By Peter Newling
Tom made his MICF debut earlier this year with his well-regarded show Blind Man’s Bluff. As Squirrel writer Lisa Clark said at the time: “It’s really late, after you’ve spent an hour laughing with this joyful, adorable comedian and you leave and think about it, that you realise how seriously dark the undercurrent of this show is. Tom Skelton is telling the story of how he was diagnosed with a disease that took most of his eyesight at a very young age.”
His offering for the Melbourne Fringe Festival sees him move from telling his own real life story, to a more fictitious account of a blind British spy (that just happens to look and sound a lot like Tom) sent to Berlin to gather post-Brexit secrets from the newly created United States of Europe. Along the way, we meet a host of colourful (or shady) characters – some voiced by Skelton, some portrayed by unsuspecting audience members – as he tries to uncover secrets and potential double agents.
It’s a strange structure for a show – a curious mash-up of stand-up, voice recordings, audience engagement, improvisation and narrated story-telling. Fortunately, Skelton is well adept at each of these skills. A seasoned improviser, he is a founding member of several impro troupes in the UK, and has performed with some of Melbourne’s better impro companies. He is certainly very good with accents.
Despite a slowish start, the piece gathers momentum over the course of the hour – and Skelton seems to relax more into the mayhem as the audience gets more and more involved. The plot line is delightfully convoluted, but put across with maximum sincerity. Having performed this piece in Edinburgh and various other festivals, this is a well honed and confident piece of work.
If your Fringe show checklist contains the words fun, inventive, original, multi-disciplinary and currywurst, this could be just your thing.
Blind Eye Spy is playing in the Small Room at Coopers Inn until September 27.
1. BREXIT: Want to see how Britain and Europe will fare in 2023 after Boris’ Big Brexit?
2. BLINDNESS: I’m blind but I also want to be a spy. Come and see my dream come true!
3. BERLIN: Berlin, oh Berlin. Meine Lieblingsstadt (apart from Melbourne obviously, Berlin’s southern twin!). See me munch Currywurst, drink Rauchbier, and speak ‘ein Bisschen Deutsch’ in this ode to my ancestry and this most brilliant city. Visit Europe from the comfort of the Cooper’s Inn!
4. BELLY LAUGHS: You’ll certainly have these (I have decided to make all of these begin with B so must plough on).
5. BEER. The Germans love beer. Even more than the British.I hear the Aussies love it too. That’s got me covered from all angles! So beer features in the show. I drink it on stage and you can drink it in the audience. So join me for a beer before, during or after the show. Prost!
Tom Skelton performs Blind Eye Spy at The Coopers Inn until Sept 27
By Lisa Clark
It’s really later, after you’ve spent an hour laughing with this joyful, adorable comedian and you leave and think about it, that you realise how seriously dark the undercurrent of this show is. Tom Skelton is telling the story of how he was diagnosed with a disease that took most of his eyesight at a very young age.
Tom is perky and playful, more of a whacky character performer than a stand-up comedian, though he is an entertaining story teller and he has some interesting stories to tell. We learn a lot about some Inspiring VIPs (Visually Impaired People) from history and legend, such as a 12th Century King of Hungary, Bella the Blind and learn how Sampson was blinded. He also sings a song about Louis Brailles over the top of a song by Jacques Brel. The coat rack on stage holds a lot of colourful costumes for his characters and it’s hard to tell if Tom is playing up his difficulty in donning costumes or having genuine issues, but he encourages the audience to laugh at his entanglements. He’s a comedian, he’s happy to get the laughs wherever he can and wants to make sure we don’t feel guilty or the need to be polite.
When he’s not doing his solo shows Tom works with the improvising group Racing Minds, so it’s not so surprising that it’s a bit loose and there is quite a bit of audience participation. The two chairs on stage are a hint. He begins by casting the entire audience as medical students learning about his condition. Quite a few people are dragged up on stage throughout the show. It’s not always easy, but how could anyone turn down his blind puppy dog eyes?
Blind Man’s Bluff has many puns and groaners and feels just a bit too loose at times. The sound was often too loud, which may be a bonus for the hearing impaired, or possibly a glitch on the night I saw it. He did describe a lot of his actions and surprising amount of visual comedy which was handy for visually impaired comedy goers and he often made these amusing and occasionally obviously ironic.
Tom is not slick, but he is full of energy and enthusiasm, he works hard to give his audience a delightful time while also giving us an insight into his personal experience without getting too melancholy. Check him out while he’s still in the country.
Tom Skelton Blind Man’s Bluff is on at Imperial Hotel