Walking into the urbane and cultured foyer of the Gasworks Theatre in Albert Park, I was greeted by an equally urbane and cultured crowd who had gathered to enjoy the work of Carita Farrer Spencer as part of the Midsumma Festival. As Blondie’s Rapture played softly in the background, I knew this was no grungy comedy venue, and that this was going to be no grungy comedy show. What it was, was an hour of top shelf laughs.
Larry and The Dame: Magnum Opus is billed as an ‘hilarious double bill (with herself)’ – and that’s exactly what it is. Over the course of the evening, Farrer Spencer introduces us to two characters – both played by herself.
Audience enters the auditorium to find the stage replete with grand piano adorned with a huge floral arrangement, and a velvet covered table holding a frighteningly large martini. A pianist (the very talented and unflappable Steve Russell) enters and begins to play “There is nothing like a dame” and act one is under way.
In the first half we meet The Dame – a fading cabaret star whose life disappointments have led her to hit the bottle, and hit it hard. Over the course of her set, she manages to consume an unhealthy quantity of alcohol, leading to some wonderful business with her costume, the mic stand and the hapless pianist. The song choices are excellent, ranging from musical theatre standards to Bassey and Eric Carmen – with one of the more unusual interpretations of La Vie En Rose you’re ever likely to see. And goodness, can she sing! The Dame’s tendency to forget lyrics, or indeed which song comes next, sets up some wonderful interplay with the pianist, who remains deadpan and stoic throughout. As the dignity of her character drops away, we see periods of high farce interspersed with moments of poignant introspection. It’s a remarkable performance.
At the half way point, after the diva’s unedifying exit, Steve is left alone with the audience. His version of the well chosen “Stuck in the middle with you” gives Farrer Spencer time to find her second character, Larry Paradiseo.
Larry is a chronically unfit lothario cabaret singer, convinced that he is utterly irresistible to the ladies. He is sleazy, sweaty, and has a dancing style all of his own. But it’s in this character that Farrer Spencer’s talents in audience engagement come to the fore. Accompanied by more well chosen songs from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tom Jones and John Farnham, Larry inflicts himself on pretty much every female in the audience. The one liners are fun, and have obviously served this character well over the years. It’s delightfully cringe-inducing stuff.
The finale is something that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a triumph of excellent song choice, a mighty voice, and some costuming brilliance.
The secret to the success of this show is Farrer Spencer’s total commitment to both characters. The physicality of both are spot on, and, as you would expect of someone of Farrer Spencer’s experience, she never drops character for a second. This skill for characterisation, coupled with a wonderful voice and great timing, make this a show you’ll remember for a long time.
The laughter throughout the show was rich and constant. At the end of the hour, the buzz in the audience was palpable and the applause was sustained and enthusiastic. Farrer Spencer obviously knows her stuff, and knows her demographic. If you like walking the line between comedy and cabaret, you’ll find this a worthy contribution to the 2018 Midsumma Festival.
Larry and The Dame – Magnum Opus is playing at Gaswork Theatre, 21 Graham Street Albert Park, from Wednesday 17 to Saturday 20 January.
A sell-out crowd packed into the warm and welcoming Hares & Hyena’s bookshop in Fitzroy for Lemon Comedy’s only foray into the Midsumma Festival for 2018. A small stage has been erected in the corner of the store, surrounded by chandelier, regency wallpaper and thousands of books. Complete with friendly bar service, who could ask for a better venue?
Lemon Comedy bills itself on its website as a “new global stand-up showcase that aims to promote diverse, sharp voices in comedy”. Younger performers get the chance to strut their stuff in front of a large and supportive crowd, while more seasoned performers can try out new material in a safe space. And, on this balmy Tuesday evening in Melbourne, they didn’t disappoint. The organisers brought together an eclectic mix of performers and performance styles for this one-night-only show. In fact, the audience was treated to seven classy acts across two hours of joy.
The quality of any gala often rests largely with the ability of the host – and in this role, Alistair Baldwin excelled. He kept the audience’s energy up between comics with warm repartee and generous introductions. His own material is terrific, managing to cover off topics ranging from Australia Post to cuttlefish in his mild-mannered, seemingly good natured shtick.
Space does not allow a full run down of all performers – so let me instead tell you about some acts to keep an eye out for in the future.
Melbourne comic Kit Richards was a stand out, giving the audience a sneak preview into the new musical that she is writing – which explores elements of early white Australian history and the difficulties of English folk adapting to Australian conditions. The songs were cleverly constructed, hilarious, and lovingly delivered. If that musical ever gets made, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.
Comedic trio Hit By A Blimp (aka Caitlyn Staples, Tiana Hogben and Jayden Masciulli) gave us an energetic mixture of sketch, song and interpretive dance in their Coldplay inspired portrayal of the pros and cons of Uber Eats. Well regarded improviser Nikki Spunde made a welcome return to stand-up and proved to be an audience favourite with her languid homage to sleep and haunting things.
Headlining the evening was the evergreen Geraldine Hickey. Whilst her choice of material – a set based on common fears – wasn’t the most imaginative of the evening, she won over the crowd with her trademark dry, laconic delivery, astute observations and easy-going nature. It was great for the younger comics to be able to enjoy a masterclass from such an experienced and assured performer, and provided the audience with a worthy pinnacle to their night’s entertainment.
Other performers rounding out this excellent, varied bill included Pat McCaffrie, Gamze Kirik and Liv Hewson.
Congratulations to Lemon Comedy on bringing together a great night out, and for giving us the gift of an inspiring celebration of diverse comedy. If you missed Lemon Comedy’s Midsumma gala, never fear. Their next gig will be on Valentine’s Day, and will celebrate, appropriately enough, the joys of singledom. Sounds like fun to me.
Lemon Comedy Queer Showcase was a One Off performance on 16 January 2018 at Hares & Hyena’s bookshop in Fitzroy
In 2017 I decided to set a challenge for myself to write up every show that I saw in my Lisa’s Live Comedy Big Year Blog. Well. As you can see, it became harder to keep up with in the second half of the year, even though it seems that is when things are usually quieter, I was wrong and life stayed pretty busy and when it was not it was because I was ill. I still kept other records of my gigs and so was able to list them all, but not reviews sadly, so I don’t have reviews of a lot of my comedy experiences for the last part of the year. I also wanted to keep a pictorial record of gigs, but it’s not always possible to take photos and even in the regular comedy rooms, I was not good at taking subtle photos and got caught out and commented upon/told off. Then my flash went off by mistake. Arrrggghhh! So I gave up on my own photos and got some much better ones from room runners or friends with more experience.
Of course I spent a lot of time at my regular comedy haunt Local Laughs, but managed to visit several other rooms as well. I have had a lot of wonderful comedy experiences this year, especially during the trip to the UK which included seeing Daniel Kitson’s Something Other Than Everything at the Roundhouse in London and two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where highlights included seeing The Doug Anthony Allstars still making jaws drop in their home away from home, new discovery Jayde Adams just blowing the room away at The Pleasance media showcase with her surprising vocal talent and the hilarious story that goes with it, seeing Yianni do his best work in some time because it came from his life and his heart, Adam Vincent slaying packed rooms with deep dark tales of suburbia and playing interactive Wifi Wars at midnight.
Other highlights of the year include the final shows of the debauched boutique comedy legend that was The Shelf and in particular the performance of Fringe Wives Club who brought the house down and made everyone rush out to see their show. Andy Zaltzman did the searing political comedy, Plan Z, that everyone had expected from Ex Bugler John Oliver when he last toured and finally I adored Sammy J’s Magnum Opus – Hero Compex for a 2nd time, to find it had evolved, as the story had in real life and it was joyful to watch everyone’s jaw dropping and howling with laughter as the story unfolded, knowing where it was going. Under the radar: Not enough people were talking about UK comedian Kieran Hodgson at MICF but my goodness Maestro was a gorgeous show and the joyful weirdness of Aussie duo The Lioness who’s show Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock had a much too short run in an out of the way venue.
Its always hard sorting out a shortlist of the best comedy shows. I have picked out 5 outstanding experiences and they are set down in the order that I saw them.
5 VERY GOOD SHOWS OF 2017
Wil Anderson Fire at Wilat The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. January 22
Lineup: Wil Anderson, Supported by Justin Hamilton
January’s highlight was definitely seeing Wil Anderson and Justin Hamilton in a theatre full of excited fans. Both consummate comedians at the top of their game. Am determined to see Wil’s solo show this year and looking forward to it. I’ve been missing seeing Justin around the traps since he moved to Sydney but am hoping to see more of Wil Anderson, now he’s taken a job in Melbourne breakfast radio.
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette April 6
Hannah’s final festival show was indeed a showstopper. It was a show about the Zeitgeist, about equal rights, about truth – in life and in comedy, about standing up and being listened to. It was powerful, moving and of course funny. A masterpiece of Standup. During her interview on Comedian’s Comedian at MICF, Stuart Goldsmith shrewdly asked what would happen if this amazing show won all the awards, like The Barry and even the Edinburgh Fringe Best Comedy award?
Would she still quit comedy? Well all of those predictions have come to pass (including a Helpmann Award along the way) and Hannah is still going strong. Having sold out many shows at the Victorian Arts Centre and The Sydney Opera House she is adding further shows this month to the Opera House, followed by Perth and then a month from February in London at the Soho Theatre. They are selling out.
All comedians should go out on this sort of high. The world is her oyster and she’s certainly making the most of it all. Whatever she chooses to do next, I wish her all the happiness.
Craig Ferguson – The Craig Ferguson Show, Gilded Balloon @ Rose Theatre, Edinburgh. August 7
Craig Ferguson’s quirky tonight show was a staple in our house and I’m missing his Peabody Award winning interviewing style on late night TV. I’ve been hoping he might at least tour his standup comedy here in Australia, as he has happy memories of performing here in the 80s (as do I), but sadly there is no sign of this, especially as he is now busily hosting a successful drive time radio show. Craig decided to record some of his radio shows live from Edinburgh, taking advantage of all of the gathered performers from around the world to appear as guests, and all of the Squirrels were lucky enough to attend in the wee hours of the Festival. The Rose is a lovely old theatre in the New Town with a great atmosphere and the packed audience had an awesome time. The live radio broadcast lasted for 2 hours and consisted of two very entertaining in-depth chats with performers who were often old friends of Craig. In our case an old close friend impressionist/comedian Jan Ravens and Scottish writer Iain Rankin. Ron later saw the show with guests Daniel Sloss and Tommy Tiernan and Craig had Aunty Donna on the show towards the end of the run. Its a pity there is no podcasts of these recordings and that the radio show is not broadcast outside of the Americas.
Childproof the Podcast Recording at The Bella Union Bar, Carlton. September 20-22
Episodes 1 to 6 over three nights – written by Tony Martin & Serina Rowell
Performed by Tony Martin, Geraldine Quinn, Roz Hammond, Andrew McClelland, Damian Cowell, Lachy Hulme, Djovan Caro, Simon Rogers, Casey Bennetto, Serina Rowell, Cristina Laria, Sam Petersen and Jay Mueller as the Narrator.
A brilliant sitcom in 6 episodes about a couple who chooses to be childless while they navigate the changing, diminishing, modern workplace in radio and book publishing and their changing, diminishing friendships as their friends succumb to parenthood and all that entails. The episodes are easily as entertaining & funny as other recent Australian ABC comedies, so it’s surprising that they were knocked back for Television broadcast. The talented performers were all having a ball playing the various characters and Jay Mueller made a brilliant honey tongued Narrator. This was a unique and special experience this year.
These shows were recorded for podcasting and so you can listen to them all here.
Frocking Hilarious at The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne. November 17th
Denise Scott, Cal Wilson, Fiona O’Loughlin, Anne Edmonds, Celia Pacquoa, Demi Ladner, Tessa Waters, Laura Davis, Kelly Fastuca, Geraldine Quinn, Double Denim.
A fundraiser for Action Aid curated by the inimitable comedy goddess Janet A Mcleod. All of the performers brought their A Game and there was not a weak spot on the night. It really felt like a Comedy Gala and we were all pretty privileged to be there laughing our arses off. Great to have a majority of women in the audience too. It wasn’t just some of the best Australian women in comedy it was some of the best Australian comedy on stage.
Yada Yada Yada is a hilarious nostalgic walk down memory lane of 90s sitcoms. Fran Fine and her grandma Yetta from The Nanny are hosting a TV variety show and for anyone who loved watching comedies in the 90s this show ‘s da bomb!
Green Room Award winning Jude Perl is a tremendous cabaret talent who mentioned in her show Complete Breakfast what a massive fan of Yetta from the 90s sitcom The Nanny she is. In Yada Yada Yada she gets to play tribute by dressing up and singing as her. Jude has written all the clever, hilarious songs that they sing. Playing Fran Fine is Lauren Edwards who comes from a background of musical theatre and is a super talented singer and charismatic performer. They make for a delightfully endearing duo who banter and play off each other well, as well as blending their singing voices beautifully.
Yada Yada Yada is a show within a show. Jude and Lauren have cleverly organised the production like a TV recording where they drop character during the ad breaks but instead of becoming Fran Drescher or Anne Guilbert they become Jude and Lauren, directly addressing the audience and each other in their own voices. The show within the show is broken up into nostalgic songs, chat and games with some audience participation. All of it works beautifully and the audience are keen to join in on the fun. It’s not often I advocate for more audience participation, but letting the audience shout out the ends of catchphrases and encouraging more singalongs would probably be enthusiastically appreciated.
This was a one off performance at Melbourne Fringe, sadly, but clearly has legs and I’m sure would gain many fans if repeated in the future.
Yada Yada Yada: A 90s Sitcom Special was on at Lithuanian Club – Main Theatre
Wanda and Mel is a backstage musical of sorts, a Mother/Daughter cabaret act doing a tour of regional towns of Victoria with some drama and a lot of laughs. A generation gap story about a new generation.
Amanda Buckley has been performing around Melbourne’s comedy and improv scene for a long while and is well cast as the stage mother, Wanda. She not the usual stage mother monster as portrayed in Gypsy but more sympathetic as a well-meaning woman who has had her own burgeoning career thwarted by circumstances and now in middle age is giving it another go with her talented daughter along as a side kick. Wanda is so full of energy and positivity that it makes the audience laugh and is fairly infectious. But we can also see that it could be exhausting and embarrassing for a teen.
The incredibly talented but properly socially awkward Mel is played beautifully by Kaliya Arumugam. Her job is to embody the laconic, millennial, phone obsessed teen offstage while singing and dancing her butt off onstage. Mel probably looked up to and adored her mum as a kid, wanting to be like her but now in her teens is sick of wandering with her mum and trying to discover herself and what she wants to do with her own future.
The songs are all famous tunes with new, comedic lyrics written all about current hot topics like climate change, marriage equality and Misogyny. It’s a pity that the music isn’t all fresh and original, but this is just the sort of thing that might be performed in regional schools by a cabaret/musical comedy act. They are all very funny (and not in an ironic way) and the choreography is particularly impressive and well executed. Some of the songs less so, particularly when they require the lower register which neither performer was able to master, maybe a musical retooling of these bits or even taking out one of the songs may have helped (one particular deep one didn’t seem important to the show). There were some glitches on opening night but these were mostly dealt with beautifully with much humour and Amanda’s impro experience coming to the fore turned them into show highlights.
Wanda and Mel is well acted and well danced with a lot of enthusiasm and packs in some timely political messages in an easily digestible way. This is a fairly sweet and funny bit of musical theatre you can bring the whole family to. I could see this actually going over well in regional towns. It’s a bit daggy and old fashioned, but like Wanda herself it is also well meaning, positive and joyous.
Wanda and Mel is on at The Butterfly Club until October 1
Even though everything was clearly laid out in the blurb, I was not prepared for (A Smidge of) Pidge. Walking out of the venue, I was still trying to process what I had just seen and determine whether it was comedy or performance art. This self-described black comedy certainly provoked discomfort and thought but unfortunately failed to make light of the topic despite all the absurdity it presented.
The subject of existential dread made for some heavy going, even when the performer was standing in front of us dressed as a pigeon. Vignettes apparently depicting the five stages of an existential crisis seemed to be strange for strangeness’ sake. Confusion may be part of a crisis but it didn’t always add to our enjoyment. Sequences describing art theory may have tickled the fancy of the odd art critic but a general audience may have found it impenetrable.
Sherilee Kahui tried to sell the material to us but still a chasm remained between artist and audience. Monologues about how shitty humans can be were delivered in an ironically cheery manner but this was not enough to keep the audience from only seeing a cry for help. She managed to get some brief laughs while addressing us like a Playschool presenter but generally the crowd were more shocked than amused. Likewise skulling several glasses of wine may have raised a cheer from a rowdy mob but in a theatre setting it looked depressing and sad. Even nervous titters were a rare occurrence.
This performance wasn’t completely devoid of laughs. She had some wonderful comedic premises such as purchasing a Five Year Plan to get others off your back and the venue staff struggling to keep the Pigeon focussed on the show. These managed to get good laughs even though they tended to fizzle out.
The clowning sequences involving the Pigeon character were delightful in the way Kahui interacted with the space and the audience. Her wordless performance was enthralling, a little confusing at times and regularly amusing. This unpredictable creature was a wacky loose cannon and clearly triumphed over her human counterpart. The chance for each punter to coo or squawk like a pigeon was empowering and heaps of fun
(A Smidge of) Pidge was such an ambitious show and that is clearly what the Fringe is all about. It’s certainly an event worth experiencing but if you are just looking for laughs, this won’t give your funny bone the tickle it needs.
(A Smidge of) Pidge is on at Arts House – Parlour Room until September 30