By Nick Pilgrim
This review may contain spoilers.
With more than 400 acts on offer, patrons at the 2021 Melbourne International Comedy Festival are happily spoiled for choice. After spending last season suffering in abject silence, this year’s event is thankfully back with a vengeance.
The list of shows span from traditional stand-up and improvisation, to more specialised fare such as circus arts and cabaret. Recent social distancing rules and guidelines have encouraged several organisers to put on their creative thinking caps, introducing online and virtual presentations as well.
Thanks to a successful liaison in 2020 with the Midsumma Festival, ‘Dahlin! – It’s The Jeanne Little Show’ returns full-force for another sparkling run.
When a chance afternoon television appearance endeared her to audiences across Australia, Jeanne Little could not have become a more unlikely national phenomenon. Armed with a unique voice matched by an engaging and quirky on-screen persona, house-bound mums and dads immediately embraced the relatable diva as their own. Snapped up by network executives, her innumerable guest spots were sure-fire guarantees to leave viewers with a smile.
Soon, Little’s antics included a flair for homemade fashion.
Firstly, modelling clothes that incorporated food, she eventually rode that wave to rethink catwalk couture using household items like wash clothes, plastic cutlery and disposable garbage bags.
Cementing her legendary status, Little took proceedings one step further, asking home viewers to create and enter works of their own. These hysterical works must be seen to be believed.
Out of interest, Little’s legendary viewer challenge may be found at the link below.
Based in Melbourne, Kieran Carroll is an award-winning playwright. He is also the writer and director of this delightful memory piece. ‘Dahlin!’ takes some of the above-mentioned adventures (and more) by wrapping them up into a very neat bundle.
His anecdotal vision encapsulates and balances Little’s outrageous public persona and private life in equal measure. Carroll’s sensitive construction gives viewers a backstage pass, as it were, into Little’s driving motivation and career choices, as well as her personal victories, romantic relationships and mental health struggles.
Snippets of information include being raised by a fun-loving yet no-nonsense single parent. The late star’s humble upbringing, combined with her mother’s determination to make sure Little never aimed low, were the twin catalysts to strive for a better life. That her mum made their own clothes, was a sure sign of things to come.
We also learn how Little’s titular catchphrase, was borne out of deep necessity. She could never remember people’s names after being introduced.
Fronted by Caroline Ferguson, her immersive approach is so convincing, at times you forget this is an actor on stage playing a part. Showcasing both Little’s star and Ferguson’s own impressive skill sets, audiences are taken on a journey that highlights the former’s desire for success as a TV personality and later, as a serious dramatic actress.
Several show-stopping moments include excerpts from Little’s one-woman tributes to Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, and her gripping battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Clocking in at a little under sixty minutes, its compact running time works well in its favour. Ferguson’s engaging performance captures and maintains viewer interest throughout.
The Loop Project Space & Bar works very well as a live venue. Meaning, with moments of audience interaction scattered throughout the show, we are up close and personal at all times.
‘Dahlin! – It’s The Jeanne Little Show’ is an experience not only for fans and friends alike, it is a loving (and at times, moving) tribute to a glittering national treasure.
An ideal lift to counter a long day at work, the current season of concludes on Thursday 1 April. Don’t miss out.