Big Big Big : Catching Jack

By Lisa Clark

My first Festival Show this year is a joyful jump into the fantastically weird and hilarious world created by Big Big Big, otherwise known as Ella Lawry, Madi Savage and Millie Holten.

The immersive feel to Catching Jack begins in the foyer when heavily cloaked and bearded Lantern Man appears with his lantern and clanging his bell to usher us into the Theatre. The stage is set with moody lighting, (lots of lanterns), and low level tense sounds to yell Ye Olde 1880s London at us complete with a Big impressive Ben lit up stage right.

The plot of catching Jack the Ripper is there but a more of a loose thin line to hang some kooky characters, mad ideas and jaw dropping surprises. The audience is led through London’s foggy back streets and sewers meeting detectives, Bobbies and a Rat King (Millie), but who REALLY rules London?  Director and brilliant character comedian Ben Russell clearly helped bring the sketches together into a somewhat coherent whole. It gets a little muddled about three quarters in, but the talent of the performers and fast pace keep your interest, keen to know what on Earth will happen next.

Ella, Madi and Millie all have remarkable comedic skills. Each has a unique presence and they work off each other brilliantly, without being clichéd. A slight timing issue of costume change, rather than slowing down the proceedings, managed to showcase Madi’s comedic improvisational skills. The colourful characters they create in the story were memorable, Ella’s show stopping all singing, all dancing character wowed us all. Their ideas are deliciously original and bonkers and they keep the audience on side, only involving us in amusing and unthreatening ways.

There is nothing half arsed about this production, everything has been well written, rehearsed and put together with excellent costumes, props and lighting. The soundscape was astonishingly good, providing mood, special effects, replacing scenery and solved problems such as being unable to have a live flame on stage. There were a couple of moments where it was too loud but this will be ironed out no doubt and otherwise, the tech timing was impressively spot on so early in the run.

The audience guffawed throughout, Catching Jack was a silly, surreal and very funny Theatrical production performed by three talented comedians who I last saw as part of Flat Pack in their excellent sketchier show, Space Force. I loved them in that and am further impressed yet. Big Big Big are only going to get Bigger.

If you can’t make it to Melbourne this year, why not listen to their podcast that inspired this show; “The Candyman” a satire of True Crime podcasts.

Catching Jack is on at The Improv Conspiracy Theatre until April 4

Space Force by Flat Pack

By Lisa Clark

Space Force is not a very political show but makes no bones about the fact that it was inspired by Trump’s idea and became an exploration of what might happen if Australia followed suit? It opens with the audience being trained as recruits for the new Australian Space Force and there began a running gag in the show.

The 5 talented, confident performers Ella Lawry, Georgie Daniels, Isabelle Knight, Madi Savage and Millie Holten, have had experience in uni reviews, which shows, and impro such as Improvised Shakespeare. There is certainly a vibe of an old fashioned uni review here, which is in no way a bad thing as so many famous comedians learn great skills this way. Each scene ends in a blackout (often for no really solid reason) and many with a round of applause. Only one scene change, the setting up for the restaurant scene, which is a little long, is covered by one of the members doing some musical comedy on the ukulele and this ended up being a highlight of the show for me, especially when there was a bit of a prop drop and she was able to improvise some laughs out of it without batting an eye. The scene changes could easily be dropped and the show could be a straight narrative which would make for a smoother running show.

What takes Space Force above the average uni review style show is that every one of the performers is uniquely comedically talented, and also that more money and effort has been put into the impressive props and costumes. There is also a delightful and unusual sense that this has not been completely bourne out of impro and faffing about, but rather much has been script written, containing a lot of funny lines and thoughtful weirdness. Not all the ideas land, of course, but the ratio of laughs is pretty high.

The restaurant scene was the hardest to pull off in every way. Farce is hard and requires very fine skills and the tightest of timing. The performers clearly know all ingredients but like the scene they are performing are throwing them around a bit willy nilly hoping they will stick. They don’t quite get there, but hopefully will learn and improve with each performance and it’s still pretty entertaining to watch. A warning, if you sit in the front row you might get wet, and not just with water.

The young women of the SS OZ give me hope for the future of comedy, particularly sketch comedy and I can see some of them becoming the comedy stars of tomorrow. So why not join Flat Pack and see them before they are famous?

Space Force is on at TIC Swanston, on the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston,  (The Nicholas Building) take the lift to the 5th floor and follow the signs.

5 Good Reasons To See Space Force

1. In 2018, Australia established a Space Agency and you must educate yourself.

2. All of us are vaccinated. Bar one. Guess who it is!

3. Help.

4. We are very close to Melbourne Town Hall, and more importantly, emotionally very close to our mothers. Bar one. Guess who.

5. The cast are five experienced comedians who will probably never get to wear space suits again. Watch them sweat.

Space Force is on at the TIC Annex Theatre from March 28 through to April 7

Things We Found In The Swamp

By Colin Flaherty

A show about “Draining the Swamp” may set up expectations for a tale of sweeping governmental change ala Trump but, despite a little bit of political posturing and low level bureaucracy, this play saves its swamp analogy for the toxicity of keeping dark, personal secrets. Writers Rose Bishop and Elyce Phillips have created a wonderfully kooky world inhabited by some strange individuals who may appear somewhat normal on the surface but have some sliminess underneath, just like their beloved swamp.

The characters were a bunch of oddballs that were all played as broadly as possible. Lukas Quinn as Fergus the Public Servant was brilliant as the straight man reacting to all the weirdness going on around him with flair. Taylor Griffiths portrayed the dim witted dentist Lucy with wonderful naivety. The historian played by Millie Holten was note perfect exaggerated outrage and pedantry, even throwing in some great slapstick. Prue Blake as the Mayor was kooky enough as a self-obsessed sexual predator but not as bold or physical as you would expect from such a role. Pedro Cooray’s Spiritual Healer was given the least to do and his performance was a little shakey but his few words gave off a nice aloofness for such a shady character.

Setting this play in one location was a great move as it avoided any clumsy scene changes and allowed the action to flow in real time, keeping the laughs rolling as the strangeness escalated. A technical hiccup threatened to derail things but the bizarre nature of it fitted with this universe and the improvisational skills of the cast added some additional chuckles. The plot itself wasn’t particularly fast moving with plenty of witty circular conversation stalling the action but spouting many hilarious lines to keep us laughing. Each dirty secret reveal mainly served as a device for adding more jokes rather than raising the stakes. Lovers of straight theatre may grumble over the lack of character growth and consequences but this was essentially some fluffy fun with a bunch of kooky characters.

Things We Found In The Swamp is on at The Courthouse Hotel until September 16