Performance reviews: Access, Dougie Baldwin and Aza: stories of grief in diaspora, Melbourne Fringe Festival

An hour of anarchic clowning, emotional experimentation and diasporic mourning at Melbourne Fringe 2023.
Access. Image is a man in a white T-shirt and dark trousers sitting in a chair with his eyes closed opposite another empty chair.


Antonin Artaud famously said actors are ‘athletes of the heart’, and Hamish Annan testified to this notion in Access, putting his heart on the line to “access” emotions through physiological manipulation. Human connection in all its fragile, mystifying and unsettling glory was front and centre in this curious, confronting experience, which penetrated to your soul. In Access, audiences were invited to sit opposite Annan and request one of six emotions – lust, grief, fear, aggression, happiness and disgust – and witness Annan summon these states.

Annan’s vulnerability and commitment to conjuring each emotion was breathtaking, and he delicately played with emotions without ever toying with them, creating a profound and affecting spectacle. Looking into his eyes as you sat across from him triggered deep empathy, and you lost yourself in the visceral world he drew you into, sharing in the energy and emotion.

Those not seated opposite him were permitted to roam around and view the piece, and even as an observer the visceral beauty of the interaction unfolding in front of you was captivating. As the audience grew comfortable with the game and lowered their guard, they inadvertently became as compelling as Annan, channelling and reciprocating the intensity of each emotion themselves.

Access was a thrilling, provocative reminder of what it means to be human, a bold challenge to the emotional repression of our everyday lives.


Created and Performed by: Hamish Annan
Directed by: Katie Burson
Design by: Rob Byrne

Access was performed in person from 19-21 October at Festival Hub: Trades Hall – The Square and online as part of Digital Fringe from 3-22 October; tickets $8-28.

Dougie Baldwin

Gaulier alumnus Dougie Baldwin delivered a departure from the carefully structured narrative of solo debut Mind How Y’Go, the endearing, personal tale of suburban minutiae, which netted him a Best Comedy nomination at last year’s Melbourne Fringe. This time, Baldwin channelled the mischief and sneer of a schoolboy for an absurd and chaotic hour of gags, from an inane monologue on his sisters to a hilariously overzealous rendition of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’.

A word of warning: audience interaction was mandatory right from the get-go, Baldwin traipsing around the tiny Evatt Room with multiple rolls of sticky tape that inevitably ended up all over the audience’s heads. Baldwin’s style of aggressive clowning teetered on the precipice of bouffon, and often came close to overstepping the bounds of his contract with audiences. It was high-risk “le jeu”, which appeared to pay off, but was certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Overall, the show was quite off-kilter, a disparate collection of moments that could have used some of its predecessor’s structure and detail to smooth out inconsistencies – physical comedy generally landing better than spoken moments. Nonetheless, Baldwin’s ability to maintain control over a rowdy crowd was commendable, and he never missed an opportunity to capitalise on the offers the audience gave him, whether it was imitating their guffaws or hurling clothing at them, making for a chaotic, hilarious experience.


Written and performed by Dougie Baldwin from 11-22 October at Festival Hub: Trades Hall – Evatt Room; tickets $25.

Aza: stories of grief in diaspora

Mourning is by no means a linear process, complicated when also grieving the loss of connection to the stories and people of your homeland. Aza: stories of grief in diaspora aimed to juxtapose the nuances of personal and cultural loss through spoken word, where five poets from different migrant backgrounds came together to mark the loss of a loved one back home.

It was an admirable conceit and the team certainly held a space for respectful and generous sharing, but unfortunately the piece was tonally stagnant, a lack of dynamic range from the speakers limiting the exploration of grief to ponderous and leaden sighs. At times it felt as if the speakers had dug slightly too deeply in their delivery rather than trusting the language’s power to affect. The poetry wavered between being evocative and verbose, sometimes dipping into cliché, sometimes compelling.

Thabani Tshuma brought a much needed reprieve from the heaviness, adeptly manipulating pace and vocal quality to deliver a poignant monologue about time, while Charaf Tartoussi’s speech on reconnecting with her teta (grandma) tempered heartache with fond remembrance.

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There was the sense you were witnessing something sacred and delicate, which shouldn’t really be described as a theatre performance, so the choice to have a curtain call was a strange ending to the ceremony.


Aza: stories of grief in diaspora
Written and Performed by: Charaf Tartoussi, Farah Beaini, Thabani Tshuma and Parminder Kaur
Featuring: Meena Shamaly

Aza: stories of grief in diaspora was performed from 18-22 October at Festival Hub: Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers; tickets $23.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker who has performed at Melbourne Fringe, AsiaTOPA, Darebin FUSE and La Mama's War-Rak/Banksia Festival, and created content for La Trobe University, ArtsHub, RMITV and C31. She is currently the Melbourne Content Creator for Indian Link Media Group, an award-winning publication empowering the South Asian diaspora. She is also a passionate arts advocate, helping run various campaigns to save theatre at La Trobe, and is the Secretary of the Australian Women Directors' Alliance. In her spare time, Lakshmi enjoys crochet and taking photographs of flowers for her Instagram @lakshmilikesflowers.