As printed on the flyers set out at the Voltaire upon entry, “from the mind of Barnie Juancan comes…”
You guessed it. It’s in the title. Your very own surrealist comedy: Tap Head.
From the aforementioned flyer, big things are expected. It promises a surreal show about a tap and a stand-up comedian. Both simple and abstract enough… but why? It then takes us into the professional rapport of dear Barnie Duncan as Best Comedy Award winner at this year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival with a partner-in-crime and their show. However, the lonesome Duncan takes the stage… you guessed it: on his lonesome.
However, we still are left wondering ‘why?’ With half an award winner guaranteed, the audience is prematurely piquing with curiosity and excitement. “Part stand-up comedy, part surreal theatre,” the flyer says. “Tap Head explores the life of a lonely tap who works in a public toilet in Fairfield Park, a tap who also frequents open mic nights to test out his jokes.” What can we expect from this performance? A man and his tap? A man in a tap? A man as a tap? Who knows? Curiouser and curiouser it gets. And it delivers expectedly unexpectedly.
Directed by Katy Maudlin, Tap Head’s delivery lands awkwardly in the best way possible. In the true form of surrealist comedy, the jokes don’t quite line up or have strong context, yet they extract a laugh from the audience almost without hesitation – and where the hesitation is, the intention stands clear that the hesitation sets up the next laugh with ease.
Barnie Duncan – adopting his Spanish alter-ego ‘Barnie Juancan’ – reaches for the microphone with just as little hesitation, switching effortlessly between tap and man and fact and fiction like they were two strangers, merely passing each other while waiting for a toilet stall to become available. With separate personalities, Juancan makes comments on the politics of stand-up, the politics of people, the politics of in animation, the politics of wiping faecal matter from one’s shoe, and the politics of just plain garble as he explores explicitly the themes of anthropomorphism and the amateur comedy scene, yet implicitly with a hint of tinted beauty. His constant “sorry I was late, guys, I had…” into an absurd nothing story that tailored into punch lines you would never expect kept the audience almost hysterical in segments; yet his depiction of a lonely tap with dreams stuck in everyday routine strikes a much more real chord within everyone’s heart, giving Duncan’s lonesome performance a strange authenticity as he comments on his own commentary and often explores, silently, vignettes of the life of a tap. With moments of uproarious disbelief to moments of genuine heartbreak, Juancan brings a sense of truth in his surrealist display of his mother’s habit of giving personalities to inanimate objects; with kudos to Katy Maudlin for her excellent refinement of the movements, gestures, directives and what was observed as an effortless dramaturgical approach to the precision of timing and transition.
With sound design by Daniel Nixon, the transitions were upheld by an almost constant soundscape. While certain sounds missed the mark or had a minor delay, the performance onstage was enough to smooth out any uncertainty that may have sparked between both performer and engineer and both performer and audience; and incredibly painted was the environment of each scene – whether in the world of Juancan or the bathroom of the tap – by the expert nuances of Nixon’s soundboard. This included all of your everyday sweeps and scrapes, almost accentuated when in the world of the tap, with song snippets here and there to land a joke or create a mood as any researched sound designer would know how to implement. Highlighting all of these atmospheric nuances was the simple staging of two chairs, a hatstand and a stool of sorts to create a minimalist household; further supported by the lighting, effectively dimming and tightening to bring attention to certain changes in the mood and helping land certain jokes with a quasi-cinematographic approach in its shifting state of focus and release. They also used a ‘wash’ lighting predominantly. That was a tap joke, by the way.
And speaking about the tap… wait until you see the tap.
All in all, with Duncan admitting his testing out certain moments and still “workshopping” the piece and his performance, a night out to Tap Head is definitely one that is worthwhile. Bringing attention to the small things in a way that gets you both thinking hard and feeling confused at once is a feat that not many performers can effectively accomplish. Duncan wipes out the locals and cleans the slate with wet humour, proving his worthiness of his comedic title and delivering his surrealism with an unabashed reality.