Bob Franklin – Yours Sincerely

by Hooi Khaw 

Bob Franklin – Yours Sincerely seems to be Bob Franklin’s thinly veiled criticism of a certain fellow comedian. Although Franklin plays a narcissistic version of himself, people in the know might recognise this show as a personal shot at a particular old school Australian comedian, hinting at a tumultuous relationship between them both.

Without knowing the detailed history of their relationship or the comedian in question, the audience is still able to enjoy Franklin’s work as a character piece. Franklin gleefully satirises the absurdity of this warped perspective which has his character victimising himself in bad situations that he has caused. Franklin portrays someone who is falsely taking ownership of past actions, in order to forward their own agenda. This has the impact of making the audience question the authenticity of this story of redemption that this character is trying to sell us, which we assume is Franklin’s intention.

If you’ve read memoirs by the artist that this show is satirising, it’s easy to see truth in Franklin’s critiques, making it easier to see the comedy in what Franklin is presenting. The fact that Franklin owns these as his character’s point of view only enhances this. However, there were definitely splits in the audience of people who were laughing because they understood the context behind a particular joke, versus other members who were enjoying it on a more superficial level.

Yours Sincerely represents a layered work, which audiences will enjoy on different levels according to their background knowledge of how and why this show was made. If you have very little context, you can still enjoy this as a character piece because the jokes are so well crafted, and it is brilliantly performed. If you’re better informed about the comedian in question and his history, you are able to access an additional level of appreciation for this work, but there is a frequent sense of “missing the joke” for the rest of us.

Bob Franklin – Yours Sincerely is on at Courthouse Hotel – The Jury Room. 

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/bob-franklin-yours-sincerely/

Chloe Black in Transistor Sister

By Lisa Clark 

Chloe has been performing for many years and is a charming and relaxed presence on stage. She eases her audience into the show with some random gags about relatable observations such as the tininess of the performance space, (no, really, I don’t know if I’ve seen a smaller “stage” as the one at Pilgrim) and the voraciousness of Tasmanian ants before getting to the main topic of the show; her experiences in the world as a newly out transgender woman.

Transistor Sister is no angsty “Coming Out” festival show, it’s a sharing of some interesting and annoying life experiences with warmth and humour. Chloe is great at getting laughs from the dumbass ignorant behaviour of human beings but wise enough to take it in her stride and find the humour for us. There are also parenting stories, with some being pretty relatable and others being amusingly unique.

Chloe’s years in the “Poetry Scene” have taught her performance skills that are a great help in a comedy career. She’s used to creating her own performances, is very comfortable on stage and handles her own tech well. It is also indicative of her love of wordplay and she loves creating silly anagrams. There is a section of the show about her love of anagrams but I reckon they would’ve been great sprinkled throughout the show, or even used as chapter headings or to underline topics as they came and went. Chloe also has a lot of droll comments and funny stories about spoken word that will find their mark with comedy fans.

The structure of Transistor Sister could do with some tightening and tweaking. At various times she talks about coming out to family, to friends and to herself which could form the backbone of this show. Some signposts, maybe even more use of her screen, could’ve helped balance the show and kept the odd bits of repetition at bay. Otherwise, this was a really lovely show in a supportive atmosphere from a comedian who I hope to see more of in the future.

Chloe Black performs Transistor Sister at Pilgrim til Sept 28 (except the 27th)

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/chloe-black-in-transistor-sister/

Clare Cavanagh – Literally

By Colin Flaherty

Making her Melbourne debut, Sydney comedian Clare Cavanagh brought her one woman sketch show to the Fringe. She showed off her character work by introducing us to creations such as a School Captain with clear political ambitions, a nonagenarian with a colourful past, “Fireman” and his crew of one note superheroes, and a jargon spouting ideas man.

Cavanagh has an impressive background in improv so it was disappointing that the segments intended to showcase them fell a little flat on this night. The interrogation as a ditzy police officer was rambling enough to suit the character but she failed to do much comically with the interactions. Sure the punter was a little flummoxed and didn’t offer up brilliant material but I would have expected more than just repeating the responses back to the perpetrator. Well, improvised theatre is a hit or miss affair and while not hilarious, these scenes were enjoyable exercises nonetheless.

One thing I found particularly interesting was how she aimed some of the material toward different demographics. On a snippet of lyrics alone, younger music fans could get a joke a beat before everyone else while older folk would decipher a joke about old technology ahead of the youngsters.

It was in the tightly scripted monologues where Cavanagh really shone. Using little in the way of props and costuming the portrayal of her characters had nuance and depth. She added a little physicality to the performance but it was generally in the text where these people came to life. Whether it was an impassioned plea to a crowd, a dotty old lady casually dropping bombshells to her family or the inner thoughts of someone looking for a connection, these caricatures kept us transfixed. The sound design also added a wonderful dimension to the scenes in transporting us to the audience of that event or simply being an eavesdropper.

This collection of amusing characters was a wonderful introduction to Cavangh’s work. Here’s to more visits to our town.

Literally is on at Errol’s & Co until September 25
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/literally/

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco

By Lisa Clark 

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco is a bright and boisterous sketch comedy clearly written from experience by Jordan Barr (RAW Comedy 2018 state finalist) and Josh Gardiner. It is beautifully performed by Alex Cooper, Izabella Yena and Jordan Barr. I was astonished to learn that Blue Light Discos still existed in 2007 with teenagers playing out the same rights of passage as when I attended, many years earlier. I mean kids were STILL dancing the Nutbush?! But then, this was Wonthaggi.

The venue inside Belleville, a small dance space with a spiral stair leading to a platform and a mirrored wall, was well suited for the setting of the show and the show itself was perfect for the venue. Belleville often has the problem of sound bleeding through to the performance space from the bar, but that was the exact vibe of this rowdy show which had its own period music that mostly drowned out the bar music. The performers used all of the space beautifully to evoke the atmosphere of the Blue Light Disco and the entertaining touches of audience participation were there to add to the atmosphere or a particular sketch and never felt exploitative or too out of place.

The scenes were mostly set off stage – in the backrooms, where you could sneak away and actually have a conversation. The scenes all flowed well and painted a nostalgic, and accurately messy picture of the Blue Light Disco experience. There were lots of silly drunken moments from kids who aren’t supposed to be drinking. The thing that set this apart from my own teen experience was the lack of cigarette smoking – the fact that it isn’t even a point of mention to this younger generation gives me hope for the future.

The many colourful characters performed by the three actors included; the adults working at the Disco keeping an eye on things and trying to wrangle the teenagers, hormonal boys who know nothing about women that were amusingly and knowingly played by the two women, the two teen girls who make up their own Team Edward Fan Club, the surprise of a puppet boy discovering it’s sexuality and Singing Girl who almost stole the show and certainly got the biggest laugh. The characters worked better as they reappeared more than once and we got to know them.

While watching I couldn’t help but wonder: was this a loving ode to teen memories or revenge? A bit of both no doubt, if we look beneath our happy teen memories there were always those sad and then downright nasty ones. There was a bit of impressive Shakespearean inspired spoken word towards the end of The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco that speaks articulately to all of that anger and pain we felt at the time but could not say. Haven’t we all wished to return to those awful experiences with all the hindsight, bravery and eloquence we now possess and face our foes?

This one crept up on me, I was not sure about it at the beginning, and watching a puppet slowly wank on stage was not really something I’ll ever want to see again (it may have worked if we’d gotten to know the puppet, as a character, earlier in the show, unfortunately it came off as very disturbing and unpleasant), but overall The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco was an enjoyably nostalgic, laugh filled experience and the belly laugh at the end that had me in tears was worth it all.

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco is on at Belleville til Sept 23

https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-2007-wonthaggi-blue-light-disco/

Straight White Knight

By Colin Flaherty

The blurb for Straight White Knight promised so much. John the Knight was going to “slay privilege, rescue nonbinary royalty, and escape the chokehold of toxic masculinity.” What we got was a socially inept man-child beating his head against a wall with misguided attempts to woo a woman. There’s the possibility that Oliver Cowen was trying convey deeper meaning through symbolism but I certainly didn’t pick up on it.

Groundhog Day loomed large in this performance with our hero going through his daily routine, day after day after day, while trying different techniques to woo a lover while his dreams were haunted by a sinister bear that ridiculed him. Things rapidly broke down and the routines went to shit as John got frustrated. Increasingly gross stunts were performed to repulse and garner laughs at their inappropriateness, but the stakes didn’t increase and there was no character growth. Even though this knight finally found love, it was unclear how he achieved it and why.

Cowen’s silent clowning act was a bit of a shambolic performance that suited the character perfectly. His fumbling for props and stomping around like a needy toddler was amusing enough but the repetition of it did get a bit tiresome. The anticipation of what he would do next was enough to maintain our interest but you had to get through a lot of OCD routines to get there. This act became more like a duration performance art piece rather than a comedy show.

Audience participation was a large part of this show – some tasked with managing props while others played the object of his affection. A large portion of the humour came from the nervous titters and the discomfort as Sir John gazed into punters eyes. There were times where it was unclear how he wanted audience members to play along, but it seemed that our gut reactions were the correct ones and the result was always the same.

Lighting and sound / music cues were great in indicating the time of day and also showing us Sir John’s state of mind. These added immensely to this wordless performance and the title cards of salutations were a cute touch.

Cowen gets several hundred brownie points for creating a show that is accessible for a deaf audience and props for his sheer ambition. We know that festival blurbs are written months ahead of actual show creation but it’s a shame that he barely scratched the surface in his exploration of masculinity.

Straight White Knight is on at Bellville until September 23
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/straight-white-knight/

Maggot

By Colin Flaherty

Maggot is a sketch show by the New Zealand trio known as The Scungebags (Angela Fouhy, Freya Finch and Elle Wootton) that pushes absurdity into the red. They create a world of bizarre characters such as rat loving cowboys, quarreling cats, desert travelers of indeterminate ethnicity and cheeky elves that delights and confuses.

The central conceit was “Internationally famous pop-sensations” The Baby Girls (Wootton the perky one, Finch’s surly one and Fouhy as the slightly feral sex pot) wanting to branch out into serious art… or at least it seemed to. The absence of links between most scenes made it unclear if these actors were playing characters who are were in turn playing characters or this was just a random collection of sketches. The scenes came dangerously close to outstaying their welcome at times with extended repetition and usually didn’t lead anywhere substantial with most of the laughs coming from the strange journey these “worthy artistic statements” took, rather than leading up to a punchline. What would be detrimental to another show actually enhanced this performance by creating unpredictability and mayhem.

They often employed the help of some audience members and made it reasonably harmless so punters were more than willing to contribute to the fun. Even if they met reluctance, this trio had clever workarounds to keep things on track. The audience reactions allowed them to show off some improv skills with a clever quip or two, often with a feminist bent.

The ladies were easily able to garner a laugh with a merest glance or gesture. Their character work was brilliant with an effortless portrayal of each weirdo in the menagerie. Boundaries between performers were non existent as inappropriate groping and bumping and grinding titillated the giggling punters. The scripted dialogue was suitably strange and delivered with wild abandon to match the physical silliness.

Maggot has been collecting awards in New Zealand and they are sure to add some more. This anarchic show was a wonderful showcase of clowning by an extremely talented group.

Maggot is on at Arts House – Parlour Room until September 21
https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/maggot/