Saturday 8 April 2017

Reviews: Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2017 (Part 2)

Last post, Narrelle Harris and I reviewed four shows at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Here are four more...

1. Nanette
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

Hannah Gadsby is giving up comedy. She tells us so at the start of her show, and insists it's not solely the fault of the surly Nanette who radiated so much hostility at a small town cafe. What follows is a powerful show that is as much drama as comedy.

The thing is, says Gadsby, she's built a career out of making painful parts of her life a joke, and editing out the end of each story - not so much a punchline as a punch in the gut. What we get here is best appreciated if you've followed the last decade of her shows, the themes of which inform an act that is fierce and funny, though not always simultaneously.

She does her comedian's job of building tension and then relieving it, but then builds more and more of it, and relieves less and less of it. The result is unexpected, deeply moving though also shockingly funny. It's almost like she's done a Bill Hicks of her own life, stripping it down and presenting a raw, honest version of it.

I say 'raw' but this is nothing like an undercooked performance. Gadsby may seem understated, but she's very good at what she does, guiding the audience from the usual droll routine to more prickly, more pointed elements of her relationship with the world. It's essentially a crafted theatrical monologue.

"Don't get the impression that because the world doesn't care about me [as a woman, as a lesbian] that I don't care about the world." Gadsby is indeed passionate. When the equal marriage debate hauls up lines like "think of the children!" she does think of the children: the ones growing up marginalised and ashamed of who they are.

This show is full of humour as well as anger, full of love as well as ferocity - often simultaneously, as in life. If this really is Hannah Gadsby's last season on the comedy stage, she's leaving us with her whole story, with tension-relieving laughter but also deep truths. Just as the best comedy should.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

2. Sassy Best Friend
Reviewed by Tim Richards

Rose Matafeo is a likeable, slightly dorky Kiwi who finds herself stuck in the role of the sassy best friend in a romantic comedy. You know, the one with the unruly curly hair and the lighting-fast comebacks, urging the lead character on to triumphs in love.

She'd like to be the lead though, and she has a stab at it in this hour of good-natured stand-up: telling us, for example, about her lonely life when she moved to London, and how she tried to solve that by hanging around Leicester Square and inserting herself into other people's stories.

She also has a stab at seducing a member of the audience over the hour (tonight's victim: Wes the marketing guy), partly through the time-honoured medium of removing her glasses to show how hot she is. In between these forays she relates her shortcomings, and how they keep her from perfection.

Matafeo is a warm, engaging comedian whose comedy revolves around her relatable life and its limitations. Her show is light but fun, and the audience in the tiny venue is won over. The only flaw, perhaps, is that the "sassy best friend" rom-com trope isn't explored enough; with development it could support a whole show by itself.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

3. Organic
Reviewed by Tim Richards

Arj Barker is in love, and he's not afraid to admit it; thought he does submit any new jokes about his relationship to the other half for her approval before delivering them onstage.

Another element of his coupledom is an emphasis on organic food, and even gluten-free food (basically apples), which has made his life... interesting. In laid-back style, Barker hints at the trials healthy eating has caused him, while never varying from his "everything's fine" tone.

Although a relaxed delivery style is Barker's shtick, it sometimes seems too relaxed. The comedian has a habit of holding the microphone away from his face, causing the volume to drop, and there's not much energy as he arrives on stage and fiddles with his phone in order to record the show.

Having said that, there are plenty of laughs in the show, and Barker's familiarity with Australia is a strength as he flawlessly skewers the Aussie penchant for incorporating "shit" into slang, and cunningly subverts an event that's one of Melbourne's holiest of cows.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

4. P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A
Reviewed by Narrelle Harris

When you enter a room to find a man in an unflattering blue dress, lipstick, rouge and a beret, dancing and greeting everyone ebulliently as they arrive, you know you're not in for the same old stand-up routine.

Absurd, clownish, unpredictable but ultimately rather sweet, Portenza feels like he's channelling absurdist comedy greats of the '70s - perhaps Kenny Everett or characters from Grahame Bond's Aunty Jack Show.

Through running gags (card tricks, poetry and an oft-mentioned family at the airport) and bizarre scenes and characters, the audience quickly comes to trust Portenza. We willingly engage with his banter and interaction. Ridiculous gags are set up early and later return, more ridiculous, to the delight of the crowd.

It's all a bit barmy and utterly absurd; and thoroughly good fun.

[Find details and buy tix for this show here]

Enjoy the festival!

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