Celebrity Theatresports

By Elyse Philips

This year marked Impro Melbourne’s 26th annual Celebrity Theatresports. Four teams of Impro Melbourne players and celebrity guests battled it out for the Peter Cook Cup in a series of improv games, scored by a panel of celebrity judges.

Host Russell Fletcher was amiable but daggy, giving off the vibe that he was hosting a variety night at a local RSL. This mood was amplified when one of the guest judges of the night was announced to be Santa. He’s not busy at Easter, you see. The show was very family-oriented, with mint chews being whipped at the audience at regular intervals to keep everyone on their toes.

The performances of the celebrities were hit and miss. Those with comedic experience (Lawrence Mooney, Toby Truslove, Scott Brennan, George Kapiniaris) got laughs and kept scenes moving. Chantelle and Steve from The Block were incredibly enthusiastic and seemed like they were having a great time. A trio of actors from Neighbours, however, struggled with some of the games, leading to scenes that went nowhere. Despite the uneven performances, the audience was very supportive, no doubt enjoying seeing some of their favourite celebrities flailing about.

As a fan of Impro Melbourne’s work throughout the year, I found Celebrity Theatresports lacking. It was disappointing that none of the new guard of improv players that appear during the season were performing on the night. The ratio of celebrities to improv professionals was way off in some of the teams. Tie of the Tiger had one player with three celebrities, which meant when things fell flat, it was difficult to turn them around. The jokes were tame and in some cases ancient (It has been a decade since Kelis released ‘Milkshake’ – let it go). However, my experience wasn’t representative of the audience in general. The families and kids in attendance were clearly having a great time.

If you’re keen on seeing celebrities out of their comfort zone, you might get a kick out of Celebrity Theatresports. But if it’s quality improv you’re after, Impro Melbourne’s regular season is a far better place to get it.

Eurosmash! was on at the National Theatre

Veronica Milsom : Do Not Irony

By Lisa Clark

An impressive debut Festival show from Veronica Milsom known for her work on radio (NOVA & TripleJ) and the ABC TV show Mad As Hell. Her time in radio in particular seems to have inspired a lot in the highly polished, yet daggy and adorable Do Not Irony.

This was a very skilfully put together show with sound in particular being spot on and playing an important role throughout. We learn a little about Veronica herself between some of the skits as she forward and occasionally back announces them and she even “sizzles” the ending to her show.

Having all the props such as a rack of costumes, a red top hat, some large glass jars etc, on stage at the beginning makes you curious as to how they are going to be used and adds to the enjoyment of the sketch when they finally are used. Some are placed inconspicuously around the room and delightfully plucked from their hiding spots when she needs them.

Veronica’s use of members of the audience was some of the bravest work of this type I’ve seen because she was asking quite a bit of them and hoping they would react and behave in the appropriate way. There was a chance they could be reluctant, shy or even over exuberant which might ruin her rather delicate theatrical style. Luckily the people chosen on our night were up to the roles given them.

The sketches flowed very well, occasionally inter-sketch banter was the link, but sometimes there would be an abrupt change of tone which added a dramatic surprise element that had the audience wondering what could come next? Some stories are about her family (I’d not heard of non-competitive board games before!), some poking fun at hipsters and some related to her time in radio, including adverts and playing for us a radio phone prank she played on her own mum! She also managed to encapsulate the toxic element of the commercial radio workplace experience in one withering line.

Anyone who watches Mad As Hell would know how brilliant Veronica is at creating funny believable characters. She performed one character per skit, so concentrated on the one she was doing and if a skit required another character they were invisible to us and we heard one side of the conversation. Her opening strip tease was a stunning and charming welcome to the show which was reminiscent of current Festival guest Adrienne Truscott’s show.

This was a charming hour of enjoying watching a talented comedic performer piss farting about and she will definitely go far.

Do Not Irony is on at Five Boroughs until April 20

Die Roten Punkte : Eurosmash!

By Alanta Colley

Astrid and Otto Rot are back this Festival with their latest tour of ‘Eurosmash’; their fourth album. The duo spared no expense in this flashy sense-saturating production. They take us into outer space, the world of celebratory diets, romances on the road, and reveal an uncomfortable amount of detail about their personal lives in the process.

The two have created a delightful mash up of rock concert and comedy gig. Combining the best of physical theatre, clowning, character comedy, and musical comedy, with added sparkles and face paint, this is an all-round glamorous and entertaining experience.

Die Roten Punkte (German for The Red dots) contains delightfully confusing layers of parody. Astrid Rot and Otto Rot (Australians Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias) conduct a loose mockery of the White Stripes; the pair drawing on their relationship as siblings; where traditional boundaries are just a little dubious. Otto’s innocence and sincerity is constantly crushed by his bossy and overbearing older sister. These two don’t seem entirely suited to the glam rock lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock n roll they both purport to live. For some reason they are also hail from the roughly German school of pop rock. The two are in the process of trying to deliver a rock concert; as petty squabbles, grievances, tangents, and accidents keep interrupting the flow of things. Throughout the performance we slowly patch together their history as orphans and their bumpy journey to fame. As per usual an amount of awkward audience participation makes the whole thing more ridiculous. It’s a whole lot of fun.

Like Spinal Tap the pair bridge the gap between parody and also being an actual band; their new songs including ‘Do you speak Dance’ and ‘Body Slam’; both hilariously performed on children’s sized instruments. Go for the glamour; stay for the train wreck of sibling rivalry.

Eurosmash! is on at the Forum Theatre – Downstairs until April 19

Sammy J & Randy’s Difficult First Album Tour

By Alanta Colley

Sammy J and Randy the puppet are back this Festival, with an all stops removed adventure in comedy.

There’s nothing like a tour to test the friendship of the most resolute duo. In this performance we hear of the phobias, the tricks, the grievances and the good times Sammy J and Randy have experienced in this; their difficult first album tour.

You can expect a delightful cocktail of the Sammy J and Randy branded duets, banter, and audience interrogations. Randy the puppet, with his purple tampon-shaped head and exasperated persona has been friends with Sammy J since their unemployed no-hoper university days. Sammy J, upright, clipped, and besuited, takes to the keys, his trusty juice box always within reach. The two challenge traditional ‘straight man, funny man’ formulas – both taking turns to challenge the patience of the other and the direction of the show. The two flirt with Randy’s identity as a puppet- sometimes destroying the illusion, sometimes pushing it to new (naughty) levels. The dexterity with which the two perform is phenomenal; it was sometimes easy to forget their was a man operating Randy from beneath the curtain (spoiler). Randy’s physicality is pretty amazing; transcending Sesame street norms, and wandering into delightfully adult territory for a puppet.

The many musical numbers are a highlight in this hour. Themes wander all over the place into deliciously original material; the existential angst caused by the census being an example . The only criticism that could possibly be made is the claim to have achieved nothing with their lives was at odds with the salubrious grandeur of the Forum from which they performed to an adoring audience who had packed out the venue.

This is an exceptionally tight performance. Fast paced, furiously cheeky and very witty; get along to this packed hour of entertainment before the end of the festival.

The Difficult First Album Tour is on at the Athenaeum Theatre until April 20

Micah D Higbed in DisasterChef

By Elyse Philips

As a society, we’re more obsessed with food than we’ve ever been. Cooking shows are some of the most popular on tv, social media is riddled with pictures of people’s meals and new food trends seem to crop up every week. In ‘DistasterChef’, Micah D Higbed takes aim at this obsession and breaks it down in hilarious ways, getting to the heart of why we eat what we eat.

‘DisasterChef’ is a show with broad appeal. It isn’t, as the title might suggest, focused on poking fun at the culinary reality shows that flood our TV screens (although for those of us that watch MasterChef, there’s a story about George in there that you’ll enjoy). Instead, Higbed looks at our wider relationship with what we eat – from religion and ethics, to fast food and superfoods. There are some touchy subjects in there, but Higbed handles them beautifully. His material is thoughtful and doesn’t resort to cheap shots – often.

Higbed has a great knack for connecting with the audience. Right from the start he struck up a rapport with his casual, conversational tone. He jokes about “breaking down the fourth wall” as he sets up his own introduction and sneaka peeks at his crib sheet while sipping beer throughout the night. This isn’t a particularly polished show in terms of performance, but Higbed’s style works well with the material. Jokes about things like Catholicism and famine are all taken in good humor because it feels like a friendly chat with a mate, rather than a comedian lambasting you.

‘DisasterChef’ is a show that will keep you laughing, but also make you think. Higbed is an intelligent comedian and he approaches his topic in a way that is fascinating and funny. It’s a great pick for all the foodies out there.

DisasterChef is on at Fort Delta until April 20

The Bathtub Grin : The Inspection of Stanley Manor

By Colin Flaherty

A frustrated vampire (Howard), a suicidal ghost (Phillip), a brain dead mummy (Adio) and a kooky mad professor were the housemates in the titular Manor. All was idyllic until the arrival of an inspector from the council. Faced with the demolition of their home, this unlikely group had to band together and get the place in order whilst all manner of wackiness ensued. It was almost like a sitcom version of the TV series Being Human with less bloodshed.

The majority of the humour came from the stupid behaviour of the various ghouls and freaks. All displayed hilarious witlessness which was a joy to watch. The character of Howard mostly played the straight man, with a wonderful Nick Cadaye-esque grumpiness, but he occasionally got to shine comedically when ineptly interacting with humans. Overall the script was fairly solid even though it didn’t have rapid fire laughs often demanded by a comedy festival audience. Things often got bogged down with exposition which created some quiet patches, but there was always the anticipation of more stupidity around the corner to keep you interested.

Towards the end things started to get meta as the character’s reality started to break down. We saw the narrator go rogue, Howard trying and failing to explain some large plot holes, a minor character suffering an identity crisis and an admittance of inaccuracy in the show’s advertising blurb. These were very clever and amusing ways of subverting theatrical conventions that added to the anarchy of the piece.

Minor characters were introduced throughout the show and, with only four cast members switching between the roles, it almost became difficult to keep track of them all. Most of these bit players existed only for a single joke that had a tenuous link to the plot. Considerable effort was made in costuming and voicework for these beings, perhaps more than they really deserved. The cast did a wonderful job in their portrayal of all these eccentric creatures, hamming it up and exaggerating every gesture.

The staging of the show was impressive with dramatic lighting and gorgeous shadow puppetry used in the introduction and linking between scenes. Some scenes even took place entirely behind the large screen, giving an otherworldly atmosphere to scenarios exploring the mundane. There were often delays in transitioning from one scene to the next but considering the small cast and their ambitious staging, this was inevitable. Congratulations to the cast for creating this wonderfully absurd comedic play.

The Inspection of Stanley Manor is on at The 86 until April 19