Monday, 6 April 2015

Reviews: Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015 (Part 2)

The Melbourne Town Hall,
hub of the Comedy Festival
Last post, Narrelle Harris and I reviewed six shows at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Here are six more...

1. Stephen K Amos - Welcome to my World
Reviewed by Tim Richards

It's the best of times and the worst of times at Melbourne's beautiful Athenaeum Theatre, where we're seeing two shows back to back.

First up is British comedian Stephen K Amos, regular performer at the Comedy Festival.

Last time I saw him live was at the Fringe Festival in 2006, when he roused a small audience on AFL Grand Final night with a performance that was energetic and funny.

Tonight is not such a success. On the positive side, Amos has lost none of his excellent mimicry skill, and his ability to banter with members of the audience.

In so many other ways though, this show seems under-prepared and flat. The comedian refers to notes, stumbles over punchlines, and generally lacks pace.

He still comes across as warm and sassy, and has some funny things to say about conflict resolution and growing up in big families, but this night isn't Amos at his best.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

2. Adam Hills - Clown Heart
Reviewed by Tim Richards

The next comedian on the Athenaeum stage, Adam Hills, couldn't provide a bigger contrast. He spends the first 20 minutes of the show tangled in a complex web of interaction with audience members that is hilarious in its unpredictability and deft execution.

By the time this sequence has run its course, he's texted a crowd-sourced saucy message to the colleague of a church elder, received the reply, had the lofty white-bearded elder up on stage with a diminutive latecomer from Frankston, and tweeted a pic of the two posing as a boy sitting on Santa's lap.

The main part of his show is - surprisingly - about death. Or more accurately, about living life to the full and never missing an opportunity to kick Death in the dick. There are various strands to this theme, including his attempts to explain death to his daughters, and his late father's struggle with cancer.

It culminates with a guest appearance by someone you may remember from Hills' recent ABC TV chat show, and together they produce an (almost) revealing finale. It's a funny, lively show, full of heart.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

3. Dilruk Jayasinha - Immigrateful
Reviewed by Tim Richards

I've always been fascinated by migrant stories. I've travelled a lot, but that's nothing like the upheaval of moving yourself long-term to another part of the world. The accounts of these epic transitions make for great drama, or comedy.

Having arrived from Sri Lanka a decade ago, comedian Dilruk Jayasinha has one of these tales to tell. But he's definitely from the "glass half full" school of migrant experiences, having had a successful ten years in the country and having recently gained his citizenship.

Jayasinha ascribes much of his trouble-free life to his naturally cheerful face, and claims to have never been the subject of outright malicious racism. But beneath his cheery life story there's some serious content, dealing with casual racism and conflict avoidance.

It's an entertaining hour of comedy from an upbeat performer.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

4. Daniel Townes - Crash and Burn
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

It takes me a little while to get into the rhythm of Daniel Townes' routine. He moves from a series of dreadful-fabulous puns and jokes about chickens, into a stretch about how, apparently, vegetarianism is a hypocritical waste of effort.

I then realise that a large degree of my discomfort springs from the fact that he's got a point.

By the end of the show, when he's covered issues like the censorship of video games, the real cause of "alcohol-fuelled violence" and the influences on children, the key to Townes' sharp comedy is clear.

He may have the down-to-earth, drawling delivery of a blokey comedian throwing lines to a pub crowd, but he is fact doing a harder job, pulling apart hypocrisy and moral smugness.

Sometimes he takes on the role of Devil's advocate, and sometimes he's skating very close to the sharp comedic edge between funny and plain wrong, but he is questioning a lot of assumptions along the way.

I don't find him relentlessy funny, but he is relentlessly thoughtful and intelligent, and I'll take that over an hour of dick jokes any day.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

5. The Stevenson Experience - Who Dares Twins
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

Identical twins Benjamin and James Stevenson aren't shy about their sibling rivalry.

Their arguments about who is funnier/smarter/more handsome are the robust undercurrent of a show full of songs about getting old in the 21st century, standing up for the sisterhood, sex, fame, and the history of the world.

Between literal point scoring and constant digs about whether being first or second born is the greater thing, the brothers use their good-natured charm to both present and mock sexism and racism. They also lampoon less edgy subjects, like modern pop, rap songs and how to get value out of a Thermomix. 

Perhaps it's inevitable that twins will have great rapport on stage, but these guys work the magic with polish and flair, and their harmonies don't hurt either. (For the record, I think James is the cuter of the identical twins.)

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

6. Jekyll & James - Cactus Blastus
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

It can be hard on a comedy act when an audience member is just not in the mood. As this show begins, I'm irritated, hot and losing feeling in my feet from the lack of leg room in the Forum Theatre's cramped Carpet Room.

Despite the fact that the performers are full of energy, confidence and musical talent, I'm in danger of becoming both Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppets.

You know an act is good when someone as grumpy as I am at the start ends up loving the show well before the end.

The show does seem a little slow to find its rhythm (or maybe it's just me), though the music at the beginning is clever and shows off their skills. It's not till the tale of the scaredy cat Cameron James and his partner in crime Jekyll the Kid hits its stride that I'm won over.

The hectic, surreal Western slides back and forth through a disintegrated fourth wall.

The two performers jump in and out of character, and into different characters entirely, playing fast and loose with the narrative and with the audience as well. They walk a fine line in challenging rather than alarming us with some terrific interaction. Along the way there's music, magic and fairly filthy humour.

James and Jekyll remind me a little of The 4 Noels of old, but there's also a big dash of Mighty Booshness in their brash, imaginative, out-of-left-field humour.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

And that wraps up our coverage of this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which continues to 19 April 2015.  Happy laughing!