What you expect to see when you attend the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is a whole lot of stand-up and if you’re lucky, perhaps even some spirited cabaret. You generally don’t expect to see puppets projected on screens. Stark and Dormy, which kicked off at the festival last week at Malthouse Theatre was just that- puppets, lights and screens and for the most part, it was fantastic. 

Stark and Dormy was one of those shows where creativity and originality was off the charts good. I can quite comfortably say that in all of my travels, I have never seen anything quite like it. The last time I saw puppets used in a show was as a five year old when I watched Dolly Parton’s Working Nine to Five performed at a local shopping centre by a chorus of colourful fish puppets on sticks. Evidently, I have never forgotten it. I guess you could say that I have long been partial to a bit of the ol’ razzle dazzle and if you too have a penchant for performances outside the box, Stark and Dormy might just be the ticket at MICF this year.

The narrative set up was great. The audience was transported to Fox’s Family Fun Park, after being handed a trucker cap with the park’s brand planted on the front. We took our seats. At Fox’s Family Fun Park, things were dire, to say the least. The inciting incident was that the park’s prize ostrich, Lady Gaga was decapitated during a roller-coaster test and her meat was subsequently sold to an eccentric restaurateur who had a penchant for exotic and illegally obtained animal meat. In addition to these plot points, Stark and Dormy’s protagonist, Jessica Fox, the daughter of the patriarch and business owner, Marty Fox had decided to revamp the park’s aquarium following a fishing trip. Unbeknownst to her, however, she had inadvertently brought home some sort of sea urchin/alien that continued the carnage at the park by eating everything in its wake, until all of the park’s treasured animals were gone.  While I found the story a little too convoluted at times, I did marvel at the childlike enthusiasm of the characters. It was fun to come and play in this world for an hour. With that said, I did feel like I was at the Australian Open, with my head bouncing between screens and puppets for the duration of the show.

Stark and Dormy was brought to us by Bunk Puppets’ James Pratt and Christian Bagin who displayed an unprecedented amount of energy and enthusiasm as they moved through the motions of this complex narrative. While I would give this show top marks for creativity and originality, I was disorientated by the vast array of accents utilised by the actors. It was hard not to notice that Pratt and Bagin also frequently stomped one another’s lines, which meant that the play was difficult to understand in parts. I also got the sense that the performers indulged a little too much in audience reaction to certain gags. These two elements struck me as slightly unpolished and reminded me that I was a patron of an opening night that felt a little like a preview.

In the third act of the show, things really started to heat up as the drama intensified. The turning point of the final act, signified the audience being given 3D goggles to wear, as we bore witness to the show’s most fantastical elements, resulting in a thrilling crescendo.

There’s no doubting the brilliance of these two performers with respect to their puppetry and the coordination of the myriad of colourful characters. The projection screens that were utilised to play out the drama were wonderful to watch and as previously mentioned, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Shows like Stark and Dormy are a crucial part of the tapestry of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I would encourage anyone to get a ticket to this show to celebrate in the diversity the festival has to offer and be open to a night of laughs not elicited via the microphone.