2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival:
• Bullet: A Superhero Comedy
• Helmsman Pete: Postcards from the Edge of the World

Posted on 26 September 2011

Bullet: A Superhero Comedy

I’m a long time comic book nerd. From childhood I was a big fan of Spiderman and now continue to read comics such as Flight or Girl Genius. I can tell when someone is faking the comic aesthetic, because they hope it will sell. I can also tell when someone knows the genre well enough to intelligently play with tropes, rather than sinking into cliché.

Bullet pulls off an impressive feat by combining all the best comic book cheesiness that a mainstream audience understands with some innovative storytelling.

The story follows superhero Bullet who has the power to shoot mind bullets. His duty is to protect Settlement City from an array of villains such as Dostoyana Ursine, The Critic, Skyhook, and MechaRed. Repeatedly he is put into classic comic book situations and repeatedly events roll-out contrary to the stereotypical.

Foiling people’s expectations is an excellent way to create comedy, and the writers use this to its full extent. They also leave the audience guessing. Excitement is generated and people are on the edge of their seats wondering, what’s next?

Bullet is presented as a radio play. Performers are dressed in black and seated before a line of microphones. Rather than live foley, they opted for professionally designed digital sound effects and music by Risk Sound. The results were impressive and added to a smooth professional package.

Slight costume touches are used to suggest each actor’s characters. The person speaking as the radio announcer wore a diagonally striped tie. The person playing the bear-like Russian villain had bright communist red hair, lipstick, and fingernails. Though no one wandered around stage, the actors still enhanced their vocal performances with facial expressions and select miming. So, it is well worth seeing Bullet, rather than waiting for radio broadcast.

All of the actors were on top of their game. They easily evoked the situation with their voices and carried the comic superhero tone. That is no mean feat. I have auditioned far too many actors who think they are going to do some comedy, “for a bit of fun.” Comic acting is a skill like any other, and requires practise and commitment. Of particular note are Louise McCrae and Nicholas Barker-Pendree. Their character projection and comic timing were superb.

You don’t get an effective comic team like this every day. The writing was tight. The directing showed a laser like precision in paring things down to their funniest and most evocative. The actors shared a solid collaborative energy that made the stage world believable. I would strongly suggest this group forms an ensemble and do more things together. It’s one of the surer paths to television and film.

Helmsman Pete: Postcards from the Edge of the World

Pete Reid is the writer and performer of this delicious piece of surreality. I enjoy watching works that aren’t essentially comedy, but still rely upon it for their storytelling. Sometimes I find new ideas that haven’t been exploited yet by the comedy mainstream. Helmsman Pete didn’t disappoint.

Pete takes us into a world inspired by a series of postcards with stories on the back. Stories range from a new take on the Pygmalion myth of ancient Greece to humanity’s first communication with alien life at SETI. In between we have a number of tales set in the American frontier.

I loved the otherworldliness Pete brought to this show. We had no doubt we were in the land of “once upon a time”. The stories had the grandeur, larger-than-life-likeness, and absurdity of fairytales. Woven through the show were songs Pete had written himself. Pete’s effortless baritone voice could make the Playschool theme song sound like a fine mix between opera and the blues. Impressive.

One of the things I enjoyed about Pete’s performance, from which comedians could learn, was how much he trusted his audience. He confidently gave his best, and just as confidently expected people to meet him halfway. The manner in which he did this showed respect for the audience’s intelligence and imagination.

The only tweak I would suggest to the performer is perhaps reduce the sheer volume of props. Some were fun, too many started to diffuse people’s attention and caused you to fumble a little trying to find and use them.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to see Helmsman Pete: Postcards from the Edge of the World. I look forward to seeing more from Pete Reid.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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