Performance Reviews: HIGH PONY, LOOPS, Black Widow, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Four Melbourne Fringe Festival works show the range on offer, from comedy to circus, cabaret and street tours.
Melbourne Fringe. Two women with bustieres and frill collars, plus high ponytails face the camera.


It’s hard not to love the sort of queer enthusiastic weirdness that musical comedy duo Sam and Mel bring to the stage. From their energetic opening nine-minute, quasi Bring it On-style horny cheerleading number about social netball (the ‘gayest straight sport’) and with netball bibs adorning the back of stage like bunting, I thought the show would be all about netball. And, look, as a former GK/GD, for this I was there (if you need). But no, the duo disappear offstage and Mel returns in a Where’s Wally red and white candy-striped jumper, beanie and glasses, singing a ballad about never feeling truly seen.

HIGH PONY is a properly bananas musical comedy cabaret, featuring original songs such as ‘Lesbians don’t get the Ick and That’s Science!’ (complete with merch), a song about a pair of eshays finding their true calling as a florist and ballet dancer, and a song about how babies should be cancelled (because what do they do, really?).

Mel O’Brien and Sam Andrew were nominated for the Golden Gibbo for their previous show Shit-Wrecked! at the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Festival and are clearly amassing a crowd of devoted fans, judging by their packed opening night of HIGH PONY at the Trades Hall Common Rooms. Their comedy is fresh, ridiculous and they harmonise. What’s not to like? 


HIGH PONY will be performing at Trades Hall until 22 October 2023.


‘LOOPS’. Photo: Supplied.

NZ-based Company Hiraeth took the fundamental shape required for aerial rope, a loop, and turned it into a complex circus-based performance – a looped double aerial work that became increasingly anxiety-inducing with each repetition.

And it was all set to a live performed soundscape that incorporated technology and included cassette tapes, a reel-to-reel, laptop and looping desk. It was original and moving, a work in tension between its sense of existential bleakness and its poetic beauty. 

Created and performed by Benny Lennings, Leanne Jenkins and Fran Muir
Directed by: Brynne Tasker-Poland

LOOPS was performed at Gasworks Arts Park from 5-7 October 2023.

Black Widow

Isabel Knight is Arachne. A femme fatale, Black Widow spider, dressed in spandex onesie with two pairs of long finger-nailed arms hanging over her shoulders, she searches for true love as a killer badass black beauty prone to eating her love interests.

Black Widow. Photo: Darren Gill.

Knight’s powerful pipes are best suited to the rich lows and belting highs of the jazzy numbers she twists into her cabaret quest (Chicago’s ‘All That Jazz’, Etta James’ classic ‘A Sunday Kind of Love’ and ‘Something’s Got a Hold On Me’ and Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’), and her playful lyricism makes for lots of laughs (an audience participation number turns AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ into her self-proclaimed favourite acronym, ‘DTF’).

It’s saucy, sexy and salacious and, with refined comic and performance chops, Knight is a safe (four) pair of hands – pulling off a risky denouement gear shift and navigating a tight emotional turn by way of an a capella ballad. Knight is a great talent and Black Widow is cabaret well-worth being caught by.

Black Widow

Black Widow will be performed at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne until 15 October 2023.

De-tours of Melbourne

De-Tours of Melbourne has three walking tours on offer during Melbourne Fringe, including a rom-com and a scary stories tour. For this review, I went on the mystery tour.

Jenna Schroder as Seraphine. Photo: Sam Alexander.

This is no ordinary sightseeing tour, but a mysterious journey that asks us to solve a puzzle about Melbourne, stopping by places that may lead a curious person to wonder: what is behind that wall or over that fence? 

Your guide is the very charming and kooky French detective, Seraphine (Jenna Schroder), who peers over her red-rimmed glasses at her tour guests, wrapped in her bright red coat and donkey-print scarf, leading the way through back alleys and over cobblestones, baguette in raised hand. 

Read: Performance reviews: The Hotline, Poet No.7 and Zaffé, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Schroder as Seraphine has enough charisma to carry the show and all its absurdity, and her comic improv skills make for lots of unexpected laughs. The structure perhaps could be refined to allow each component of the puzzle to have a more coherent place in the overall mystery, which may lead to a more satisfying overall “a-ha!” payoff. 

De-Tours of Melbourne

Seraphine’s De-Tours of Melbourne run 6-11 October, 17 (7.30pm) and 21 (7.30pm), Sunanda and Angela’s tours on 12-13, 18-20 October and the scary stories tour on 17 October (7:40pm), 19 and 21 (6.30pm).

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen