Saturday 14 October 2023

To Be Frank review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

I was so incredibly tired heading into To Be Frank I thought I would actually fall asleep while it was being performed. But within the first second I realised that would not be possible once Michael Hockey's creature came barrelling out on stage with an impassioned roar.

For the next hour we join "Frank" as he begins to understand the concept of love, loneliness and belonging with the aid of a humble balloon. The show is heavily improvised but there is a story and Hockey presents a wonderful balance of both, at one point he leaves the room to follow an audience member who has had to leave early but it fits perfectly with this journey to find love. His clown and bouffon skills are put to excellent use as Frank non-verbally engages and interacts with the audience, who become just as invested in this odyssey as he is.

His physicality is impressive as he shambles and stumbles around the room, trying to assimilate and communicate with us by reaching out and mirroring what he sees and hears. The costume and green makeup constantly remind us that this is a creature that has been constructed and builds on the empathy we feel. Hockey pays homage to the 1931 film where Frank's yearning for connection and his excitement and joy at discovering it often leads to tragic outcomes, like the one that befell Maria.

Stenn Francis-Deare's live music score adds to the suspense of the unknown and what's going to happen next while highlighting the mechanics of Frank as his body realises new ways of moving and responding to this environment. This is integral to the success of this show because while Hockey is free to react to whatever grabs his attention, Francis-Deare needs to predict Hockey's action before the performer even anticipates them to make sure what he plays fits in with what's occurring.

As side-splittingly funny as To Be Frank is, the 60 minute run could do with a fraction of editing, where bringing it down to 55 minutes would make a world of difference, but this is one of the most commendable, committed and enjoyable performances witnessed at the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. Hockey takes something ridiculous and fun and packs it with emotional nuance and heart. There are plenty of surprises to be had and there is also plenty to love with this show.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: until 15 October | 10:00pm, Sun 9:00pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $18 Concession
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image Credit: Mataara Stokes

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