Melbourne Fringe Festival 2023: The best and most bizarre shows to see this October

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Melbourne Fringe Festival 2023: The best and most bizarre shows to see this October

Glitter and Snatch, Club Fringe, Melbourne Fringe 2019. Photo by Duncan Jacob.
Words by Staff Writer

Melbourne Fringe Festival is turning the city into an art adventure playground from 3–22 October.

This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival program has officially dropped, with a formidable 475 events bursting at the seams across the city and suburbs of Melbourne.

The 2023 program features cutting-edge independent artists from Melbourne, Australia and overseas including: Sammy J, Betty Grumble, Joel Bray, THE RABBLE, Bloomshed Theatre, Kween Kong, Tom Ballard, Scout Boxall, Spankie Jackson, Na Djinang Circus, Jason Tamiru, Aiden Willcox, Karen from Finance, Casus and Ridiculusmus.

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2023

  • There are 475 events in this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival with the invitation PLAY UP!
  • It’s aiming to turn Melbourne into an art adventure playground from 3–22 October
  • It runs across the length and breadth of the city and inner suburbs

Explore Melbourne’s latest arts and stage news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

Expect three weeks of groundbreaking new events, art and bold ideas (and just a dollop of mischief and mayhem) set to re-invigorate the cheeky and artistic spirit of Melbourne. The Melbourne Fringe Festival is all about reminding everyone of something that kids innately know: that fun and play can be found around every corner.

This year’s Festival is an invitation to PLAY UP!, welcoming all Victorians to see Melbourne in a new light as their very own personal playroom. Notably, this year’s program features an extraordinary cohort of huge public art events including a colossal eight-metre-tall bright gold, fully accessible playground swing at State Library Victoria forecourt that anyone can ride for free.

Festival Creative Director and CEO Simon Abrahams explains the Melbourne Fringe Festival for the uninitiated, “For over 40 years Melbourne Fringe has been showcasing the most vital voices and brightest artistic talent to Melbourne.”

“This year, we have incredible public art projects, free performances, pop up performance tents and hidden performances in hard-to-find places. Fringe is about discovery – from our Festival Hub at Trades Hall to work on the streets and in venues across the city. The Melbourne Fringe Festival is all about platforming voices from the margins, incredible artists with things to say. Fringe is about seeing things differently, and this year’s program promises that and much more,” says Abrahams.

“We’ll again see incredible First Nations artists, d/Deaf and Disabled artists, people of colour, and trans and gender diverse artists telling their stories. Encouragingly, LGBTIQA+ artists make up over half the Festival’s participants. We are thrilled to help Melbourne’s arts community have their say – whether it’s about the big issues in the world right now, or just about having fun, it’s all welcome at the Fringe.”

Melbourne Fringe Festival 2023 by the numbers:

  • There are 475 events in this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, making it the biggest Festival in its 41-year history
  • Over 80% of the Festival’s events are homegrown, made right here in Victoria by Victorian artists
  • Over 50 events are free for everyone to enjoy
  • There are 263 world premieres (that’s over half the events in the Festival)
  • The Festival features 44 award-winning shows from Australia and overseas, from over 135 award-winning artists
  • Over 30 digital/digitally streamed events that can be watched from anywhere in the world or from the comfort of the couch at home
  • 13 new family friendly shows and experiences created just for kids

Some of the most delightfully bizarre performances to see at Fringe 2023

  • Shower Thots – A new music concert event held at Melbourne Baths where the audience is encouraged to get in the pool with the aquatic choir
  • Mythos: Ragnarok – A Scandinavian WWE-style circus smack down at Festival Park at Queen Victoria Market where the Norse Gods battle each other in glorious spandex!
  • A Dodgeball Named Desire – A Streetcar Named Desire, performed on a dodgeball court where the performers face off against a sub-elite AFL team (Stellaaaaaaaaa!)
  • Sky Symphony – A free laser and light show spectacular projected on the Yarra River to music recorded by Orchestra Victoria
  • Speed: The Movie, The Play – (the Keanu/Sandra movie) reimagined as an interactive play onboard an actual vintage bus in Prahran in which the audience becomes part of the cast
  • Zaffé – A theatre show set a Middle Eastern wedding, complete with dancing, games and the audience as the guests…but the bridal party is mysteriously missing!
  • Brolga: A Queer Koori Wonderland – A huge First Nations queer dance party rave night held at Substations created by Joel Bray Dance
  • Le Freak – A circus “freak show” but the “freaks” are in charge – a variety cabaret night from the best queer, drag, d/Deaf and Disabled, and sex worker cabaret artists in the country
  • Fringe Formal – An 80s-style high school formal extravaganza hosted by comedian Scout Boxall
  • CLUB FRINGE: Mx Fringe – An anti-beauty-pageant pageant that throws out the rule book to crown Mx Fringe 2023
  • ~~~~~ “…derelict in uncharted space…” – d/Deaf and disabled artists explore the Star Trek fandom history and accessibility by restaging a controversial radio play as a dance performance in collaboration with Chunky Move
  • Yummy: Joy Machine – A drag queen story time but for adults, by drag icons Yummy at Festival Hub Trades Hall (not your local library)
  • An Evening with JK – A new theatre production where trans comedian Anna Piper Scott plays a cipher of author JK Rowling
  • Packing – An intimate, participatory, solo performance experience in which a single audience member packs up an artist’s studio
  • Till Takes – A theatre show set and performed inside Brunswick’s iconic second-hand store Scavengers
  • Friends with Detriments – Dating Stories by Candlelight (Oct 17-22) sees Sweeney Preston & Jodie Sloan team up for a cosy evening of stand-up, songs, and PowerPoint comedy. Oh, and it’s in an actual wine bar!
  • The Art of Tasting: Recipes From a Young Mixer – A dance and storytelling cocktail experience performed in a CBD bar where the bartenders, mix, act and sing whilst you sip what they shake and serve
  • JOYRIDE – An outdoor physical theatre experience inspired by road trip movies, performed in and out of cars in the Festival Hub Trades Hall car park
  • Irreligious Blessing – A Brunswick church transforms into a secular, spiritual immersive temple where audiences walk in solo and are blessed by a performing high priestess
  • She’s Crowning – A satirical cabaret tearing into Netflix’s royal family juggernaut, The Crown
  • Nick-Knacks – An open-mic Show-and-Tell, but for adults. Anyone can bring in their most prized possessions and tell the audience why they love it – your primary school could never
  • Prahran Square Circus and Street Arts Spectacular – A free circus and street art spectacular taking over Prahran Square with roving performers and staged shows
  • Puppet Mayhem 2 – A parade of puppets takeover the entire Seaworks venue in Williamstown
  • “Weird Al” Piano Bar – A piano bar singalong night where all the songs performed are by musical parody oddball Weird Al Yankovic
  • Part gig, part taxi ride, Cruising in Third (3–22 Oct) is a melodic one-way taxi ride from your doorstep to the city, featuring the velvety voice of singer songwriter James Marples serenading you to your drop-off point
  • Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical is a Drag King-led, flaps-to- the-wall, queer re-telling of Australia’s most infamous bushranger tale; Bradbury The Musical (18–22 Oct) is an absurd musical comedy about winter Olympian Steven Bradbury’s spectacular gold medal victory.
  • Pining For Affection: A Tree Musical (9–15 Oct) is a remount of a musical told from the perspective of a tree.

The unmissable elements in Fringe 2023


A Seriously ambitious public art project that transforms our civic spaces into sites of joy and play – literally. Swing is an eight-metre-tall classic playground swing (you know the sort – two ropes and a seat; no bungy- jump business here) with a dizzying arc that will give the young-at-heart a whole new perspective on the city. Anyone can come have a swing, before work, on a lunch break, after school – catch it in performance mode and you’ll even be serenaded by a choir as you soar through the air. Swing is fully accessible – just BYO spirit of adventure.

Trades Hall Festival Hub and Club Fringe (3–22 October) 

The Festival Hub is a one-stop- wonderland for all things Melbourne Fringe. Over 100 events take over the theatres, meeting rooms, cupboards, nooks and crannies of the historic Trades Hall. Punters can catch an evening of shows, plan their next night out over a drink in the bar, nosh on tasty food, and then kick things up a notch with late-night Club Fringe art parties, featuring steamy tunes and sweaty dancefloors. Pop in for a post-work show or kick off weekend shenanigans right!

Festival Park (3–29 October)

Revel in the spirit of Fringe at the return of the pop-up Festival Park in the heart of Queen Victoria Market. Under two domed tents, catch two shiny new shows from homegrown knockouts Head First Acrobats, plus the return of their 2022 smash-hit GODZ. Then unwind amongst the very Fringey atmosphere in the beer garden under the stars and grab delicious snacks from local food trucks.

Free events at Fringe

Free events are the golden key to unlocking some of Melbourne’s most iconic spaces this Festival, with two free works as part of the new Pulse program which celebrates our most groundbreaking independent makers: From One Fell Swoop Circus comes In Common (6–8 Oct), a stunning work of circus and sculpture in the Fed Square Forecourt that sees a seemingly impossible tension sculpture become a playground for acrobats exploring support in all its forms.

Plus, Melinda Hetzel & Co’s Solace: The Sensory Experience (11–22 Oct) is where experimental art, audio guide and mindfulness app meet, in an inclusive and multi-sensory experience that celebrates the heart- warming solace that can be found in the shared public spaces of State Library Victoria.

Sammy J – The 50 Year Show (Friday 6 Oct)

One of Australia’s most beloved comedians Sammy J (ABC Radio Melbourne Breakfast) returns with Sammy J – The 50 Year Show, the fourth instalment of his five-decade-long comedy experiment that was launched in 2008 and features a new one-off show every five years until 2058. This poignant and hilarious time capsule looks backwards, forwards and to the events of the day, and features games (including the 50 Year Crossword), high-octane dance numbers and comedic cameos from some of Australia’s best comedians.

Melbourne International Games Week 

Gamers and gadget gurus are invited to unlock every level of the MIGW program, including Melbourne Fringe collaborations. The breathtaking VR experience VOLO: Dreams of Flight (4–22 Oct), which lets users look down from the clouds as they soar through the sky in a da Vinci- inspired flying contraption…all without leaving Fed Square.

Victorian made, International smash hit game Cult of the Lamb inspires a Fed Square Forecourt transformation (5–7 Oct) with a gothic ritual performance led by the game’s characters, plus sky-high projections and a wicked dance floor.

Deadly Fringe

Now in its seventh stunning year, Deadly Fringe plays host to nine incredible works from vital First Nations voices. This year’s program includes:

  • Brolga: A Queer Koori Wonderland (Saturday 7 Oct) is an immersive queer art-party celebrating Blackfulla dancefloor culture from highly decorated contemporary choreographer and Melbourne Fringe alum Joel Bray.
  • Of The Land On Which We Meet (12–15 Oct), an exciting new circus commission about connection to culture from Harley Mann (Na Djinang Circus)
  • Deadly Sinners (12–15 Oct), a raucous burlesque variety night featuring seven First Nations movers and makers skewering the seven deadly sins.
  • Yalinguth LIVE by the Birrarung (Saturday 21 Oct) – directed by Jason Tamiru

Radical Access

Radical Access is Melbourne Fringe’s commissioning, education and artist development program for d/Deaf and Disabled artists, heralding a new era for cultural equity in the independent arts. Over 16% of Festival artists identify as d/Deaf or Disabled, and through Radical Access the Festival is amplifying these essential voices in the cultural conversation.

This year Radical Access plays host to three brand new genre-busting commissions from Disabled artists.

  • ~~~~~ “…derelict in uncharted space…” (18–21 Oct) from Fayen d’Evie is an intrepid, collaborative homage to a 70s Star Trek fan club through inter-sensory movement languages and space-time translations. It includes blind, d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing and queer dancers and sound artists, and features recorded and live creative captioning and audio description.

Digital Fringe

Accessibility is a major pillar of the Digital Fringe program, which showcases the very best in new and experimental digital work which audiences are still hungry for, and can be experienced by anyone, anywhere. Ditch Netflix for a night and tune into something truly worth your screen-time.

  • Breaking (18–22 Oct) – Inspired by our relationship to tragedy in the media, Breaking challenges a performer to read an increasingly hysterical breaking news report live to air from a teleprompter, completely unbriefed.

Fringe Focus Taiwan

Now cemented in place as one of Melbourne Fringe Festival’s premier signature events, Fringe Focus Taiwan shines a spotlight on the very best experimental art coming out of one of Asia’s most creatively inspired centres. In 2024 Fringe Focus Taiwan showcases two playful new works by leading Taiwanese circus artists FOCA (Formosa Circus Art):

  • Mr. III 三 III, (11–14 Oct) a signature circus work at Melbourne’s leading home for circus, the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA). Mr. III 三 III takes on high-pressure workplaces that reduce their workers to robots, asking what happens when we forget to interact and communicate with each other? Watch a video from FOCA above.
  • Puzzle (Sunday 15 Oct) is a free outdoor interactive performance in which observers help direct five acrobatic performers as they tumble, balance, handstand and form human pyramids to solve a mind-bending puzzle.


Pulse is a new program showcasing the creative risk-taking and fierce ambition of independent makers. Part of the Signature Events series, Pulse elevates the work of 10 leading independent artists and collectives to a hand-picked program of events that will challenge, delight, provoke discussion, push boundaries and be bloody good entertainment.

Open Access Program

The cornerstone of the Melbourne Fringe Festival is the Open Access Program, a come-one-come-all bounty of over 450 independently produced events that take over theatres, pubs, lounge rooms, shopfronts, alleyways and community halls right across the city. This extraordinary display of culture and creativity speaks to Melbourne Fringe’s vision of cultural democracy – empowering anyone to realise their right to creative expression. Over 2600 artists are set to present, perform or play as part of this year’s Open Access events.

LGBTQIA+ artists (who make up 55% of the Festival cohort) are producing great new art against all odds and in the face of the moral panic of the moment.

  • In Le Freak (4–22 Oct) award-winning trans, queer, Disabled and sex worker performers sharpen their swords and stilettos to take down capitalism
  • Yummy: Joy Machine (4–21 Oct) is an outrageous, outlandish and unpredictable variety show with world class queer performers

Plus there’ll be a stack of great drag from scene queens and baby drags alike, including Kween Kong and Beverly Kills of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under fame, both presenting new shows.

Some of the best comedy shows to see at Fringe 2023

Incredible comedy from some of the country’s best known and emerging comedians:

  • Scout Boxall brings their new show Pork Chop (11–22 Oct) to the stage and will also The Fringe Formal (Thursday 19 Oct), a Club Fringe comedy night set in a haunted daggy 80s Aussie high school.
  • In Tom Ballard – Yes/ No: A Comedy Lecture (4–8 Oct) – Year 11 Legal Studies graduate and university law dropout Tom Ballard deploys jokes and funny pictures to blast through the history of Australian referenda.
  • HIGH PONY (4–22 Oct) from Green Room Award-winning Mel & Sam is a boisterous musical comedy sketch show full of spiky attitude, cutting lyrics, queerness, social commentary and memorable melodies.
  • Winner of both Best Comedy at Melbourne Fringe 2022 and Best Newcomer at Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2023, Aiden Willcox is back with his new show STUD (4–8 Oct).
  • Your Mother Chucks Rocks and Shells (4–8 Oct) is an absurd comedy-horror about The Exorcist and insomnia from ABC journalist and comedian Angela Lavoipierre (host of ABC’s Schmeitgeist).

Some of the best dance performances to see at Fringe 2023

  • 《一》(11–14 Oct) – Choreographer Shian Law explores traditional Chinese calligraphy and dance as part of Temperance Hall’s season of works.
  • AVES (19–21 Oct) – A solo contemporary dance performance by international artist José Navas. The work pays tribute to his late partner Bill Douglas, as Navas performs choreography that the couple once performed together.
  • Body Fiction (11–15 Oct) – An experimental performance by two gender diverse artists who are life models, Skye Gellmann and Yolanda Frost. The piece explores the trans body; incorporating movement, acrobatics and live experimental percussion.
  • STAUNCH ASF (12–15 Oct) – a new BLAK contemporary dance show that speaks about lead artists Amelia Jean O’Leary’s life experiences growing up in the suburbs and having to reclaim her Blakness.

The full program is available via the Melbourne Fringe website.