Imagine the size of a repository of all knowledge of the galaxy. Well, not all knowledge but certainly everything you need to know. Well, not everything but certainly the most important parts. Perhaps not all the most important parts but surely useful bits. Nevertheless, this guide would be big. Really big.
Or perhaps it would be a smartphone app. In this guide the weary galactic traveller would find such useful articles as ‘comedy’ and ‘theatre student’. The entry for comedy reads simply: funny. When cross-referenced the entry for funny says ‘comedy’. It is this entirely unhelpful non-definition that illustrates the problem with trying to explain comedy. Some people have a natural, or rather carefully trained, sense of comedy and understanding of the laughable foibles of humanity. Other people will obviously have a long way to go understanding the mysteries of Thalia. And this brings us to the theatre student. A Hip Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an energetic exercise in ludicrous pseudo-vulgarity and ironically misguided humour with a few good songs. They could call this the ‘Theatre Student Simulator’.
This show reminded me of those that I was subjected to as an undergraduate. Full confession, I was responsible for my fair share of high-energy-frustrated-sexuality-low-content performances. That’s what happens in uni, one ideally learns the craft and experiments with the form to progress. The two leads of this play, Vince Milesi (Prince Harian) and Michelle Brasier (Minge), are enthusiastic and talented performers. Brasier, especially, has an amazing voice and an unexpectedly extensive acting range with nuance and emotional honesty. I say unexpectedly because that really isn’t what this show is about. In contrast, Milesi is all about high energy and confidence. Both performers have absolutely charming presence and Milesi works the crowd like the entire audience is his personal friend and he is wearing a figurative lampshade to amuse company. They were great, in fact the entire cast was, and the connection seemed genuine enough. So much so that the two main cast members gave each audience member a hug at the end of the show as we walked out. Their energy and love of performing (and love of the audience) was almost enough to carry off the show. Almost.
The point of the show seems to be to put on a show. The plot is minimal allowing a lot of room for buffoonery, good songs, and more-or-less dancing. The story starts with the death of the king. To get the throne Prince Harlan needs to find a partner. Specifically, even though it nauseates the prince, a female partner and most likely high-born. Prince Harlan comes to Earth with his slave Minge and they have a limited time to find a suitable partner. And the show begins. Astute readers might have already seen the comic potential in this short description. The only thing funnier than an ill-treated slave is a homosexual trying to play it straight for an inheritance. There were some interesting ideas that I would have liked to be developed. Especially the concept, albeit well-worn, of an alien intelligence studying humans and trying to assimilate. The interesting part here is that it was an outsider’s view of Melbourne, as a verb (‘how to Melbourne’). This idea ended up being reduced to hilarious parodies of Brunswick Street regulars, or socially ill-informed caricature depending on your tolerance. This section is taken to a darkly comic extreme but before exploring that idea it is back to the easy laughs of funny costumes and ‘how about those hipsters’ generalisations. This is a trend throughout the show where the humour goes for school-kid offensive or conservative shock value because it makes for a better performance. There was this delightful rebellion where the company knows what is wrong but they do it anyway, however more often than not they are not using this to do interesting things but to do distracting things. Lampshades. The subject matter involves sexual assault, the inherent comedy of homosexuality, a woman who will degrade herself in public just for a kind gesture from her ideal man, and a man who will ignore decency, humanity, and his own sexuality for lust. As illustration, the prince is sickened by the idea of intimacy with a female but, when the performance requires it, this is swiftly ignored for a decontextualized moment of extreme passion which shifts the narrative without justification but creates a memorable image for people to blog about. A lot of material had this motivation; shocking, fun, party attitude with highlighted performance moments to create a vivid image for sharing. (Facebook and Twitter seemed to be their preferred method, as mentioned at the very end of the performance.)
There are a lot of memorable moments in this production. In retrospect it feels as if the production was made to spotlight the moments. The vocals are strong, the physical comedy is funny, the script knows when to get out of the way (quickly) and let the show go on. The audience was laughing, mostly (it seems some audience members weren’t as willing to be cruel to Minge as the performers intended), and the energy in the room was exhilarating. There is no doubt that this company, Backwards Anorak, can put on a show and win the audience. The energy was flowing from the performers through the audience. It seemed everyone was laughing, and some were laughing hysterically, but this was partly due to the feeling of sharing a joke with friends. The costumes, the slapstick, the clowning, I’m not sure it could stand by itself. The script couldn’t. But the way it was put across, that worked. There were some moments of insight and comment but fortunately these were sidestepped pretty quickly for entertainment. Yes, I laughed and yes I was energised but I’m not sure why. I think it was entirely the energy and the performers. Why was it funny? Because it’s comedy. What makes it comedy? It was funny.