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

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

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


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

Annie Louey: Before I Forget

By Lisa Clark

Annie Louey is annoyed at her forgetful nature, not worried enough to seek medical help but intrigued enough to create a festival show exploring memory and forgetfulness.

There’s not a lot of scientific research behind Before I Forget. Louey’s research tends to be of the Family Feud kind – asking friends and audiences about their experiences and that means; yes, us. About 10 minutes into the show Annie drags some audience members on stage and gets them to draw things from memory. I thought, gosh this is a bit early, we haven’t even really gotten to know Annie very well enough to know whether she’s trustworthy! It’s a bit of a risk on both sides, but it turns out that the vast majority of the show revolves around some genial audience participation and luckily Annie is friendly and kind to participants. She is not highly skilled at the witty banter, and doesn’t have a lot of prepared jokes, so it’s just friendly chit chat. I always think in audience participation heavy festival shows: ‘what will the performer do on the quiet night when there are only 4 people in the audience? They will have a lot of work to do!’ Hopefully Annie won’t have to find this out.

The games include; an Australian icon Pictionary (that includes drawing Annie, which doesn’t require memory because she’s right there on stage), Lost at Bingo (that strays from the memory loss theme somewhat and doesn’t seem to have a reason other than listing silly places you can lose your virginity) and, inevitably, a sort of mini Family Feud that goes on a bit too long. In between she has some amusing stories to tell about herself and people she knows. Annie is an engaging, relaxed and pleasant host with a talent for putting audience members at ease.

Towards the end Annie brings out some delightful photos from her dad’s early life and here I think should have been the heart of the show. If she works more around these and puts more into her show about the worth and beauty of memories and how we keep and store our memories and how this has changed recently, it may become a stronger show. She touches on these ideas, but I think there is a lot more humour and depth to be mined here.

It is a small space, so chances are you will be part of the show. If that’s not your bag, sit in an inaccessible spot up the back and near the wall. Before I Forget is not slick, deep or side splitting, but it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour with some nice laughs along the way.

Before I Forget is on at Lithuanian Club – Son of Loft & Arts House – Warehouse until September 29

Stark and Dormy by Bunk Puppets

By Hooi Khaw 

Stark and Dormy is a cleverly produced performance piece that is a testament to the creativity and innovation of the Bunk Puppets team. It is impressive to see the result of all the creative problem solving that must have gone into bringing this story to the stage, and to the screen. The logistics of this required the integration of shadow puppetry on two separate screens, and live action story telling from actors in the theatre.

Although, for this particular show there seemed to be a disconnect between the performers (Jeff Achtem & James Pratt) and the audience in the initial stages of the show. There were jokes that were objectively well constructed, which fell flat with the audience. This may have been caused by the disruptive nature of switching between the mediums, or the introduction of the piece, which left the audience to infer the who, what, and where from context clues that were dropped over the next few scenes.

However, once the set up was clear and the story had built up momentum, the audience was won over with some creative action scenes and comedic character work. The comedy in this show also came from the absurd storyline, and the props and techniques that were used to create the projections on the screen.

As a comedic piece, they had to work for the laughs, and got them when they portrayed characters and situations in a way that rang true with the audience, or when they devised particularly clever ways to tell the story. As a technical piece, this was a masterful display of creative shadow puppetry, and credit should be given to the creators and performers for pulling this off.

Stark and Dormy is on at The Fringe Hub: Arts House – Studio 1.