I am a director, playwright, and theatre critic with a Masters in Writing for Performance. You can check out my my portfolio and musings at www.samsaradunston.blogspot.com.au
Two punny radio mystery plays
Ben Volchok is an aspiring comedian resurrecting the art of the radio play in this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. I saw the show at Howey Downstairs, but the rest of the season is at the much more comfortable Butterfly Club. Co-founder of the Mudcrabs (Melbourne University Comedy Revue Board), Volchok's punny humour is not to be taken lightly...or is it?
Volchok is a master of the double, triple, and quadruple entendre and to highlight his talents he has turned to the ancient art of radio plays. Ben Volchok Presents...two short scripts and leaves the audience groaning in hilarity as pun after pun fly from his lips.
The show begins with Mysteries Of An Uncanny Nature. Mysteries is modelled off the English war era mystery farces families used to sit around the radio listening to in the days before every home had a television. Volchok has a fantastic radio voice and the ability to vary his speech to a high degree. His real talent lies in his ability to switch between characters rarely getting them confused.
Mysteries can't really be anything but a satire and its tone and nature reminded me of The Young Ones - in particular Neil in a suit. Volchok styles himself off The Goon Show. The punning is ferocious and bad and that is what makes it so funny. I can't even remember what this episode of Mysteries was I was so busy shaking my head and groaning so hard I was guiltily laughing my head off.
The second play of the evening, Pru Blu: Outback Spy Hunter, had a more recognisable storyline. Australian to its core, Pru Blu is another tale of sleuthing involving counterfeiting. Set back a couple of decades, Pru Blu is full of Australiana tropes. Less pun-filled, this play demonstrates Volchok's ability to craft a storyline as well as mess with wordplay.
The show doesn't begin until 10pm and requires a high degree of attention. As such it is very fatiguing. This wasn't helped by the exhausting white of the venue we were in. The Butterfly Club will be better because you can grab a cocktail and there are things to look at. Also, the very nature of radio plays are they are for the ears and Volchok gives little relief to the eyes despite how good the words are.
Volchok has real talent, but the stage is not really the place for his work. His future lies in podcasts and I suppose doing this kind of show is his way of testing responses and developing an audience. Ben Volchok Presents... is funny though, so go along and end the night with a cocktail and a pun or two hundred.