Our top picks of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

It's that time again when bold, independent artists take over the city and the North Melbourne Town Hall heaves with parties. Not sure what to see? Start with this spread of theatre, cabaret, stand-up, live art, circus and dance
Photograph: Supplied
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‘Out of the Echo Chamber’ is the overarching theme that Fringe’s creative director and CEO Simon Abrahams uses to describe this year’s festival (Sep 14-Oct 1), which is packed with more than 400 performances, exhibitions and events. “We are continually listening to people in our own Facebook feeds, and we’re curating the voices that we hear to an extent that we are becoming cushioned,” says Abrahams. “The provocation to the people of Melbourne is to get out of the echo chamber… to look at the world in a different way, to extend your thinking to hear the marginalised voices.”

You can check out the full program on the website. Only into comedy? Sort by section on the site and you'll find big-name comedians alongside emerging talent. For school holiday ideas, sort by 'Kids Events' and start planning your trip to the Fringe Kids Club at ArtPlay.

Highlights of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

1
Pivot
Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti
Things to do, Fairs and festivals

Pivot

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This participatory public art project will see sculptural seesaws pop up at Fed Square – and you’re invited to play. Each seesaw will connect two citizens in a guided conversation led by a built in voice program. Pivot is the brainchild of artist collaborators Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, who describe their practice as being “driven by a curiosity and questioning about listening in human culture”. After spending two weeks at Fed Square, Pivot will spend its final day at Chapel Off Chapel in Prahran (noon-5pm, Sun Oct 1).

2
Discordia dancers at Arts Centre Melbourne
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Performance art

Discordia

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Hannah Fox, half of creative agency Supple Fox (behind the popular Dark Faux Mo performance and installation parties) describes this new venture as “a layered installation”. Taking place in the Fairfax Studio of Arts Centre Melbourne, the performance will combine live performance, original music, set and sound design to “take witnesses and participants through a near future world of utopian evolution, room by room, scene by scene," she says. Her seven collaborators include Gabi Barton (of bent burlesque duo Town Bikes), dancer Holly Durant (Finucane & Smith), and dancer Benjamin Hancock (Lucy Guerin Inc., Chunky Move).

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3
Fanaticus, Melbourne, Fringe
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Performance art

Fanaticus

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Who said that art and sport can’t mix? Award-winning Melbourne ensemble Rawcus – comprised of artists with and without disability – will transform QV Square into a stadium and ‘perform’ a game of basketball, complete with half-time entertainment. Book a seat on the bleachers and get ready to cheer.

4
Shania Choir
Photograph: Jamie Breen
Music

Shania Choir

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Earlier this year, a Melbourne-based choir brought something to our city that we never knew we needed: a capella Shania Twain renditions. Now, we don't know how we ever lasted without one.  This month, Shania Choir are back for two massive nights at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. This ten-gal, four-guy group explore the Canadian singer's personal and professional life through song, dance and drag. Expect classics like 'Man I Feel Like a Woman', 'From This Moment' and 'That Don't Impress Me Much', led by talented choir boss Alex Morris.

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5
The Super Queer Murderess Show
Photograph: Pier Carthew
Clubs, Cabaret and burlesque

The Super Queer Murderess Show

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Fierce female gunslingers, warriors, rebels and avengers step into the spotlight in this celebration of defiance and transgression. The Super Queer Murderess Show – performed by Melbourne actor Luisa Hastings Edge and directed by Melbourne theatre-maker Cathy Hunt – explores the “deeply queer reasons” for the deadly acts performed by each of the women, revealing stories of defiance and determination across history. Watch as Hastings Edge transforms into each of these women, divulging their secrets through songs arranged by Nate Gilkes.

6
Betty Grumble, Melbourne Fringe
Photograph: Supplied
Clubs, Cabaret and burlesque

Betty Grumble: Sex Clown Saves the World

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Sydney performer Betty Grumble describes herself as "surreal showgurl, obscene beauty queen and sex clown". Her award-winning debut show is an extraordinary, subversive show in which she puts her body on the line to spread an ecosexual gospel: the importance of having a loving, consensual relationship, of mutual respect and pleasure, with your planet. Her method? A cocktail of cabaret, burlesque and drag that's thoroughly queer, funny, sexy – sometimes shocking, occasionally visceral. It's a pump-your-fist-in-the-air fusion of environmental activism and sex positivity.

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7
How to Kill the Queen of Pop
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Comedy

How to Kill the Queen of Pop

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Drag, murder, '90s bangers: what's not to love about the concept behind How to Kill the Queen of Pop? Four Melbourne performers invite Absolutely Everybody to a black comedy about Vanessa Amorosi's three power-hungry back-up dancers, who conspire to murder her and steal the spotlight.  This blood-soaked skewering of celebrity culture will be performed by long-time collaborators Samuel Russo, Tom Halls, Adam Ibrahim and Simone French. If you've seen them in previous Fringe shows like last year's Immaculate party, or the eccentric Nothing Special, then you'll know to expect the outrageous.

8
Dis Place, Melbourne
Photograph: Kate ten Buuren
Things to do

dis place

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For the first time, Melbourne Fringe has teamed up with Ilbijerri Theatre Company to create Deadly Fringe: a series of works by emerging Indigenous artists. dis place is a response to the ongoing gentrification of Fitzroy, and in particular Gertrude Street, which has long been an important site for local Indigenous communities. For one night only, the street will be filled with a series of travelling live art performances and installations, starting at the Koori Club (43 Gertrude St).

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9
Glittery Glittery
Photograph: James Penlidis Photography
Clubs, Cabaret and burlesque

Fringe Wives Club

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Blend outrageous costumes, hilarious songs, ridiculous dance moves and an empowering feminist message and you’ve got Glittery Clittery: a conSENSUAL party. If you missed this award-nominated comedy cabaret/club night hybrid at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, then now’s your chance to see what all the fuss was about.

10
Michael Shafar: Kosher Bacon
Photograph: Supplied
Comedy, Stand Up

Michael Shafar: Kosher Bacon

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Even if you haven't seen this Melbourne funnyman on stage, it's likely you've encountered his work on Channel 10's The Project. Aside from being a stand-up comedian, Shafar also writes for The Project, and has also appeared on ABC Radio's Comedy Bites and Triple J's Good Az Friday.  If you like your comedy intelligent and fast-paced, then Shafar's brand new show, Kosher Bacon, might just be the Fringe show for you. As with his previous show Jewish-ish (which scored rave reviews at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival), Shafar delves into his Jewish-Australian identity. This time, he'll talk about paradoxes like 'hot ice' or 'round squares', as well as "marriage, the media, God and bar mitzvah DJs".

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11
The Clams: Crimson Tide
Photograph: Bri Hammond
Dance

Crimson Tide

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It's that time of the month: the water ballet squad that took the city by storm in March this year have synched up once again to present their empowering and ridiculously fun aquatic ode to periods. Choreographed by lauded Melbourne artists Holly Durant and Gabi Barton, Crimson Tide is a badass celebration of menstruation, and a call to open up a healthy conversation about something that, for too long, has been considered embarassing.  While you can't expect elite-level professionalism from The Clams (the troupe is comprised of amateur water ballerinas, and that's part of the fun!), you can expect a bloody good time, plenty of fun effects and great tunes. They'll be performing four shows at the Melbourne Fringe Festival at the Melbourne City Baths over two nights.

12
The Children's Party
Photograph: Sarah Walker
Things to do, Talks and discussions

The Children's Party

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There’s a new political party in town, and it’s run by kids! Artists Ben Landau and Alex Walker have overseen the creation of a party run entirely by children. Watch as representatives tackle some of the stickiest current debates, from climate change to asylum seekers. 

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13
Spice! A Singalong
Photograph: Supplied
Music

Spice! A Singalong

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Don your platform heels and Union Jack dress and get ready to sing along to the entire Spice! album, from ‘Wannabe’ to ‘If U Can’t Dance’. A group of Melbourne artists will perform the Spice Girls’ debut album from start to finish in what could be the biggest nostalgia party since last year’s Baz Luhrmann-style Romeo & Juliet event.

14
History History History at Melbourne Fringe
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Performance art

History History History

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In her one-woman show, UK theatre artist Deborah Pearson explores her family history through the prism of a dubiously-subtitled Hungarian comedy film from 1956. In doing so, she opens up a conversation around history, memory, unreliable and collective narratives, censorship, and immigration. Pearson is a co-founder of pioneering experimental theatre collective Forest Fringe, who have presented a program of risk-taking work as part of Edinburgh Fringe since 2007.

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