Sunday 31 March 2019

At The Movies - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Going to the movies during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival can almost be considered sacrilege but Impro Melbourne have found a way to let the people have their cake and eat it too with At The Movies. Completely made up on the spot, the show is created from the first five minutes of a B-grade movie that no one in the cast has seen until that moment.

Our "director" Sarah Kinsella provides us with the synopsis of two movies in which to choose from and based on an audience vote, the favourite is picked and we watch the opening scenes. In this instance, it is the 1985 film Desert Hearts, in which a New York professor divorces her husband and has an affair with another woman in Reno, 1959.

Garry Starr Conquers Troy - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Last year, Garry Starr told us all what an amazing actor he is in Garry Starr Performs Everything. This year, he returns to tell us how to be an amazing actor just like him. In Garry Starr Conquers Troy, Garry takes us through his new book, step by step and chapter by chapter with hints and tips on how to break into Hollywood and have every agent and director banging on our door.

Garry (performed by Damien Warren-Smith) has lost some of his arrogance this time round, but not of all it. He is still deluded about his triple threat performance skills but he is earnest in his effort to help his fellow actors out. We are provided with lessons on a range of topics, including how to audition for a director when we are work without them even realising what is happening, and there's also a spot on how to absorb our lines from a script and never have to worry about forgetting them. 

Elixir - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Despite the fact that zombies are no longer limited to the horror genre, you could be surprised to learn of a zombie circus show being performed in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but that's exactly what Head First Acrobats have created. Elixir sees three scientists who inadvertently bring forth a zombie apocalypse while trying to create an elixir of life.

The scientists - Callan Harris, Harley Timmerman and AJ Saltamacchia (replacing Thomas Gorham just weeks before opening after an injury) - ingest their body enhancing potions and go through various tests that push the capabilities of the human form. Fortunately the three are highly talented circus artists, so the results are quite awe-inspiring. Harris' free-standing ladder routine is a highlight, full of hold-your-breath intensity as he scales the ladder to perform precarious acrobatics and balancing acts. Timmerman's use of the cyr wheel showcases the great control and skill he possesses, using the momentum of the wheel to spin around as he grips it with his hands and feet.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Tap Head - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Barnie Juancan is running late for his open mic comedy night again. He is nervous but once he's done his mic check he's ready to go. Meanwhile, a tap head called Tap Head is also working on its stand-up comedy and sharing its philosophies on life. With his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Tap Head, comedian and mime artist, Barnie Duncan, presents two stories of two different beings who probably have more in common than they think. 

Watching these two beings come to life by Duncan is an extremely rewarding experience and has the audience become heavily invested in their lives. They may appear to be very separate stories - only linked by their stand-up aspirations - but Duncan slowly, and then unexpectedly links, the two together and suddenly everything that has been said seems to click into place. It's always a delight when a performer has such a deep understanding of storytelling that they can surprise the audience with what transpires who are then able to look back at all that has happened and see how the pieces fit together.

Game Boys Cinematic Universe - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

I have a confession to make: I have only been to two theme parks in my entire life and one of those has been Luna Park. So I was filled with much excitement as I entered Game Boys Cinematic Universe, a comedic pastiche to theme parks of the 90s, particularly those with a focus on film and the cinematic experience, such as Movie World. We are welcomed by our hosts, brothers Eden and Josh Porter (Game Boys) and before we know it, we are strapped in for our Backlot Tour of Game Boys Studios.

Game Boys Cinematic Universe is highly interactive with audience participation but the Game Boys duo are so extremely charming and friendly that you end up wanting to participate. The attention to detail in what a theme park should look and feel like and the dedication the two have in their characters allows the audience to be swept away by the entire adventure. Inspired use of AV technology ensures the exaggerated scenarios they take us through, including the sound studios where Hans Zimmer is hard at work, strengthen the world that is being presented to us.

Friday 29 March 2019

Fran Solo - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

You may think you know the story of Star Wars but Fran Middleton is here to tell you otherwise. With her trademark blend of absurdism and improvisation skills, Middleton is here to present her version of this intergalactic story in Fran Solo as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. 

Middleton is busy watching a film on her laptop and drinking a can of Solo – this show is full of puns - as we take our seats. Her laid back nature sets the tone for what we are to experience, and this is strengthened as she casually acknowledges each audience member with a nod and a greeting.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Mrs Robinson Crusoe - Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Comedy duo Chelsea Zeller and Samuel Russo return to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with their new show, Mrs. Robinson Crusoe, a time-travelling romp of sketch comedy spanning 70 years. It is 1950 and Betty Robinson, a wealthy socialite on a cruise, bumps into James, the 18-year-old (19 in March) son of her friends. Their romance is passionate but brief as the ship is involved in an accident with Mrs Robinson thrown overboard and waking up on a deserted island, or so she thinks.

Through times' trickery, Mrs Robinson has somehow ended up in the future, on an island where Survivor is being filmed. In one scene she finds a washed up bag with a number of curiosities, such as an iPad that she assumes is a serving platter and mistaking another item as a fancy drinking cup that you definitely do not want to be putting anywhere near your lips.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Close Encounters review

It goes without saying that a night out watching the Briefs boys is going to be a hugely entertaining one. Fortunately, this cheeky bunch of jaw dropping talent has finally brought its newest show, Close Encounters, to Melbourne for a limited run at the Arts Centre. This time round, the troupe of sexy and energetic performers, led by their divine captain Shivannah (Fez Fa’anana), have come from the future to assure us that the human race is surviving and everything – and everyone - we are fighting for right now will be worth it.

What follows are a variety of cabaret, burlesque, circus and dance numbers that draw awareness to the importance of using our voices, particularly for those who don’t have the ability to, and for celebrating and loving everyone around us. The acts come thick and fast without the slightest of lulls. Even with a small wardrobe malfunction, Louis Biggs ensures he has firm control over his balls with an impressive juggling striptease act. The paired routine between aerialist Thomas Worrell swinging in a human birdcage and Shivannah is breath-taking in its execution and a powerful moment in expressing the humanity inside each of us.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

World Problems review

Emma Mary Hall remembers a lot. She remembers 9/11 and the first funeral on Mars. She also remembers when George Clooney died and the birthday cakes she's eaten. In World Problems, Hall shares her memories - some factual, some probable, some pure fiction - with us while also expressing what it is like to live in this world and how all our actions are interconnected with something much bigger than us. 

By exposing her vulnerability to the audience through her memories, Hall creates an intimacy that grows with every passing minute. The accomplished way she makes us believe in everything she is saying is testament to the stage presence that Hall possesses. She presents to us as a figure of authority but also as a person having a casual chat with a friend. Her jumping of memories between time and space elicits a very emotional and personal response to a global issue.

Friday 15 March 2019

Cella review

Cella (Latin for cell) is a minimalist dance piece by Narelle Benjamin and Paul White, who use and contort their bodies in intense solo and paired routines to uncover a history that we rarely consider. Cella allows the two dancers to explore the biology of our body along and the stories that it has to share.

The movements performed by Benjamin and White play to their strengths and often create stunning moments in how the body can be manipulated. While the beginning of the piece goes on longer than is necessary, the unison in which the two move their bodies as they writhe around the floor is impressive, evident of much time and effort made in ensuring they are in tune with the music by Huey Benjamin and with each other.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

33 Variations review

It's a mystery how a song or piece of music can elicit strong emotions from a person. We may listen to heavy metal when we need a release whereas for moments of clarity we might seek some classical music, such as Beethoven. In many ways, the music we listen to often becomes the soundtrack of our lives and this is touchingly explored in Mois├ęs Kaufman's 33 Variations, in which a musicologist devotes years of her life trying to understand why German composer Beethoven was so consumed with writing 33 variations to Anton Diabelli's simple waltz.

American film legend, Ellen Burstyn is utterly captivating as musicologist Katherine Brandt. Her ability to show her gradual loss of control of her body due to her diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) while desperately clinging to her intellect is masterful. Her troubled relationship with her daughter Clara, played by the inimitable Lisa McCune, is examined without melodrama and reaches a genuinely affecting conclusion with acceptance of mistakes from both sides.

Sunday 10 March 2019

The Yellow Wallpaper review

Written in 1890, The Yellow Wallpaper was Charlotte Perkins Gilman's response to her misdiagnosis and treatment from prominent neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell, with his "resting cure" after the birth of her daughter. This epistolary short story explores the misogyny and scepticism women faced with regards to mental illness and how powerful men in a patriarchal society considered the health of women.

Performed by Annie Thorold, the story is predominantly told via a voice recording of her journal entries. In doing so, the essence of Gilman's story remains intact and allows for the audience members to be simultaneously inside and outside of The Narrator's mind. As Thorold has little dialogue it is her physical presence that is of critical importance and throughout the taut production she manages to convey the anxiety and the anger that is felt by our protagonist.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Poopie Tum Tums - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

First The Very Good Looking Initiative taught us how to lead a better life through social media with CULL. Then they explored how crippling failure can be with Let's Get Practical! Live. Now they return to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with their brand new show, Poopie Tum Tums. Performed by Honor Wolff and Patrick Durning Silva, the show will give audience members another look into the weirdly hilarious musings of the two and their desire to create something stupid, sexy and funny.

"Poopie Tum Tums is a show that we want to perform every night that makes us laugh and makes our parents uncomfortable and disappointed. A lot of people don’t know this about us but we both have massive egos, self destructive behaviours and a dream to become famous, so hopefully this does that," they tell me. "Basically it’ll be the two of us on stage making fools of ourselves, and making you laugh, cry and be uncomfortably aroused."

Thursday 7 March 2019

Mrs Robinson Crusoe - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

Trying to get Samuel Russo and Chelsea Zeller to describe their new sketch comedy show, Mrs Robinson Crusoe, is like getting two kids to talk about what they want for Christmas. They want to have it all and are excited about seeing what they actually get. Presented as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the two art makers and performers are collaborating once more in a clowning / drag production where a 1950s housewife finds herself marooned on the set of the hit reality TV show Survivor.

In this fresh sketch-fable-parody-party, Zeller and Russo play with ideas around space and time, sex and love, rock, roll and a bag full of wigs. But that's not all. "Audiences will be seeing two performers playing a shit tonne of characters from different worlds all colliding in our crazy little island paradise," Russo explains. "Lots of ridiculous accents and funny walks. You know. Classy, sophisticated stuff like that. Like Survivor meets Little Britain."

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Elixir - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

There are many theories as to when and how the zombie apocalypse will occur, with the latest one rumoured to take place during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Presented by Head First Acrobats, Elixir follows three blundering scientists who unwittingly unleash the zombie apocalypse when they attempt to create the elixir of life. And it just so happens that these scientists are highly skilled acrobatic and circus performers who must put their brains and their bodies into overdrive in order to prevent the end of the world.

Performed by Thomas Gorham, Callan Harris (both founding members of Head First Acrobats) and Harley Timmerman, Elixir premieres in Melbourne after a sold out and award winning tour in the United Kingdom, including Best Cabaret at the 2015 Brighton Fringe Festival. Originally performed as part of Gorham’s graduation showcase piece at NICA, the full version of Elixir has never played in Melbourne.  While the trio are eager to bring the undead back to Melbourne, the journey with this production has been an experience that Gorham could never have imagined. "I had absolutely no idea that this would happen," he says. "I just wanted to create a character piece that was different and exciting. I had no idea a showcase zombie themed circus act would lead to touring around the world and being received the way it has."

Saturday 2 March 2019

Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

We all enjoy a heartwarming murder mystery. Trying to spot the clues as they are laid out for us, or in some cases watching as the detective pieces everything together, can be a thrilling adventure. As part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, audiences have the opportunity to commit their own slice of murder with an improvised homage to Agatha Christie in Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit, a show presented by Dave Massingham and the iconic The Butterfly Club.

Massingham's love for the perfect murder stemmed from a childhood of watching them enacted on stage, TV and in board games. "Ever since I was a kid I loved the cozy murder mystery. Agatha Christie was a perennial favourite. Cluedo was always my preferred board game. I even remember watching episodes of Inspector Morse and Jonathan Creek with my family," he recalls. "When I became interested in improv comedy I knew that I would love to one day develop a classic British whodunnit format. In 2009 I came up with a show structure called Agatha Holmes and put it on with my old Brisbane improv troupe ImproMafia. That would be the bones that would eventually become Murder Village."