Melbourne Fringe Festivals G’Day Habibi

Entering the pub style restaurant, the notable bright green poster welcomes you.

 

‘This is a Fringe venue’.

 

Soon the sound of a delicate bell rings, 15 minutes late.

 

“Those for G’Day Habibi, please make your way up the stairway”.

 

The narrow staircase allows only one person at a time and you have to watch your feet as you go so you don’t trip over. It leads to a small room where a simple stage has been set.  A black backdrop with a guy sitting at a red key board. Towards the back of the room sits a man, working the lights and sound. Flashes of green and purple swirl across the room with the spot light fixated on the stage. More people file in. IMG_2124

 

The music playing has a notable Middle Eastern tone. It gives the atmosphere a sense of liveliness and creates energetic tones. There is a key change and the tempo increases, or did the song change altogether? It’s hard to tell as it’s not sung in English.  Lights of different hues begin to dance around everyone’s head, making it feel like a nineties disco. A young woman walks out from behind the black curtain. Wearing a pink sequenced dress and a scarf covering her head she starts to sing.

 

Fighting for attention, G’Day Habibi was one among a hundred or so performances featured at last years, 2016, Melbourne Fringe Festival. For over thirty years The Fringe Festival has helped emerging artists and performers showcase their talents to the wider public.

 

This particular cabaret explores the diversities and differences that come from being half Lebanese and half Australian. Written and performed by Danielle Faour, the cabaret breaks down the stereotypes of this Middle Eastern culture through the use of comedy and song. Developed from a 30-minute show she performed at Fab Nobs Theatre, Faour tells of how she received a grant to develop the idea further but only recently took action.

“Two years’ kind of went past and I didn’t do anything with it and then I saw the ads for Fringe and thought that’s it. I’m going to do it. So then I expanded the show and then here we are.”

 

The title of the performance denotes the fusion of cultures. ‘G’Day’, common Australian slag for hello and ‘habibi’, a Lebanese term to describe love and affection towards another. Thus the title means ‘hello friend’, this is all explained in the first few minutes of the show. When Faour would exclaim, “G’Day Habibi’s” the audience is expected to shout or respond back with just as much vigour. Looking around the small room you could see the over-arching Australian presence. But like a true performer Faour adapts and engages with her audience to the point where you would see yourself doing the Lebanese clap and singing along to the so called wedding playlist, where Aussie hour is Chris Brown on repeat. Such moments helped keep the spirit of the room upbeat and alive, though the rave style lighting choices sometimes took away such feelings.

 

“I feel like it keeps people engaged”, says Faour when asked about audience participation.

IMG_2127

“Because sometimes when you are just talking at them or whatever people don’t really pay as much attention. Whereas they feel they have to pay attention if they know you might like ask them to do something.”

 

And she did, multiple times. Asking the audience questions and at one point having a Lebanese style Family Feud.

Though the nakedness of the stage and room sometimes felt bare and dull, Faour makes up in her energetic spirit and witty charm. She forces you to use your imagination as she describes her cousins wedding and how all the men were on the lookout for a wife.  She sings about her dad’s obsession with buying and collecting life size boats and adoring himself over a particular vessel with a large shark sticker plastered on the side. After it all you realise that if there were any props it would have been too distracting.

 

Apart from her pink sequined dress the only other colour on stage is the cherry red keyboard played by her accompaniment, Angus Gray. He was not Danielle’s first choice. After asking other close friends and being turned down she turned to social media.

 

“It’s called like Melbourne Musical Theatre musicians or something and I just posted on there and said you know hey I’m doing a comedy cabaret you know these are the details who’s interested”.

 

Angus was one of many who responded.

 

“I saw the post for a pianist and thought yeah, that would be fun.”

 

After consideration the pair were matched and have enjoyed working with each other.

 

“Oh she is nice, fun and full of energy.”

 

“She put it all together and just told me what to play,” he said.

 

Danielle laughs at his response.

 

“He’s been really great”.

 

What was visibly absence Faour makes up with her music abilities. Not only can she sing songs from the likes of Lady Gaga, the Cure and even ACDC but her ingenious way of re writing the lyrics gave her stories edge and comedic value.

 

“In my family every time its someone birthday or a wedding or something we don’t do speeches we do songs. So we’ll choose a song and then we’ll like change the words to suit that person.”

 

With nine shows across the course of the festival, and a number of them sold out, Faour shares how each performance was different and how it evolved over the course of the week.

 

“Naturally over time you might ad lib a bit and you kind of see what works and what doesn’t so from the first night it is a different show to what you saw tonight”.

 

The quirky nature of the performance and the remixes of popular songs brought a sense of realism. Listening and laughing along with the rest of the audience common themes begin to emerge from her experiences to your own. A simple way of bridging together cultural differences. Strangely enough you will find yourself laughing at the seemingly relatable challenges this girl has faced. From the unfortunate circumstance of being born a girl and having her carnivorous family shake their heads as she tries to explain what a vegan is, the boundaries of both cultures begin to fade. Well written and brilliantly performed well deserved the festivals nomination for best cabaret. Though it did not take out the top honours it did not disappoint.

Accent on Asia’s Kaili Blues, a cinematic masterpiece

Kaili Blues, premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2016 (MIFF), is an award winning feature by China’s emerging young director (Bi Gen). Set in the director’s hometown of Kaili, located in Southwest China, the film explores the challenges of the past and the conflicts that present themselves through daily life.

The film is underscored by elements of memory and time, with the use of a visual narrative to present these themes Gen enables the audience to experience and reflect upon their own memories of love and loss through Chen’s own progression without being overbearing. Gen effectively does this through the use of poetry, written and published by the director himself, complimented by panoramic views of Kaili in Southwest China.

The film focuses on Chen Sheng (Chen Yongzhong) a doctor in the city of Kaili. Chen is more than meets the eye and as he journeys to find his nephew Weiwei (Luo Feiyang), he is faced with the unknown territories of one’s memory. While the film’s plot has no linear progression the narrative presents itself through stunning imagery. Drained colours that wash away the traditionally romanticized views of China create a sombre and undoctored aesthetic, giving each scene a sense of realism presented with unfiltered charm. Chen often pulls into view and later leaves the shot, only to reappear from some obscure angle, such as from the side mirror of his motorbike, or through a silhouette on a shower curtain. Gen brings to our attention an element of Asian cinema, nigh unknown in Western culture, that of ‘Daily Life’. In typical western film the camera always follows the action, deviating every now and then to ground the audience in the environment or deepen their understanding of the characters. The unapologetically action-lacking 41-minute take which follows Yangyang (Guo Yue), as she travels across a river located in the town of Dangmai is one such example of fluid and uneventful movement.

The use of unknown actors both hindered and enabled the films fluidity. The lack of emotion and expression used by the main protagonist made it tiresome to watch at times. Although Chen didn’t say much with body language, the audience becomes drawn into the conversations and pay attention to what is being said, or what is left unsaid.

Even through the eyes of a Western viewer, Kaili Blues is a beautiful portrayal of the director’s hometown through cinematography. It is not an unconventional film, but it is not for conventional tastes. Kaili Blues will surprise you in more ways than one. An additional viewing is being held on August 4, tickets on sale through the MIFF website.