Adelaide Fringe: six talked-up shows you have to see

From Trainspotting to Isis to abortion, the festival is tackling big issues with a big heart – but there are moments of silliness and spectacle too

The second-biggest fringe festival in the world has once again seized Adelaide by the scruff of the neck and shaken this city to life. Like a supersized village fete, the Adelaide Fringe delivers an all-encompassing catharsis you won’t find at the eastern seaboard festivals that are drowned out within Sydney and Melbourne’s bristling cultural calendars.

From turning a hotel basement pool salty with tears, to unleashing waves of disgust at the worst toilet in Scotland, the 2017 Fringe is delivering the full gamut of emotions.

There’s two weeks left until the circus leaves town – so for those yet to indulge or hungry for more, here are six shows that are getting South Australians talking.

19 Weeks (Australia)

By: Emily Steel, performed by Tiffany Lyndall Knight, directed by Daisy Brown

Tiffany Lyndall Knight
In 19 Weeks, Tiffany Lyndall Knight swims her way through an honest and moving account of abortion. Photograph: Daisy Brown

For many punters, the Fringe is the only time of year they dip their toes into the theatre world – but not usually quite as literally as the front row of the audience for 19 Weeks, who dangle their feet into the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury swimming pool.

The water serves as a stage for Tiffany Lyndall Knight to swim her way through an unflinchingly honest account by the Adelaide-based playwright Emily Steel of her decision to terminate a pregnancy last year, after the foetus was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

From her encounters with people leading fruitful lives with the condition, to breaking the news to her religious mother, to coping with the baby’s kicking, Steel is opening up on her experience to start a dialogue about abortion, inviting the public to share their stories. A sellout run in Adelaide has her looking at adding extra seating and considering whether to take the conversation further afield.

“We’d love to take the show to Edinburgh and New York [among other places], so we’ll see how things develop,” she told Guardian Australia. – MO

19 Weeks is showing until 18 March at Adina Basement Pool, Adelaide

Angel by Henry Naylor (UK)

By: Avital Lvova (performer)

Angel by Henry Naylor
Avital Lvova is ‘incredibly versatile’ in Angel by Henry Naylor. Photograph: Rosalind Furlong

Another one-woman show, Angel is the story of how a Kurdish law student was swept up by war and transformed into the partly mythologised Angel of Kobani – a female sniper reputed to be responsible for killing more than 100 members of Isis.

Showing a little bit away from the action at Holden Street Theatres, the action on stage is well worth the trip to Hindmarsh. The incredibly versatile Avital Lvova lends personality and conviction to a Henry Naylor script that occasionally paints its Kurdish and jihadi characters in broad strokes but offers up unexpected laughs – including a running William Shatner gag that keeps re-emerging in the darkest of circumstances. – MO

Angel is showing until 19 March at Holden Street Theatres, Hindmarsh

We Live By the Sea (UK)

By: Patch of Blue Theatre

Alex Brain as Katy in Patch of Blue Theatre’s We Live By the Sea
Alex Brain as Katy in Patch of Blue Theatre’s We Live By the Sea. Photograph: Patch of Blue

In Adelaide to cover the festival proper, I was sent to this small production by the glowing review of a critic friend: “This is exactly what a fringe festival show should be.”

As you enter the tent, 15-year-old Katy (Alex Brain) asks if she could please tap your shoes. For Katy – who lives with her sister Hannah (Alex Simonet) and her imaginary dog Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace) – the shoe-tapping is a way of greeting people and the beginning of your hour-long journey into the world of autism: not only what it’s like to live with, but what it’s like to fall in love with.

Young theatre company Patch of Blue worked with the National Autistic Society for this work, which is by turns playful, funny and deeply moving. Through a live score and innovative set-pieces, they build whole worlds by the sea where the two teenagers live alone after the death of their father, before a new boy Ryan (Tom Colliandris) moves to town.

The show had sellout seasons in Edinburgh, New York and London – but there are remarkably still tickets available for the Adelaide run. Bring tissues. – SH

We Live By the Sea runs at the Black Forest at Royal Croquet Club until 19 March

Trainspotting Live (UK)

By: Kings Head & In Your Face, directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin

Gavin Ross in Trainspotting
Gavin Ross plays Renton in the live show of Trainspotting, which even Irvine Welsh was ‘shocked’ by. Photograph: Geraint Lewis

Fans of the cult classic film are spoilt for choice in Adelaide, with the Kings Head & In Your Face live production coming to town while the sequel shows in cinemas.

Based on the book by Irvine Welsh, this yarn about the colourful adventures of heroin junkies in 1980s Edinburgh has scored rave reviews and set tongues wagging – particularly those of the audience members unfortunate enough to be involved in an interactive take on the legendary “worst toilet in Scotland” scene.

Even Welsh was impressed by Harry Gibson’s theatrical adaptation, declaring: “I was shocked and I wrote the fucking thing!” After Adelaide, the show heads to Melbourne for the second half of March. – MO

Trainspotting Live is showing until 19 March at Station Underground, Adelaide

Sammy J: Hero Complex

By: Sammy J

Sammy J
Phantom fan (“Phan”) Sammy J, in his new solo show, Hero Complex. Photograph: Adelaide Fringe

Not a fan of foul-mouthed puppet-driven musical comedy? Never fear: Melbourne’s Sammy J has left Randy behind for his award-winning new solo show and it’s a different venture altogether.

Hero Complex begins where it ends: the comedian climbing up a ladder at the request of a federal police officer, who had shown up at his door to retrieve stolen goods. The labyrinthine story that unravels – growing more delightful and hilarious at every twist and turn – is the true tale of one boy’s inexplicably deep love of the Phantom and how it eventually tied him to the police, Jack Reacher, the federal politician Tim Wilson, the United Nations, the ABC, a school gardener and the woman he would end up marrying.

Something of a hoarder, Sammy J puts all kinds of supporting evidence on show, from cringeworthy photos of the skinny young lad standing alone on school trips, to the heartbreakingly dorky diary entries that contain lines like “THINGS ARE HOTTING UP!!”.

It’s a completely insane story, very well told – and with occasional musical interludes for those who want the best of both. – SH

• Sammy J: Hero Complex gets an encore show on 18 March at the Garden of Unearthly Delights, before travelling to the comedy festivals in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth

I Am Somebody (Sweden)

By: Sirqus Alfon

Sirqus Alfon
Sirqus Alfon harness social media content generated live into their ‘cyber-nostalgic light-and-sound extravaganza’. Photograph: Klara G

The mysterious voice of a pre-show announcer requests that audiences keep their phones on, rather than switch them off – the first indication that Sirqus Alfon have something a little different in mind.

Martin Ostman, Erik Rosales and Henrik Strindberg harness the social media content generated by their viewers to help power a cyber-nostalgic light-and-sound extravaganza at the Royal Croquet Club. Dressed like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band trapped inside Tron, the Scandinavian trio abuse the smartest technology to further their daft agenda: plucking at laser beams as if they were string instruments, boxing in a live-action vintage video game and zapping back and forth through space and time. MO

I Am Somebody is showing until 19 March at the Royal Croquet Club


Max Opray and Steph Harmon

The GuardianTramp

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