Monday, 30 March 2015

Reviews: Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Trades Hall lit up for the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is one of Australia's biggest cultural events.

Every autumn it takes over the central city, inhabiting numerous performance spaces within the grand Melbourne Town Hall along with various theatres, pubs, bars and other venues.

I'm reviewing for The Age newspaper again this year, but Narrelle Harris and I will also cover several more festival shows here on my blog.

Here are our first six reviews.

1. Judith Lucy - Ask No Questions of the Moth
Reviewed by Tim Richards

It’s always a slightly surreal experience seeing a standup comedy show featuring a long-established comedian who’s recently appeared on the telly.

In this situation, the huge audience is inevitably composed of diehard fans, so there’s a guaranteed vibe regardless of the material.

This is the case at Judith Lucy’s new show, Ask No Questions of the Moth. There’s something delightful about seeing a comedian effortlessly work a crowd of hundreds, which is what Lucy does as she talks about her dire 2014, leaving the stage at the start to ask punters about their past year.

Incidentally, this is not a show you want to arrive late to, with the comedian likely to quiz you up close in the aisles as you search for your seat.

Her laconic couldn’t-give-a-shit delivery is as effective as ever, though the material is a bit formless: hipster beards, politics and social media get a workout, though there’s no particularly piercing insights.

The show more heavily leans upon the comedian’s experiences in filming her recent ABC TV series Judith Lucy is All Woman, with Lucy relating amusing behind the scenes stories.

If you take this as a kind of "DVD extras" follow-up to the program, it works; and it’s likely a lot of the audience is here because they enjoyed the TV show. We do learn more about her bad year by the end of the show, but it’s not as focal an element as you expect.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

2. Harley Breen - Just a Fully Naked Encounter
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

It’s awkward to take a relative to a Comedy Festival show and realise at the last minute we’re going to be seeing full frontal male nudity together from the second row.

By the time I realise the title should have been a warning it’s too late, and anyway, my niece is a grown woman and we’re both sort of looking forward to it by now.

Breen has spent the hour talking with hilarious openness about aspects of sex, sexuality, body confidence and shaved genitalia, and has confessed he’ll probably get naked eventually as a technique for addressing his body confidence issues.

Along the way he talks about being high and being drunk. They’re topics I normally find terribly dull in comedy, but his easy charm and frankness makes them work. He also talks hilariously about his bad parenting.

He has built up such a rapport with the audience, and we’re so ready to be encouraging when he gets his knob out, that the finale is...well, a bit disappointing. The niece and I both feel a bit cheated. Still, the other 55 minutes is good, solid comedy.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

3. Katherine Ryan - Glam Role Model
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

Comedian Katherine Ryan is a Canadian living in London. She’s a little outraged to discover her five year old daughter has turned out English, as though it’s a kind of stealth manoeuvre.

Like Breen before her, Ryan has lots of material on bad parenting, and she skates along the comic edge of transgression, particularly with her description of her "best day ever" as a single mum.

When she isn’t talking about her own relationships, Ryan does a fine line in acid commentary on celebrity in general, and certain celebrities in particular. That material works best when you know who she’s talking about, but she’s so good at bringing celebs (and their stereotypes) to life that it works even when you don’t.

She talks about sex tapes, dating younger men and the trials of being a (engage London chav accent here) "glamour model". Sharp and occasionally uncomfortable in the best comic tradition, Ryan is a hoot.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

4. Damian Callinan - The Lost WWI Diary
Reviewed by Tim Richards

Being a theatre fan, I love a good bit of comedy theatre. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, however; in addition to the usual comic skills, the performer needs theatrical skills involving acting, costumes, props and tricky stage directions.

Damian Callinan is equal to the task in this show, involving a World War One story woven from an old photo of forgotten family family members in uniform. Callinan fleshes out their imagined story beautifully, telling it through the voice of an Irish-Australian soldier sent to Gallipoli and other fronts.

It sounds a serious tale - and it is - but the comedian skilfully tells the war story in a naturally comic manner which has us laughing at the mishaps and personalities of men sent to an insane war.

What makes it work is the irreverent style of his character, which perfectly matches the popular image of the knockabout larrikin digger. The result is a funny show which is also a moving tribute to those who fell a century ago.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

5. Liam Ryan - Karaoke in the Sun
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

Despite the title, there is no singing in Liam Ryan’s show. Instead, it was sparked by his initially cynical response to a guy in Mexico singing his heart out in daylight with the enthusiastic support of a friend.

This leads to tales of dying dreams, public embarrassment, odd family traits, social anxiety and general life awkwardness - and how he learned to overcome them all.

Ryan is warm, personable and given to strange but perfect analogies. He also stops from time to time to read bite-sized stories with musical accompaniment, which sounds a bit naff but is in fact ... well, naff, but also funny. It’s an engaging hour that ends on a note of optimism.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

6. Gillian Cosgriff – Whelmed
Reviewed by Tim Richards

Who knew there was a perfectly formed music room in a building at the back of Trades Hall? It’s in this small, wood-panelled space that Gillian Cosgriff crams a keyboard onto a compact stage and shares her obsessions to the backing of original songs.

Admitting to feeling “whelmed” much of the time (after explaining what the word means, and its derivation), she reels out a number of obsessions and distractions that threaten to stop her realising her potential.

Mind you, these obsessions (such as memorising all the world’s capital cities) come in handy for creating an amusing show, especially with musical accompaniment.

Full of bounce and energy, and just a touch manic, Cosgriff draws the audience into her enthusiasms and foibles. It’s an entertaining act with a bonus - a sighting of one of the ugliest accessories on the planet. Attend, and discover just what it is…

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

More reviews next week. Enjoy the festival!