July 01, 1992

Missing Persons

Filed under: Archive,Comedy

I, CONnolly

Gerry Connolly

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The title of Gerry Connolly’s latest one person show is indicative of the performer himself. The literate pun has the same chill of cautious pre-meditation and self consciousness that characterises this and Connolly’s other live work. Shielded by television post-production or confined in the careful structure of something like Clarke and Stevenson’s Royal Commission, Connolly’s gifted impersonations have a steely presence. In his own show he seems to lack that last little skerrick of rocket fuel that the ego requires to undertake the monstrous task of cross dressing, political impudence and royal travesty.

There is something opaque about Connolly’s satire which you never feel about that other shy chameleon Max Gillies. Not only does Gillies know what he thinks but his satire is (or was) also propelled by the bile of Patrick Cook and the historical irony of the historically ironic Don Watson. Connolly’s Thatcher, Hawke and Bjelke-Petersen are adrift from their very real social actions leaving you wondering whether he thinks their main fault is vulgarity. They seem like the comic creations of a tory or, more likely, one indifferent to politics itself. This is not a matter of political correctness, it is a question of clarity of purpose. Politics for Gerry Connolly seems to be Commedia Dell Arte or a pre-determined theory of humours.

For this reason the frosty first night crowd gently resisted being herded about by a pushy Margaret Thatcher whose stage reality was unclear. In the subtitle, Icons and My Part in their Demise, Connolly acknowledges that his subjects no longer rule the roost- but that doesn’t mean they are merely comical relics. Collectively they wrought a fair amount of havoc and left legacies worth comment.

Directed by Sue Ingleton, I COnnolly has an engaging theatricality with Connolly preparing make-up and costume changes on stage. The links the comedian provides are disarming- I wouldn’t be here if I’d concentrated at school, he smiles disarmingly, contradicting the proposition with details of his Christian Brothers education, two years at the sem and a B.Mus from the con. He isn’t blowing his bags, in fact it is interesting – and it does help to explain a certain reserve, a sense of qualm in the task.

That Gerry Connolly is a skilled burlesque performer is evident when he puts on his hat and delivers vintage Bjelke-Petersen gibberish. Mentally and morally aphasic it is still Connolly’s strongest creation. His Keating as a Blacktown apostate, appropriating the language of doctrine and the pulpit of politics, is a coolly sardonic conceit whose truth may still be growing on us. Like much of Connolly’s work there are not a lot of obvious laughs, something I’m not clear is deliberate or not. The key seems to be disdain rather than anything very raucous.

Other Labour icons get a serve as well – Gough, in a genial exercise in collective voice mimickry and R.J. Hawke as Liberace, a broad brush with the PM’s new life as a television non-event. It gave Connolly an oroton jacket and a round at the piano but ran longer than its legs could carry.

As did the second royal half. After being snubbed by those well-known patriots, Botham and Gooch, and with the flag kerfuffle flapping around us , Connolly finds himself in a vortex of monarchist feeling. It is a paradox of course that those in the mall who want to biff him with their handbags won’t come near his show while those who do buy tickets may be alarmed to find his account of the royals benign to the point of endearing.

Reading from a 1953 Royal Tour and showing us his Charles and Di pop-up book, Connolly indicated a bemusement at the House of Windsor but nothing much beyond that. Ears first, Connolly as Charles took a turn on the cello and then while the sound system played a variation on the Holy Order of Divorce sketch, kitted up as ER herself. The long skit, based on those documentaries of the Queen at home, again suggested a whimsical penchant for non-humour, almost wilfully ambling, deliberately inconsequential. It is engaging for a while but you suddenly feel Gerry Connolly’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

With some flourishes from Chopin, Connolly brought his quietly eccentric show to a close. Smoothly managed, with assistance from designer Ray Wilson as his dresser, I CONnolly is a showcase of accomplishment which is unreasonably unsatisfying – neither full of herniating gusto or smart, lethal satire. Gerry Connolly’s talents deserve more acknowledgement than this, but maybe we need more from him as well.

The Adelaide Review, July, 1992.

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