Neal Portenza – Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy

By Will Erskine

Neal Portenza – the principal character of comedic mastermind and all round good guy Josh Ladgrove is hanging up his red beret at the end of the festival. Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy acts as a swan song and final chapter of a masterpiece of creativity and mainstay of the Comedy Festival for at least the last 5 years. This show is not a comedy show, it is brilliantly funny, but Neal Portenza has given up comedy in favour of magic, and he’s taken to it rather well.

Portenza was never one for straight stand-up and his shows have always been a wonderful mix of sketch, clowning and audience participation, in recent years magic has also been added to the arsenal of the multi-talented performer. Gone also are the trademark hospital scrubs, replaced with a pressed white suit, giving Neal a more elegant air. This show largely dismisses with sketch, clowning and while there is still audience participation it is much gentler than previous shows. All replaced with some genuinely enthralling magic and a somewhat depressing subtext of falling out of love with a dream.

Halfway through the show Neal Portenza removes his beret to reveal Josh, the former robotics engineer behind the creation. Josh explains the reasons for this being his last show as Portenza, how the love isn’t there anymore and emphasising the difficulty of making a viable living as an artist. He manages to be heartfelt and genuine without breaking the momentum of the show, a testament to the years of development in the Portenza character and Josh’s ability to dive in and out of the character in a moment.

The show is bittersweet; it was very funny and humbling at the same time, opening the door a crack into the inner workings of the “business” of show business. The show relies an awful lot on the energy of the audience – Portenza says when you enter the room “put your phones on loud, it’s funnier”. He encourages people to call out, to heckle and to get involved. Ladgrove is a staggeringly accomplished performer and whether as himself or in character he can find the fun in any situation or any audience. Tonight the show was wonderful, an emotional rollercoaster that gave Portenza the send off he deserves. If you’ve ever seen Neal Portenza before, you must see this show, if you have never had the pleasure, do so before it is too late.

Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy performs at the Town Hall until 22nd April

Neal Portenza – Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza. Tracey.

By Elyce Phillips Neal Portenza pic

You know you’re in for a good time when even the title of a show makes you laugh. Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza. Tracey. sees the return of Josh Ladgrove’s Doctor Professor Neal Portenza – an agent of clowning chaos decked out in a hospital gown, lab coat and beret.

In Neal Portenza…Tracey, Ladgrove has refined the character of Portenza further, distilling him into a series of segments whose names are displayed on balloons at the back of the stage. From the wonderfully stupid ‘ball cup’ and ‘ghostboy’ to the weird and dark ‘pokégoth’, Ladgrove’s unique style of comedy had the audience in fits of laughter. There’s no narrative, just a bunch of funny, silly stuff. Fake blood, rubber geese, a megaphone – there’s no point to any of it, aside from making you laugh as much as possible. It’s simple physical foolishness at its best.

“Best tech in the world” Nathan has also returned, helpfully prodding Portenza when he’s forgotten to do a portion of the show. His well-placed sound effects add another layer of hilarity to Neal Portenza…Tracey, while his updates of how much time is left add an undercurrent of panic.

Neal Portenza…Tracey is the kind of show where the experience could vary wildly from night to night, as it’s largely dependent on the audience. With a group of people who are willing to play, it’s riotous and joyful. With a less enthusiastic audience, the performance would fall flat. Luckily, on review night, everyone was well and truly up for some madness and the energy in the room was absolutely uplifting. And there’s no reason not to get on board. In all of the audience participation, the joke is firmly on Portenza. More often than not, the audience’s main task is to rein in Portenza when he gets out of hand – or to egg him on, because things are a lot more fun when they get out of hand.

Once again, Ladgrove has created one of the most enjoyable shows of the festival. Neal Portenza…Tracey is a perfectly shambolic hour of escapism from a performer that just gets better every year.

Neal Portenza – Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza. Tracey. is on at Melbourne Town Hall until April 17

Gary Portenza: Apologies in Advance

By Elyce Phillips 

I have some distressing news, friends. Dr Professor Neal Portenza has passed away, and now his evil twin brother Gary Portenza (Joshua Ladgrove) must conduct his funeral. It is a fitting service, as anxiety-inducing and refreshingly baffling as Portenza shows of the past. But where Neal’s chaos was an oddly joyful affair, Gary’s mania is darker and more unsettling.

From the very outset, this show radiates instability. At the door we are warned by tech Nathan that this is the first time the show has been put together and that it might be a bit rough. Once inside, after some opening stumbles, Gary leads us through the program – from the traditional blessing, to a celebration of Neal’s favourite football team, to a reading from a selection of Neal’s questionable spec scripts of popular sitcoms. Sound and lighting cues fail. Readings are misread. Props fall apart. Nothing quite goes to plan, but perhaps that is the plan. All through the show one question plagues you – is Gary truly not ready for the big leagues of hosting an hour-long funeral, or is it all a work of demented genius?

It’s impossible to know exactly how much of the haphazardry was part of the act. In some moments, such as a very funny prayer involving some flamboyant incense, Portenza made no attempt to disguise his appetite for self-sabotage. At others, however, you were left wondering whether things truly were being rushed along due to time constraints, or falling apart in unexpected ways. Either way, ‘Apologies in Advance’ was a weird and entertaining hour. For every moment you’re not laughing, you’re experiencing anticipation, anxiety, confusion, something. Anything but boredom. Gary Portenza doesn’t let you get complacent.

This isn’t a show for the feint-hearted. This isn’t comfortable comedy. As the synopsis in the guide says, you have been warned.

Gary Portenza: Apologies in Advance is on at The Jackal – Tuxedo Cat until October 5

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live on Stage. One Night Only. (Obviously).

By Alanta Colley

Dr Professor Neil Portenza is an eccentric, erratic, clown-esque character living in a world constructed entirely by his own spontaneous machinations, grievances and curiosities. Portenza hastily presents us with sort of planned bits of the show; a ribbon routine, sketch artistry and more, then asks us to score them out of ten. The audience grows ever bolder in expressing their opinion as the show progresses. At any stage someone will be plucked from any part of the room to take on a role in proceedings.

Many of us have difficult relationships with audience participation. No one feels safe from being inculcated in a Portenza show. He projects an aura of chaos that in no way puts audience members at ease about being able to predict what is being asked of them. It’s not clear if Ladgrove is entirely sure either. Some of his interactions are friendly, some are less so, though all are playful. But it’s the element of danger that enthrals people and brings them back again and again, and has packed out his show most nights so far this festival. Portenza pushes boundaries with just how he’ll interact with people and the effect is mesmerising and traumatizing simultaneously. The word of mouth about this show is disseminating like a virulent strain of tuberculosis. There’s one thing for certain, a Portenza show reminds you quite abruptly that you are alive.

We also meet some of Ladgrove’s other characters; for those playing along over the years it has the feeling of the next exciting instalment of a well-loved series. We meet Stavros, the fully sick bro, and Gary Portenza; Neil’s evil twin brother, who perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the quintessential evil villain. All of Ladgrove’s characters posses an air of being both endearing and dangerous.

Some describe what Ladgrove does as anti-comedy; which begs the question what is comedy? But that goes some way to expressing that Ladgrove’s shambolic, spontaneous, exceptionally interactive show steps away from conventional scripted set-up and punch-line performances. In any case, the crowd loudly squawked with laughter the whole way through.
The atmosphere in this show is electric. It is advisable to get tickets early.

Dr. Professor Neal Portenza is on at The Tuxedo Cat until April 20

Come Heckle Christ

By Elyse Philips

Walking into the room, your vision is obscured by a thick mist. As you walk towards the front, the clouds part to reveal a lone figure on stage. Jesus Christ (Josh Ladgrove, aka Dr Professor Neal Portenza) stands nailed (taped) to the cross, softly calling to his children to sit in the front row. The audience settles, grows quiet and then Christ says “Heckle me.”

Come Heckle Christ delivers on the promise of its title. The show is simply Ladgrove responding to whatever the audience yells out for the duration. This does make for the occasional awkward silence but with a little gentle encouragement the crowd got stuck in. Heckles ranged from the expected (“Take it off!”) to the religious (“Was Judas a good kisser?”) to just plain offensive (“Are you ashamed for providing the material for ‘The DaVinci Code?”). The unmistakable voice of Dave Callan called out a few times, prompting a heckle at him – “Are you pissed off you didn’t think of this first?” However as the evening progressed, things got a bit friendlier and turned into more of a Q&A with our pal Jesus.

Stick a bunch of Melbournites in a room with Christ and the impulse seems to be to politely seek guidance about whatever burning questions pop into their head – Is it time to upgrade my computer? Whatever happened to pogs?

Ladgrove’s Christ is suitably beatific. His responses to heckles were quick and deadpan, occasionally slipping out of character when required. Ladgrove engages the crowd well and keeps things rolling. It’s an interesting concept for a show. So much of the humour is reliant on the audience. At any point the show could go flat or turn sour yet, miraculously, Come Heckle Christ works.

Christ will return this Easter weekend. I can’t think of a more appropriate way for comedy fans to spend the evening.

Come Heckle Christ is on at the The Tuxedo Cat on April 20