Midnight Mess at Melbourne Fringe
Photograph: Duncan Jacob

What it was like to see Melbourne's first live performance since March

This rollicking midnight show brought live performance back to Melbourne

Cassidy Knowlton

Melbourne's theatres and live performance spaces have been dark, except for the ghost lights, since March. But at 11.59pm on Sunday, November 22, the performing arts were back on the cards. And so, at exactly midnight, Melbourne Fringe put on a show, becoming the very first performance in Melbourne in more than 270 days. 

And what an unbridled expression of pure joy it was. As the audience queued in the pouring rain on markers on the ground 1.5 metres apart to be let into the venue safely, the clock struck midnight. And like a reverse Cinderella, that was when the magic began. Fringe director Simon Abrahams, in a sparkly bowtie and mask, rang a handbell and started running up and down the rows of excited theatregoers. Cheers and whoops went up from the socially distanced crowd, who minded neither the downpour nor the slight rigmarole that goes with going out in these uNpReCeDeNtEd TiMeS. One man in a floral mask shouted out, "We're at the theatre, motherfuckers!" and everyone clapped and cheered. It felt good to be back. 

Inside the venue, chairs were arranged in groups of two, with at least 1.5 metres between each pod. A few tables and couches were positioned around the edge of the room, and these were also appropriately spaced out. The familiar din of a theatre crowd filled the space, with the audience more than making up for low numbers with excess excitement. 

The house lights dimmed, the stage lights came up, and it happened. Real live performance in Melbourne, as Reuben Kaye took to the stage in a feather boa, sparkly jacket and glittery lipstick. "We're back!" he yelled, with all the excitement we felt. Or at least, that's what it looked like he was saying – although Kaye was both raising his voice and using a microphone, he couldn't be heard over the screams of the masked crowd. Kaye dropped and literally kissed the boards on which he trod, prompting more screams from the crowd. 

And so it went, with every performer expressing sincere and joyful gratitude to be back on stage. Abrahams revealed that the Fringe team conceived of this audacious show just a week before, when it looked like restrictions were going to lift. The theme of this year's Fringe is 'Art of the Impossible', which is exactly what this show was. It was hilarious, joyful, silly and yes, a little bit weird (it is Fringe, after all). A few months ago it would have been completely impossible, but damn, it feels good to be back.

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