Fringe World 2016: Top Picks

La Soiree With a program even heavier than last year's behemoth, this summer's Fringe World Festival has clearly got the memo from punters who still can't get enough of the world's newly crowned third-biggest Fringe. And really, can you blame us? Counting down 'til our city's balmy summer evenings are chockers with culture in three, two, one...

Best of: Cabaret

Top pick: To The Moon and Back

The combo of song, sass and showmanship makes this category a pretty safe bet for a solid Fringe night out, but for a bona fide cabaret show don't miss these picks.

A few Fringe favourites are returning this year - catch new show To The Moon and Back from hilarious, clever and sickeningly talented WAAPA graduate Gillian Cosgriff, who's charmed Perth audience twice now (us included). CabaRIOT, from outrageous pair Frisky and Mannish, will be a brilliant - if not-too-family-friendly - night out; Le Gateau Chocolat returns with Icons, an eclectic show about personal heroes; and another WAAPA alumnus, Michael Griffiths, brings three huge shows back to Fringe. In Vogue: Songs by Madonna, Adolescent, and Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox will be the best kind of brilliant, surprisingly touching entertainment.

We've also got some great shows from local producers to shout about. Check out the brilliant one-night-only show Mâché, a drag performance piece that showcases contemporary (read: non-Pricilla) drag. WA's best cabaret from last year's festival, Speak Easy, sadly cancelled their 2016 run last-minute - but don't worry; songstress Jessie Gordon appears later down this list.

Finally, Spare Parts puppeteer St John Cowcher tries something different with evocative show The Man And the Moon, about a man who falls in love with the wrong celestial body. (He made me sob in Spare Parts' Blueback without uttering a word - so I can only imagine the tugging my heartstrings will get in this one).

Best of: Children's Events

Top pick: Duckie

A fair few events in other categories will be great for kids (our tip: try circus and community first, and steer pretty clear of cabaret, unless you're looking for an anatomy lesson), but to save yourself combing the program, try one of these top shows.

"ARR" is for Adventure is one of those clever shows that combines a few different tricks to keep kids intrigued - though with circus, puppetry, mime and a cheeky pirate theme, we can't imagine it being anything close to a snooze-fest anyway. Le Gateau Chocolat offers a kid-friendly show, Duckie - it's all identity and angst and heart, with super-fun singalongs. We love comedy troupe Lords of Strut, and are thrilled to hear about their aptly named Family Show hits this year's Fringe, and the City of Stirling has cleverly popped its annual Summerset Arts Festival into the Fringe program - don't miss the free crafts with their Eco Faeries.

A bonus pick here for kids of all ages - Peter Combe's back! He'll be performing songs from new CD Quirky Beserky the Turkey from Turkey, as well as classic faves like Spaghetti Bolognaise and Mr Clicketty Cane (any other Millenials just realising how odd this guy was?).

Best of: Circus

Top pick: La Soiree

We've had a standout pick for this one lined up for a year - it's a bit expensive, but unmissable. Make sure you catch the incredible La Soiree cabaret circus epic - it's sexy, stunning, sassy and awesome.

The Sideshow Superstars are back in Perth with a clutch of five-star reviews and a world premiere to throw at us. Don't miss it, and while you're at it, check out another premiere guaranteed to be great - street performer Grant Goldie's That Man Indoors! shows in Australia for the first time this Fringe. Bookmark Elixir and Dark Matter for some seriously impressive physical feats.

Again, local performers are standing out - Lunar Circus is a pretty spectacular showcase, and the brilliant El Bizarro returns after last year's sold-out debut season (that one's definitely not kid-friendly, fyi).

Best of: Comedy

Top pick: POP POP

Almost half of the events in this year's Fringe program are comedy shows. Let that sink in: 306 of the 707 shows on offer are funnies. It'd be near impossible to strip that down a top ten or so, so let's start with a strategic tip: the competition in this category means it'll be a super popular option for RushTix, the brilliant half-price(ish) last-minute tickets offered on the day of a show - so, the prices will be right for you to try and hit all 306, if you really want.

Some good group picks: Best of the Edinburgh Fest collects (as its name suggests) the prestigous Edinburgh Fringe's top comedy acts in a single show, and old local favourite Infinite Jest returns with a third year of super-fun Extreme Ab Workout, with an ever-rotating lineup that makes it a terrible one to recommend to a friend, because they won't see the same acts as you.

For solo stand-ups, try Brendon Burns - he's an award-winning Louis CK-esque performer, with just the right mix of poignant irony and straight-up gags - or John Oliver support Celia Pacquola, who rolls into Perth with a new show and a clutch of Edinburgh rave reviews. Penny Greenhalgh's another one to watch - she nabbed best newcomer at last year's Adelaide Fringe, so her show POP POP should be locked in for anyone who wants to say "I saw her first" when everyone knows her name next year. Charismatic goofball Tessa Waters is another award-winner set to ruin our stomach muscles, and, of course, Sami Shah - the brilliant stand-up's got two shows this year, and both Islamofarcist and Punching Down look great for his trademark wry, self-depricating, thought-provoking humour.

If you're after something a little left-of-centre - I'm looking forward to Bogan Shakespeare ("In fair Ellenbrook where we lay our scene" - ouch!), Comedians vs Rappers (hey, it sold out last year!), and another 2015 sell-out, improv musical Impromptunes, looks incredibly entertaining.

Finally, see our state's best Indigenous comedians in the Deadly Funny state final, and enjoy the brilliant Magnolia's talk show gang in their live late-night show (John Safran and Scott Ludlam are alumnus guests, but it's effervescent host Tristan Fidler I'd go to see).

Best of: Dance

Top pick: No Lights No Lycra (not sorry)

We saw last year that my appreciation of artistic dance leaves a little to be desired - but I stand firmly by No Lights No Lycra as the single greatest way of moving your body and clearing your mind, and I'm stoked it's returned for a (now sold-out!) second Fringe go.

If you'd prefer watching to doing, make sure to check out double bill Awkward Con-nections - contemporary dancers Rikki Bremner and Trihedral Sector interrogate the tension between a desire for human connection and just how bloody awkward it is to exist sometimes. And Beautiful Witness, by choreographer Floeur Alder and Stephen Scourfield (yep, The West's travel editor) will explore journeying and investigation, with Scourfield's poetic narration accompanying Alder's movements. Finally, Brainchild is two intriguing contemporary pieces by brilliant young choreographers.

Best of: Film + Multimedia

Top pick: Lightbox16

A frustratingly lean film program from this year's Fringe, but what's there definitely delivers.

Revelation Film Festival is returning a terrific series called THIS IS ROCK - the Fridey at the Hydey double-header is a stand-out, as is breathless punk doco D.O.A: A Rite of Passage. Theatre-and-film combo Shellshock - an exploration of our involvement with World War I - looks captivating and provocative, like it'll stay with you long after your viewing.

Fart Surfer, a game made by local independent studio 1984 Games, looks bloody fun - and this year, you can play it on the Cultural Centre big screen! That one's also hosting Lightbox16 - the second go-round of the iridescent local light art program. Finally, Australia's Funniest Shorts is back, with a great program of new works.

Best of: Free + Community

Top pick: Night Markets

Is it a cop-out to suggest that the single best free thing you can do at Fringe is just be there? To indulge in a minute of reflection - one of my best moments from 2015 was walking into Northbridge on the Friday opening evening, with no clue what I was going to see, but knowing that there'd be something fantastic on, and people around, and a balmy summer night and everyone feeling good and hopeful and proud.

Don't worry, though - Fringe also delivers on free events. I'm looking forward to the Silent Disco and free beachside yoga class Salute the Sun; the William Street markets Streetside; and the free library and night markets at The Pleasure Garden. Great kids' options will be finding those Stormie Mills bunnies, checking out the mermaids, or making a flower crown.

Finally, new piece Seven looks intriguing - it invites visitors to the State Library to pull seven consecutive words from the seventh page of any book in the library, to form (with six other lines) a piece to be broadcast as a seven-line poem at seven minutes past the hour on the Cultural Centre big screen. Seven.

Best of: Music

Top pick: HUSH: An Evening of Quiet Music

There's a few great genres within this category, so chances are you'll be spoilt for choice no matter what your interest.

For jazz fans, here's the Jessie Gordon plug I promised earlier - her brilliant Cottontail Trio presents a celebration of swing tunes, and her own syrupy, saucy Dirty Blues show will be similarly captivating. Dynamic local band Junkadelic performs in the joyful, energetic funk show Voodoo You Think You Are for something more up-tempo.

Dial it down in classic Freo style at the new Harbour Sundays - free live music and RTRFM DJs, including an outdoor broadcast of Rockin' the Roots every week. Fingers crossed it's the station's brilliant Courtyard Club with a unique Freo flavour. And don't miss 1x1x1 at the Odd Fellow (underneath the Norfolk) - seven fine solo songwriters sharing headliner duties.

Self-proclaimed party monster Tomas Ford returns with another year of the sell-out Crap Music Rave Party ("request any song, as long as it's crap!"). Theatrics continue with a few musicals on this year's program - The Labyrinth-inspired puppet musical The Point of Light looks ethereal and captivating; and There's No-one New Around You: A Tinder Musical will be self-aware gimmicky hilarity, but performers Keira Daley and Mark Simpson have the talent to deliver something more than fluffy fun.

Classical violinist Helen Bower taps into Perth's love of a loop pedal with her new show, Lost in the Looping Glass - an intriguing follow-up to her 2014 show, Through The Looping Glass - both of which deploy electronic loop pedals to tease out captivating classical pieces.

Finally, my personal favourite - Hush: An Evening of Quiet Music, is my number one music pick of the program. The fragile, ethereal environment created by the audience's demure tennis-match silence is exquisite, and the music produced in it is other-worldly. Don't miss.

Best of: Theatre

Top pick: Under This Sun

As expected, this category is once again driven by a stellar Summer Nights program - but that doesn't mean it's a Blue Room whitewash, either.

Let's start there, though. Summer Nights stand-outs include Grr Nights - a huge program of events staged in writer SJ Finch's handmade yurt (don't miss the Menagerie Choir or Ships in the Night). Asian Ghost-ery Store is a contemplative examination of cultural clash, featuring late-night sass and Hello Panda, and 34,000 Forks, about a guy and his recently-deceased best mate ghost seeking love, looks like a new version of 2014's charming Trampoline. 

After last year's successful Venus in Fur, Black Swan returns to Fringe with the double bill LOADED: Girl Shut Your Mouth and Tonsils + Tweezers. Two of our best young playwrights are behind those pieces - All That Glitters' Gita Bezard wrote the first (and it's directed by the brilliant Jeffrey Jay Fowler, whose work we saw in Blithe Spirit), and Great White's Will O'Mahony is behind the second. I reckon I'm responsible for about half the hype for that one (our review's coming soon!).

A few Fringe favourites returning from last year - The Last Great Hunt is back with sell-out immersive show Monroe and Associates, which won the prestigious Martin Sims award (they've also got a new show, The Crossing, which I am, of course, embarrassingly excited about). The wildly successful speed-dating theatre 600 Seconds is also back, and storyteller Allan Girod is back with his poignant, charming show Absolutely - he deservedly nabbed last year's Best Theatre award.

If you're after something more abstract, try Circles of Return, by playwright Afeif Ismail - he wrote 3 Seeds, that play I didn't mind not understanding. Keep thinking with Thaddeus Phillips' provocative piece of storytelling, 17 BORDER CROSSINGS, or the returning riveting historical one-woman show Eleanor: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany. And I'm thrilled that The Epic, from the Blue Room's main season, is returning for Fringe - a captivating, sprawling, joyful piece of presentational theatre.

And finally, my favourite at the end, again: Under This Sun might have been the best show I saw all last year. If you only see one theatre show this Fringe, make sure it's this one.

Best of: Visual Arts

Top pick: The Afronauts

Hats off to this year's visual arts program - it's Fringe's best-ever straddling of artistic and accessible.

Let nostalgia reign with an exhibition of illustrations from the Hairy Maclary books, or go even deeper with the brilliantly satirical (or utterly sacrilegious, depending on your taste) WTF Renaissance - old paintings tagged with new, sassy-as-sh*t captions.

We're treated with the first Australian look of the 2016 World Press Photography comp winners, and The Afronauts is another must-see for photography fans - it's an exhibition of photos, drawings and sculpture depicting Zambia's short-lived but joyful attempt to put an African on the moon.

Chromatic Alchemy is a stunning look at "operas of colour" from local artist Matt Hayes, who's been experimenting with drip and stain pigment manipulation for a decade. And We're not dead yet - an exploration of domesticity, gender and age from female artists aged 50+ - will be compelling and important. Finally, pieces that change over the course of the exhibition make Paper Mountain's Now I'm making art?! will invite very relevant contemplation of decay, longevity, banality and repetition.

And that's not even the end of it. Head to the Fringe World website for the whole program; bookmark RushTix to max out your chances of catching all these shows, and finally, one last piece of personal advice: this is what I'm proud to recommend, but perhaps the greatest joy of Fringe is stumbling upon a show you've never heard of, and utterly enjoy. So don't forget to search, too. And enjoy!

By Sophie Raynor