Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in the following reviews are made in a private capacity, and do not represent the opinions of the Melbourne Fringe Board, of which I am Chair.
And oh boy are these reviews running well behind schedule. Here are some increasingly brief comments about the three shows I saw on Sunday...
FELICITY WARD READS FROM THE BOOK OF MORON
There are several comedians who are utilising/exploiting the Fringe audience in order to test out new material for a fully realised show for next year's Comedy Festival; but then there are people like Felicity Ward, who is experimenting with her craft in interesting and creative ways and testing out a new approach to performance.
Here, Ward reads essays from the comfort of a large armchair, evoking both David Sedaris and the sort of mythical uncle who would smoke a pipe and regale you with fanciful tales of their youthful shennanigans in days gone by. She has a pipe (and a great gag involving an open fireplace at the start of the show, as well as some simple but effective set dressing) and even a faithful hound played by fellow comedian David Quirk who brings her her slippers; but more importantly Ward has great timing, a warped sense of humour, and no shame when it comes to discussing her private life.
Everything from irritable bowel syndrome to difficult gigs got a mention on the night I saw the show. A simple but effective bit of audience participation adds an element of chance to the performance. I really enjoyed this, and can't wait to see what it evolves into.
Rating: Three and a half stars
VIGILANTELOPE PRESENTS 'TALES OF THE GOLDEN LEASE'
This inspired piece of tall tale telling is definitely my favourite comedy show at the festival so far (or at least it was when I started writing this review on Monday...). An adept combination of sketch comedy, dance routines and physical performance coupled with a rollicking story about Satan vs Heaven Inc and a running gag that plays on the word 'disguise' to hilarious effect, adds up to one hell of an enjoyable performance. Think Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits meets your latest argument with the landlord, and you'll have some idea of what's in store for you in this show. If only all sketch comedy was this good!
Rating: Four stars
TOM BALLARD - SEVERAL NIGHTS ONLY
I really, really like Tom's work, but while this show starts off magnificently (and unpredictably) and also ends extremely strongly, it's simply not as good as his solo debut at this year's Comedy Festival. Difficult second album syndrome strikes again? I reckon Tom should take a year off, be a regular 19yo for a while, and come back refreshed and focused on new material. That said, kudos to him for not taking the easy way out and simply re-presenting his ComFest show, as several others have done for this year's Fringe.
At the start of the show Tom promised us ‘just jokes’ and that’s what we got, but as much as I think he’s a super-talented and intelligent young comic with charisma and stage presence to burn – and hey he bats for my team, and does so in a confident and humourous way which doesn’t rely on stereotypes nor perpetrates them – I wasn’t entirely sold on this show. Yes, I laughed a lot thanks to Ballard's timing and delivery, but some of the jokes seemed a touch forced and the material a bit thin on the ground.
Essentially, this show suffers somewhat from feeling a bit generic - there are some vibrant moments of unbridled originality, but the subject matter (other than the aforementioned opening and ending) are a bit too stuck in generic stand-up comedy territory. It's still bloody funny though, and I laughed heaps. Oh, and did I mention that I am insanely jealous at just how fricken talented Ballard is at such a young age? Over-achieving lanky bastard. ;-)
Rating: Three stars
For more Fringe reviews, check out the new blog by 'John Bailey', Capital Idea, Express Media's Buzzcuts program, and the excellent Spark Online; while The Groggy Squirrel is running reviews from the comedy stream of the Fringe program.