Adelaide Fringe 2018 Review: Keith Conlon’s Horrible History of Adelaide


What: Keith Conlon’s Horrible History of Adelaide

Who: Keith Conlon featuring Kerin Bailey on piano.

When: 24th-25th of February (See here for full details)

Where: National Wine Centre

How much: Full price $30, Concession $28, Group 6+ $28 (show on the 25th includes dinner)

Details available here

Did you know that Archibald Watson, convicted pirate, went on to become the University of Adelaide’s first anatomy professor? Or that, in 1862, inspector Richard Pettiger was murdered in Government House by a disgruntled ex-constable?

As Keith Conlon admits at the beginning of a Horrible History of Adelaide, never let the proper, rigid course of history get in the way of a good story. Conlon is accompanied on piano by Kerin Bailey, who opens the show with an “ ‘orrible overture” of pop standards  before the narration starts. Diverging anecdotes are tied together with song snippets about Adelaide. Think ‘Jailhouse Rock’ after one about the Adelaide Gaol, and ‘Them Bones’ (repeatedly) after a scandalous murder or corpse find. Credit to featuring Adelaide You’re a LadyAdelaide Lights and the Song of Australia, storied songs which I had never heard of until this performance.

Conlon talks enthusiastically and with gestures, as though he were accompanied by a parade of images from an after school documentary. The facts are presented in quick succession and he naturally emphasises the talking points of each historical snippet. Adding to this impression is the selective presentation of stories that are either historical curiosities or scandals – horrible, but ultimately inoffensive. Much of the 20th century is curiously omitted from the performance, a period I feel would have been rich with material, but also more relevant in understanding contemporary Adelaide.

I was searching for the best way to encapsulate this experience in writing, and ‘pantomime for adults’ comes to mind. Whether it was due to the homeliness of talking about North Terrace, Rundle Mall and The Beatles, or the reluctant call-and-response with the audience, it was how I’d imagine playing a drinking game with my parents would feel. For these reasons, I’m certain that Horrible History will be the most Adelaide-y thing you can see this Fringe.

– Tin Do


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