Toby Halligan: Tobylerone

By Noel Kelso

If, like myself, you are a regular attendee of Melbourne comedy rooms you will have at some point encountered the routines of one Toby Halligan, a razor-witted comic with a topical turn of mind and an appetite for the political. He is one of the conspirators behind monthly political comedy room, Political Asylum and also writer for Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’ so comes with plenty of comedy credentials behind him.

The room in which the show is performed is sparsely decorated in minimalist black with a large portrait of beloved leader Tony Abbott resting on the floor, centre stage, so when Halligan appears it comes as a bit of a surprise to find that this is not just a show focussed around every comic’s favourite political punchline. It is even more surprising when Halligan expresses a certain amount of sympathy for our Prime Minister.

Halligan begins by pondering a question which is most appropriate in the current political climate in this country – specifically, ‘What does it mean to be Australian?’

Identity is at the heart of Halligan’s show as he briefly ponders his recent relationship break-up and the ensuing conversations he had with friends. We are taken through the process of having to get back out into the gay dating scene in a world of GRINDR and SCRUFF. Along the way Toby ponders his own attitudes to meeting people and relating to them – particularly his own Mother with whom he reveals he recently had a conversation about the use of amyl nitrate.

We hear how his upbringing in Canberra (a place with very little to get up to) and nerdy pastimes at school (he likes chess) perhaps led to the development of his initial awkwardness. This appears to melt away when he is on stage, thankfully, and his audience can be certain of forthright proclamations on topics as diverse as celebrity endorsements of public transport, revealing inappropriate facts about animals and how it is impossible for any politician to be completely honest.

So, we are brought full-circle and return to the true meaning of what it is to be Australian via Clive palmer and his dinosaurs.

Halligan is an energetic and impassioned comedian whose delivery style veers from innocent curiosity to full rant sometimes within the same sentence. But there is always a genuine warmth and playfulness to his material which prevents it becoming uncomfortable. Halligan appreciates the value of a well-placed expletive, not using them merely for shock value or to compensate for a poor vocabulary, but as a form of emphasis.

Tobylerone is playing at Upstairs at Errol’s in North Melbourne until September 26th.

Once Were Pirates

By Elyce Phillips

Once Were Pirates tells the story of Shane and Gareth (James Cook and Ben Clements), two pirates who become marooned in modern society and must struggle to discover their place within it. While Gareth goes out into the world to find work and make friends, Shane finds the transition more difficult, raising the question of whether it is truly possible to change who you are.

The decision to classify this work as a comedy was an odd one. Its listing in the Fringe guide has you expecting something on the broad and farcical side – two old-fashioned pirates attempting to make sense of the modern world, trying to leave their violent ways behind them. What ‘One Were Pirates’ delivers is something very different. Whilst the show does have humorous moments, the conceit of pirates living in the modern world is used less for comedic effect and more to explore themes of masculinity and self-image in an abstract way. The laughs are too few and far between for this to feel like an out-and-out comedy. The dramatic aspects of the story are what really drive it forward. But this is not in any way to say that the show is disappointing – far from it.

Genre aside, this is a fantastic show. Cook and Clements’ performances are both subtle and powerful. The friendship they create on the stage is heartwarming and complex. Each of the characters is well-realised. Cook’s Shane has a vulnerable lovability that you wouldn’t expect from a pirate. Clements’ Gareth is an artful portrayal of a man desperately trying to leave his past behind him. One scene where he becomes enraged is genuinely shocking and unsettling. Emilie Collyer’s script is wonderful. Her characters may sometimes speak in metaphor, but her words are clear and incisive. This is no doubt in part due to the skillful direction of Daniel Czech. The set design is clever, the costuming spot-on. There is nothing letting the team down here. Every aspect of this show works together to create something special.

Once Were Pirates is a terrific piece of theatre that will leave you thinking about it long after you leave your seat.

Once Were Pirates is showing at Northcote Town Hall – Studio 2 at 7pm until September 28.

The Sound of Nazis

By Lisa Clark

Comedies about Nazis are not new. From Chaplin and Jack Benny to Hogan’s Heroes and The Producers, comedy is fabulous at bringing bullies down to size and Nazis make great villains. It sounds like a fabulous choice for a second production from the team who created last year’s smash sensation Wolf Creek the Musical but it can be as difficult to lampoon musical comedy with a musical comedy as it is to send up comedy with comedy.

The opening number from Captain Von Trapp is a bit lackluster and strangely sets him up as a hero whereas he’s a pretty dull character and not really known for his singing in the film. There are a few laughs but the performer is such a terrible singer it is a bit of a chore to sit through so not the best opening for a rollicking send up of The Sound of Music. If your show is a musical, then singing talent is pretty important, but sadly none of the performers are really outstanding singers. Some are better than others but comedy is more their forte.

There are a lot of belly laughs in The Sound of Nazis especially for those who enjoy indulging in some seriously bad taste humour and with a title like that you’d hope any sensitive souls would keep well away. The laughs are pretty consistent and when the energy dips a little along comes a brilliant and x-rated send up of The Lonely Goatherd puppet show.

Haymen Kent is delightfully daffy as Maria the nun cum Nanny and charismatic Kel Balnaves (backpacker killer Mick from last year’s show) darn near steals the show again as the bad guy Mr. H – if only he had more to do. The others do well with their parts, especially Brandon Mannarino. I was also a little disappointed that only two of them played the kids.

The show’s writer, composer and musical accompanist James McCann is a wonderfully strange and talented person. Wolf Creek the Musical was my favourite show of last year’s Fringe and I was impressed by Nunopoly his solo show. I would’ve loved to see him on stage more, he could’ve re-used his nun costume. I’m hoping there is a bit of 2nd album syndrome to this one and that we can look forward to more wonderful things from James. There is still a lot of fun to be had in the late night mischievousness here, especially for fans of The Sound of Music or sock puppets.

Stuart Daulman is an Absolute Credit

By Elyce Phillips

Stuart Daulman (of Wizard Sandwiches and Fancy Boy) returns to the Melbourne Fringe this year with his second solo show. Stuart Daulman is an Absolute Credit sees the comic in familiar character-acting territory while he performs his stand-up, however, a twist towards more personal storytelling provides an interesting counterpoint to the usual chaos.

With his bumbling delivery and cheesy gags, Daulman’s stand-up persona lies somewhere between the pub jokester and the regular comedy act down at the local RSL. His jokes walk a wonderful line between cliché and absurd, and are punctuated with a scattering of one-man sketches. Daulman is truly in his element. His disheveled suit and slightly-off-time sound effects make him as endearing as he is hilarious. The pacing of Daulman’s stand-up is impeccable. With the repetition of a few key phrases, he works up a rhythm that has the audience laughing with every introduction of a new anecdote.

The second half of the show is marked by an abrupt change of mood. Daulman sits down and tells us a very personal boy-meets-girl story, the painful ending of which will be familiar to many. Here, the jokes slow down. For the most part, the story is presented as a blow-by-blow recounting of events. There’s not a lot of delving into why this particular girl was so special or why the relationship failed. As Daulman gets further into the story, it appears that the events are still quite raw, and it doesn’t always feel appropriate to laugh.

There are some highlights, however – Daulman’s description of anxiety is really insightful, and a slideshow of photos is dark and hilarious. Whilst this section of the show wasn’t as strong as the opening half, it’s certainly brave of Daulman to engage with such personal material, and it’s great to see him pushing his performance range by doing comedy that’s such a departure from the outright silliness of his work with Wizard Sandwiches.

Shows like ‘Stuart Daulman is an Absolute Credit’ are what the Fringe is about. It’s funny, engaging and it’s trying something a little different. Daulman is a wonderful comedic talent and this show is well worth your time.

Stuart Daulman is an Absolute Credit is at The Imperial Hotel at 9pm until 28 September

Kitchen Cosmology by Chris Lassig

By Noel P Kelso

This will be my second review of a science-related show this Fringe Festival, this time the subject matter is the larger scale of the Universe rather than the origins of life itself.

This show held a special attraction for me as I have always had a fascination with physics, but lacked the mathematical abilities to pursue it as a career. Similarly, the show includes lots of cooking which is another interest of mine. All that this show needs would be conjuring and it may well be my ideal show.

As the title suggests the intention of Kitchen Cosmology is to simply explain the current understanding of how the Universe formed and progressed to its current state with the help of baked goods.

If you are fascinated by such exotic concepts as the Big Bang, Galaxies, Dark Matter and Radioastronomy but – much like myself – lack the necessary understanding of the finer points of maths and physics, then this is the show for you.

Beginning with a nice gag about needing a space License, Chris Lassig takes the audience through the first few microseconds following the Big Bang with the aid of popcorn and the following seconds using a raisin pudding.

This is a well-structured show delivered with clarity of ideas and excellent comic timing to ease the understanding of some of the complex ideas being used. Lassig uses his props and projections well and ropes-in a couple of audience members to assist with one segment involving the collision of galaxies represented by two chocolate tarts.

The audience laughed along to such unlikely humour based around complex chemistry, radio telescopes and Stephen Hawking which is no mean feat and a testament to the performance skills and timing of Lassig himself who is ably directed by Ben McKenzie.

Along the way there are bad puns, pop-culture references and lollies and the ideas clearly fire the imagination of the performer as he keeps track of key events in the formation the Universe and his baking with a digital timer which beeps at key points throughout.

Lassig’s enthusiasm for his subject is clear from the very beginning and does not flag throughout his performance with him putting energy into each segment. The pace of his delivery keeps the ideas flowing, whilst allowing for clarity of understanding and leaving room for laughter.

Kitchen Cosmology by Chris Lassig is on at Tuxedo Cat on Wills Street at 6pm until September 28th.

Loman Empire: The Sitcom – An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman

By Lisa Clark

Who can resist such a delicious idea of a comic sitcom version of the Great American Tragedy Death of a Salesman with such a fabulous cast? Danny McGinlay has done the inspired re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s play and manages to satirise the great American sitcom at the same time.

The audience is part of this production, playing the part of a live studio audience at the recording of a sitcom called The Loman Empire. The cast are being made up as the audience enters.  The warm-up guy (Lachlan Millsom) sets the mood well, introducing us to the stars of the show and prompting us throughout. An applause sign flashes as characters enter and at end of scenes and the tech guy at side of stage also helps remind us that we are in a studio. The pre-recored filmed segments work beautifully including cute cliched opening and closing credits and some very silly ads, most of which are hilarious. There was a great moment where the actors improvised around a prop that played up which made a very funny potential ‘blooper reel’ moment.

The performers are all brilliantly cast and throw themselves into their two-part roles which include the actors behind the scenes as well as the on camera characters. Russell Fletcher as the has been star and patriarch Willy Loman is amusingly overbearing and annoying (in both characters) with a catchphrase and a relationship with his downtrodden wife Linda, played with a twinkle by Lana Schwarcz, that is reminiscent of The Honeymooners. Off camera Lana’s obnoxious animal rights actress character create’s more drama and fireworks with him than on. Jimmy James Eaton is a surprise standout as favourite son Biff (and manages to squeeze in one of his trademark funny raps) and Danny McGinlay has fun playing his little brother Happy as well as the actor who, thanks to Danny’s previous festival show is a drunken Ukranian. We get to see Director Damian Callinan on stage playing the wacky neighbour Charley and Denis Manahan does a fabulous job playing various important characters. Other actors who pop in for short cameos are Lucy Horan, Katharine Burke and Chris Masters Mah. There are some rough edges in the timing of dialogue but these will be improved as the run progresses.

Like Willy Loman’s hazy memories there is a very vague sense of the period this is set in, which actually works well, it mostly feels like 1949, then a modern reference turns up or a modern product placement, like an anachronism you might notice in MASH or Happy Days, shows that seemed to gradually forget which period they were set in. There are many clever digs at sitcoms, their clichés and wacky situations that are part of giving the audience a sense of the history of this long running successful sitcom at the same time echoing Willy Loman being haunted by his past.

My only issue with the production (apart from the line ‘A man is not a piece of fruit’ being absent which is a bit like doing Hamlet without ‘To Be or Not To Be’) was that the backstage shenanigans, though fun, didn’t really affect the TV performance and lacked focus and the comedic tension that would have come out of a situation such as the cast finding out the show is axed or one of the cast is leaving or this being the final episode which would have reflected the sense of doom and hidden secrets exposed in the play.

Death of a Salesman is about dysfunctional families, false fronts and the rot at the core of The American Dream so it fits a sitcom scenario perfectly. You may not know the play but you will get a sense of it from the play’s dialogue and a lot of laughs that come from clever zingers, groaners and sending up sitcoms. The Loman Empire – The Sitcom – An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman (note this is a recent name change) is the sort of creative, intelligently put together performance that makes Melbourne Fringe so wonderful and will no doubt be one of the highlights of 2014.

Loman Empire: The Sitcom An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman is on at the Northcote Town Hall at 8:15pm until September 28.