2021 Newcastle Fringe Festival is back bigger than ever

FEARLESS ENERGY: Red, a one-woman dance theatre work
FEARLESS ENERGY: Red, a one-woman dance theatre work "with a hint of fun and fabulousness", will be performed at the Fringe Festival in March. Visit newcastlefringe.com.au for details.

THE 2020 Newcastle Fringe Festival was the first show in the region to be cancelled when the COVID-19 outbreak in March forced venues to close.

With restrictions on audience numbers increasingly eased, the 2021 Newcastle Fringe Festival will be presented from Wednesday, March 17, to Sunday, March 21. It will have a bigger and more diverse collection of events and more staging venues.

As noted in December, Lizotte's in Lambton, which was the first place to announce its shows and put tickets on sale, will stage three lively double bills between the season's Thursday and Saturday.

The two hour-long shows on one of the double bills, however, can also be seen individually at different venues.

OMG WTF, which will have aperformance at The Royal Exchange Salon Theatre, in Bolton Street, Newcastle, on Saturday, March 20, at 9pm, is a heady mix of burlesque, circus, drag, sideshow and magic, which its publicists say is "debaucherous, glorious and awkwardly arousing, with stellar performances by nine local and out-of-town performers".

The other work, The Bang Bang Bandit Variety Show, which also has a mix of interstate and local artists, is an amusing send-up of western movies. It is set in the US Wild West where bandits try to outsmart sheriffs, with their actions shown through comedy, drag, circus, vaudeville, and song. The show has 9pm performances on Friday and Saturday, March 19 and 20, at The Base, 3 Tudor Street, Newcastle West, a venue which was formerly known as the Unorthodox Church of Groove.

As has been the case with previous Newcastle Fringe Festivals, some shows move between venues. The comedy Harry Jun: Erratic, for example, will have a 7.30pm show at The Royal Exchange on Wednesday, March 17, followed by 9pm shows at Carrington Bowling Club, in that suburb's Cowper Street North, on Thursday, March 18, and at The Grand Hotel, in Church Street, Newcastle, on Friday, March 19.

The comedy has been described as "energetic", "likeable" and "cheeky". Harry Jun is a keen Sydney performer who has also performed in venues across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. He debuted his first solo comedy show, Did You Bring Enough for Everybody, at the 2019 Sydney Fringe Festival.

This year's Newcastle Fringe venues are a diverse collection, with the others being the Adamstown Uniting Church's Auditorium and Dungeon Theatre, on Brunker Road, and two at opposite ends of Hamilton's Beaumont Street: the WEA's Creative Arts Space (CAS) Theatre and The Gal, in the Gallipoli Legion Club.

The current COVID-19 social distancing requirements have restricted audiences to between 20 and 80 in show-only venues, with the Lizottes show-and-meal venue, which has two levels of seating, able to house 170 watchers.

The shows in the Adamstown church venues indicate the very different natures of the events.

The Church Auditorium will feature on Thursday, March 18, at 7.30pm and Sunday, March 21, at 6pm, the Hunter Wind Quartet, a group of local musicians with a wide range of national and international professional experience who bring out the colourful and rich blend of music that can be produced by woodwind instruments together with a French horn. The music performed will showcase the melodies and harmonies of composers from across the ages.

The downstairs Dungeon will feature performances of two shows developed by the Central Coast's young performers training company Jopuka Productions: Moth (Friday, March 19, Saturday, March 20, and Sunday, March 21, all at 6pm) and Samson (Friday, March 19, Saturday, March 20, and Sunday, March 21, all at 7.30pm) that have actors aged 12 to 26.

Moth, which was written by Melbourne author Declan Greene and has had productions overseas as well as in Australia, centres on Sebastian, an unpopular 15-year-old boy, who wants to be a cricketer, and has only one friend, Clarissa, an art-freak, with the story showing the changing nature of their relationship.

Samson, by Julia-Rose Lewis, is another Australian play that looks at the relationships of young people, with the title character being a new kid who comes to a town where several young males and females have boredom, decay and violence plaguing their lives, and the accidental death of a friend has impacted on their relationships.

The Dungeon will also house on Saturday, March 20, at 3.30pm a free show, Jane Austen: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, that has the Hunter branch of the Jane Austen Society looking at the very different ways her plays have been adapted, with titles such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Andrew Wu, a Maitland-based musician and performer, will finally get to stage Make America Great Again, a darkly funny look at US president Donald Trump that was to have been performed at the cancelled 2020 Newcastle Fringe.

He has updated the story that will be performed by him and two other actors, and features some songs that, in this context, make amusing comments about Trump's behaviour. It has performances at Carrington Bowling Club on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20, at 6pm.

Ticket prices for the single-event shows range from $10 to $50, with most costing $20.

For full of the more than 40 productions, visit newcastlefringe.com.au.