Melbourne Fringe: Shoot from the Hip

Shoot from the HipListen up, wise guy! The rhythm of life ain’t like that of a typewriter, even if you’re a author. Writer’s block is the least of your worries when your gumshoe character isn’t content to stay on the page, and he’s not the only one with an axe to grind. And yes, there’s always some dame who couldn’t lie straight in bed.

This is the world of Shoot from the Hip, “A detective story … beaten to a pulp”. It’s a self-aware radio play with live music that’s not afraid to square-up and punch into someone else’s stylistic territory.

Any hero worth our interest has their flaws. This is Rick Rockwell (a convincing tough guy in Charlie Sturgeon), private dick and sometime crime fiction author. He’s in a bind; cases have dried up, and so has the inspiration to write. A job arrives courtesy of rival author Ruby Pastel (a sultry and steely Cassie Vagliviello), who needs Rockwell to recover a book. From here a complex plot zooms along with more to the story than meets the eye.

The various situations and locales are bound together by Ivy Latimer’s memorably deft performance of a diversity of characters and accents. All three players show an ability to take lines that often had an element of the ridiculous and deliver them with the edge you may expect from film noir. The comedic timing, and the snappiness of the dialogue in moments of conflict, showed director Jeremy Rice’s solid grasp of genre conventions.

However, such rapid-fire dialogue wasn’t always helpful. There’s a lot more to Shoot from the Hip than your standard detective tale, with “abstract concepts”, puns, and observations of the 1940s getting in on the act. With all this to take in, the dialogue often zipped by a bit too quickly to allow an appreciation for all of the detail. This wasn’t helped by times when the volume of music in such a small room made speech difficult to understand.

Following the radio play format, there was an attempt to give the audience another entry point via a summary after an advertisement, but this suffered from the same problems. Without being able to clearly hear ideas introduced early in the piece, I found myself having to fill in the blanks on the fly, which was somewhat distracting from the immediate development of the storyline.

While it’s good to have an ambitious story with novel aspects, this piece does seem to get carried away with how much it packs into a 45 minute show. I can accept that possibly some matters were explained, I just couldn’t hear them well enough.

However, I’ve been walking the nerd beat for many years now, and there was the odd flourish that stuck out as unconvincing. While certain achievements of infinitely many monkeys at typewriters are theoretically plausible, the slant taken on this in the play loses that potential, making it seem confused. This wasn’t such a great look for a major plot point.

By the end I thought that there were some very good ideas in Shoot from the Hip, and some not so good. Some editing will likely result in a piece that is sharper for being less cluttered. I’m giving Shoot from the Hip some tough love because I enjoyed the concept and performances, and while it is currently a slick and amusing show, with some further polish it could be an absolute Fringe classic.

A large part of the show’s appeal lies in the music. Band members Jon Chidgey (percussion), Leith Dixon (piano) and Ivan Rosa (bass) play hot and cool as the mood requires, and Vagliviello’s vocals were as smooth as a silk blindfold. Designer Sarah Tulloch has Rick and Ruby looking the part as 1940s PI and femme fatale. The projection on to a screen of pulp fiction book covers that matched plot developments was also a nice touch.

The verdict of the jurors in the Jury Room of the Courthouse Hotel was unanimous. Beyond reasonable doubt, this company are guilty … of producing a very entertaining show. If you don’t get to see it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon … the short season ends this Saturday.

Melbourne Fringe: Shoot from the Hip
The Jury Room – Courthouse Hotel, Corner Errol and Queensberry Streets, North Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 20th September 2015
Season continues to 25 September 2015

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Review: Jason Whyte