This year, the Melbourne International Comedy festival celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Bigger, brighter and bolder than ever, the three – week event features more than 600 acts both local and from overseas. With a seemingly endless selection of shows at punters’ fingertips on offer, the vast array of choices includes burlesque, cabaret, debating, improvisation, kids’ comedy, musicals, puppetry, performance art, and stand – up. The list goes on.

At last year’s festival, Jacques Barrett explored the horrors of the dating scene in his stand – up act, “The Confident Profiler”.  He summed up the extremes couples would go to exposing one another’s faults, yet ending his story with a frighteningly simple solution.

In Barrett’s show, he detailed situations where people would resort to Facebook stalking and making up fake profiles to catch out potential partners. Or worse, how dates hid their worst flaws from each other during the early, critical phases of courtship. The catch being, as soon as couples were comfortable enough to let their respective guards down, of course they would be disappointed with each other once the truth was out.

His answer?

Ditch the good graces, be yourself, and there are no surprises for anyone in the long run. How easy is that!

Played out with the fresh spontaneity and bouncy, high – energy of a theatre sports challenge, the hour long presentation, “I (Honestly) Love You”, ran for five consecutive nights at the National Theatre in St. Kilda from April 12 – 16.

Using potential cues from popular and cult films such as “The Invention of Lying”, “Meet The Parents”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “Two Days in Paris”, or recent, locally – made television shows like, “Thank God You’re Here”, “The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife – Fighting” and “It’s A Date”, “I (Honestly) Love You” was produced and directed by the award – winning, Western Australian playwright, Damon Lockwood.

Lockwood’s fascinating premise takes a man and a woman afflicted with the same truth – telling disease called vitiositas veritas, throws them together in a series of dating disasters, then leans back and observes the foot – in – mouth comic (and dramatic) potential unfold.

Jimmy James Eaton and George Gayler are the reluctant protagonists in question.  The skilled and attractive pair have a relaxed and natural chemistry with each other, which makes dialogue – driven scenarios such as meeting their respective friends, co-workers and parents all the more relatable, awkward and true.

Lockwood and Talei Howell – Price play a series of supporting and (not so) supportive characters. All four stay in the moment, handle multiple characterisations (often) at the same time, keep the pace fast – moving, and work well together as a team.

Watching “I (Honestly) Love You” at close range in the intimacy of the National Theatre’s on – stage setting, makes this an easy to digest, connect – the – dots journey. (Placing the show in front of screens made to look like an oversized daily planner, the simple yet intelligent stage and costume design is by Cherie Hewson.)

One of the show’s unexpected highlights on opening night included a small portion of volunteer audience interaction.

It’s always a risk, and grabbing someone from the crowd sometimes may not always go as planned. On this occasion it didn’t quite (with forgotten lines and several humorous retakes), but Jimmy James Eaton employed skills from his background in improvisation and was so quick on his feet, the show was all the more charming because of the unexpected bobbles.

Yes, Lockwood’s tale is all very silly, and considering the thoughtful intensity the cast takes to establish the initial set – up, it was still good to see the writer refuse to conclude the story with too – neatly a packaged ending.

Further, this show has an underlying truth for anyone who has experienced the highs and lows of a relationship, which is why “I (Honestly) Love You” will resonate and stay with you long after the cast take their final bows.

 

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