Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Bizarre, unpredictable and absurdist comedy
Sam Campbell and Paul Williams have teamed up this Comedy Festival to put on a show called Australian Vs New Zealand Magic Competition at the Exford Hotel. The show description warns that if you attend this show, there is a 60% chance you will actually die. I think that is some sort of metaphor, because while the show didn't make me fear for my life at any stage, there was definitely a lot of uncertainty about several other factors.
The venue, for starters, was the most chaotic I've experienced at the Comedy Festival. For a show with a start time as late as 11 pm you'd hope it would start and end on time, but we found ourselves waiting on the street outside the entrance of the Exford Hotel in a long queue until nearly 11.30 pm. Hotel staff weren't allowed to let us enter because the previous show had run over time, and the pub was full. Apparently this wasn't a one-off thing either, I was told that we were lucky to only be waiting in the cold: on another night, audience members had to wait in the rain.
The show itself is an experience, to say the least. I had not previously seen Paul Williams' work but I had seen Sam Campbell's, and I anticipated that whatever lay ahead was bound to be bizarre, unpredictable and absurdist. In that respect, the show delivers fully. I am normally a great admirer of Campbell's almost psychedelic comedic style, but I'm not sure if it works as well in a team show as it does in his solo shows. And when I say team show, I do mean more than two, because apart from Paul Williams this show also significantly features comedian Mark Silcox as a recurring audience plant, whose role gets bigger and bigger as the show progresses.
The show relies on the personalities of the performers, and the silliness of their interactions, to bring in its laughs. The gags are consistently ridiculous, such as the mystery of the absent whiteboard marker, which was really no mystery at all but a prolonged gag about their incompetence at magic. Silcox's presence is a paradoxically stereotyped yet incongruent portrayal of a performer from a diverse background, and while funny, is also confusing - it's evident that the show means for you to laugh at him (more than at his jokes), but I found myself wondering what exactly I was meant to be laughing at, and how that made me feel.
All the comedians in this show have strong comedic instincts and understand their craft, that much is evident. Their audiences also know what they've signed up for, and tend to be on board, responding enthusiastically most of the time. But it would be a stretch to call this show clever or well-crafted, just as it is a stretch to call it a magic competition. There are several funny moments in the show, some that draw inspiration from the magical universes of Harry Potter and Tolkien, but the actual comedian-generated magical content is low-effort and unmemorable, and parodies itself even as a parody. Some audience members find this delightful, while others find it tiresome. This show is a very subjective experience: lacking universal appeal, but bound to resonate with some.