The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival

By Colin Flaherty
first annual

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

5 good reasons to see The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival

1. It’s a festival within a festival, so you get twice the festival for once the ticket price.

2. Whether you love Grant Denyer, hate Grant Denyer or are merely indifferent to Grant Denyer, we’ve some jokes for you!

3. There’s a raffle every night! You could win a fabulous prize of some sort!

4. It’s our first show together as a sketch group, so if it turns out we’re good at this thing, you’ll be able to be a comedy snob in five years’ time and be all, “I saw Bess County back when they did their first show and there were just two people watching.”

5. We’ve made a show that’s bursting with big characters and absurd sketches, but it’s got a toasty nugget of heart at its centre, and we think you’ll love it as much as we do.

The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival is on at Club Voltaire from September 15 to 23

Tino Merino – You Haven’t Changed A Bit

By Elyce Phillips
Tino Merino

Tino Merino, a US native with a family from Cuba and an Australian wife who he met in Indonesia, has travelled a lot and seen the world. But home is where Merino takes his inspiration from in You Haven’t Changed A Bit, a solo hour of storytelling from an up-and-coming comedian.

You Haven’t Changed A Bit centres around Merino’s homecoming to Chicago after a long stint in Indonesia. We meet his Sofia-Vergara-esque mother, his scheming con artist father, a grandmother who may or may not have links to a criminal organisation, and a host of other characters from Merino’s family. The stories are big and bold, and much of Merino’s family history wouldn’t be out of place in a telenovela. While the tales are often about times when his family were at their worst, they’re always told with love and affection.

Merino’s got some skill with storytelling. He fleshes out characters well, giving each one a distinct voice and physicality that’s not only entertaining but makes the tale easier to follow. The pacing of the show is good, and although not every story hit the mark – a section in which Merino plays Barbies with his young sister, for example, felt hurried and was tricky to follow – these were only minor blips in an otherwise solid show. Merino had the audience laughing the whole way through, and he’s confident enough in his performance to keep things sailing smoothly.

You Haven’t Changed A Bit is an excellent comedy festival debut from Merino. It’s a different take on family chaos that will have you chuckling and also wishing that you could go dancing with his mother some time.

You Haven’t Changed A Bit is on at Highlander until April 8

*Disclaimer – I’ve previously worked with Tino Merino at The Improv Conspiracy