Blinded by the chance to appear on “Australia’s Got Festivals”, the community of Bess County embark on an ambitious town festival in spite of lack of funds, selfish individual motives and an AWOL Mayor. So begins the first stage effort of sketch group Bess County (Elyce Phillips, Simon Hawkings, Brendan Wan, Tino Merino and Fiannah De Rue).
This world was populated by plenty of wacky characters such as De Rue’s eccentric Lady Wellington, Hawkings’ DJ Gary Biscuit and Phillips’ heartbroken Tour Guide Martine. Most of the characters were introduced perfectly on their brilliant facebook page using cartoons, videos and interviews, however their translation to the stage was often a letdown.
The cast were clearly having a great time performing and this enthusiasm was infectious, but the delivery of the script wasn’t always as broad as it should have been which resulted in flat exchanges and lacklustre jokes. When they did manage to play it big they got some great laughs. Bigger wasn’t always better as demonstrated by Merino’s pre-recorded Mayoral Skype conversations that were rambling, very messy and added little to the story. These were entertaining characters to spend time with but unfortunately the laughs weren’t consistant.
There were some great ideas in this play (their take on a beauty pageant was especially inspired) but were often not pushed far enough. The audience raffle was a cute idea to enhance the country town feel of the piece but the lack of sizzle and not actually showing the lame prizes within gave us an odd scene that went nowhere except for one audience member getting a showbag.
The logic of this world was a little confusing at times. The townsfolk’s interactions with the Mayor and TV types saw them as ineffective country bumpkins but within the town community, each had their own sophisticated agenda which suggested more. The stakes of holding a successful festival beyond the TV angle weren’t clearly shown and most of the slight comical conflicts were exchanges between people who were off in their own little worlds, so it felt as if not much actually happened in some scenes.
One of my pet peeves is long periods of dark stage between scenes and unfortunately this show had this in droves. A bit of background music and a couple of videos helped pass the time but it was still annoying.
This was a valiant first effort at Fringe that that was fun but didn’t quite nail it.
The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival is on at Club Voltaire from September 15 to 23