Sunday, April 5, 2009

Melbourne Comedy Festival 2009

A version of this review was published on Arts Hub during the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The Pajama Men – Versus vs. Versus
The Bosco
City Square, Cnr. Collins and Swanston Sts, Melbourne.
Tues - Sat 8.15pm, Sun 7.15pm.

Wacky, young American duo; bare minimum of props (two chairs onstage, both men wearing pyjamas); a synopsis that hints at frenetic leaps between a myriad of characters and historical eras. I’ll admit I entered the Bosco Theatre in the City Square (think a smaller, more rickety Spiegeltent with tiered, wooden benches) with some trepidation – done badly, this could resemble the longest and most clichéd Spacejump routine ever witnessed by a non-Theatresports-playing audience.

Thankfully, my expectations were blown as quickly and absolutely as performers Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez’s lightning-fast transitions from one sketch to the next. I’m aware that describing this duo as “masters of improv” or “witty and inventive” might repel readers (especially if they’ve endured Spontaneous Broadway, or Pig Island’s Simply Fancy at last year’s festival… that’s 55 minutes of my life I’ll never get back) but this show was so wonderfully paced and its manic stars so damn talented and engaging that it restored my faith in the genre. Their musical accompanist at the back of the stage, Dominick Campbell (a folk musician who performs under the moniker Luminous Craft), is the calm in the storm, tying the show together with musical interludes and spot-on sound effects.

I’d struggle to recall the scenarios and characters that they jumped between, although they did tie up the recurring storylines succinctly, in a characteristically manic and surreal fashion at the end. What can I say – it’s hard to relay the comic genius of a bat playing chess, or miming a horse’s mouth with two sets of hands, or why gargoyles really are the most ironic of mythical creatures… you really need to see if for yourself.

Underpinning the seemingly random progression of skits and musical interludes is a razor-sharp script that senses when to shift down a gear and give the audience a moment’s respite (whether that’s by conducting the crowd as a mouth-clicking orchestra, or imploring us to wave our arms above our heads like trees in the wind). It’s no surprise to learn that Allen and Chavez have been performing as the Pajama men since 2004, when they picked up a Perrier Best Newcomer nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you’re looking for wet-your-pants-laughing hilarity, devoid of Obama/Facebook/stimulus package references, then book a date with the Bosco Theatre and the Pajama Men.

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