My overarching response to this show is that it is scheduled at the wrong time of day. I’m unsure if this is a wilful choice or a logistical challenge, but Toast Rat would benefit from a later slot, some more alcohol and energy in the audience. 4:15 is a show time I can get behind, but maybe not ideal for Claire Sullivan’s mad-cap, erratic selection of ideas, gags and character comedy.
The performance feels like a lucky-dip selection of characters, thoughts, stories and gags that Sullivan has experienced or thought up over the past year (or two). They range from joyously silly character pieces about a middle-aged yummy mummy trying to charm a police officer to detailed descriptions of a threesome and a scattering of Claire dealing with the death of her father. The range of emotions was enormous and it’s incredibly brave of Claire to include her father’s passing amongst the silliness as it is a visibly raw topic for her. Her stories of back-pack steak boy and living in a shed are wonderful and the “angler fish” line about her friend’s butt-hole will stick with me for a long time.
The pleasure in this type of show for an audience member is that if the current segment isn’t landing for you, the next one might and there is bound to be something in this show to make anyone laugh at least a few times. The less positive is that none of the ideas gets enough airtime, the titular Toast Rat appears a few times throughout the show, and is funny, but doesn’t add anything to the structure and doesn’t really develop from the first appearance. It almost felt like Claire was holding some of the chaos, energy and madness back… the joy of running screaming “I want my toast” into the audience is making people a bit uncomfortable, when toast rat reappeared, I was expecting and hoping the boundaries to be pushed further, to watch audience members squirm and hope that they aren’t going to have to get involved. This may again be a result or a reflection of the early timeslot. I can’t help but feel this show would play out differently at 10:30pm.
Overall Toast Rat is an enjoyable hour, it’s very fringe-y, very Comedy Festival-y. I would hesitate to recommend it to people who like their comedy to be a person telling jokes for 50 minutes, but if you’re game for a bit of a random wild ride, it is a fun one. The self-comparisons to The Mighty Boosh and Fleabag are fair, but there is a lot of polish and refinement needed to come close to either. One or two fewer ideas would give the rest of them space to breathe.
It’s not long now until the world’s largest fringe arts festival begins in warmer climes and again a massive contingent of Australians and expats are headed to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Many have traveled the Australian festival circuit and have been whipped into shape for international audiences. Some have been previously reviewed by Squirrel but remember they will have been further polished and may have been revised and reworked.
Last year Australian, Hannah Gadsby won Best Comedy at the Fringe, she’s had to cancel her Edinburgh Fringe run this year but there’s a lot more amazing comedy talent coming up from down under. If you are travelling anywhere near Edinburgh this August, have a look at the following list of shows and consider going to see an Australian act.
Claire Sullivan loves dogs, and who doesn’t? They’re pure of heart, full of energy and easy to adore. In I Wish I Owned A Hotel For Dogs, Sullivan has created a show that embodies all of these qualities. It’s weird and fast-paced and heartfelt and you won’t see anything else like it this festival.
I Wish I Owned A Hotel For Dogs contains elements of so many things – storytelling, poetry, good exercise regimes, Crufts – and pounces between them at the pace of an overexcited pupper. You’re never in one section for long and nothing outstays its welcome.
From the moment you enter the venue, Sullivan draws you in with the weird physicality of her “pre-show” stretches. Her use of Belleview’s unconventional space is wonderful, helping to differentiate between different sections of the show. Sullivan’s clowning background with PO PO MO CO really shines through when she’s interacting with the audience. All the moments of participation are welcoming and serve to bring the audience together.
The tone of the show is hectic and messy and over-the-top, yet every individual piece feels like a perfectly crafted chunk of ridiculousness. Sullivan’s comedic style is absurd, feminist and incredibly positive. Buried within the glitter and fur are deeper thoughts about what it means to navigate the world as a female – small bursts of truth before you’re whisked away, back to the realm of the bizarre.
Sullivan attacks this show with such frenetic energy, you walk out absolutely buzzing, like you’ve had maybe one more coffee than is advisable. I Wish I Owned A Hotel For Dogs is unabashedly silly and a must-see for lovers of dogs and nonsense. It’s the perfect way to kick off a night of festival going.
By Elyce Phillips
In the process of creating a show for the Melbourne Fringe, comedians no doubt reject a lot of their ideas before they land on the perfect thing to develop – ideas that are too weird or ambitious to take to the stage. The Impossible Showcase is a place where comedians can bring those ideas to life. Each night sees a different line-up performing new material that may never be seen again. A lot of risks are taken, and it results in some of the funniest acts in the festival.
The Three Toms (Tom Lang and Tom McClean) were wonderful hosts, setting the tone with a lo-fi Twilight Zone-esque introduction. On the night I attended, the line-up was strange and spectacular. Claire Sullivan took the audience into space, with the assistance of a grocery bag full of props. Her performance was gloriously chaotic, ending a little prematurely after she dropped the mic cord in a pool of water she had previously dribbled on the stage.
The Bryn Adams Duo (Angus Hodge, Demi Lardner and Kel Balnaves) attacked the stage with the kind of aggressive absurdity you would find in an Eric Andre sketch. Communicating in pained moans, grunts, hip thrusts and the occasional word, the group presented an abridged history of man. It was a performance that was surprising, gruesome, disturbing and hilarious. I was doubled over and in tears by the end of their set.
They were followed by James McCann, writer of ‘Wolf Creek: the Musical’, who read a series of letters written by a ghost who had possessed him, entitled ‘Open Letters to Scum’. McCann did a great job of capturing the voice of an offensive elderly man, ranting at reptiles, women with short haircuts and various ethnic groups.
Mr Alexander was one of the riskier acts of the night. Comedic cold reading is a strong concept, but as the performer noted several times, it does involve talking about the dead loved ones of the audience – a fairly precarious place to find laughs. Alexander did this to varying degrees of success, but his lack of confidence in the character and the reluctance of the audience to participate led to some awkwardness.
The evening ended with Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall taking the audience through some guided meditation. In almost total darkness, Tremblay-Birchall calmly asked us to consider our toes and ponder the contents of our stomach. It was silly, slightly unsettling, and a perfect way to end the showcase.
The comedy in The Impossible Showcase is divisive. While I thought the Bryn Adams Duo was the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, there were others in the audience who weren’t into it. This isn’t a crowd-pleasing show. But that’s the brilliant thing about it. The Impossible Showcase gives new and exciting ideas a chance. Some acts might not work, but some might be genius. If you’re feeling brave and want to see something unique, you really should give it a chance.
The Impossible Showcase is on in The Portland Room at The Portland Hotel until October 5.
By Colin Flaherty
Two relative newcomers to the Melbourne stand up scene, Claire Sullivan and Lauren Bok have joined forces for their debut festival show. The result is a wild hour of stand up and general mucking around.
Of the two, Bok is the most conventional stand up the two; regaling us with routines about working in retail and her unusual surname. It is solid material with a plenty of verbal imagery to bring her jokes to life.
Sullivan is the veritable loose cannon with plenty of random thoughts and surrealism while frequently interacting with audience members with silly acts or questions. Her on-stage persona is a ditzy bundle of hyperactivity which was a joy to watch.
At various intervals throughout each stand up set, the performer not currently on stage comments from the other side of the room (usually about how the show was going) or instigates a random segment of craziness (a particular highlight was the literal enactment of a pop song). Afterwards, the stand up set continues as normal; an interesting format choice that keeps the audience on their toes.
The show gets very self-referential at times (much to the delight of the comedian heavy audience I was in). Comedy savy punters don’t mind having the veil lifted occasionally but it is often pushed to breaking point. They manage to get away with it by being highly engaging and coating everything in a liberal layer of wackiness.
The girls remind me of that other Melbourne duo Dingo and Wolf without the comical aggressiveness. Sullivan assumes the role of the silly one but doesn’t suffer the humorous torment from the more serious Bok as you would normally expect from the classical comedic duo. I sensed that the interaction between the two had been tacked on to their individual stand up sets later in the development process. Even so, these exchanges are rewarding in the way they revel in a pure silliness and the audience can’t help but get swept up in it. It’s a great first outing for a couple of ladies to keep an eye on.