Category: Comedy

Review: Puffs

The magical world of Harry Potter seen from an ultra-novel perspective

By Narelle Wood


Let’s face it, anything Harry Potter based comes with some pretty big expectations, given the beloved characters and world that J.K. Rowling created. Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic does not disappoint, adding more loveable characters to the loveable world, now seen from a different perspective: the dormitory next to the kitchen.

Puffs explores what it would be like to go to a certain magic school at the same time as Harry Potter is gallivanting about saving everyone from impending dark wizard doom. Wayne (Ryan Hawke), a loveable geeky wizard, finds out on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard and begins his time at magic school by being sorted into the Puffs – an ultra-friendly group of students who fail a lot. Wayne soon befriends maths savant Oliver (Keith Brockett) and wanna-be evil wizard Meghan (Eva Seymour). Together the three wizards seek out adventure, magic and deal with the constant stress of an exceptionally unsafe school environment. Of course, no Harry Potter story, even one that features Wayne as a central character would be complete without some Harry, Ron and Hermione cameos, as well as a familiar monster or two and the evil wizard with no nose.

It would be easy to think that Puffs is Harry Potter spoof, but nothing could be further from the truth. The funniest moments come from the nuanced jokes that pay homage to Harry and his devoted fans. The storyline is built around the key events of the six years Harry is at school and the 7th year where he doesn’t attend as a student, but rather as one of the leaders of the wizarding war.

Playwright Matt Cox manages to highlight some of the absurdities of the wizarding world, mostly the idea that school is the safest place and yet every year the students find themselves in mortal danger. The writing is clever and witty and even with a large ensemble cast, the audience grows to know and care about the characters.

Photographs: Ben Fon

It is hard to fault this production, actually impossible. The cast, under direction of Kristin McCarthy Parker, are amazing as they run on and off stage through multiple exits, many switching between multiple characters. Matt Whitty’s portrayal of a certain potions master is eerily accurate, Rob Mills as Cedric is full of slightly creepy charm, and you could not wish for a perkier narrator than Gareth Isaac. The whole theatre is decked out in Puffs and magic school paraphernalia. All this, as well as lighting and haze effects, might have one almost think they are in the great hall itself.

This is a must for any Potter-loving-person. It is witty, charming and mostly family friendly (there is a sports coach who has a tendency for some colourful language). I giggled and guffawed the whole way through and, despite the soul-sucking security guards, I am definitely planning a return trip.

Puffs’ extended season runs until 8 July at Alex Theatre St Kilda. Evening performances are ideal for children aged 15+ and matinees for those aged 8+. Tickets are available online and by calling the box office on 132 849.

MICF presents Tinder Tales

Dating, devices and love at first swipe

By Amy Planner

From Australian writing duo Mattie Mcleod and Thomas Bradford comes this brand new totally Aussie musical about dating in the new tech-savvy swiping world of Tinder.

Abby is a little unlucky in love and has had a rather unsuccessful dating life. While trying to navigate the swipe-crazy world of online dating, Abby has to struggle through her dating life with the voices of her Doubt, Insecurity and Mother forcefully tagging along for the ride. When she lucks upon the profile of Evan she is struck with what she thinks is love at first swipe and so the singing and dancing tale begins.

This show was a non-stop ride of awkward sex scenes, brutally honest truths, terrifying realities and damn catchy musical numbers. The small cast of six were nothing short of fantastic: Eadie Testro-Girasole (Abby), Mel O’Brien (Insecurity), Aubrey Flood (Doubt), Yashith Fernando (Evan), Callum Warrender (Ensemble) and Tash Jenkins (Ensemble). Each had their own uniqueness and flare, which created a truly rich performance. Their offstage bond was evident in their onstage trust of each other and their willingness to go the whole nine yards.

The use of minimal set, costume and lighting elements had a significant impact at the right times. The intimate space meant that there was no need for a flashy set, sparkly costumes or bright lights, it called for talent to shine and story to triumph, and they truly did.

Aside from some minor issues in ensemble volume level towards the beginning and a couple of unnecessary costume changes that could be improved by simplified garments, this show deserves an absolutely tremendous round of applause.

Perhaps the loudest applause should go to the creators of this show. With book and lyrics by Mattie Mcleod and music by Thomas Bradford, Tinder Tales is a stroke of musical comedy brilliance. In an image-obsessed world where true love is a mere swipe away, this production tells us to follow our hearts and trust our instincts despite the voices in our heads. If you can get a ticket to this show – do it, swipe right because it’s a match. Tinder Tales is a real must-see!

Tinder Tales is being performed at The MC Showroom until 22 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

MICF Presents Super Woman Money Program

Showcasing the absurdity of the gender pay gap

By Caitlin McGrane

When I first saw the title for Elizabeth Davie’s Comedy Festival show, Super Woman Money Program, I thought it was a joke. But alas, it is a real thing that real people thought was a good idea. The advice dispensed by overly enthusiastic companies looking to “improve” women’s lives is often truly absurd – in the show’s opening, Davie recounts how she received an email from her superannuation firm with some “advice” for women. The whole situation is infuriating, and Davie does a great job of showcasing the absurdity – from the fact that the gender pay gap even exists in the first place to the range of deeply offensive and infantilizing behaviours women are told to adopt in order to avoid financial ruin.

You’d almost think the system was broken…

When the audience entered the theatre, we were greeted by Davie calmly pacing around the stage – she commanded the space and encouraged the audience to settle in and choose a sticker that best represents their financial situation. Naturally, I chose ‘I have no idea what I am doing.’

The whole show is extremely clever, witty and engaging – there is none of the rambling, off-kilter deviating that sometimes lets down a comedy show. The writing is sharp and tight – directors Shannan Lim and Sharnema Nougar have done a great job weaving together all the different parts of Davie’s story that make her such an interesting performer to watch.

For me, the show really worked well when Davie was riffing on her own experience with financial struggles, including her relationship with an ex-boyfriend who sounds, frankly, like a complete bell end. Her visible vulnerabilities were the parts of the show that really stood out to me, and were closer to my own experience with debt ($60k in HECS – I looked it up) and the laughable suggestion that most Gen Ys might one day own a house (L-O-fucking-L).

Davie’s command of her material and her ideas was impressive – she owned the stage and the room, even making audience participation effective in driving home the way some of us are being screwed by the system. Anyone who’s willing to stand up on stage alone and tell jokes has my total and utter admiration, while Davie might not have had me rolling in the aisles, she made me smile all the way through her show. The biggest laughs for me came during her stand-up sections, when she slowed down and read out some of her emails (sounds weird but isn’t).

I’m interested to see what Davie does next, and would like to see more personal vulnerability in her work, especially through her clowning. The message she imparts through Super Woman Money Program is extremely important and pertinent, but I thought she could tell it perfectly well on her own without needing to sit down and literally tell us a story.

Super Woman Money Program is being performed at Tasma Terrace until 22 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

Photograph: Nayt Housman


MICF presents It’s Not Funny

An eclectic mix of stand-up, sketch and storytelling

By Josephine Burford 

Grief is a funny thing, and while we will all experience it throughout our lives, no two experiences will be the same. It is highly personal, totally individual and, in most cases, a predominantly internal process. Yet, in It’s Not Funny, Fiannah de Rue’s debut solo show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the audience is invited inside the performer’s mind to witness and share in her grief.

An eclectic mix of stand-up, sketch and storytelling, It’s Not Funny itself is de Rue’s distinctive and public method of mourning the early loss of her loss of her father. From the show’s outset, the audience are clearly told two things; firstly, this is a show about death. Fiannah’s father’s death, when she was only 21. It’s tragic, not funny, and if you have a Dad, you shouldn’t talk about it because that’s insensitive. Secondly, you are about to enter Fiannah’s brain, self-described as akin to that of a stoned 13-year-old boy. It is a world of simultaneous paranoia and wonderment, fear and naivety. This is the tone that pervades the whole performance, and while it is certainly endearing, it results in a somewhat chaotic and rambling production.

It’s Not Funny opened on Monday night to a warm and receptive audience who were treated to de Rue’s witty observations delivered with passion, excitement and a healthy dose of self-awareness. As a performer, de Rue is a joy to watch – she effortlessly puts the audience at ease and welcomes them into her charmingly awkward world. Unfortunately, the performance as a whole seemed to be missing something. Filled with self-deprecating humour and amusing stories from her childhood, de Rue’s writing lacked narrative and structure. Even more conspicuous was the fundamental absence of a discussion of death. The audience are introduced to de Rue’s grieving process with the purchasing of a coffin and organisation of the wake – there is no mention of the cause of her father’s death, how she learned of it or how this emotional upheaval has impacted her.

This is perhaps what was most frustrating about It’s Not Funny – there was almost palpable potential. In a venue that might once have been someone’s living room, with minimal technological invasion and clever writing, the opportunity for connection and emotional growth was huge. It made me wish director Hayley Tantau had pushed de Rue further into more confronting and emotional territory. Ultimately, I was left wanting more and sincerely hope that I will be able to see an updated version of this show in a few years time when with greater distance, grief is more able to be reflected upon, and the tragedy is able to be made funny.

It’s Not Funny is being performed at Tasma Terrace until 22 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

MICF presents Sketch Me Like One of Your French Girls

Enter the mad, mad world of David Massingham

By Leeor Adar

David Massingham is a one-man show of wonder, and he takes you and your fellow audience on an adventure, and one that requires you to become a part of the act. Now, that isn’t exactly everyone’s taste, but I can assure you that even the wallflowers of the audience had smiles bursting at the seams as Massingham drew them into his mad, mad world.

Set in a gorgeous and intimate room in Tasma Terrace, one really feels like they’re in a boudoir being sketched by an eccentric. With artful use of voice over, and a fantastic set of drawings to accompany his sketches, Sketch Me is an utterly spirited and innovative sketch show. Massingham’s marvellous embodiment of a multitude of characters, and brilliant knack for unique sketch makes this a highly enjoyable show for this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Massingham is kind of a big deal already in comedy circles, he’s a state finalist for Raw Comedy Queensland (where he hails from), is a member of The Sexy Detectives, and has been running shows since 2015 for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He swims in his material, and as a comedic improv master, he’s not afraid of his audience, but rather harnesses the audience’s power to his bidding. This particular quality features frequently in his sketches, where he anticipates audience avoidance, and instead turns it into participation. I won’t let on how he does this, but at one point he uses his sketchpad.

Within a series of sketches, some are recurring, and honestly garner the most laughs. I had a perpetual smile on my face, teeth ready for the next toothy laugh. The audience became Massingham’s co-conspirators in the humour on show, and it takes a truly talented performer and sketch writer to harness us all on stage with him. This is what really drives the success of Sketch Me, between the clever plots and puns, Massingham challenges his audience through breaking – no, smashing – through the fourth wall to deliver comedy gold.

David Massingham is a rising star, and I am genuinely excited to see what he sketches next.

Sketch Me Like One of Your French Girls plays at Tasma Terrace until 8 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

Photograph: Kris Anderson

MICF presents Massive Bitch

 The eccentric and brutal machine of network television revealed

By Josephine Burford

The realm of daytime TV might seem shiny, smiley and choreographed, but the business of network television can be brutal. In order to win the battle for ratings, the producer must be ruthless. She must court controversy and know which buttons to press and which to leave untouched. She must be, well, a bitch.

Returning to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with Massive Bitch, Chelsea Zeller’s one-woman theatrical production flips the focus, revealing the backstage drama of live television and the eccentric cast of characters that create it.

Massive Bitch is built around Victoria Bidder, the fierce producer brought in to resurrect the once great, “Do You Want The Good News?” Having pulled ratings back to respectable numbers, Victoria only needs to survive her sixtieth show and she will be rewarded with an executive role on the production of her choice. But with an inexperienced crew, unpredictable hosts and guests who don’t play by the rules, Victoria’s success is far from guaranteed.

Zeller gives an impressive performance, transitioning smoothly between wildly divergent characters; from the uptight and ambitious host Angie, to the sporting hero now appearing on the latest season of The Bachelor. From the no-nonsense cameraman to the all-nonsense psychic Beverly. Moments of audience interaction are negotiated with care, and the performance feels present – specific to this audience and this night.

This production is filled with familiar and well-worn cultural-political references such as the dual-citizenship scandal, the Me Too movement and Lee-Lin Chin’s exclusive clique of journalistic stars. While Massive Bitch doesn’t add anything new to these issues, the show’s satirical style is refreshingly kind. Together, Zeller and the show’s director Samuel Russo are ridiculing daytime television and its strange inhabitants yet not disrespecting them. It is at once a send up and an affectionate ode to Australia’s attempt at show business.

Given the unavoidable limitations of a shared performance venue, the duo has made the smart decision to keep technical elements to a minimum. Simple shifts in lighting combined with a recurring theme song mark the transitions between on-air and back stage. These are effective, but unobtrusive, ensuring the focus remains where it should: on Zeller’s multitude of characters and the strange people they become under pressure and on camera.

Massive Bitch plays at The Butterfly Club until 8 April.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.

MICF presents RockWiz’s Really Really Good Friday

The tongue in cheek way to celebrate the Easter holiday

By Leeor Adar

RockWiz live out of Hamer Hall on Good Friday is exactly the kind of Easter treat I’m looking for – I just wish it had the seedy intimacy of the Gershwin Room in St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel.

With sell-out seasons in 2016 and 2017, Really Really Good Friday delivers many belly laughs and the antics of RockWiz veterans, Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis. It’s an excellent way to start the Easter weekend, with a series of Easter jokes and quiz answers; it’s certainly a tongue in cheek way to celebrate the holiday.

The show begins with a rock quiz for several selected audience members and the top two will sit alongside rock legends in the main leg of the quiz. Joining the talented list of performers on this occasion is Aussie rock legend, Joe Camilleri, The Jezabels’ Hayley Mary, newcomer Alex The Astronaut, Something for Kate’s Paul Dempsey, Gillian Cosgriff and comedian Bob Franklin. RockWiz’s The Orkestra, is accompanied by Vika and Linda Bull, whom serenade and provide musical clues to our panel of artists.

Any given night of RockWiz turns on the unique qualities the performers bring, and 2018’s Really Really Good Friday is no exception. Dempsey blows us away with his voice and music knowledge, Hayley Mary’s wry humour and astonishing vocals give us the much-needed edge of the evening, and Camilleri’s winding tales test Zemiro’s metal as she drives the show on. Standout comedy goes to Bob Franklin and his love of The Wurzels, and Gillian Cosgriff’s musical number on the social media #hashtag-craze. It’s a real cocktail of cool on this stage, and there’s really something for everyone.

I’ve certainly walked away from this 2018 show with a renewed love of certain artists, and others I’ll be keeping my eye on. Do yourself a favour and keep an eye out for some of the Really Really Good Friday comedians featured during the 2018 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and take a listen to the rest.

I’m certainly keen to see what Really Really Good Friday brings out of the bag next year for another rock-fuelled night.

Really Really Good Friday ran 30 March. For more information see this Arts Centre page.