybody? If it entirely consisted of big companies with big budgets and big issues of safety? Companies that can’t afford to take risks, companies for which every empty seat is a failure measured in dollars.

Fortunately there may never be a need to consider that sad world. The government may try its best to leave theatre with nothing, in the end it doesn’t matter, theatre doesn’t stand or fall on what it is handed out. Rather, by what it gives out. And to see the generosity of theatre en masse we have such events as The Adelaide Fringe where night after night performers pump their stuff for a few dimes.

Orpheus is such a show. Two performers, one an actor and one (at least for this event) more of a singer. They’ve taken the ancient Greek tale and turned it into a modern, but still entirely timeless piece with all the power of the original. Local, Vince Fusco, is the teller of the story and he’s fabulous with the simplest of props – the book from which he reads. Phil Grainger has his guitar. The prop of the book is vital. It balances the guitar. It provides something for the actor to do, so he isn’t just staring us down the whole time. And, of course, it is the story line. Vince is telling a story. One could no more do this piece without the book in hand, as inform your children that bedtime reading tonight will be done bookless. Inconceivable! (I do have to note here that one review of this thought that the book was the other kind of prop – that the actor didn’t know his lines and needed it. This will make me go he-he for a long time.)

That’s all you need for a spellbinding hour of theatre. The rest is all the bravery to have a go. I’ve listened to a couple of performers gutted by poor reviews they’ve received this year. It’s impossible for any show here to have no redeeming characteristics. But it’s certainly possible for them to fail – theatre at the Fringe would be a boring thing indeed if nobody did anything that might not succeed. The success of Flanagan Collective‘s Orpheus, is a win for all of the performers who are putting it on the line here.

How real Vince and Phil have made the myth – I guess that’s why myths don’t die, they have a reality that transcends their fiction. I’m hoping to see this one again before I go, that’s a first for this Fringe. But it is selling well, so make your move soon.


Adelaide Fringe 2018: My Bard

Nicolas Collett is the writer of this one man show – though he enlists the audience from time to time to stand in for the occasional figure. Nothing scary, and don’t even think about sitting in the second row. This is the most intimate theatre I’ve been in and there is only the first row. If you find that really intimidating, maybe you should try thinking of it as the last row. Good luck with that idea.

There probably aren’t many people who go to this show without knowing a thing or two about the subject, William Shakespeare. There is a nice balance between the things you are likely to know – he left his wife his second-best bed is a famous one – and things you might not. But while telling the facts (such as we know them) in an entertaining way, Collett gives his understanding of how Shakespeare wrote and this I especially liked. In particular, he suggests that Shakespeare eventually hit upon the notion of not explaining everything, of the value of ambiguity. Interesting and new to me.

This is an hour’s romp through a lot of material and that was well-handled, it felt remarkably unrushed. Collett has chosen wisely in his decisions about what to leave in…and out. He manages on his own to give a vivid image of Shakespeare’s contemporaries – Nash, Greene, Marlowe and all that crowd – and a sense of how Shakespeare sort of fitted in and sort of didn’t.

The Treasury 1860 is a delightful venue. The drinks are good and our sampling of the bar food made us think we must go back soon to try the restaurant. I’m expecting an excellent meal. We can’t take for granted such venues. The proprietors are experimenting and I do hope that those who love theatre will give them the support they deserve in taking that step.

Well, it isn’t hard to support something that’s such fun.

Speaking of which, one of the other shows on here is How to Drink Wine Like a Wanker. I’m recommending this to many of my friends. Wordshow by Gavin Robertson looks good too.

Adelaide Fringe 2018: The Unknown Soldier

The Fringe has two centres of serious theatre in Adelaide. One is Holden St theatres. The other is The Bakehouse. It’s hard to see without these two venues how junkies like me would survive these next weeks.

Tonight, having seen an early performance of Euripides’ Alcestis, half an hour later we were in for an intense monologue which put us squarely, if at the tail end, of World War One. Nothing could have provided a greater contrast to the exuberant large cast of school actors in Alcestis, than this one person show by a highly experienced actor who is also, we discover, a fine dramatic writer. Ross Ericson is somebody to keep an eye on – I’m surprised I haven’t seen him in London before. Looking forward to his Gratiano later in the Fringe.

The Bakehouse has a WWI theme for several of its shows this Fringe. The Unknown Soldier has been in Adelaide before and started yesterday and today with sell-outs. Easy to see why. There are no surprises, you are going to get exactly what you expect with this show. Monday/Tuesday sell-outs speak for themselves, you need to get in quick for this one.

And after, while you are mulling over the way in which ordinary young boys and older men put themselves to the death for the upper class of the UK, think about getting hold of Ken Loach’s early films on the aftermath of the Great War. Watching what happens when they come home is as disheartening as watching what they suffered in those appalling years.

Adelaide Fringe 2018: Euripides’ Alcestis

School kids doing an adaptation of Alcestis. What could go wrong? Surprisingly, the answer to that is nothing really.

Their director, George Franklin has done a great job of putting together something that suits the troupe. The show moves easily from comedy to tragedy. The music and singing are excellent. A pianist who can act doubles up as Alcestis’ father-in-law. Heracles takes his inspiration from Lord Flashheart (Blackadder).

One can see why it’s considered to be a ‘problem play’; my appetite for the real thing has been whetted. It seems rarely to be put on in the original, though King’s College in London have been performing it and other classics in Ancient Greek since the 1950s. However, if you go to Youtube, you can find a production in Ancient Greek with English subtitles, which looks well worth watching.

There has been a big revival of Ancient Greek drama in London over the last few years. Nice to see it spilling over in this direction.

Fringe/Festival Adelaide 2018

This is a WIP of shows we are going to.

F20 7.30pm Bakehouse 60 minutes
The Unknown Soldier

F24 2pm
Great Detectives

F24 6pm Barr Smith Reading Room
A Medieval Market Place

F25 4pm 90 mins Grace Emily
Ukelele Death Squad

F25 7.45 Band Room Crown and Anchor

F26 6pm 70 mins Buckingham Arms Hotel
Dickinson’s Room

F28 6pm Bakehouse

F28 7.30pm 65 mins Bakehouse
Shell Shocked

M1 7.30pm Bakehouse 60 mins

M3 2pm Gallery Room National Wine Centre 60 minute
Box and Cox

M3 7.15pm Producers’ Warehouse 235 Grenfell St, Adelaide
The Ballad of Frank Allen

M4 3pm Holden St
Hitchhiker’s Guide

M4 4.30pm Holden St
That’s a Fact

M4 6pm Holden St
Flesh and Blood

M7 7.00pm 65 mins Garden of UD

M9 6pm St Stephen’s Lutheran Church
Another G&S for you

M9 9pm Bakehouse
Between the Crosses

M11 6.30pm Holden St
Once Were Pirates

M11 7.45pm Holden St
That Daring Australian Girl

M12 5pm 4 hours Festival Theatre
Kings of War

M14 Garden of UD 9.30pm
Rich Hall

M15 2pm Banquet Room at Fullarton Park Community Centre
Three Little Sisters Come to Unley – An Andrews Sisters Tribute

Fleur de Sel: Kempinski hotel Portoroz

On the basis of my one experience at the Kempinski in Geneva, I had been prepared to judge the whole chain as severely wanting. However, the menu at the Fleur de Sel looked so good and affordable, that I had to give it a go. In fact, over 5 days we made it our regular haunt.

Portoroz must have been beautiful in 1900. Now it follows the habit of capitalist development, truly tacky buildings complete with neon signs flashing ‘casino, casino’, music blaring every few feet, all in competition for space in your head. And this, on the edge of a glorious vista of the Adriatic sea. What a sin!

The Kempinski is a peculiar mix of that 1900 and 2016. The facade has been left of The Palace Hotel, complete with manicured gardens in front. Joining it via a short walkway at mezzanine level is a modern building which houses the Fleur de Sel. In the main, it is tastefully done, though there is a BMW displayed in a glass box at the entrance of the modern annexe. It is entirely out of place, but by the standards of the area, one should probably not complain.

The weather was perfect while we were there, and we always sat out on the balcony overlooking the pool, with a view towards the garden and the sea. I confess I expected to hate the tackiness of a pool setting, but for whatever mysterious reason, it works, at least partly because the pool itself is an aesthetically pleasing one of its kind.

Kempinski swimming pool

Over the course of 5 days we sampled the following:

Istrian fish starter plate with swordfish prosciutto, mackerel in Moscato d’Asti, octopus salad, homemade baccala cream, apple capers and grissini
15,50 €

Ceasar salad with fresh tuna
13,50 €

Mittelgerichte Linguini with Adriatic mussels à la buzarra
11,50 € / 15,50 €

Acquerello risotto with Adriatic sepia and leek (black or white)
13,00 € / 17,00 €

Asparagus ravioli with smoked asparagus mousselin and asparagus clear soup
12,70 € / 16,70 €

Piran sea bass fillet with dry tomato-olives sauce, grilled prawns and parsley risotto
28,50 €

Filet of salmon with olive crust, asparagus, fennel and orange mashed potatoes
28,50 €

Scallops on the shell, gratinised
30 €

While ordering we would sample a generous basket of impeccably baked breads, presented with the local (very good) olive oil, local olives, the famous local salt and butter on which to put it. Service was without fault, friendly, efficient, advisory when asked.

Kempinski mussels

Although all the meat dishes were attractive in print, we could never resist the lure of the seafood – sitting on the Adriatic, what else could we do? As befits seafood, the dishes were all sophisticated without being overly complicated. Only two did not succeed. The Caesar salad was not anything like that dish and although it was okay, I would not recommend it. The other were the scallops, a special one evening which I could not go past. I didn’t realise that ‘gratinised’ would be entirely dry, with a breaded topping. Unfortunately scallops can’t stand up to that. They need either to be cooked more quickly or with something more liquid with them in the shell. Otherwise, everything was a triumph.

In Geneva we never eat out because to get this standard of food one would have to pay  at least double the price. It was a treat and a privilege to be able to frequent this restaurant.

We did always leave room for dessert.

Honey panna cotta with toasted hazelnut crumble and candied kumquats
6,50 €

Flourless chocolate cake with cherry sauce and pomegranate sorbet
7,30 €

Custard apple crème with peach jelly and mango meringue
6,30 €

These sophisticated desserts were all given the thumbs up by others at the table. I, however, needed icecream, which upon enquiry could be provided. Two scoops of chocolate icecream, perfectly presented: soft, but not too soft, with chocolate and some crumbs by way of decoration. I could have eaten a dozen of these every day. Ahem.

We only drank the local mineral water and beer with our meals. I had several pots of tea which came with freshly baked biscuits. Hot chocolate was Italian style, extremely thick, extremely hot and extremely good. Espresso coffee was pronounced excellent. The one latte ordered was the only straightforward disaster, so pallid that the coffee didn’t look much different from the white froth that filled the top half of the glass.

 * * *

The bar should be a nice place but loses all of its ambience marks by having three screens. We were in a screenless area, but nonetheless were aurally assaulted by the screens not only being on, but being on different shows, one blaring into the left ear, the other into the right. I don’t understand why five star hotel bars should be in the nature of sports bars. Any that are, lose me as a customer. Fortunately, the Fleur de Sel operates as a cafe as well as restaurant, so avoiding the bar was no onerous task.






The highs and lows of eating in Madrid

One of the hot spots to be in Madrid (and elsewhere in Spain) is Cafe Federal , an Australian cafe as one might guess from the name. We went twice. At 10.30pm there was a queue for dinner which we joined. It is very simple cafe fare, the ubiquitous burger dominating. Ours were okay, but why wouldn’t a burger manage that? We returned the next day for breakfast, aware that in the morning and in particular Sunday morning as this was, it would be a next to impossible meal to find in Spain. Mine was truly dire, the worse version of baked eggs I’ve ever had. The staff was not the least bothered that I left the entire thing bar a mouthful. It even looked awful.

For somebody in exile like me, it is nice to see Australia gradually spreading over Europe, but whereas the standard of our fare in Berlin recently was excellent, this was not. And yet, as you will have noticed, the place is hugely popular. I haven’t eaten enough in Spain to know if this is a case of ‘the grass is greener’ or that Spanish food is terrible.

Unfortunately we only discovered late in our trip that the place to go for breakfast in the morning was C.O.M.E. which was just across the road from our hotel. Too easy. Excellent pastries, bread dishes, not an Australian breakfast but a really good one and they open, like bakeries always do, early – not the crack of dawn, but 8am, which by Spanish standards, given that they only finish eating dinner after midnight, is jolly early indeed.

Also in the general vicinity of our hotel was The Secret Garden, or if you want to get all Spanish about it, El Jardin Secreto The food ranges from okay to average to a bit above that at a stretch. You go because it might be the cutest place you ever eat at. Also, being a cafe, they serve at all the hours during which non-Spanish people want to eat.

There’s nobody who does it like the Ritz, right? I was rather disappointed the only time I’ve been to the London Ritz. It didn’t help that the guy at the door didn’t want to let my shoes in. But the Ritz in Madrid really does do it like the Ritz. The lounge area is spectacular and includes a cocktail pianist who kicks off in the morning. The first tea I was served here was so correctly presented that it was the first time I’ve moved The Windsor in Melbourne down by a notch. It was elegant, beautiful pastry nibbles on the side, hot water in its own pot. I texted a friend in Australia that I’d died and gone to tea heaven. Next day, however, upon my return, I had to ask for extra hot water. I don’t really understand how it is that a place of this class doesn’t have house rules that get you the same thing each time you order. At any rate, that was enough for them to slip down to 2nd place.

Windsor of Melbourne? You are still unsurpassed as the best place in the world for a cup of tea.

I had lunch one day at The Goya – when you live in Geneva you grab your chances to eat well outside your own kitchen. It was classic, impeccable, but, I’m also afraid to say, forgettable. I honestly can’t recall a single thing I ate.

We had a rather different experience at The Westin Palace. To go to The Rotunda, if only for a drink is a must as the architecture is sore-neck-stunning. Because you spend your time gazing up in awe at the dome above you. While we were there a special option was Japanese Tapas which we thought exquisite and very reasonably priced.

If you are at either of these hotels, it means you are in the area of art galleries and a beautiful park. If the weather is good, I do recommend the latter. Madrid is famous for its parks and on another trip I hope to see more of them.