2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival:
• Mager & Smythe—In Search of Atlantis

Posted on 06 October 2011

Recently, one of the radio channels I listen to in the car has been playing Gilbert & Sullivan. I love H.M.S. Pinafore, Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, etc. While driving out to Healesville to see Mager & Smythe’s show In Search of Atlantis, I had the pleasure of listening to “I am a pirate king!” which admirably set the mood for what was to come.

In Search of Atlantis is something of a folk operetta. Much like Gilbert’s “topsy-turvy” style, it begins with the absurd premise that a couple of outback archeologists could possibly find an Atlantean artifact in the swamps of north Melbourne, then takes things to their “logical” conclusion by travelling to Egypt and thence to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. The story is liberally sprinkled with Irish-Australian styled folk songs.

Had this show been purely a theatrical work, it still would have been a delightfully diverting evening of fine comic acting. Kai Smythe, the tall adult character, has a lot of fun with accents. Tim Mager, the shorter more child-like character, shows superb commitment to character and situation, making his emotional world real to the audience. They successfully perform in parallel without upstaging one another. An amazing feat, particularly for comedians, who don’t always know how to share the stage.

Had this show been purely a musical work, it would also have been an evening of real melodic pleasure. Comedies sometimes get away with mediocre tunes, so long as the lyrics are clever. Mager & Smythe have written beautiful songs, almost too good for the nature of their story (a comment sometimes made of Sullivan’s work in combination with Gilbert). The tunes are memorable, the two-part harmonies are well conceived and equally well sung, the acoustic guitar and mandolin playing was done with precise skill. I have to admit that I was taken by Kai’s delicious baritone voice. My main complaint would be, why weren’t they selling CDs of the music? This is an excellent way to bring in cash, but also to encourage more people to see the show because they had heard a song or two from a friend.

Though their characters and the comedy may be a bit rough upon occasion, the show was not. It was polished to a fine patina. In particular I enjoyed the Motown professionalism and exactitude of their dance choreography. I also appreciated the thought that went into some of the comic bits. Pulp fiction blithely destroys entire peoples, because we are to assume that they are all equally bad. This is old-fashioned xenophobia that doesn’t play well in our networked world. So the moment when Tim at least questions the destruction of Atlantis is a refreshing one.

The show did leave me wondering: if it’s set in 1910, where was Halley’s comet?

Mager & Smythe’s In Search of Atlantis is a superb show and will be going places. Catch it now, before they start selling out!

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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