The Isaac Haigh Variety Hour

By Colin Flaherty

As we arrive at Scrimpy Studios we are led past the dressing rooms where we witness chat amongst cast and crew. It appears that all is not well. Once seated we are kept entertained with groovy music and voice over facts about the (mock) TV studio in which we are situated. After an introduction from the Floor Manager (and the obligatory laughter and applause practice) we are ready to begin the live taping of The Isaac Haigh Variety Hour.

This was a brilliant piece of immersive theatre. The room was set up as a 1970s television studio complete with multiple cameras (disguised as analogue period-looking devices to boot) which are fed to static filled screens at the side of stage (whether or not the performance was being filmed for other purposes is a mystery). Although it looked like it was produced on a budget (even for the time period) all the synthetic fibres and open collars transported me back to watching the Penthouse Club back in the day. With the “cast” remaining in character throughout, the immersion was so well done that it’s sometimes hard to determine whether things said on stage were from real life or just part of the show.

The show consisted primarily of various musical acts singing their wonderfully daggy and often inappropriate songs. Haigh once again showed off his awesome singing talents by playing a part in every musical act (along with Isabelle Carney in a jesus-loving brother-sister act ala Donnie & Marie). There were also appearances from the Don Scrimpy Dancers, puppet mailman Twinkle Toes delivering the mailbag segment and the characters from children’s show “The Wibbly Wobbly Wood”. We were so transfixed by the colour and movement that it was easy to miss some of the crew slipping away to inhabit some of the on screen roles.

The TV hour was broken up with commercial breaks featuring some wonderfully amusing businesses and causes. They featured period correct production values and plenty of problematic content for our modern sensibilities. By the end of the taping you were itching to head to the nearest Dimpies Roadhouse after all those customer testimonials!

There is a different guest performer for each show. In our case it was Hannah Camilleri as “The Mechanic” who performed a somewhat improvised piece about a car repair for one of the audience members. She mostly kept to the time period, even admonishing the punter when they offered up modern concepts in their interactions.

Last year’s Songs from the Heart in the Hole of my Bottom (with Aiden Wilcox) set the bar quite high for the “all singing and dancing shows of kitsch” genre. Haigh and team have once again succeeded in bringing us another hilarious, sweaty and chaotic period piece. A groovy time was had by all.

The Isaac Haigh Variety Hour is on at Trades Hall until April 7

Aiden Willcox & Isaac Haigh – Songs from the Heart in the Hole of my Bottom

By Colin Flaherty

What better way is there to finish your night at the Festival than transporting yourself back to a smoky nightclub club (without the actual cigarette smoke) to be entertained by all round entertainers Aiden Willcox & Isaac Haigh? Along with their wonderful “50 piece orchestra”, Willcox and Haigh sang and joked their way through an hour of solid gold entertainment.

Our dynamic duo portrayed these big and brash 70s crooners perfectly. They only briefly touched upon some Martin and Lewis animosity so even without a focus on comedic conflict their interactions were delightfully amusing. They added in a bit of Tim and Eric strangeness to keep us on our toes and their banter was full of hilariously lame (and often nonsensical) jokes that highlighted the somewhat damaged Haigh versus the unhinged Willcox.

Both performers could really belt out a tune with song topics covering strangely mundane themes that were given a unique twist. “Mommy Issues” and Willcox’s “expertly improvised” songs about audience members were highlights. They made liberal use of overtures and exit music which could have been some sly padding but it was delightfully apt for these old school song and dance men.

It was interesting that this wasn’t a period piece. While this duo were outdated, hard drinking lounge lizards in the Vegas mould, they set this show in the modern day and relied on some fish out of water elements to joke about how the business of show and societal values have changed over the decades.

The rare and brief appearances of their lovely manager who was spotted stumbling from back stage before the show, made me disappointed that we didn’t see more of her. Perhaps she was constantly visible from the rear of the room and I missed these treats from my seat up front. Our pair of crooners regularly ventured into the aisles as the other sang a solo tune so it pays to keep alert to catch all the action.

Songs from the Heart in the Hole of my Bottom was a brilliantly, hilariously chaotic show that was perfectly executed. It’s no wonder this won the Best Comedy gong at last years Melbourne Fringe.

Songs from the Heart in the Hole of my Bottom is on at Trades Hall until April 9