TIME OUT: Funny and fearless

The top five things to do this weekend include a kitsch Melbourne bar, comedian Frank Woodley's new solo show in Brisbane and the one of the best books you've never heard of.


Stop searching. We’ve found this weekend’s Top 5:

1. Whimsy for adults in Melbourne

Adult whimsy is a delicate thing. Overdo the fanciful notions and you look pathetic. Dabble half-heartedly and it’s just as off-putting. But get the balance right, as the bar Madame Brussels in Bourke Street does, and you create a welcoming, light-hearted place to while away an afternoon or evening.

The main room has Astroturf instead of carpet, and dcor that creates a pleasantly surreal 'Alice in Wonderland meets your Gran's bowls club' feel. There is also a sun-soaked terrace where you can lie about on divans, and the staff will even bring you a blanket if you're chilly. Dress up or down; no-one will bat an eye.

The food and drink choices match the off-beat, sweetly kitsch atmosphere: scones, jam and cream, cucumber sandwiches, jugs of Pimm's, pink martinis and cupcakes are all on offer, along with the occasional celebrity chef barbecue. Ignore the clock, day or night it's always the right time for a garden party here.

2. Frank fearless and funny in Brisbane

Frank Woodley used to be the wide-eyed fall guy in the successful comedy duo Lano and Woodley. He’s still saucer-eyed and still king of the pratfalls, but these days he is on stage in a solo show that pushes him to new heights (all the better for making spectacular drops).

In Possessed, which finishes on Sunday (September 28) at Brisbane’s Powerhouse, his character is fitfully in love with a spectral woman, giving Woodley licence for wildly inventive routines that put him on, under and over ladders, walls and furniture. The ephemeral female isn’t the only otherworldly presence on stage: Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati are there in spirit, too. The talented Woodley does them proud.

The venue itself, a huge old building that dominates the riverfront, has proved itself a great contribution to Brisbane’s cultural life. It’s home to theatre, music, dance, visual art, cinema, comedy and poetry — ideas of all sorts. As the sign in the car park puts it: "Private Poetry Trespassers Welcome".

To add to the appeal, it also has great eating and drinking venues, notably Bar Alto and Watt Modern Dining. The combination of ideas and indulgence is too good to miss.

3. Perth’s surprising Kulcha

Perth music venue Kulcha (occupying a heritage loft upstairs from the Dome caf in Fremantle) is every bit as eclectic as Brisbane’s Powerhouse, but far more intimate. It’s a space that rewards both performers and audiences.

It is the site for a wide selection of specialist music, from raga to salsa, folklore to flamenco. This weekend’s gigs give an idea of the scope: on Friday night it hosts acclaimed local singer-songwriter Natalie D-Napoleon and on Saturday the Kenyan community puts on an all-singing, all-dancing fund-raiser.

Something about the place encourages spontaneity and a kind of alchemy — you’re never quite sure precisely how an evening there will unfold, and that is part of Kulcha’s great charm.

4. Eating out with heart in Sydney

If you’re feeling a bit bored with Sydney restaurants as a result of too much glamour and not enough heart, Foveaux is the place to restore your faith in fine dining. The Sydney Morning Herald has acknowledged its quality with a hat in the latest Good Food Guide Awards.

Go ahead, bring all your foodie gripes — and leave them ceremoniously at the bottom of the short flight of stairs leading to the small, calm, beige space in front of the open kitchen.

You'll need to work a bit at the menu; it can sound a tad complicated if you haven't yet finished your aperitif. But you'll be richly rewarded with sophisticated (not tricksy) flavours and textures that please the eye and sing in the mouth. Take the tasting menu with matched wines to really understand chef Darrell Felstead's intent.

5. Get to know a neglected classic

The Siege of Krishnapur may be the best book you’ve never heard of.

The 1973 novel by English writer J.G. Farrell is set in a (fictional) garrison town in the 1857 Indian Rebellion; the story is told from the perspective of the increasingly powerless British rulers, besieged by their formerly subordinate native soldiers. It certainly got attention at the time of publication – it won the Booker Prize that year. (Farrell took the opportunity of his acceptance speech to attack then sponsors Booker-McConnell for their business dealings.)

However over the 35 years since then it had slid into obscurity among all but the stoutest devotees. Until now, that is. This year it was one of the half-dozen contenders for the prize of The Best of the Booker, chosen by a literary panel and voted on by the public. Although Salman Rushdie was the unsurprising winner, with Midnight’s Children, the simple fact of Siege’s inclusion has cast welcome light on this neglected classic.

Guardian critic Sue Arnold describes Farrell (who was washed off rocks while fishing and drowned in 1979) as "the funniest novelist in English since Evelyn Waugh, and The Siege of Krishnapur as "hilarious and horrifying by turns”. Click here for more.

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