Midsumma Comedy Extravaganza

By Lisa Clark 

Bobby Macumber
Midsumma Extravaganza

Midsumma Comedy Extravaganza was exactly that, a big extravaganza of gay comedy. Thomas Jaspers has put this together brilliantly with every performer in the right part of the bill doing what they do best and they all chip in to help create a party atmosphere.

The audience are up for it and the performers delivered. Joel Creasey was, of course, a consummate host providing a lot of goss about living on the island and hanging out with Marcia Brady on a reality show. He’ll be dining out on that for many years to come no doubt. His finding-himself-at-an-orgy material also goes down a treat.

First up on the deck is the relaxed and affable Kirsty Webeck, who’s standup I’ve seen only once before and tonight I can appreciate how she’s developed the new comedy ideas she was trying out then, into some pretty solid material that had the audience in fits. It was a beautiful and hilarious set about dealing with other people’s perceptions of you. Her Festival show this year is bound to be a cracker. Kirsty is creating a strong and confident, crowd pleasing stage persona and is definitely one to keep an eye on.

I’ve not seen Bobby Macumber in a few years and realise, I’ve been missing out. She’s developed into a very fine storytelling comedian. Bobby is definitely in her comfort zone here, playing on the home ground and it’s a joy to experience. Families-being-embarrassing stories, but from the gay family member’s perspective and the room was in full empathy with her hilarious experiences.

Rhys Nicholson is a comedian at the top of his game and match ready for the Festival season. This is mostly new material, which I heard him talking about later on Dave O’Neil’s fabulous podcast – The Debrief, but you would never know Rhys hadn’t been doing it for a year. Sharp and sassy as ever, he knew this was a safe space to get laughs from some very adult sex and drugs material and he was right. Definitely the highlight of the evening and often the highlight of any comedy evening, Rhys is on his way to stardom.

Perhaps knowing that Rhys is a hard act to follow, Joel Creasey was back to reset the audience ready for a lesser known comedian Lori Bell who brought an Adelaide perspective to the night. Lori is better known as Granny Flaps and has been performing as Granny for several years, I’ve not seen her perform stand up as herself before and it was right up there with the high standard  of the rest . I hope to see a lot more of her.

Finally Dolly Diamond brought the cabaret to the night. Dolly does good old fashioned British cabaret, she feels like a cross between Dick Emery’s Mandy (“Oooh You Are Awful”) and Julian Clary. She does fairly good insulting crowd work, is quick on the witty aside and has the audience join her in a song or two. I saw her die the death at the Festival Club a couple of years ago with material that came across as dated and tired, but here she shines with radiant exuberance, being a total contrast with the rest of the night and gives the audience a big finish with a silly singalong to go home on.

This was a fabulous one off experience at Midsumma, an explosion of joy in the comfortable surrounds of the Fairfax Studio at The Arts Centre that was packed out with happy punters. Hopefully the well named Extravaganza will be back next year with another memorable line up.

Midsumma Comedy Extravaganza was at The Fairfax Studio at The Arts Centre on Jan 24.

Regan Lynch does it in Public

By Peter Newling 

The Hares & Hyenas Bookshop on Johnston Street Fitzroy was packed to capacity with people keen to catch Regan Lynch’s final show in the 2018 Midsumma Festival. The number of newbies to this performer’s work seemed to be matched by an impressive following of fans – and rightly so. This was a very good comedy show.

The publicity on the Midsumma website for this show tells me that “Regan Lynch is young, dumb and full of comedy in this pageant of sexed-up idiocy”. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. He’s certainly young and definitely full of comedy – but he’s anything but dumb. This is a politically savvy, insightful routine.

Regan Lynch is a comedic triple threat. He performs, sings and dances in a peculiar blend of stand-up, burlesque, dance, howling electric guitar, ukulele, striptease and audience participation. It’s not for the prudish – he’s very open with his story telling, and overt with his ‘sexed-up idiocy’. He exudes a playful and daring energy – a little like Sammy J in vitality and delivery, but poles apart in content.

This set is based around Lynch’s experiences on an antiretroviral drug called PReP, designed to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection. It follows his journey of sexual awakening and experimentation, and explores the fears that are culturally ingrained into us about gay relationships in modern Australia. Moments of high energy and excellent physical comedy are matched by moments of quiet and contemplation. His song about his relationship with the drug, done as a soft ukulele solo, was sombre – yet a highlight of the show.

His relationship with his audience is great to watch. At times the audience finds itself reeling at the honesty with which Lynch describes his experiences, and at times finds itself in a sing-along to a George Michael standard. The segments of audience participation involve volunteers engaging in activities they would never have thought they would be doing on stage. Like all good burlesque, it’s daring, provocative and explicit – but it’s great fun and no-one has to do anything they don’t want to do.

This show isn’t for everyone. If you’re remotely homophobic, prudish or a Tasmanian Liberal voter, probably best to stay home with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Regan Lynch does it in Public ran from Jan 23 to 25 at Hares & Hyenas in Fitzroy as part of the Midsumma Festival.

From here it travels to Fringe World in Perth where it will run from Jan 27 to Feb 4 at The Pleasure Garden  Visit: FringeWorld for details.

Moonlite by Bitten By Productions

By Lisa Clark

Music by Daniel Nixon, Book by Gabriel Bermoser

Tim Constantine – Captain Moonlite (Andrew George Scott)
James Coley – Thomas Rogan
Daniel Cosgrove- Faulkner McDonald (Station Owner)
Ryan Smedley – James Nesbit
Megan Scolyer-Gray – Gus Wreneckie,
Saxon Gray – Claude McDonald
Katy Nethercote – Helen Mcdonald

A curiosity at Midsumma; a musical play with an Irish folk band, about a lesser known bushranger named Captain Moonlite who may or may not have been a bushranger, may or may not have been guilty of murder and may or may not have been gay. Turns out to be a rollicking good time for all.

Moonlite is set during a siege, Captain Moonlite and his men are holed up in a homestead and the police are closing in. The story swiftly unfolds as the men tell the tales that they know about Moonlite to the homesteaders and the drama plays out in front of us with the truth peeking out and gradually making itself apparent. The many songs that help tell the tale are toe tappers and provide a friendly welcoming atmosphere, playing as we arrive and as we leave.

We are told that the Grace Darling Hotel was chosen as the venue for the play because Captain Moonlite was said to have drunk there and the basement certainly doesn’t feel like it’s changed much in a hundred and twenty years. White painted bluestone walls, a big open fireplace behind the band and a bar behind the audience, where the actors are hanging out in character as we enter. The space sets up a brilliant atmosphere for this period piece on its own and reminds me a little of the Irish pub musical Once, but with a much better tale to tell.

The play reflects the way history changes in interpretation over time and how, when you are dealing with colourful characters who tell a lot of lies, it’s hard to find the truth. Moonlite gradually unravels the well educated man who came from a wealthy family in New Zealand and had the epithet Captain Moonlite the Bushranger attached to him and then somehow became the legend that the media created. Eventually a delicately outlined melancholy love story is discovered adding a moving dimension to a jolly, if at times dark-edged, romp.

The performers are all brilliant actors and singers, some playing several roles and the audience grows to love them all. Tim Constantine carries off the charismatic Andrew George Scott/Captain Moonlite with a forceful panache. The only quibble was that in hipster Fitzroy it was disappointing that Constantine didn’t have a proper hipster beard, that makes so many young men these days look like 19th century bushrangers (some of the bar staff here could’ve slotted into the play as extras without changing). After all there is a song in the show that celebrates Moonlite’s beard and sadly, the actor’s beard is fake.

Bitten By Productions describes itself as eschewing “non-naturalistic and the abstract in favour of creating a highly entertaining experience for the audience” OMG a theatre company who wants to give the audience an awesome time? These sound like my kind of theatricals. I think the drab, self conscious wankiness of mid 20th C theatre killed mainstream theatre for everyday folks. This show is a warm, welcoming, intelligent theatre experience that is fun for audience and talented performers alike. Certainly one of the best home grown musicals I’ve seen. I hope it goes on to much success.

Moonlight is playing at The Grace Darling Hotel, 114 Smith St, Collingwood, from Wednesday 17 January to Sunday 4 February.

Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/moonlt18

The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night

By Peter Newling 

For most of the year, Vau d’Vile in Fitzroy serves as a drag cabaret and restaurant venue. And what a fantastic venue it is. It has a lovely big stage, a wall covered in a rainbow flag made entirely of feather boas, and another wall covered entirely in Barbie Dolls – which is playful and creepy in equal measure. But for a few nights during the Midsumma Festival, the wigs and sequins take a break and the space is handed over to the Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy team. Unlike most comedy nights, this one comes without a host, which adds a level of complexity to the start of the evening. First of all, there’s no-one there to set the scene and to get the audience excited about the night ahead. Instead it was up to the first act to come on and get the crowd in the mood. I’m not sure that’s such a great set-up, especially for the first performer who I’m sure would prefer to come on to an already warmed-up audience.

Fortunately, our first performer was Laura Davis who ran a very successful comedy room in Perth before moving to Melbourne. Laura is a very accomplished comic, having won the Golden Gibbo award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival back in 2015, amongst a string of other accolades. And rightly so – she’s very good at what she does. Her style is charming, down to earth and girl-next-doorish, a little reminiscent of Josie Long. You find yourself drawn in to her sweetness until the first c-bomb drops – and then you see that the raw honesty and disenchantment lie just millimetres beneath the surface. Laura shares a lot of herself with her audiences, which really helps cement the relationship. Her delivery is well paced, and her choice of words is perfect. You really should add Laura to your list of Aussie comics to see.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed in the comedy landscape over the past decade or so is the recapturing of old performance art-forms. Many will be familiar with the work of Nina Conti and others in reinventing ventriloquism. Some will be familiar with Sam Wills and his mime work – one of the few performers I’ve seen get a standing ovation at the Edinburgh Fringe. Our second act tonight is doing her bit to reclaim the arts of magic and mind-reading as a comedic form. Cath Jamison is billed as Australia’s leading female magician, but her set sits neatly in a night of comedy. Her rapport with the audience is excellent, and there are laughs-aplenty as she baffles and bamboozles her willing crowd. Testimony to the comfortable relationship she establishes early in her set, people are actually willing, if not eager, to volunteer when asked. The tricks vary in complexity, but there’s no doubting her showmanship, confidence and love of what she does. She has certainly put the fun back into an art-form that, for a while, was favouring ego over talent.

Our third and final comic of the evening was the experienced Bev Killick. Bev’s style is bold, brash and abrasive. There’s nothing demure or understated about this comic – she’s very upfront and not afraid to offend. Her on-stage persona is like the fun-but-vulgar aunt at the Christmas gathering that family members either adore or are scared to death of. Her material covered the well trodden paths of modern child-raising methods, and how she went about traumatising her own kids. It wasn’t until half way through her set that she realised that absolutely no-one in the audience had kids, so the material had no particular relevance. In an attempt to change track, she went to audience interaction. This led her into a discussion with a shy young man who revealed that he had not come out to his parents for cultural reasons – the comedy dried up, and a tangible awkwardness engulfed the room. But she soldiered on with more material about raising kids and the perils of having teenage boys. Whilst many in the audience really enjoyed the middle-class-bogan patter, I came away wondering if this comic had put enough thought into what people coming to a Big Gay Comedy Night might actually relate to.

It’s great that the organisers of the Big Gay Comedy Night were able to put together such an eclectic mix of acts for the evening, I’m sure there will be a lot more fabulous performers to look forward to. If you’re in the market for some stand-up during the Midsumma Festival, make your way down to the Vau d’vile. There’ll be something for everyone!

The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night is playing every Sunday and Thursday evening from Jan 14 to Feb 4 at Vau d’Vile, 62-70 Johnston Street Fitzroy.

It Takes Two by Polly Filla and Felicity Frockaccino

By Peter Newling 

Walking into the small, intimate 86 Cabaret Bar on Smith Street in Fitzroy is rather like walking into an old-school comedy room. The room is small, dark, smoky (but from the occasional wisps from a smoke machine, not tobacco), atmospheric. There’s a well stocked bar to the right. There are small, candlelit tables at the front for those who arrive early enough to secure one, and behind them fold-out chairs in theatre-style layout for those who don’t. There’s a thick red velvet curtain with gold edgings shielding the stage, and pre-show music playing. The only thing that was missing? The comedy.

It Takes Two is not a traditional comedy of the type that Squirrel readers would be accustomed to. The two vastly talented performers are not comedians. They don’t do stand-up or impro or musical comedy. It’s a drag show, and it’s a drag show with some funny moments, but the comedy plays second fiddle to the elements that make a drag show great.

Polly Filla and Felicity Frockaccino are two of the best credentialed, and most popular drag artists in the country. Both hailing from Wellington in New Zealand, they have bought their two highly successful individual careers together for the Midsumma Festival. And given that they now live in different states of Australia, it can’t have been easy to get the show together.

There are certain elements that make most drag shows special, but make this one remarkable. Firstly, the lip-syncing is spot on. Songs are lip-synced amongst beautifully rehearsed and energetic dance routines, and often whilst impersonating the original purveyor of the song. From Adele to Bassey, the impersonations were excellent, and generated many of the smiles in the audience. The other element of comedy comes from the performers lip-syncing comedy routines. Now whilst this isn’t what your usual comedy audience would be used to, it’s really impressive to watch. The hours of rehearsal must be enormous. And it was great to be reacquainted with some classic comedy routines from days gone by – from the likes of Fast Forward, The Comedy Company and Bette Midler.

The other elements worth mentioning about this show are the design features. The costumes, wigs and make-up are simply phenomenal. Colourful, flamboyant and magnificently OTT. The sound track was well constructed and kept the show moving along at a reasonable clip. Lighting and stage effects were effective and added to the professionalism.
So in short, if you’re looking for a night of original comedy in the Midsumma Festival, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a fun hour with great music and two polished performances, you should give this one some consideration.

It Takes Two is playing at the 86 Cabaret Bar in Fitzroy from the 18th to the 20th January.

Bookings and info: https://midsumma.org.au/program/ittake18

Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning

By Lisa Clark 

A wedding play comedy, but not quite Dimboola (the 70s Aussie classic by Jack Hibberd that celebrated and lampooned the mundane and traditional wedding). Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning is about as far from that little country wedding as you can get. Michael and Philip wake up the day before their wedding, nervous and excited, without the baggage of warring families, invitation lists, table placements etc. But of course there is baggage, and drama, that gradually reveals itself as the day moves on.

When this play was first contemplated same sex marriage was yet to be made legal. The play when created was a bit of a ‘What if..” exercise and this is still an interesting exploration of a brand new thing in Australian society.  Many parts of the play can be read as somewhat symbolic with characters who represent the forces that have kept same sex people from marrying, and one who carries the heavy weight of gay history with him on to the stage. Some of the themes around gay men and their galpals have been played out in a much gentler way on Will and Grace, but they are explored here in a much darker and down and dirty way. The ideas have not been cleaned up to suit a free to air TV sitcom audience, thus it can be a bit jawdropping at times, and even push things over the edge, but still compelling and believable.

The happy couple are a beautifully played by Bayne Bradsaw (Michael) and Ryan Stewart (Phillip), and Anna Reardon is astonishing believable as the monstrously self-centred Tally. The company all work together as team. The play overshoots it’s ending somewhat (we only really need one surprise family reunion at the end and the toxic friend needs to be given the boot rather than an unnecessary reconciliation chat about stuff we’ve already worked out), but is generally a lot of fun and the audience warms to the characters who develop interestingly throughout.

From what I can gather from the less than informative programme and an only slightly more informative website, the play has been created from scratch by the Fred the Alien theatre company rather than by a single playwright. This is pretty impressive considering the interesting ideas and the  hilarious and witty banter in some of the scenes, though it might explain the occasional patchy bit of dialogue.

Originally created for Melbourne Fringe 2017, this encore season benefits from having had a previous run to iron out many of the usual kinks. There are still a few pacing issues, with a farcical aspect to some of scenes and ideas – so it would benefit from a bit tightening to pull this off. Most comedy is about rhythm and there are some great scenes with good laughs here, it would not take much tweaking to really get the laughs rolling throughout.

The Bluestone Church is a neat little Arts Venue and perfect for a wedding play. Dimboola embraces the audience as part of the play whereas Michael & Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning is not really an immersive performance, though we get to be included as wedding guests in a few small moments. The stage is set in two main ways, Michael’s stylish apartment with books and photos from his vast social life and Phillip’s place which is decorated with Star Wars memorabilia. Eventually the space becomes the church where there is not much scene setting required in this venue. Dropping the scene changes and just using the halves of the large performance space to denote the different apartments, like each wedding party’s side in a wedding, would help sharpen the action. More energy and voice projection from the actors would do a lot to improve things too, though they can be forgiven on a sweltering night in a space with no air-conditioning (I recommend bringing a fan along, like most of us smartly did & buy a drink in the foyer).

Go and see this quirky, entertaining, original play at Midsumma, for the laughs and for the celebration of love in many weird and wonderful ways.

Michael and Philip are Getting Married in the Morning is playing at the Bluestone Church Arts Space, Footscray, until January 21

Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/michel18