When it comes to Melbourne Fringe Festival, you’re almost guaranteed to be surprised. It won’t be any different when you board a vintage bus as part of Prahran’s So Soiree Fringe Garden for the part-scripted, part-improv show Speed: The Movie, The Play.
Co-written and produced by Natalie Bochenski, founder of Brisbane-based theatre and comedy group Act React, the show is a comedic and interactive take on the 1994 film featuring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
“Speed is what happens if you take a big-budget blockbuster and try to recreate it on a shoestring budget,” Bochenski says. “We’ve taken the movie’s script and plot and added in a whole lot of jokes. It’s the kind of show that if I had seen it done by other people, I would be really jealous that I didn’t have that idea first.”
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It’s just one of 18 eclectic acts to catch as part of So Soiree in Grattan Gardens and Prahran Square, which runs from Saturday October 7 to Sunday October 22. It’s jam-packed with acrobatics and circus performances, comedy, cabaret, burlesque and fusions of all genres. There’s also a retro caravan serving up cocktails and drinks in the festoon-lit adult-only playground, Fringe Garden.
The 200-seat Ukiyo Tent will house a range of performances each night. “If you’re new to Fringe, or a bit intimidated by the size of Melbourne’s big and glorious program, have a look at the So Soiree Fringe Gardens,” Bochenski says. “It’s got a much more manageable set of options.”
Bochenski says they’ve performed Speed over 150 times across the country since it debuted in Brisbane in 2015, and every performance is different from the last. Instead of a stage, the show takes place on a vintage bus – and audience members play the extras.
“Our audiences are in the show with us,” she says. “They’re on the bus, they’re in the thick of the action, and we actually use the audience as cast members in many ways.” Spoiler alert: you could end up behind the wheel and cast on the spot as Bullock’s character Annie.
Outside her own show, Bochenski is keen to catch the cabaret and burlesque show Club Briefs, the musical comedy Sh*t Wrecked (set on the Spirit of Tasmania), and late-night cabaret Cake – Let Them Eat It, hosted by Garry Starr of Greece Lightning, which has won awards at Fringe festivals in Sydney, Adelaide, Manchester and Gothenburg.
For one night only, there’s also Karen From Finance’s latest one-woman show Doing Time. “Karen From Finance is always good value … I’ve seen lots of clips of her but never live, so if I can get that happening I’d be very excited,” Bochenski says.
On the full Melbourne Fringe Festival program – which packs in 475 events – Bochenski calls out David Massingham’s Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit as a must-see take on a classic Agatha Christie novel. “I always try to catch his shows because it’s always very polite English people having cups of tea and then brutally murdering each other.”
Bochenski likens Fringe to a buffet – you just need to work out what you’re in the mood for. If you’re up for a laugh, see what catches your eye in the comedy section of the program. If you want to sit back and be entertained over drinks, cabaret could be your gig. To be challenged or intrigued, look to theatre. “The thing with Fringe festivals, and any festival really, is that you are always spoilt for choice,” she says.
Heading to one precinct also makes it easier to plan – or wing – a night out. “You can go, ‘Okay, we could do that early Speed show, then grab some dinner, and go to a late cabaret’, and then you’ve had a full night out seeing a variety of shows,” she says. “You’re getting more bang for your buck.”
Unlike big-name theatre and a certain impossible-to-buy-tickets Taylor Swift Eras tour, you can book Fringe shows with a bit of spontaneity, too. “Those are often some of the best times, when I’ve gone ‘Oh look, there’s a show starting in 10 minutes, let’s go and see it’.”
It’s also easier to justify taking a punt on a show you have no clue about when tickets start at $30. “Go in with the spirit of ‘I’m going to discover something’. It might be weird, and it might be strange. It might not be what you expected, but that’s the wonderful part of Fringe.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with City of Stonnington.