Why do we love Melbourne Fringe so much? Let us count the ways…is it the platform it gives to so such a diverse range of artists? Is it the infinite variety of performances, all with tickets available from a single website? Is it the sound and fury, the cheeky sexuality, and the edgy athleticism, often to be seen all in one show?
Or is it that fact that you just never know what you’re going to get?
“Ugly Duckling” is less a cabaret than a one-woman musical. Karla Hillam, in what is unbelievably her solo-debut, asks the age-old question; what if the famous Hand Christian Anderson Fable was reversed, and it was a little duck that hatched into a family of swans? Never to achieve their elegance, their grace and their beauty? What if said family of swans were a Kardashian-esq family of socialites, eager to conquer the new frontier of social media fame? What if they set out to achieve their goal vicariously through their awkward little duckling? Then, what if she failed?
If this is sounding a little strange, then we are doing the show justice. It is strange in all the ways a Fringe festival should be; like Hillam had a train of thought that went right off the rails and landed upright, grew some caterpillar treads, and bulldozed right on through the landscape. Her wild, energetic performance takes her through more accents than a Benny Hill skit, an album of oddly fitting songs and a series of events that flirts with poignancy as our heroine duckling leads us to ponder what might actually become of a generation of aesthetics-worshipping, narcissistic socialites, when they realize their filtered, augmented and professionally styled selfie-gods are but frauds, and every bit as temporary as the rest of us.
The tale of awkward desperation and narcissistic desolation is highly polished, there is evidence of years’ worth of work here, and her orchestra, comprised entirely of Andrew Kroenert, provides excellent, live music for the masses. But this is Karla Hillam’s show, and with her duck-suit, lashes that could take an eye out and make-up recalling Aronofsky, this is what the Fringe is all about.
Review by Max Davine