Fringe Festival is that one month of the year when Perth feels like a happening city with people and culture and a vibe. When families and oldies and students all gather to laugh and marvel. And, when there is a feeling of chill and acceptance all around town. When Northbridge is where it is at. Honestly, I love Northbridge all the time. It is a gritty, multicultural melting pot that is home to much of Perth’s rich migrant history. If you had an Italian family in the 1970s you spent lots of time in Northbridge, we bought our shoes, held family gatherings, and shopped for groceries here. And, with time passing the newer migrant cultures have come to call this part of town home too, and its identity has changed again, now home to Perth’s bustling Chinatown. All this co-existing with the hedonistic night time scene and the city’s cultural centre.
There’s something lovely about walking along William Street and looking up above the modern awnings and signs. Some of the buildings have dates and names etched into their facades and are something of an architectural history of Perth. Sometimes, you can catch an awning changing and see the layers of the past lives that hide underneath. So, it is with much anticipation that I plan to see a show called ‘Briefs’ in the Rechabite Hall. A recently restored entertainment venue on William Street, that was designed by renowned WA architect Edwin Summerhayes in 1925 for the The Independent Order of Rechabites, a Christian society that promoted a total abstinence from alcohol. Over time, like many of the buildings along this strip, it became derelict, with boarded up windows. I am equally as excited about seeing how the recent renovation, by spaceagency architects, has been treated as I am about the show. And, I am not disappointed, the heritage features have been carefully uncovered. The sweeping staircase and the vaulted ceiling of the main hall are spectacular. At the same time, it feels thoroughly modern with a steel mesh containing the viewing stalls and exposed services in the bar areas giving it a warehouse vibe. I really like it.
Already impressed with the space and with a drink in hand, we take the staircase to the performance hall to cram in with all the people to start the show. We are soon doubled over with shock and delight. The six foot, bearded migrant drag queen, as she describes herself, is hilarious. Her tongue lashings are merciless and the show is risque, rude, jaw dropping and bloody funny. There are bawdy jokes, skimpy costumes and eye opening acrobatics all in this magical space, under the painstakingly restored pressed tin. And, what’s more there is bar service to our seats. In a rare serious moment, our hostess tells us the show came about to give people who felt they didn’t belong a place to be. Surely this is the very essence of the Fringe festival, and indeed of Northbridge, a place where everyone can come and be. For now, the irony of watching this particular show here, in a venue that was dedicated to abstinence and Christianity, and now offers universal acceptance, gender neutral facilities, and a bar menu with creative cocktails on tap, is not lost on me. And, I can’t help but wonder if the Rechabites are turning in their graves.