Let’s Get Practical! Live

By Colin Flaherty

The latest offering by The Very Good Looking Initiative is set in the world of cheesy TV talk shows. They accurately call it experimental and subversive anti-theatre but calling it a comedy is often a stretch.

If you’ve ever been to a TV taping you will recognize all the stupid things the audience is put through by the warm up guy, applause practice, call and response, and generating excitement. We experience all this but the over use of repetition pushes these things to the point of exhaustion.

Once the “show” starts proper, our host Elliott Gee, all fake tan and Gold Coast haircut, gives us an extended opening monologue full of lame jokes. A particular highlight is his troop of dancers who regularly bump and grind with huge smiles and a limited repertoire of moves.

It’s inevitable that in a show set at a TV taping the production itself or the host will experience a meltdown and boy this is a doozy. Things devolve into a terrifying Lynchian carnival of grotesque characters and bizarre situations that uses a harsh soundtrack of electronic noise and nightmarish lighting. We hear the disturbing inner thoughts of our host and see segments of a TV show direct from hell. Those that worship at the altar of Tim and Eric may get some perverse laughs but everyone else will generally see these scenes as disturbing or sad.

Let’s Get Practical! – Live has a similar feel to their last show Cull (Melb Fringe 2016 and MICF 2017) in that they go to really dark places in search of laughs. Like Cull, I found it a struggle to get beyond a nervous titter with most of their ideas. A handful of the segments are played broadly by all indicating that the intent is indeed humour. Even with the dark tone these are clever and playful enough to get us giggling. Other scenes however are delivered so po-faced that we experience discomfort rather than laughs.

There’s no doubt this is an impressive assault on the senses that has plenty of spook-house thrills to entertain. All the performances are top notch and the themes are challenging, making this a show to check out if your tastes swing towards the freaky. Just how many laughs you will actually get depends if you think words such as “excruciatingly wonderful” and “anxiety-inducing” are terms that promise an amusing time.

Let’s Get Practical! Live is on at the Cooper’s Malthouse – The Tower until April 22
https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/let-s-get-practical-live

Natalie Palamides – Laid

By Elyce Phillips 

A woman lays an eggs every morning and must make an important decision – will she eat the egg to sustain herself or will she raise it as her child? This terrible dilemma lies at the centre of Natalie Palamides’ Laid, a dark and absurd tale that will have you laughing and cringing in equal measure.

Laid takes a big issue that many women face – whether or not they should become a mother – and playfully dissects it through some delightfully messy clowning. It’s hilariously silly and completely chaotic, but running underneath it all are fascinating questions about motherhood. How do you know when you are ready? What if that time never comes? How much of your own life are you willing to sacrifice? Despite these potentially heavy themes, the pace of Laid never lets up, and the absurdity of Palamides’ clowning is always at the forefront.

The structure of Laid is simple yet extremely effective. Each time the show resets for another birth, the tension builds and the audience becomes ever more invested in the fate of the small, fragile egg baby. The pattern becomes familiar and you know what’s coming, but you can’t help but feel a glimmer of hope for each new bub.

Palamides is an incredibly engaging performer. From the moment you enter the venue, your eyes are drawn to her huddling in the corner in her large, plush egg costume, and she holds your attention unrelentingly. Her experience in voice acting is used to great effect, adding a whole other dimension of character to the eggs.

The direction of Dr Brown is clear in Laid. Much of the success of the show is reliant on audience participation. Palamides shows great skill in drawing the best out of the audience, and quickly adapted to whatever was thrown her way. The atmosphere she creates in Laid is phenomenal, making the audience feel connected to both her performance and to the other audience members in the room.

Laid is truly one of the best shows you can catch at MICF this year. Palamides is a masterful comedian, who can take you to some dark, weird places while keeping you laughing all the while. It’s a show that will linger in your mind for weeks, much like the scent of eggs that now lingers in the Rehearsal Room.

*Note – actual eggs are used in the performance and it’s advised you don’t attend if you are allergic.

Natalie Palamides – Laid is on at the Arts Centre Playhouse Rehearsal Room until April 15

https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/natalie-palamides

 

Celia Pacquola – All Talk

By Lisa Clark

Celia Pacquola jumps straight into her show, absolutely no faffing about. No ‘How are you all tonight?’ or any such guff. Celia’s had a busy year and there is a lot to unpack, she has no time for padding.

She does begin by sympathising with the audience about how hard it is to drag yourself off the couch to go out. Celia’s been out and about a lot, apart from stand up, she’s been making TV (Utopia, Rosehaven, A Beautiful Lie etc) and winning awards etc. The first section of the show is just the jokes about her busy life that many people would envy, but by the end a lot of this  can be seen by the audience in a different light.

Her show is called All Talk and that’s what it is; pure unadulterated stand up. No set, no audio visual support, costumes, wigs, big props or audience participation. There is always her relationship with the audience that she muses about and I like that she doesn’t need to pick out a single person to  make a connection. We are here and onside, some of us have been following her career from before her 1st Festival show. She recognizes she also has a new audience who’ve come to see “that nice girl on that sweet Tasmanian TV show” (Rosehaven). And she is and always will be.

Celia worries about taking us into some surprising and controversial places but she isn’t apologetic about it; ‘This is the show this year’. She’s earned the right to gently take us into some darker territory, she has always done this so well. It’s not the 1st time I’ve found myself shedding a tear in a Celia Pacquola festival show, though it may be just me this time. It’s not really a sad show at all, often hilarious, but so personal. I was just briefly moved by her bravery, whereas her first ever show Am I Strange? (Critics Award MICF 2009) had me weeping for days. There was a sense of #MeToo about Am I Strange?, even way back then. It was about shockingly shitty boyfriend behaviour and I really related to it at the time. This show visits the #MeToo movement briefly but is more importantly about maintaining your mental health in stressful times.

Behind the constant laughs, Celia has constructed a subtly intricate stand up show with witty one liners and sharp observations as well as layers of stories and call backs. It’s about growing up and the importance of taking care of herself while giving her audience the best performances she can muster. All Talk is a stunning, ultimately joyful, autobiographical festival show, we can only hope that her screen success doesn’t stop her from creating more of these and (maybe after a bit of a well-earned holiday), that she’ll soon be back catching up with her mates, er, audience.

All Talk is on at The Comedy Theatre until April 17
https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/celia-pacquola-all-talk

Greg Fleet & Sam Petersen – Rusty Fragment Live

By Colin Flaherty

Sam Peterson and Greg Fleet, co-hosts of the Rusty Fragment podcast and other Rusty endeavours, bring us Rusty Fragment Live – the sketch show. Hung upon a framework of the duo discussing and devising the show itself, it is a ramshackle production in both storyline and execution. Even the minimal props and costuming planned for the sketches are lucky to reach the stage most nights.

The looseness of the show does have a certain charm, their enthusiasm is infectious and the goodwill of the audience lets them get away with quite a bit. Bringing attention to the show’s shortcomings is cute at first but tends to get tiresome, regardless of the many witty comments they pile on top.

Peterson’s role is primarily to play straight man to Fleet and to try and rein him in when wandering off script and boy does Sam have his work cut out for him! Fleety easily loses his place in a sketch and improvises to cover but the momentum of the scene grinds to a halt. With a few self-deprecating comments about the progress of the show, they manage to get back on track and limp towards the punchline…And Scene.

There are some genuinely funny sketches but these ideas are constantly in danger of being stomped on by their very sloppy delivery. Most of the scenes have a comically aggressive tone while others are whimsically daft. Long time Fleet fans get to see a classic monologue which tickles the funny bone and he goes off on some flights of fancy just like the old days that range from absurdly hilarious to silly filler.

This is certainly not the most polished show of the festival. You’ll find plenty of laughs if watching two mates dick about on stage is your thing, if not you’ll be frustrated.

Rusty Fragment Live is on at FAD Gallery until April 21
https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/rusty-fragment-live

Cam Venn – Charles Horse Lays an Egg

By Colin Flaherty

Wow! What a glorious mess of a show. Charles Horse Lays An Egg initially has the veneer of a Gaulier-styled clowning show but while it follows some of the tropes, this is a chaotic experience performed by a professional fool with none of the polish and all of the chutzpah.

The latest show from Cam Venn does exactly what it threatens to in its title and blurb but this wafer thin story is not the main attraction. He has a number of gross-out set pieces to titillate the crowd but seeing Venn flail about the stage with a plethora of props and overly complicated costumes is what really has the audience in hysterics. Phallic imagery is a motif in this piece and Venn is constantly in various states of undress, so it’s obvious that this show is not one to bring your prudish friend along.

The stage is filled with numerous inventive props that have clearly had hours of work put into them but they are regularly used only for throwaway visual jokes. Similarly his overly elaborate costume changes are for characters with less than five seconds of stage time. Seeing him constantly struggle with his outfit for minutes at a time is regularly hilarious and when things fail it gets even funnier.

It wouldn’t be a physical comedy show without audience participation and this contains some fun but often pointless examples. Punters not only offer assistance to Venn getting in and out of his gear but assume minor and ultimately inconsequential roles in the story. They are regularly handed complicated props that Venn attempts to instruct them in its use with little to no words. Sometimes they get the gist and the sight gag works but just as often it is held by a confused person. The sing-a-longs and performing group actions are silly fun even when he is adding his own lyrics on top and you’re singing the original ones.

Ridiculous chaos is the order of the day in a Cam Venn show. If you can cope with a sweaty hairy man getting up close and personal this is a performance that will be scarred upon your brain for some time.

Charles Horse Lays an Egg is on at the Butterfly Club until April 15
https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/charles-horse

Impromptunes

By Hooi Khaw

Impromptunes is a delightful show that features a brand new improvised musical each night. The team’s musical and improvisational skills are on full display, as they navigate through the story inspired by the audience’s suggestion of a title.

On this night the suggested title is Commonwealth Games, and the team plays with themes of sacrifice, pressure, and relationships. Instead of utilising the underdog trope the focus ends up being on family relationships and acceptance, hitting the emotional beats of the show with precision. The juxtaposition between these emotional moments and the numerous comedic ones work well, and the performers alternate between the two to accommodate the story.

It is terrifying to watch them perform without the safety net of a script, or pre-written songs, but the performers make this work through unfaltering support for the other performers. They support each other’s songs by repeating lines of the chorus, harmonising, synchronising dance moves, and using more techniques recognised in traditional musicals. The effect of this is tantalising, and the audience responds well to the combination of these complementary moves.

Although the coordination is brilliant to watch, there is definitely joy in seeing when things don’t go perfectly. On the rare occasion that a line is missed or misheard by one member (and noticed by the audience), this also resulted in laughter. There is something thrilling about all the things that can go pear-shaped when improvising, and the audience delights in both the stellar successes of the performers, and well as the minor slip ups.

Overall Impromptunes is a charming show that showcases the improvisational and musical talents of the performers. Their ability to create relatable characters and catchy songs keeps the audience invested and engaged for the entire show in a way that is absolutely engrossing.

Impromptunes is on at the Trades Hall – Music Room https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/the-completely-improvised-musical