February 01, 2023

Comedy Theatre: Mono

Three goes very amiably into one in Mono, a suite of gently comic monologues divided up and performed by some of Australia’s favourite funny people, past and present.

In what he calls a ‘Brand New Classic Comedy ‘ and ‘A three-person one-man show ‘ Mono writer and director Angus FitzSimons has a fairly clear demographic in mind and it is not the Wil Anderson/Hannah Gadsby/ Kirsty Webeck crowd. Like his other show (with a published book tie-in) the semiotically titled, Senior Moments, Mono is pitched to an older audience – retirees and other elders, and their not inconsiderable grey dollars.

It harks to the comedy of the recent past – the solo theatrical shows of Joyce Grenfell and Alan Bennett in the UK and the home-grown Australian character monologues of Barry Humphries and others over the past fifty years. It has a target and, if the warm reception of the opening night audience in the Dunstan Playhouse is any indication, it hits the bullseye.

FitzSimons has recruited some outstanding performers for his project. Max Gillies virtually invented the theatrical comic monologue in the Australian theatre. From his classic version of Jack Hibberd’s A Stretch of the Imagination and Barry Oakley’s Scanlon to his brilliant political satires of the Gillies Report and Gillies Republic for ABC -TV and the lesser-known, but no less brilliant, stage cameos in shows like Squirts and other ventures (fuelled by writers as various as Patrick Cook, Don Watson and Guy Rundle) Gillies is among the all-time Australian comic greats, as his recent celebration on Australian Story attests.

Legendary in another way, John Wood has, in a long stage and screen career, brought us the portraits of Sugar Renfrey in the TV classic Power Without Glory through to the much-loved Tom Croydon in Blue Heelers for which he won the coveted Gold Logie.

And finally, replacing the brilliant Noeline Brown who featured in an earlier iteration of this show, Emily Taheny comes to the theatre stage after a brilliant ten years with Shaun Micallef’s satirically priceless Mad as Hell where she excelled in a variety of roles which, as the program notes drily remind us – “personally created at least two imaginary Federal MPs that are now sitting in Parliament”

All three bring much to what is a mixed bag of nine monologues. The stage format is minimal – a back lit screen and a stage empty except for a lectern /podium/ pulpit with two microphones.

Taheny opens as the Head Mistress addressing the assembly at St Gabardine’s girls college. It has echoes of Joyce Grenfell and Victoria Wood as Taheny attempts to manage outbreaks of suppressed giggling at various double entendres and attempts at decorum. Elsewhere her vignettes of Dr Asher Boyd, the Mindfulness teacher reciting gnomic platitudes and as the disgruntled and tipsy Mother of the Bride, are crisply and hilariously delivered.

Wood follows with his cheerfully woeful bush poet Lachlan McGorr, in black singlet and flannel shirt, reciting rhyme-clattering odes to toasters and Blue Heeler dogs and pillaging the cadences of Banjo Paterson. Later he returns as a Sotheby’s auctioneer selling off a dubious list of exhibits from the 15th Lord of Montmorency’s crumbling estate. His highpoint is as the police sergeant giving court evidence, in amusingly prosaic detail, of his pursuit of a fugitive calling himself Donald Duck. Its gently comic twists made it an audience favourite.

Max Gillies’ Old Person’s Guide to the Orchestra has him waving his baton as various orchestral riffs appear and vanish while a voiceover earnestly explains what amount to a series of musical jokes. In among it, Gillies is at his classic best – mute and deadpan (as he is, later, in the less successful Modern Art lampoon)

The highlight is his sermon- delivered in Gillies’s trademark slow exacting manner, making the humour linger, savouring the absurdity and the satiric hypocrisy. His comedy is his own but the intimations of Alec Guinness and Alistair Sim, and, in his physicality, even Buster Keaton, are irresistible.

Mono continues at the Dunstan Playhouse at 7.30 pm until February 5.

Published InDaily February 2, 2023.

Comedy theatre review: Mono

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