In ‘The Travelling Medicine Show’ the production company Porcelain Punch combines the concept of a medicine show with the tradition of vaudeville to present a satirical deconstruction of the pervasive effects of capital M Media. The talented cast of highly skilled performers unit to form a single cohesive voice that…
Actually, no, let’s do it this way:
Do you want to see wonders that elude this reviewer’s extensive vocabulary? You can. Would you like to hear songs sung with such beauty that these moments are what music was discovered for? You will. Would you like to see juggling represented in an entirely new context for the 21st Century? Now you’re getting greedy. The Travelling Medicine Show comes to La Mama bringing song, dance, comedy, and a cure for all your ills.
Porcelain Punch has created not just a night of theatre but an experience. The setting for this is a purpose built theatre that evidently is constructed from the back of a truck, the truck is there and the flat bed serves as the stage. To enter the performance space I was greeted by two flamboyant attendants who drew back a curtain to usher me into the regulation defying performance space reminiscent of a time before public liability. This isn’t completely true but such is the nature of this review. The space was obviously legal and subjectively comfortable but the design left the taste of imagined dust in my mouth. The stage, with planks o wood, crates, and buckets that seemed older than the combined aged of the audience, was set with velvet curtains and glorious attempts at theatrical trappings. And the show began.
Luke O’connor is Lenard Grad, huckster, raconteur, and entirely selfless healer, the Co-MC. He holds the stage and fills the ‘theatre’ with good will and confidence and perfect comedic timing. These duties are shared with Miss Ellie Mae Rose (played by Madeline Hudson). While Lenard entertains and engages the audience he is supported by Ellie who really comes in to her own when she sings, and lordy does she ever.
Other performers in the tent are Christy Flaws, with a nuanced act that quickly got the audience onside, Alex Gellman, whose circus training and flexibility is evident and his juggling is fantastic for what juggling is, and Emilie Johnston, who performed a few characters each of which was given dignity in their degradation. The entire cast are multitalented , experienced, and expert performers. Although never once did they bring attention to their amazing feats, the night wasn’t to display their talents but to use them to entertain us and make us laugh.
The humour is occasionally dark but quick fire and more jokes landed well than not. The performance was always professional and when a joke failed the performers acknowledged that and there would be another one along soon that you might find funnier. This is part of the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival and as such is an interesting and daring alternative. It’s funny (I thought so) but not only that it is an entertaining night of various performances.
This is the nature of the vaudeville beast, there are a number of acts and not everything will appeal to everyone. For instance, and as mentioned earlier, juggling. Now, I recognise that juggling has its own skill-set and could be considered an art, well a craft at the very least. For some people juggling is the height of performance. Not many perhaps and certainly none were at the performance I attended. And yet the show went on and with each feat of juggling more amazing than the last nobody responded but that didn’t stop The Great Boy Wonder (Alex Gellman) instead, while continuing to juggle, he gave a blank under whelmed stare of indifference before going back to the beaming performance. If juggling doesn’t work for you then song might, or dance, or the comedy. If juggling does work for you feel free to explain it to me.
The night was a funny and highly entertaining recreation of a performance that never was. It is an interesting diversion from more conventional Comedy Festival fare but it is good theatre in any context. And you might be the lucky audience member that is healed as a demonstration of the powers of Porcelain Punch but even if not, you will leave The Travelling Medicine Show feeling better and happier than you did before.