Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Circus and Dance in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

While the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is not awash with circus-inspired shows, there have been a few doing the rounds. The two I recently saw are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of success.
Anna "Pocket Rocket" Lumb.
Big shoes to fill: Expose of a 50ft Woman. 

A few circus tricks does not an hour show make. There's a big gap between having a couple of winning acts up your sleeve and being able to create and sustain the theatrical journey of a solo show. Which is why I was so disappointed with Joel Salom in his show Salom's Lot where he essentially padded out a handful of dated juggling acts for an excruciating hour with a delivery that was revved-up far too many volts for the small Sunday night audience at The Deluxe. Maybe if he was performing to a throng in Southbank on a busy summer's day his manic, over-enthusiastic persona would have been appropriate, but here it just felt forced.

Click for my review of Salom's Lot in the Herald Sun, 5 April 2011.

So it was a relief to see Anna Lumb a week later in a more thoughtful show. I first saw Big Shoes to Fill: Expose of a 50 Ft. Woman in the Melbourne Fringe last October. It was exploding with potential and quite, literally, bursting out of a tiny room in the North Melbourne Town Hall. The performing space was so small that Lumb was nearly sitting in the first few rows' laps. It had an intriguing premise and enough feisty physicality combined with good schtick. It was clear that Lumb was on to something.

Since then, she's taken the show on the road (it's just back from Adelaide Fringe) and she's interspersed more text and added a few sections that are entertaining but not doing much to expand on her initial concept. I am not sure this version is any closer to truly exploiting the rich 50 ft woman idea, but it is a lot of fun and it holds together with its kitschy mix of high-level skill, daggy dancing, storytelling and hula-hooping.

Click here for my review of Big Shoes to Fill: Expose of a 50 ft Woman in the Herald Sun, 17 April 2011.

Tom Roden and Pete Shenton of New Art Club.

Dance is not something that you usually find in MICF,  so Big Bag of Boom from the UK-based New Art Club is unique festival fare.  The male duo of Tom Roden and Pete Shenton are both fully trained contemporary dancers who have found themselves creating dance-based comedy shows over the past decade. They have hit the sweet spot in appealing to main stream audiences while keeping the dance intelligentsia in stitches. Big Bag of Boom is apparently a "best of" show, but since Melbourne has never seen them, it was all new material to us. For my money, it's most successful when it's alluding to dance history and the nature of choreographic process (especially sending up the importance that choreographers place on abstract movement) and less exciting when it's stuck in more one-dimensional cheap laughs. It's heartening that they have found such broad audiences for a subject that many find esoteric. I'd be curious to know if they have converted any of their lay audience members into contemporary dance aficionados.

Salom's Lot and Big Shoes to Fill and Big Bag of Boom
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 
Venues throughout Melbourne
31 March - 24 April 2011