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Nellie White is the Shitty CarerPatrick O’Duffy writes …

‘Anyone here a carer?’ asks comedian Nellie White as she kicks off her show. A few people nod or raise their hands, and she asks them whether they like it. It’s a low-key start to a show that, sadly, never manages to gain much more energy and falls short of the heights it had the potential to reach.

Back in 2009, Nellie moved from Perth to London and hated it. She found it a city of sadness (possibly because of the Queen) that left her broke, unhappy and homeless (but only for fifteen minutes). Rather than be accused of lazy witchcraft or eat at the world’s most miserable fast-food chain, she found a job as a carer in a small village ninety minutes from London, a place with no single men and no shops, with a pub that she wasn’t allowed to drink in. And there, she looked after an elderly woman with MS, assisted by the world’s least helpful helper dog. She discovered that doctors don’t know crap and a debilitating illness doesn’t stop a person from being fascinating.

But despite all that rich material, Nellie’s show never gets off the ground. It falters, pauses and limps along, peaking early into the set and then petering out badly before she abruptly cuts it short. I feel bad saying that, because I really wanted to like this show; it was obvious that Nellie was speaking from the heart and trying to bring comedy out of memories and a relationship that meant a great deal to her. And maybe that’s the problem; she doesn’t seem to have the necessary distance from the material, instead becoming visibly upset and emotional as she delves back into that time and talks about what she experienced and the friend that she found and lost.

There’s the core of a strong show here; there are clever jokes that tear up the room. But it’s not ready for general consumption yet, not until Nellie White practices and develops it further and manages to carry it for a full fifty minutes. I’m sure that will happen soon enough, and if you see her on next year’s comedy festival bill you should check her out. But maybe not right now.

Nellie White is the Shitty Carer is playing 29 September to 6 October at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Patrick O’Duffy writes …

Within a cloud of chemical smoke, two women sit in a pile of shredded paper snow, staring into nothing. Suddenly they snap into rapid-fire conversation about washing-up incidents, then just as quickly fall silent again. A momentary spasm of racism, a quick discussion about Hollywood hotels; soon the silence falls away for a while and they begin asking each other questions. Was there a maid? What was her husband’s name? Is there any vodka? Where’s the baby? Maybe that’s not meant to be snow. Maybe that’s something more sinister; maybe it’s hiding something we don’t want to see.

This is the aftermath of something terrible, and these two women have done something terrible, something that they can’t bring themselves to remember clearly now that all the days have blurred into one. The only option is to break themselves out of their current cycle, something from which there is no return …

Calling Dropped a comedy is a bit of a stretch—it’s funny in staccato bursts, little trills of farce embedded in a grey, fractured foundation. But the laughs fall away as the play progresses. Instead, this is bleak absurdism rather like a flipped Waiting for Godot, with two characters trying to escape the world they’ve built for themselves, a world where sanity has been the first casualty.

Laughter aside, though, Dropped is a very strong piece of theatre. Katy Warner’s script is brutal and moving in turns, and Matilda Reed and Olivia Monticciolo both give great performances. Our idea of the unnamed women changes over the course of the play as we get a better idea of what’s going on, and that change, that slow unravelling of illusions, is communicated powerfully and shockingly by these actors.

If you like boffo laughs, this isn’t the play for you. If you like Beckett riffs and occasional screaming, along with smart writing and gripping, even sickening tension, then Dropped will provide.

Dropped is playing 28 September to 5 October at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Lou Sanz Speaks EasyPatrick O’Duffy writes …

Eighteen months ago, Lou Sanz was sitting pretty thanks to the success of her award-winning comedy show Neverending Storage. It should have been tours, yachts and rent boys from that point on. But the thing is, when you’re on top of the world you have further to fall, and instead of moving on, Lou found herself paralysed by anxiety, fear of failure and crippling stage fright. The only way to overcome it was to push through and create a new comedy show—leading to this, a show about her efforts to create that show.

If this all sounds a bit introspective, metatextual and personal—well, that’s because it is. But Lou Sanz Speaks Easy is also a very clever, funny and playful show, even at its darkest and most emotional points. Lou talks about the power of denial (and panic), the invention of the telephone, bad Rock Eisteddfod shows, ex-boyfriend conspiracies and how to pitch a festival show when you’re still not sure what it’s about.

The show is low-key to start and never becomes super-high-energy, but it’s honest and smart—and it’s very funny while also remaining very personal. Sanz has a calm, deliberate style that works for her material, which is at times disjointed but deliberately so. She amalgamates the material by confessing her own anxieties, reading from old diaries and getting the audience to change up some of the material (it’s a different show every night, after all), stitching it all together into a relatively neat package.

Lou Sanz Speaks Easy isn’t always an easy show, especially towards the end, but it’s a funny, clever show that has a unique voice. With its metatexual content and commentary on the comedy industry, it’s a show that will speak to veteran festival-goers and even more to other performers while offering plenty for those on the fringes of, um, Fringe. It’s well worth checking out.

Lou Sanz Speaks Easy is playing 28 September to 5 October at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Raiders of the Temple of Doom's Last CrusadePatrick O’Duffy writes …

In 1936, two-fisted archaeologist Indiana Jones is recruited by the US Government to prevent the rising Nazi Party from getting their hands on the ancient Ark of the Covenant. Aided by his former lover Marion Ravenwood and hunted by mercenary scholar Belloq, Indy …

What the hell am I doing?

Quick show of hands—who here hasn’t seen all three Indiana Jones films? Anyone? Anyone? (We’re not counting the fourth one, of course, because no one ever does.) I didn’t think so. No one needs a plot synopsis of Harrison Ford’s career highlights (or of Temple of Doom).

Let us look, then, at Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade, which is a one-man performance of all three Indiana Jones films in a single hour. That’s a straightforward enough concept— no need to break it down further. The question: is it any good?

And the answer is yes, it’s good; it’s freakin’ hilarious. Stephen Hall throws everything he has into his show, chaining together all the best bits of the films in a high-energy performance that leaves him sweating by the end. There are minimal props in the mix—a hat, a trunk, a map—along with lighting changes and the occasional use of shadow puppetry. But by far the biggest prop is Hall himself, jumping around the stage to re-enact scenes, miming all the important tools (including Indy’s bullwhip) and making all his own sound effects. And it’s not just Indy on stage; Hall plays the part of every major character, including the women and (sigh) Short Round—and he does a pretty mean Sean Connery.

Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade is a really engaging, fun show that celebrates the joy of these classic adventure movies. Using the dialogue, storylines and energy of the films, plus some judicious editing, it packs five hours of enjoyment into one dense and captivating hour that’s really worth seeing.

It’s also a stark and pointed reminder that oh yeah, Temple of Doom was terrible. And pretty racist. But still better than that one with Shia LaBeouf.

Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade is playing 20 September to 5 October at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.


Patrick O’Duffy writes …

In the Texas town of Coyote, a horse quietly grazes, whinnies and then sings a song—a song about a rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl, a flamboyant dancer and He Who Comes to All. And that’s just for starters.

Actor and improviser Rama Nicholas steps away from the improv troupe to perform this one-woman spaghetti/fantasy Western comedy musical, which cheerfully throws a whole bunch of genres into the pot to make a rich and satisfying stew.

It’s the story of Catarina, the sassy cowgirl who lives in a whorehouse, loves her horse Clicka and dreams of seeing the world. When a sinister stranger comes to down, Catarina and Clicka flee to the desert, where they encounter a mystery man on a mission to confront Death himself.

Plus there are songs. And jokes.

Death Rides a Horse is a cheerful, silly and occasionally very dirty show about love, revenge, hoedowns and whores. It’s also a show with a large number of characters, which makes it all the more hilarious as a one-woman show. Rama uses her expressive eyebrows, a few hats and a grab-bag of accents and voices to bring each character to life and easily distinguish it from the others. The characters are all engaging, the storyline is tight and well-crafted, the songs are clever and the raw silliness breaks the fourth wall, spills off the stage and sits in the laps of the audience. (There’s also a little audience participation. Not too much.)

The only real weakness of the show is that when Rama is singing and dancing at the same time, her vocal volume drops and it becomes a fair bit harder to hear her. But if that’s the only thing I can complain about, well, that gives you an idea of how good the show is.

You’d be mad if you missed it. Scooby-diddily-doo.

Rama Nicholas in Death Rides a Horse is playing 20 to 27 September at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Tony MartinPatrick O’Duffy writes …

In the early 1980s, Auckland was a wasteland of brutes and cranks. In a dilapidated boarding house, three young men live with their elderly Swiss landlord and his exhausted Samoan wife. Their lives of quiet desperation, rubbish wages and drawer-tongues are only occasionally spiced up with bashing bedpans, attempts to reverse-shoplift Marmite jars and promises to export U2 to the South Pole.

Into this world comes a voracious, chain-smoking miscreant to clog up the plumbing and abuse the landlord’s inventive genius. But there’s more to this intruder than just a bad moustache and an unflushed toilet, and his secret brings to mind Doctor Who’s least terrifying monster in a slowly coalescing story of obsession, sexual frustration and bad special effects.

Tony Martin could probably coast forever on the memory of The D-Generation, but instead he’s extended himself in every direction of comedy—film, television, radio, production and in particular writing. His three collections of essays and stories—Lolly Scramble, A Nest of Occasionals and last year’s Scarcely Relevant—are hilarious and brilliant works. The Yeti is a story from Lolly Scramble, and Martin’s show is a word-for-word telling of the piece.

But this isn’t some dull recitation. From the moment Martin steps on stage he begins a vivid, captivating performance, all the more engaging for the fact it’s just a skinny bloke in a suit talking. With great timing and clear, distinct character voices and body language, he evokes his dodgy flatmates, frazzled landlords and run-down home perfectly, with no assistance except for the occasional lighting cue.

This is masterful storytelling, lifting what was already a fantastically funny piece of writing and giving it new life for a new audience. The Yeti has already mostly sold out the entirety of its run, but the word on the street is that Martin might bring it back for next year’s comedy festival, so mark that date in your calendar, cross your fingers and hope to get in for some monkey business. And funny buggers.

Tony Martin’s The Yeti is playing selected days between 18 to 29 September, 8pm (Sunday 9pm).

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

In 1970s Melbourne, Bunny met Mad-Dog in a pub and a whirlwind, drug-soaked romance was born. It was a time of cheap drugs and luxurious moustaches, of Southern Comfort and V8 Holdens, when people smuggled bread into Chinese restaurants and you could be blonde enough to never need to parallel park Continue reading “Review: Lisa-Skye in Songs My Parents Taught Me | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

This is Dave’s first Comedy Festival show, after doing 6-minutes spot in group gigs like the Comedy Hole and the Giggle Gulag. He’s got some great material about sex, footy, women and how Sydney and Melbourne are different, and he’s ready to repeat them over and over again until he gets a laugh. Whether or not the jokes are funny. Continue reading “Review: Zoe Coombs Marr in Dave | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Lemons. Robots. Voluptuous. Cage fighting. Obliquely. These and other words and phrases are pinned up around the stage, and over the course of her show Alice Fraser works all of them into her act – sometimes seamlessly, sometimes more obviously. Similarly, some of the complex, personal concepts in her act fit in perfectly, while others, well, not so much. Continue reading “Review: Alice Fraser in Word Crime | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

‘Nob Happy Sock’? What does that mean? Wait, check the poster. Apparently this is a show by Simon Keck about… how he tried to kill himself a few years ago? Does that sound like a good night out?

Possibly not, but here’s the thing – yes, it’s a comedy show about attempted suicide. But it’s a bloody good one that’s often hilarious. Continue reading “Review: Simon Keck in Nob Happy Sock | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Identical twins in similar shirts, Ben and James Stevenson could have taken the easy way out and done a show about being twins. Instead, they’ve put together a show about deciding whether to give up regular jobs to become comedians, complete with a tally board for noting the pros and cons of each. And, okay, it’s also about being twins. Time to undergo… the Stevenson Experience. Continue reading “Review: The Stevenson Experience: How I Met Your Brother | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

The Grand Guignol was a 20th century Parisian theatre that became famous for its graphic horror shows. Dave Bloustien borrows the concepts and aesthetics of Grand Guignol to present a show that mixes comedy, puppetry, theatre and storytelling into a rich, fascinating whole. Continue reading “Review: Dave Bloustien’s Grand Guignol | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

The first thing you see when entering the Council Chambers to see Ronny Chieng is the giant Audience Rating Machine on the stage – an array of tubes filled with various numbers of ping-pong balls, like a giant bar graph. It’s there, Ronny explains, to help judge how well the audience meets his demanding standards, but after tossing a couple of balls in at the start, he basically ignores it for the rest of the show. Continue reading “Review: Ronny Chieng in Can You Do This? No You Can’t | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

A lone cowboy rides into an ambush after refusing to replace his horse with a Datsun. A book lover is trapped in a sepulchral library. A supervillain applies for a job in the fast food industry. And then lights flicker, music blares and the story changes again! All part and parcel of the grand medical experiment that soothes your wounds with Sketch-ual Healing. Continue reading “Review: Jason Geary & Jimmy James Eaton in Sketch-ual Healing | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Rob Hunter brings his late-night talk show of hatred back to the Comedy Festival for a third year, hellbent on insulting some of Melbourne’s most loved comedians. But is it funny in its own right, or is this the kind of car-crash comedy where it’s uncomfortable but you just can’t look away? Continue reading “Review: Late O’clock with Rob Hunter | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

‘This show’s mostly about words, not much about vampires, so if you’re keen on vampires you might be disappointed,’ warns Mark Butler at the start of his set. Unfortunately, the show turns out not to be that much about words either – or to be all that good. Continue reading “Review: Mark Butler in Word Vampire | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Xavier Michelides is not a morning person. His morning routine of coffee, TV and general grumbling has to be just right, or it puts him in a bad mood for the rest of the day – a mood in which he can’t help but think of all the things that might make mornings better, or that ruined mornings for him in the past. Continue reading “Review: Xavier Michelides in Good Morning! | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

The DJ Illuminati are here in the form of Andrew McClelland (a comedian who DJs) and Kieran O’Sullivan (a DJ who comedies). Both run clubs, both love pop music and both are here at MICF to teach you – yes, you – about the art of the decks and mixer. Continue reading “Review: Andrew McClelland’s Hang the DJ (feat. DJ Kieran O’Sullivan) | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Previously on Space Force, Commander Bec Rogers was deep in battle with the terrible Space Brain! Although armed with a blaster pistol and zero-gravity kung fu skills, the monster’s telekinetic powers were too much for her, until – Continue reading “Review: Watson: Once Were Planets | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”

Patrick O’Duffy writes…

Whoo! Yeah! Get up! Sit down! High-five your neighbour! Make sound effects! DeAnne Smith pushes the audience participation button to kick off her show with high energy, and though she warns that she’s bound to crash at some point, she never does. Continue reading “Review: DeAnne Smith in Let’s Do This | Melbourne International Comedy Festival”