Saturday 8 April 2023

Ratbag review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Ben Stevenson's mother used to call him a ratbag. When she suddenly died, Stevenson had to find some sense of meaning to her death. In Ratbag, the comedian looks at the slightly unconventional upbringing that he had and memories of the years he had with his mother.

Stevenson does wonderful work in painting a picture of growing up in Coffs Harbour, where gender reveal skid parties were a usual occurrence. He also shares details of his mother's peculiar habits, including her common boycotting of brands, companies and even countries, such as her supermarket protest of all things made in France, and her penchant for growing a very specific green plant.

Stevenson presents his material in a consistently laid back manner that easily has the audience on side and has us feeling like we're at a bar having a chat with a new mate. Even when he is recalling the phone call that his mother was in a serious condition at the hospital and describing her final moments, and the ensuing conversations with funeral directors and the dramas of cremation, he retains the "ratbag" nature that was handed over to him as a child.

While Stevenson has amusing family stories to tell, the show needs a bit more stagecraft in order to strengthen the audience’s emotional engagement. Having a photo of his mother displayed or showing us a picture of that family trip to Bali would add layers to the anecdotes. With Stevenson being an expecting first time father, it would be really interesting to hear if his mother's death has affected his view of parenthood and how he feels about being a dad.

As it stands, Ratbag is a touching homage to a parent whose life ended much sooner than expected. Stevenson demonstrates great warmth on stage and creates an environment that is welcoming and safe for an honest but humourous exploration around life and death.


Venue: Fitzoy Comedy Club at the Belfry, 272 Brunswick St, Fizroy
Season: until 9 April | 7:15pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $29 Full | $24 Conc
Bookings: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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