The Yonder

By Colin Flaherty
Normal Children

Upon entry, we were welcomed on board the space ship Yonder by the crew. Bound for an unspecified planet to escape a dying Earth, we were in the “capable” hands of Captain Davie (Elizabeth Davie), First Officer Doruk (Ezel Doruk) and Engineer Lim (Shannan Lim). From the first cabin announcement, we knew that we were in for a crazy voyage – that being a space drama of romance, action, treachery and ravenous space squids.

Serious themes such as environmental catastrophe and immigration got glancing mentions in the voice over and plot but the main attraction was the absurd hijinks of the crew, their fight against a common foe and each other. At times it felt as if they were heading into deliberate parody of certain recognisable Sci-Fi scenes but this mash up of many tropes kept us on our toes. They even crammed in some clever jokes about the airline industry and gender roles.

A deliberately lo-fi production, there were plenty of ingenious solutions to portray this tale with as much detail as possible. Adding extra characters to this three hander involved dashing between positions and concealing costumes which added to the insanity. The cast bounced off each other seamlessly and gave knowing glances to the audience when props and gestures were particularly silly. The crowd were more than happy to suspend their disbelief and played their part as passengers when required.

This trio showed off their considerable clowning skills with budget action sequences that rivalled those of early Star Trek and Doctor Who. Tossing themselves about the stage and miming their way through scenes, this was played as broadly as possibly for maximum laughs. The pace wasn’t as swift as you would expect for such an action packed story. Strange distractions and mundane interactions between the crew were taking place while more pressing plot points were at hand. Fortunately these were hilarious by being totally off the wall or served to contrast the ridiculousness of the situations with the matter of fact crew responses.

The Yonder was a wonderfully silly space romp that was immense fun.

The Yonder is on at Lithuanian Club – The Loft until September 30

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-yonder/

Ben Volchok Presents…

By Lisa Clark

Ben Volchok Presents

Ben Volchok has been around the comedy traps for a few years now, doing his own style of fairly intellectual stand up using silly, spurious concepts and mind tickling word play. His last two solo shows have shown how creative he can be with his material. Now he has focused his skills into a format that suits them beautifully, radio plays.

I’ve been to a few live radio plays over the years, but not one performed by a solo comedian before. Ben does a multitude of silly character voices brilliantly, male and female and is able to create elaborate tales that keep the audience engaged and laughing throughout. He even inserts the sound effects, with the brilliantly simple aide of a laptop beside him. The tech goes near perfectly (he does also have some tech help on hand) but if it didn’t it wouldn’t matter because the show is written so well that it would work just as well, though the sound effects do add panache and the odd laugh.

Ben performs two different radio plays and he has arranged them cleverly, with the more densely worded and complex Mysteries of an Uncanny Nature being performed first when audience concentration is at its peak. The episode was called The Case of the Satanists and the Disappearing Buttocks featuring supernatural detective and spoonerist Errol Street on the tail of a missing girl. Bodies pile up, twists pop up and Satan turns up. The similarities to The Goon Show are noticeable here. I loved The Goon Show in my teens but gosh this reminded me how much you had to concentrate to keep up with what was going on! It can be difficult to laugh because you might miss the next joke. Ben’s jokes come at the audience as thick and fast as the murders in his story. The second radio play Pru Blue: Outback Spy Hunter is a lot less dense and thus has bigger spaces for the laughs to fall, thus it is also a bit more relaxing for the audience. This was set in late 60s/early 70s Australia at a time of Women’s Lib and the photocopier becoming widely available. Pru has to foil some nasty counterfeiters.

Ben Volchok Presents…opens with Ben being the radio DJ rocking out to some radio themed music which was a rather lovely way to welcome the audience into the space. It’s another character he has created and stays in this DJ character when not playing characters in the plays. To add some extra colour Ben does some radio adverts, including a little impro where he lets the audience pick the product and he makes up an ad for it on the spot.

Ben is a brilliant comedy writer and a truly unique comedy voice who is always entertaining. I love how he works hard to give his audience a great time and is able to calmly deal with rare mishaps and surprise us by engaging with the audience outside of the script for a laugh. Importantly, his skills improve with every festival and though for this show, Ben is inspired by his comedy heroes, as all great comedians are, Ben has his own style that is emerging beautifully. Ben Volchok Presents… is a joyful celebration of the radio play with a couple of captivating adventures that are definitely worth the journey.

Ben Volchok Presents… is on at The Butterfly Club until October 1

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/ben-volchok-presents/

High Achievers

By Colin Flaherty
High Achievers

Are you happy with your life?
Yes?
ARE YOU CRAZY? That’s no way to improve yourself and boy do you need improvement!

Professional life coach Lyn Purcell and a specially curated selection of guest speakers are here to set you on the road to success!

High Achievers presented a wide variety of stereotypes from the public speaking circuit, even though they didn’t really contribute to the topic of improving your life. We saw a naïve Canadian and her tales of human endurance, and a young rapper telling us of his life “on the streets”. An octogenarian zoologist gave us her world weary view of her life work while a retired sportsman, straight from footy pie nights, fumbled through some crude stories with the grace of a rampaging elephant. Each character came dangerously close to being one joke entities but some subtle quirks gave them enough colour to justify their time on stage and keep the humour varied.

As in other parodies of Self Help seminars, we got to see the gradual breakdown of Lyn as she struggled to apply her teachings to her private life. Interestingly, this lead to a more realistic outcome for our protagonist rather than just seeing her continue on with ever increasing arrogance and uber confidence. This usually superficial figure was given plenty of depth. Most of the laughter was nervous titters by this stage so it was strange ending on such a dour note.

Chelsea Zeller showed off her amazing character skills in bringing these often grotesque creatures to life. Using slight changes in wardrobe and exaggerated accents, she transforms into the next with ease. Interactions with the audience were handled nicely with each role taking a different tack, all the while keeping things non-confrontational and fun. This gave the audience room to breathe from the constant high energy pep rally we were expecting. She gave all characters plenty of lightness and dark so we could easily empathise as we laughed at their clueless shenanigans.

High Achievers was a tour de force for Zeller. This solid script by Michael Syme & Tim Smith was meaty enough to flex her comedic muscles as she threw in a little impro for good measure. Bravo Ms Zeller!

High Achievers is on at Errol’s & Co until September 26

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/high-achievers/

Super Woman Money Program by Elizabeth Davie

By Lisa ClarkElizabeth Davie

At first glance in the Fringe Guide this show might look like another business seminar spoof but that is only a small part of a stunning, beautifully structured show about the inequalities of wealth between women and men from the general experience, gradually working its way deep down to the very personal.

It is always a joy to discover a new talented comic performer, but Elizabeth Davie is something else, she has definite star power. Smart, brilliant at both physical comedy and stand up, good character work and not a bad puppeteer. She has created a beautifully arrogant spokesperson for the Super Woman Money Program – which is a real actual thing. I received the email with lame saving tips from my Superannuation fund and when I got to the tip ‘Avoid Divorce’, I thought WTF is this crap?? So did Elizabeth obviously and turned it into a smashing Festival show. I found it not only hilarious fun but quite brave of Elizabeth to name her show after the thing she is lampooning.

Elizabeth’s Super Woman Money Program is beautifully formed from four major interwoven strands that have come from her real life experience. There is her spokeswoman representing the programs for women run by Superannuation companies, her personal stand up comedy about the insecure life of a struggling artist with a HUGE education debt (many in the audience could relate to this!), the adorable and simple puppetry that was the voice of her email inbox and finally a story. Another huge inspiration for this show was Jane Gilmore’s The Cost of Womanhood and Elizabeth makes a rather brave decision to stop the momentum of the hilarious show to read the entire story. There are no laughs here, the audience is silenced as it goes on the journey with Elizabeth.

Another brave decision is to open and close the show by singing (badly) along with Shirley Bassey. We finally discover a shortfall in Elizabeth’s broad talent. But somehow, here the lack of singing ability is not a big problem, it works because it is more like primal screaming; opening the show as an ironic cry of help from a poor player on the stage from a high status character (Hey Big Spender) and the closing song (This is My Life) as a howl of defiance and pride from herself on behalf of us all.

Sadly this fantastically joyful feminist comedy show had a very short run at Melbourne Fringe, particularly as so much work has obviously gone into it. This was everything a great Fringe show should be, a brilliant performer with bags of potential, a show that is wildly entertaining and hilariously funny using different forms of performance, with political nuance that lives with the audience long after the show has ended.

Super Woman Money Program was on at Lithuanian Club – Son of Loft

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/super-woman-money-program/

Alderstead Heath

By Colin Flaherty
Alderstead Heath

The festival blurb and a recent video on Facebook indicate that Alex Chilton had quite ambitious plans for Alderstead Heath. Ultimately, he ditched all the technological elements of the show that proved too unfeasible and was left with a low key storytelling show. Just a bloke, sitting on a stool, with a microphone, telling us tales from his life.

Using the family caravan of his childhood as a launching point, he mused on memory, homesickness, identity and relationships. The regular car trips from the back seat, falling in love and making it work long distance, moving to the other side of the world and even a complicated relationship with a cat were analysed with the skill of an anthropologist. He included descriptions of things that occupied his young attention and cleverly applied adult logic to find some humour in them. While occasionally getting a little too bogged down in detail, his painting of vivid pictures with words alone enthralled the audience.

This show was very gentle in how it presented itself. For the most part he gave the performance a slightly whimsical air that had all smiling rather than in fits of hysterical laughter. He did manage to include a number of amusing observations and remarks that tickled the fancy with their relatability but they were a little thin on the ground. His observations about life were fascinating but for a comedy show I would have expected more actual jokes within the stories.

Also disappointing was the abrupt way in which he ended it. He suddenly became aware of the time, excused it as being a work in progress and bid us farewell. There was no wrap up or grand message/revelation to speak of. We were cast into the night from this warm envelope of words. While it lasted, this was a nice and cosy way to start a night at the Fringe Festival.

Alderstead Heath is on at The Courthouse Hotel – The Dock until September 24

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/alderstead-heath/

5 Good Reasons to see FRANKIE&SAL in Making It Rain

1. We have stonefish

2. We pronounce Ibiza correctly

3. We’ll kill you if you don’t

4. Sal says we can’t say we’ll kill you but we can say its a really fun show and you’ll enjoy it if you’re there so everyone should come

5. Sal is the fun police but she does have lollies… so there’s that

Making It Rain is on at Errol’s & Co from September 28 to October 1

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/frankiesal-in-making-it-rain/