Monday, April 12, 2010

MICF 2010: Harley Breen - Personal Space

Despite its unusual premise – the 193 cm, 110 kilo Breen locked himself in a small bathroom for 48 hours in order to generate the material for this show – at its heart, Personal Space is about the disconnect between our childhood dreams and our adult lives; a comic contemplation on whether there’s still room for fantasy and imagination in our fast-paced urban existence.

The likeable, larrikin Breen best illustrates this concept with some charmingly slapdash puppetry and a rib-tickling anecdote about a disappointing visit to Tasmania’s Seahorse World. Additional observations about a haphazardly-organised teenage camping trip; his Queensland childhood; and a Where the Wild Things Are-inspired story about imaginary friends are equally entertaining.

While his segues are sometimes abrupt, and his material (unlike its genesis) is rarely adventurous, Breen's confident delivery, energy and obvious delight in his work are infectious, resulting in an evening of solidy entertaining stand-up.

Three stars Harley Breen - Personal Space
Arthur's Bar at Rosati until April 18

Tue-Sat 9.45pm, Sun 8.45pm

$17 - $22

This review originally appeared in The Age on Monday April 12.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More at MICF 2010

So it's Sunday April 11, and in 20 minutes time I'm off to a mate's place to watch the second episode of season five, aka season 31 of Doctor Who, 'The Beast Below'. Very excited indeed. But since I've got a quiet 20 minutes, I thought I mightly quickly update this blog with some micro-reviews of more of the shows I've been seeing at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

I've seen 29 shows to date, which is not as many as I would have seen this time two or three years ago, when I was a Barry Award judge, but it's still a healthy number, and for the most part I've enjoyed almost everything I've seen.

As you'll have noticed I've been posting my reviews on this here blog once they've appeared in The Age, but since there's a few more shows I've seen just for pleasure, rather than for official reviewing purposes, I figured now's the time to quickly review some of them, too. Here's the first three, with another five to come when I find the time!

Ali McGregor's Late Night Variety Hour

The perfect late night show, the Variety Hour is hosted and programmed by the charming Ms McGregor, herself a talented multi-instrumentalist and soprano, who treats the audience to some of her vocal stylings throughout the evening. Ably assisted by her butler, Saxon McAllistair (Barry Award nominee Asher Treleaven), Ali presents a selection of festival acts doing their thing. It's similar to what you might see in the Festival Club, only more focussed and less drunken.

As well as Saxon's charming interpretive dance, on the night I attended we were treated to the hilarious fumblings of Swedish magician Carl-Einar Häckner, rocking Irish lads Dead Cat Bounce, queer stand up Tom Ballard, and joy of joys, the brilliant The Pyjama Men, who once again reduced me to helpless hoots of mirth.

A great selection of acts, each well worth investigating on their own, but packaged into one show, with the velvet-voiced McGregor as MC, simply superb.

Four stars


The seductive alter-ego of Simoncee Page Jones, Sveta Dobranoch is a diminutive powerhouse of passion, drama, satire and song. In this one-hour show, Sveta - accompanied by The Brown Bears (the boys from The Suitcase Royale wearing furry-eared hats) - tells us her remarkable life story, demonstrates her remarkable vocal range, and flirts outrageously with certain lucky audience members. Me, I got to lick a crushed strawberry off one of her breasts - a rare honour indeed! All in all, a remarkable and hilarious show, which culminated in a standing ovation from the audience: the only time I've ever seen this occur at a Comedy Festival show. As my friend and colleague Liam Pieper writes over at RHUM, 'Dobranoch is amazing; a diminutive, tempestuous force of nature, a thing of pure soviet kitch and high-velocity promiscuity.' SEE THIS SHOW!

Four and a half stars


This is the third year in a row that engaging American-Irish performer Des Bishop has visited the Melbourne International Comedy Festival; but without doubt, this is his best show yet. Inspired by his father's terminal lung cancer, Des has wrought a show which explores father-son relationships (indeed parent-child relationships of all kinds), masculine fears and insecurities, and his dad's former acting career - which Bishop senior abandoned for a more financially stable career when Des was born - as well as lighter material about porn, adolescence, colourful Irish expressions, and the timeless appeal of B-grade movies. It's a defly written, cleverly constructed and extremely engaging show. Both poignant and hilarious, My Father Was Nearly James Bond is highly recommened.

Four stars

Saturday, April 10, 2010

MICF 2010: First Against the Wall

A comic exploration of political struggle, First Against the Wall is the latest cabaret show from the Green Room Award nominated Karin Muiznieks. Accompanied by her sister Emma on drums, French horn and guitar, and pianist Rowland Brache, Muiznieks sings her way through an exploration of the class system and her plans for a benign dictatorship - intended to save us from the impending robot apocalypse.

Muiznieks is an engaging and charismatic performer, and connects best with the audience when she is directly presenting her theories about feudalism and capitalism via a series of flip-chart cartoons. Some of her songs, such as 'Yard Sale' didn't seem essential to the narrative, and felt occasionally constrained by the limitations of the small Butterfly Club stage. On opening night the show also felt under-rehearsed, whicvh detracted from Muiznieks' obvious talent, ably displayed in songs such as 'Peter' (a satirical exploration of Peter Garrett's political career) and 'Randy Newman, Kiss My Butt'.

Three stars

Karin Muiznieks - First Against the Wall
At The Butterfly Club until April 18
Thurs - Sat 9pm, Tues - Wed & Sun 8pm
$22 - $27

This review originally appeared in
The Age on Saturday April 10

MICF 2010: I Heart Frankston: The Musical

Despite strong performances, this 'Southside Story’ about a bayside suburb whose mayor has banned musical theatre productions in order to address the scourge of roaming music-theatre gangs, fails to sustain its charm over a one-hour running time.

After a dramatic opening, which successfully transforms the intimate confines of the Butterfly Club into a war zone, we’re quickly introduced to Gerard and Adrian, two gay-acting straight boys, one of whom is still carrying a torch for his former girlfriend, the musical-hating mayor, Ms Craig. From this point the narrative - expanded from an original, award-winning 10 minute production - quickly becomes laboured, and a series of jokes involving Dermot Brereton, tracksuits and poisoned cask wine fail to slow its descent into incoherence.

Despite some clever pastiches of existing songs (such as the rapped break-up song ‘Franga Woman’, and a reworked version of Oklahoma’s ‘The Farmer and the Cowman’ which posits that ‘the copper and the druggie should be friends’) this laboured musical is only sporadically entertaining.

Two and a half stars

I Heart Frankston: The Musical

Gerard Lane, Adrian Portell and Laura Burzacott
The Butterfly Club until April 18

Thu-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm
$20 - $25

This review originally appeared in The Age on Saturday April 10, where half a star was ommitted from the rating due to a sub-editing error.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

MICF 2010: Tom Ballard - Cogito Ergo Some Funny

Twenty year old Tom Ballard promises his audiences two things in Cogito Ergo Some Funny: an hour of jokes unfettered by an over-arching narrative, and an account of the worst thing he ever did. The recipient of the Best Newcomer Award at last year’s festival, Ballard delivers admirably on both counts.

Cogito Ergo Some Funny is a reworked, retitled version of his 2009 Melbourne Fringe show, and opens with a spectacular, high energy routine. Thereafter Ballard launches into a series of unconnected jokes exploring religion, racism and sexual orientation, as well as lighter material about Facebook, iPhones and masturbation.

An accomplished comic at a relatively young age, Ballard sometimes seems defensive when gags fail to get the laughs he thinks they deserve; and some material that was fresh at Fringe, such as a routine about Melbourne’s Southern Star Observation Wheel, feels slightly dated. Nonetheless, Ballard’s frankness, wit and fresh perspective ensure abundant laughs and gasps.

Three and a half stars

Arthur’s Bar at Rosati,
95 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Until April 18

Tue-Sat 7.15pm, Sun 6.15pm
$19.90 - $24.90

This review originally appeared in The Age on Thursday April 8.

MICF 2010: Anyone for Tennis?

The third Comedy Festival show from Anyone for Tennis? sees this Melbourne duo abandon the narrative structure of last year’s Cutthroat in favour of a random series of sketches and comic songs. The result is a Pythonesque collection of ideas that leaps madly from penguins to time portals, and from copyright dramas to the plague.

In songs such as ‘Future Wife’, a clever pairing of masculine insecurities and feminist leanings, the pair sing about the thought of some other man having sex with the women they will one day marry; while ‘Five Cent Effect’ is a cleverly structured exploration of chaos theory. The pair’s strong gag writing skills, chemistry and comic timing are showcased in sketches exploring speed dating and competitive sleeping, although some sketches, such as those about prison and verbal graffiti, drag on too long. Such minor faults aside, Anyone for Tennis? are goofily endearing, and damn good fun.

Three and a half stars

Anyone for Tennis? - Abacus Birdcage Gramaphone Lamp
The Portland Hotel until April 18
Tue-Sat 8.30pm, Sun 7.30pm
$16 - $20

This review originally appeared in The Age on Thursday April 8.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

MICF 2010: Fear of a Brown Planet Returns

Fear of a Brown Planet's Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman are not your average stand-up comedians, and while their material can venture into familiar territory, their observations on pop culture and current affairs are given a refreshing twist. Hussain and Rahman are of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi heritage respectively, and their stand-up routines reflect and celebrate that difference.

For this year's show, performed in the bastion of privilege that is the council chambers at Melbourne Town Hall, the pair tackle everything from the lack of brown faces on Australian television (except on tabloid reality TV show Border Security, which we learn is watched obsessively by Rahman's mum) and the war on terror, to race-related violence. "Melbourne, the third-most liveable city in the world - if you're not Indian," quips Hussain. Deliciously barbed comedy that cuts close to the bone.

Three and a half stars

Nazeem Hussain & Aamer Rahman - Fear of a Brown Planet Returns
Melbourne Town Hall until April 18

Tues - Sat 7.15pm, Sun 6.15pm, Mon 7pm
$20 - $24

This review originally appeared in The Age on Wednesday April 7.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

MICF 2010: The Merger - Sportsman's Night 2

This one-man show about footy and compassion is a sequel to Callinan’s Barry Award-nominated 2001 production Sportsman’s Night, and again sees him playing multiple roles, including the blustering club President of the Bodgy Creek Roosters, Bull Barlow; the club’s Captain Coach Troy Carrington; and aspiring young filmmaker Neil Barlow, through whose lens we see much of the show unfold.

Things are looking bad for the Roosters, who have won Carbon Neutral Football Club of the Year but are struggling to field a team. Can an influx of new blood save them from the ignominious fate of a merger with traditional rivals, Hudson’s Flat?

A versatile performer with a great grasp of stage craft, Callinan acknowledges his audience without bullying or humiliating them. The show’s structure is slightly repetitive, but Callinan’s comedy skills shine through, resulting in a compelling production which will be enjoyed by fans of footy and social justice alike.

Three and half stars

Damian Callinan - The Merger: Sportsman's Night 2
Melbourne Town Hall until April 17
Tue-Sat 8.30pm, Sun 7.30pm
$18 - $22

This review first appeared in
The Age.

MICF 2010: Stevl Shefn and His Translator Fatima

Antidotes to pedestrian stand-up can be found across the Comedy Festival, but few are more refreshingly strange than Stevl Shefn and His Translator Fatima, the brainchild of 2003 Raw Comedy winner Steve Sheehan.

As the be-suited Shefn, Sheehan is a socially awkward yet enthusiastic stranger who tells increasingly surreal stories in an unknown language. The mellifluous, burqa-clad Fatima (Colleen Cross) translates his every word. Or does she? Laughter is initially generated by Shefn’s babbled tirades and Fatima’s concise summaries of what is said, but gradually this one-note joke is layered and developed in wryly humorous ways.

Stories of Shefn’s hermaphrodite lover and his mother’s adult shop segue abruptly into increasingly absurd routines about swinging cats and animal housemates. Sheehan’s subtle clowning, precise physical comedy, and an array of props generate additional laughs. The show’s highlight is a twice-translated gag involving Shefn’s girlfriend, a vacuum cleaner. A compellingly odd performance.

Three and a half stars

Melbourne Town Hall until April 14
Tue-Sat 7.15pm, Sun 6.15pm
$15 - $22


A vulgar, vivacious cabaret, When the Sex Has Gone is the story of two personalities inhabiting the one hermaphroditic body: Charlie, a fabulously foul-mouthed stripper who describes her multi-gendered body as something Picasso might have painted in his abstract years; and Alastair, an aggressive young boxer (and the slightly less engaging of the two characters).

This unlikely individual is compellingly played by Tommy Bradson, a singer and performer with a voice like chilli chocolate – rich, dark and spicy – accompanied by Boris (composer Jacqueline Morton) on piano.

Through dramatic monologues and original songs such as ‘Blowjob for Breakfast’ and ‘It’s Lingerie’, Bradson guides us through Charlie/Alastair’s lurid world of lost love and tragedy. His dialogue was occasionally rushed (perhaps as a result of having to condense what was initially a much longer show to a more compact whole) and a noisy air conditioner sometimes drowned out the quieter moments, but Bradson is a compelling and confident talent who totally owned the stage. A brilliant show, though not for the easily offended.

Four stars

Tommy Bradson - When the Sex is Gone
At the Butterfly Club, South Melbourne until April 17
Thu-Sat 10.30pm
$18 - $22

This review originally appeared in The Age on Tuesday April 6.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Local comedy troupe Vigilantelope wowed audiences in 2009 with their exuberant, pun-filled Tale of the Golden Lease, a clever series of sketches and 80s-style dance routines constructed around a fantastically improbable McGuffin-driven plot. Last year’s show concerned time travel, an epic chase and hell hounds. This year’s show features time travel, an epic chase and a marauding cyborg army. See where I’m going with this?

Prophecy of the Quantum Child
features many of the elements Vigilantelope used so successfully in their first production, but like a Hollywood sequel, the second time around it all feels slightly stale. It’s also undercooked; more development is needed to speed up the story and cut the weaker gags. Nonetheless, audiences unfamiliar with Vigilantelope’s shtick should be entertained, though not challenged, by this science fiction confectionary of wordplay, warring tribes, killer cyborgs and a doesn’t matter hole (like a black hole, but worse).

Three stars

Trades Hall until April 4
Tue-Sat 9.30pm, Sun 8.30pm
$16 - $21

This review first appeared in
The Age on Monday April 5.


Subtitled ‘A musical that proves beauty is only skin thick’ this wonderfully grotesque romp takes place in the suburban beauty salon that time and taste forgot. Lorraine (Andrea Powell) rules over her fading empire with an iron fist, but when celebrity hairdresser Pam Panache (played at different times by all the cast) attempts to buy the business out from under her, it takes all Lorraine’s cunning, and the dim-witted assistance of her bogan sidekick Jade (Geraldine Hickey) and best friend Val (Scott Brennan) to try and stop the developers.

Double entendres, bad puns, appalling rhymes and gleeful exposition litter this deliberately trashy production, which is as subtle as a John Waters film, and just as entertaining. Hickey in particular impresses with her perfect timing and deadpan performance. Subtle and original this show isn’t (the trope of the stupidly clever sidekick has been done to death), but if you’ve got a hankering for camp and over the top comedy, Lorraine’s Hair & Face is for you. Just don’t try the complimentary coffee.

Three stars

Andrea Powell, Geraldine Hickey & Scott Brennan - Lorraine's Hair & Face
Tue-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm
Imperial Hotel, corner Spring & Bourke Streets
$18 - $24

This review originally appeared in The Age.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

MICF 2010: Jamie Kilstein - Revenge of the Serfs

US comedian Jamie Kilstein is a compact bundle of political fury – a Chihuahua with a pit bull’s temper whose humorous tirades are squarely aimed at politicians at both ends of the political spectrum. Former US President Bush cops a serve, with Kilstein comparing him to an abusive ex-boyfriend, but nor does Obama get off lightly. “You have to question your leaders,” Kilstein manically exhorts.

Not everyone will get all his references, such as a joke about Republican pin-up girl Ayn Rand, but other gags – such as his comparison of the military’s drone bombers to every dystopian science fiction film ever made – hit dead on.

Routines about the Religious Right’s homophobia, the ‘Christian side-hug’, and the Ten Commandments of Kilstein’s newly created Church of the Smiling Vagina are all strong, but it’s when he winds down the pace to reflect on his own faults that Kilstein is at his most engaging.

Four stars

Jamie Kilstein - Revenge of the Serfs
until April 18
Tue-Sat 8.30pm, Sun 7.30pm
$22.50 - $29.50