Amid the seemingly post-apocalyptic and deserted world of Harbour Town Shopping Centre in Docklands, an oasis of comedic delight awaits. Whilst it’s hard to understand what could possibly be funny about Harbour Town when words like barren, unpromising and ill-boding come effortlessly to mind, it is so much easier to understand that it is not Harbour Town at all – it is the 2015 Melbourne University Law Revue: On Ice at the Wonderland Spiegeltent.
When thinking about going to see comedy, many people immediately think of stand-up: an easy association given its international prominence and the continual rise of big-name celebrity comedians in our current age of social media. As a result, sketch comedy, once an Australian television mainstay, with programs such as Fast Forward and Full Frontal, seemed to be on a gradual decline in the public arena, only recently finding a cult renaissance in Open Slather. That said, what numerous people do not realise is that sketch comedy has always had a welcome home on the stage, and that it has been alive and well in the Australian comedy scene for a long time.
One integral and contributing factor to this is the Melbourne University Law Revue, which, since 1952, has provided an annual platform for comically talented and creative students of Melbourne University and beyond to devise, create and stage a sketch comedy production. In turn, The Law Revue has cultivated and given rise to notable alumni and pillars of the Australian comedy world including Steve Vizard, Magda Szubanski, Celia Pacquola and the team behind Working Dog Productions.
The 2015 production, On Ice, produced by Dougall Stevenson and Simon Pickering, assembles a tight cast of eight members that weave, in a variety of combinations, through a collection of sketches over two hours of comic gratification. Commendably directed by Alice Tovey and Will Reinehr, both alumni of previous Law Revues, and members of Seemingly Evil Productions, the show exploits the benefits of some smart writing. Simple staging and drama blacks adorned with basic costume pieces (for the most part) allow the abundance of wordplay and puns to shine through. And there’s a lot. Indeed, the audience members behind me devised a drinking game given how pun-ny some of the sketches were. To be honest, I tried to join in, but I was out of wine before I knew it.
Whilst some sketches had an invariably familiar vibe about them, this did not seem to have an adverse effect on the characterisations of the cast members, who each brought a personal insight and flair to the various characters throughout the show. Of note is Genevieve Cassin, whose unwavering commitment to various stellar examples of accent work, coupled with a well-rounded mastery of facial expression and delivery, proved to rate high on the hilarity scale. Similarly, Charlie Lewin’s portrayal as several highlight characters throughout, as well as Luke Rocca’s intense physicality, was very engaging with Matt Capannolo, Verity Johnson, Andrew Oz, Sarah-Jane Spry and Hannah Pelka-Caven rounding out the ensemble.
Examples of various comedic styles were present, the most successful sketches being those that erred more strongly on the side of the absurdist. Additionally, the effective integration of audio-visual video elements was a clever and smooth way to transition between some pieces whilst keeping the comedy rolling, including both additional independent sketches as well as some very effectively droll pieces of television satire and parody.
However, whilst the revue is titled On Ice, there was little relating to the early set up of this joke and, as a result, other than just being a collection of comic sketches, the production, at times, seemed to lack an overall focus or arc. Similarly, given the current political and social state of our country, I was expecting some more sketches relating to the topical situations currently affecting Australia – for there is surely no limit to the comedic fodder that can be garnered from those with political power and recent events. Even so, the material on offer, brilliant at times, will make you laugh.
Technically, the piece made use of simple yet effective lighting effects and states within the eclectic surrounds of the Wonderland Spiegeltent – an apt venue for a comedy revue. However, this venue did prove a problem for some of the sound elements – oftentimes, the balance of sound was awry, and there seemed to be some temperamental microphones, the latter of which was skilfully compromised by some effective projection.
The material offered and its delivery – the two core pieces behind the revue, however, outweighed all the minimal negatives. It undoubtedly accomplishes its task – for, in the simplest form, if comedy makes you laugh it is, indeed, a success. Similarly, given the current pedigree of the alumni before them, there are certainly names among the members of the 2015 Melbourne University Law Revue to look out for in the future.
So if you fancy a night out for a good laugh and would like to immerse yourself in some skilful sketch comedy (…and you don’t mind traversing through the wasteland that is Harbour Town…) then pay a visit to the 2015 Melbourne University Law Revue: On Ice.