**** STARS

By Jessica Taurins

Dragon Friends is, as the name suggestions, a group of friends who are dragons. Wait, no… let me try that again.

The Dragon Friends are a group of comedians who play Dungeons and Dragons together on an online podcast, a hobby that’s become hugely popular over the last decade alongside D&D’s uphill climb from being a weird, nerdy hobby to being a weird, nerdy hobby beloved by millions of people worldwide. The titular Friends are: Alex Lee (comedy host on SBS’ The Feed), Ben Jenkins (writer on ABC’s ‘At Home Alone Together’), Michael Hing (triple j host), Edan Lacey (a founding director of Improv Theatre Sydney), Simon Greiner (National Theatresports Champion), and Dave Harmon (D&D enthusiast, writer, director, performer, and game designer). Also included in the MICF live show cast is Tom Cardy, the group’s musician-slash-bard, who provided live musical interludes and distraction via a fantastically glittering earring. Cardy has gained immense popularity recently via his Tik Tok videos, surpassing possibly even the Dragon Friends themselves in popular culture, but don’t tell them that.

While the Dragon Friends are most well known for playing D&D, they decided to mix it up a little for their live show. In order to ensure that the audience didn’t need prior knowledge of their podcast characters, and to avoid too much focus on sometimes-confusing D&D mechanics, DMs Dave Harmon and Ben Jenkins selected another RPG for their shows, called The End of the World. This role-playing game is similar to D&D in that each character has statistics and abilities, but instead of being set in a huge fantasy world, it deals with smaller, more contained dilemmas. The book series outlines end of the world scenarios, like alien invasions or the wrath of the gods coming down to Earth, but for Dragon Friends’ Sunday MICF show they ran with Zombie Apocalypse, bringing the setting even closer to home by describing the zombies shambling along the streets of Melbourne.

Prior to Sunday I had not seen any Dragon Friends content, online or in person. However even from a short hour and a half show, I feel like I could count them among my own friends. Each performer – even the ones who turn out to be water bottle-wielding psychos – are friendly and inviting, and every one liner and joke brings out a little more of their personalities. They were each assigned in-game personality traits by their fellow performers, but they aligned fairly well with their own personalities, allowing them to fantastically highlight elements of humour in their own lives.

Hing, for example, was ‘surprisingly fit’ on the one hand, and ‘not good at following orders’ on the other, leading to an amusing level of chaos filtering through the entire show. Lee frequently used her ‘mum voice’ and ‘intimidating personality’ to win interactions within the game, while Edan struggled to interact properly with most characters due to his ‘inability to comprehend more than one person at a time’, which led – of course – everyone to just talk at him until his brain exploded. This level of banter between the cast belies their intense friendships and understanding of each other, and that can be a difficult thing to build up in such a large group. Their skill at playing off each other’s improvised lines and character actions – as well as the timing of quips and jokes – really elevated the performance above any old regular improv show, and made it a true joy to watch.

With such down to earth characters, and a familiar setting for 99% of the audience, the Dragon Friends show was like hanging out with a bunch of good friends, just wandering the streets of Melbourne. Sure, sometimes ambulances randomly came careening down the street, filled with zombified TV presenters, but that’s the kind of thing that happens in Melbourne all the time – barely something to blink an eye at! And sure, maybe it’s kind of weird to get randomly bitten by Akmal specifically, but when’s the last time you didn’t walk down King Street and dodge someone looking wide-mouthed and dangerous?

Speaking of Akmal, one other fantastic element during the show was the inclusion of other comedians. While only one showed up in person – guest star Mark Bonanno, of Aunty Donna fame – the rest of the mentioned comedians delighted the audience, regardless of their role in the story. I won’t spoil too much, but look out for Demi Lardner in the recording (to be made available on the Dragon Friends website) and just enjoy why she comes up in the tale.

While the Dragon Friends did deliver an excellent live show – I do have one suggestion. When characters died off early, it was unfortunate to not get to hear from them again. Some of the best improv came from some of the players who died early deaths, perhaps next time they could return as ghosts, or perhaps Gods, or maybe just the voice-in-Hing’s-head-that-tells-him-not-to-kill-people? That seemed like something that could have definitely been used in this retelling of a zombie apocalypse.

Even for people who aren’t already fans of the Dragon Friends – like myself, although I am 100% a convert now – or people who aren’t familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, it would be well worth stopping past a Dragon Friends show in future, or tuning into their online podcast. Dave Harmon is the usual Dungeon Master (like a narrator for the roleplaying story) on the podcast, although secondary DM Ben Jenkins was fantastic during their live show and should definitely be given props for driving the onstage chaos towards a superb ending.

Pity they all died at the end though. (Or did they? You’ll have to catch the recorded version to see what happened, and I can guarantee it’ll be an awesome listen.)