Six women standing in front of a white wall, C Soco
Star rating: *****

Moving Landscape, Roxy Art House
Star rating: ****

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, The Underbelly
Star rating: ****

Meli Melo II, Assembly Universal Arts
Star rating: ****

It is possible, as you make your way to the derelict lower depths of C Soco, that you'll encounter the six women before they actually stand before their white wall. You might brush past them on the stairs: six shock-headed, heavily made-up waifs in barbie-red party frocks.

Eyes downcast, they inch forward in a slo-mo Butoh sidle that makes you think - are they a Geisha sisterhood sadly past their use-by date? But when they finally make their way barefoot across the dusty basement floor, you think - are they abandoned children from some orphanage-cum-lunatic asylum? Once they're lined up against the wall, looking like reject Kewpie dolls, they're suddenly exhibits . . . and, with the signs on the wires saying "Please Do Touch", you soon twig that this is intended as a hands-on/interactive experience.

The ensuing half-hour - and believe me, that is an astutely judged and ideal length for this performance - sends dramatic conventions into freefall: not because it invites audience participation but because that participation touches, quite literally, on a need we all have . . . the need for physical contact, be it an all-embracing hug or a fleeting touch on arm or cheek. At first, as the soundtrack booms and pulses, the women's fretful jitterings and silent, anguished faces suggest an unnerving vulnerability that intensifies until a member of the audience, accepting the need to do something, approaches one of the women and touches her hand. The effect is startling. Harrowing. Humbling. Just one touch, and the woman visibly blossoms, lights up, beaming and dimpling . . . and craving more.

Within seconds, the audience is queuing up to stroke, hold - even nuzzle - all six women: the need to give comfort is as intense as the need to be claimed, wanted, touched. The usual taboos of "invading personal space" don't exist here.

Even so, it's fascinating to see the differing "how and where" degrees of intimacy ventured by the individuals who touch and the shifting responses of those who are touched. The music ends, the lights dim. The waifs slowly slope off - no, we can't adopt them, take them home, smother them with guilt-edged goodies - and we're left to ponder on the plight of those who dwell beyond the reach of a friendly, reassuring touch.

Neel de Jong would instinctively recognise and applaud what the women in this company, Little Dove Theatre Art (Australia) are up to - her own work resonates with what it's like to live on the margins, misunderstood at best and ignored or ostracised at worst. Moving Landcape sees her, resolutely outlandish, in tiers of tulle skirt, soft bootees, voluminous jacket and with her hair caught up in spiky tufts - and she's dancing.

She uses finely nuanced body language, gestures and facial expressions to deliver a narrative of valiant endeavours, crushing rejections, mistreatment and abuse that drives her into paroxysms of unstoppered rage - all totally unmistakable, even without her pianist's appropriate support.

She breaks off to tell us that, really, she is sweet - demonstrates it with shows of twinkling, naive coquettishness before singing a ditty Bjork would cheer for its heartfelt affirmation of how good it is to be alive. Again, the show only lasts some 30 minutes - just long enough to reveal de Jong's total artistry, humanity and generosity of spirit. She's gone, like a summer swallow - if we're lucky, she'll come back next year.

Was 1927 a good year for cautionary tales? Whether or no, the company behind Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea that calls itself 1927 not only cooks up some wonderfully surreal vignettes of Awful Warning, it presents them with a flourish of killingly clever animations, droll performances and a piano accompaniment that strikes all the right chords for melodramatic scenarios. Suzanne Andrade (who also wrote the mordantly skewed, hilariously sinister tales) and saw-playing Esme Appleton appear as near relations of Hilaire Belloc's well-bred menaces: self-willed minxes who instigate death and disaster because they're curious, or bored, or simply won't be told "no" by their elders.

As they enunciate the details of The Lodger's mysterious demise or chronicle the wayward decline of suburbia into a morass of moral turpitude where the clap - rather than divorce - destroys family life, what you get is a superb pastiche of silent films and magic lantern shows with unexpected modern twists and even a spot of audience participation.

Don't be deceived by the demure lace collars, the polite manners, the pukka accents - these gals are weird and wicked with it, which ensures 1927 is a rippingly entertaining time for all.

Strictly speaking, the four performers in Meli Melo II aren't girls at all - they're guys, but to call them drag queens would sell their talents way too short. First and foremost, they're dancers: so technically adept at pointe-work, Hollywood hoofing or Indian classical dancing that they can switch from deliciously camp spoof to classy show-piece in the wink of an eye or the change of a frock.

Just in case you lose sight of the fact that the long-legged, high-stepping majorette, the Esther Williams-y synchronised swimmer - or the exquisite ballerina in the Swan Lake pas-de-deux - is actually a man, there are occasional reminders. Like the glamorous show-girl, all sequins and feather plumes and . . . no female wig. Or the Spanish dancer with a preposterously long skirt and bare, manly chest.

What you do see here, and indeed in every dance sequence, are the closely-observed characteristics of how a woman moves. And whether the fellas in the Chicos Mambo company play those moves for laughs, or simply celebrate the fabulous style of dancing queens in ballet, ballroom or belly-dance, the result is a hugely entertaining fandango of fun and finesse.