**** STARS

By Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou

At the top level of the Vodka Temple with a humble set of a hand drawn sign and towels, probably from home, covering the tables on stage, a small show will come to life and capture your attention so much you’ll feel as though you’re in a big studio.

Damo & Mick’s Backyard’s Quiz, involves a cast of guests and team captains performing on a roster. The show follows a simple structure tried and tested on the comedy quiz shows that are regulars on our television. Beginning with special topics, a few games, wildcard random points, and then back for a rapid-fire round, it should feel familiar, but it manages to carve out a unique voice in the genre.

If you’re calling something a backyard quiz, you’d expect to be invited to someone’s home, and, despite it being on a stage the feeling of having a beer with friends is not lost.

With games such as ‘The Cost is Correct’ (that is definitely not the Price is Right), a random Woolworths shop is given to the teams to sort. Had the creative team tried to move away from home-made experience, they wouldn’t have been able to balance the laughter of keeping everyone not quite sure if this was just their own shop for the week. It’s small touches like this, leaning into a low-budget style, that give this a from scratch chaotic charm.

It’s hard to keep improv structured without stifling it, and Damo and Mick manage to walk that line. Damo Hatcher as the host plays loosely with the audiences and contestants, bouncing back and forth and speaking to the invisible voice of god and his partner in crime Mick Barnes, who helps not just keep score but keep the narrative flowing.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the distinct personalities of each comic on stage, and how well they create space for each other. Group comedy is a team sport, and each comic shone both individually feeding off the audience’s energy and remarks, as well as being there for their co-stars with the alley-oop.

Newcomer Jez Fenton-Menzies, in his first ever Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, has an affable improv style and captained his team with the ease of a seasoned pro. He quietly sits, making room for team mate Pauline, allowing her to joyfully clown and get huge laughs, while chiming in with call back jokes, cheeky ribs, all with impeccable timing.

Another stand out was Firdi Billimoria, with a casual quick wit and a self-deprecating style that makes you feel instantly charmed.

There are two shows left on the 10th and 11th of April, and due to the nature of the show, each night will be different. But, if you’re in the mood to take a chance on laid-back quiz with all the charm of Spicks and Specks at a BBQ, this will leave you happy with how you spent your night.