Friday, 22 April 2016

Matilda the Musical, Princess Theatre, Melbourne

"Matilda" was one of Roald Dahl's last novels - a celebration of a heroine who just really really likes reading, enough to develop special powers that see her through a particularly horrible family life and a school led by a sadistic headmistress. It's not, perhaps, his most densely plotted book, but the space between the incidences leaves plenty of room for songs, dances and other diversions, which the musical gratefully accepts.

Tim Minchin's songs contain a lot of ready wit and a fair bit of whimsical sweetness (although there are one or two songs where the lyrics are too dense to be easily made out through a chorus of children) and Dennis Kelly's script is funny enough to avoid emphaisising that this is two-and-a-half hours based on a story that doesn't really have that much content. And Matthew Warchus' staging is a visual feast, with moveable bookshelves framing the space nicely, and a tone that moves between intimate drama (particularly in the scenes between MAtilda and the kindly Miss Honey) and broad panto (with Miss Trunchbull in particular, though also a fair bit of Matilda's family).

Alanna Parfett is the girl at the centre (for this performance anyway, there are four girls alternating the lead) - she's a very sensible, logical performer with a sweet sense of wit and intelligence to her. Elise McCann manages the tricky job of being nice without being wet as the kindly Miss Honey. James Millar steals every scene he's in as the villainous Miss Trunchbull. Similarly scene stealing are the smarmy dad (Daniel Friedricksen), blithely unaware mum (Nadia Komazec, understudying in for this performance in a "wouldn't have noticed she was the understudy if I hadn't checked" performance), dopey brother (Daniel Raso) and mum's flouncy dance partner Rudlolpho (Travis Khan).

This is big-budget family musical theatre as it should be - drilled to perfection, funny, heartwarming, fancy, spectacular and all-round entertaining. The whole package. Absolutely worth the trip.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The 5:30 show, Backstage Room, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne Comedy Festival 2016

A short guide to Canberra Comedy's contribution to the Melbouren International Comedy FEstival. About 9 years ago or so, a mob calling themselves "Capital Punishment" sent some of the better emerging Canberra acts down for a run-of-the-festival show. It gave a few of the performers exposure, it got the word out, and ... eventually it spun off a little brother, as a couple of the younger comedians started their own thing at an earlier timeslot - originally called "Irresponsible" and now calling itself "The 5:30 show" (the show with the easiest-to-remember timeslot). Capital Punishment has gone away this year so it's just the 5:30-ers flying solo, and on a Thursday night, they were flying pretty well.

MCing the show is one of the original quartet, Shaheed Sharify. He has a pleasant if slightly abashed way of working the crowd and gentle wit that sets up and links the show well.

Canberra Comedy-Scene regulars Andrew and Danny Bensley deliver separate sets that are reasonably similar in style - one's a little bit more hipster, one's a little bit more talking about possums, and it's utterly my fault that I can't remember which Bensley is which, but they're both good value.

Sean Morgan delivers an eccentric line in poetry that gives him a cleverly differentiated pace to the rest of the night, and scores pretty much every laugh going.

Raw entrant James McMahon manages to score laughs mostly by pure attitude. His jokes even work when he calls an audience member up and gets them to tell them for him. He's got a strong sense of controlling the room and the pace at which he wants to go and should go far with this kinda skill.

HArris Stuckey winds up the night, the other veteran of "Irresponsible". His ability to turn a pause is lengendary, and he's able to go relatively dark while still remaining appealing and carrying the audience along with him. If he does start to go overly meta at some spots, it's still surrounded by a lot of meat-and-potato joke-style-jokes.

Conveniently timed, located and entertainingly put together, "The 5:30 show" is a quality showcase for some emerging performers who are definately deserving of future attention.

The Big Little Things, Troy Kinne, Swiss Club, 2016 Melbourne Comedy Festival

Troy Kinne has a charming, if bogan-ish, presence and has a reasonable number of decent youtube sketches and got two TV series on Channel 7 due to someone managing to actually commission an Australian Sketch comedy series for commercial TV. But his standup act doesn't do itself a lot of favours by extensively crossing to and using sketches from the TV show.

I'll admit, this was the third act I saw in one night, so it may not be entirely his fault that my attention was not engaged for the full run of the show. But this was an evening in the territory of "mildly amusing" rather than "gut bustingly funny". I'd guess that Kinne's blokey charm and pleasant nature will probably keep him around in Australian comedy for a while, but I really hope that he finds something that challenges himself a bit more next time he gives standup a try. Either leave the sketches to youtube or genuinely interact with them a bit more. He's by no means a bad comedian, he's just giving a very middling evening that doesn't try very hard and gets by on charm. In a festival with a couple of hundred alternatives to choose from, this doesn't stick out from the pack.

Friday, 15 April 2016

101 Hits, Tripod, Spiegeltent, 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival

For their twentieth anniversary, Tripod have finally hit the big time. Yes, they're putting out a book of sheet music. And to celebrate, they're performing all 101 songs from their new book.

Not in one night, of course. But they do have a raffle-barrel that they're drawing numbers out of and over the course of their season hopefully they'll perform all 101 songs at least once.

THey do mention a few of the possible pitfalls of the show early on (the risk of doing all the serious songs at the beginning of the show, the fact that they've only theoretically rehearsed all of them)... yet, at this performance at least, they're as polished as you'd hope any act with 20 years in the business would be, with a nice line in banter, and a good chunk of songs with no duds drawn over the course of the evening. Whether it's Yon (the bald one) declaring himself lead singer, Scod (the Graeme-Garden-y looking one) unleasing his sexy dance moves, or Gatesey (the vaguely normal looking one) singing a love song from "Tripod vs the Dragon" by the lady playing the dragon about Gatesey, they have what it takes to amuse a large Spiegeltent crowd for a good solid hour of tunes and giggles. If it's a bit of a victory lap of a show, it's a well-earned one.

Lessons with Luis, ACMI Games Room, 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival

"Lessons with Luis" is an act that's been around since 2012 (when it won Raw Comedy). It's an odd character piece that kinda has to be seen to be believed - a naive home-schooled kid in a daggy jumper attempts to entertain and educate the audience with songs, dancing, interaction and the expensive medium of giving the audience lollies. Originally, it was a three-piece, (with Luis as the centre, his dad Len and his brother Luelin supporting) but for this season, they're confined to video (in this case a VCR) and Luis is alone except for his various props and costumes (and the VCR, which is running almost throughout and which Luis interacts with regularly).

In the small arena of the Games Room (capacity is 35), it's a very intimate experience, almost like spending time with a kid doing a show in their backyard. And this has a very different tone to most conventional standup - the awkward sincerity of it kinda gets to you and means you feel sentimental attachment even as you're laughing at how daggy it all is. The show swerves into some reasonably deep emotional territory but it's kept very much at a suggested-level rather than indulged too much. And it's funny and strange and slightly heartbreaking and in just under an hour you've had a full emotional experience. Well worth a watch.