When you walk into the Forum Theatre for In Conversation With Lionel Corn, you could easily be walking into any Wheeler Centre event of the year. Tonight’s guest is Lionel Corn (Andrew Hansen) in discussion with a Radio National host (Chris Taylor).
Taylor does a great job of playing the poncy interviewer. Hansen’s author is bizarre, but consistently so – it’s a nice contrast to Taylor’s straight-laced performance. After some wonderfully silly introductions, we get to the conversation at hand. The opening salvo is perfectly long-winded and wanky. A collection of pre-recorded questions from the audience were a beautiful touch. Some were so subtle that they could have passed for genuine festival questions, clichéd to the point of self-parody.
However, despite a strong start, In Conversation… loses its charm as the show wears on, largely because the show loses focus. The faux event we’re attending is an amalgamation of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and an episode of Q and A. Lionel Corn himself is part Salman Rushdie, part George RR Martin, part Billy Connolly’s accent. The whole thing is too nebulous to provide any really biting satire. It feels like Taylor and Hansen have tried to cram too much into their characters, and they lose their shape. Tension between Corn and his interviewer that is introduced at the start doesn’t really go anywhere and you don’t get a sense that their relationship develops over the hour.
The jokes strayed into easy stereotypes – fantasy readers are fat, activists whinge about panel diversity. A puerile bit of physical comedy towards the end ran too long and felt disconnected with the tone of the rest of the show. Perhaps this was an attempt to broaden the appeal of the show beyond an audience of lit geeks and #qanda twitter fiends, but it was out of place next to the subtler material.
In Conversation With Lionel Corn is entertaining, but it never quite reaches the heights you hope for. As a long-time fan of the Chaser guys and a big old book nerd, this show should have been right up my alley.