2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
• Boss Octopus in An Evening of Sketch
Posted on 29 March 2013
Melbourne has numerous public stand-up venues, a number of improvisational venues, and a smattering of oral storytelling venues, but sketch comedy doesn’t have the same support. So when a troupe of enthusiastic young people decide to put on a sketch show, their material doesn’t have many chances at being tested before hitting the festivals.
This is the first time the majority of the Boss Octopus sketch performers have appeared in the Melbourne Comedy Festival. For a first go this is an impressive outing. Even more so given they had to rely on their instincts and not on the practical experience gained by presenting material over and over again at a variety of venues.
Yianni Efstathiadis was the grounding presence for Boss Octopus. He both introduced and closed the show, as well as appearing in many of the sketches. His sense of comic timing and exuberant (if not always accurate) silly accents gave the sketches a Goon Show feel. My favourite sketch of the night was his performance of “Where is my iguana?”
Nathan Murfey and Will Burrage bubbled with classic Australian larrikin humour. Separately they brought a bright spark to their vignettes; together, they had a top-flight rapport that had the audience in tears of laughter. Their pirate sketch, though one the group’s less good scripts, was saved by Murfy and Burrage’s comical interactions.
Heli Simpson was game to play all women in the world in contraposition to the four guys. Her energy was good and her skill in believably interacting with the other characters was exceptional. The ensemble desperately needed at least one more woman. Dressing one of the guys up helped, but you could feel the imbalance. Clifford Myers had a boyish charm that needed more exploring.
So, performances overall were good. What needed help was the scripting. Performing in front of more than one audience could have improved things. Some sketches were brilliant. Some sketches were fun, but the laughs would depend on the audience. Some sketches fell flat. Boss Octopus would know this of their material, if it had been tested. They could then throw out the weak stuff and keep playing around with new stuff until they had a show that was consistently funny.
All of the sketches could have used some streamlining. Excess material was breaking up the pacing and bringing down the humour. Good comedy has a rhythm to it. You introduce an absurd situation, something funny happens, something funnier happens, then the funniest thing happens, and you end the scenario immediately. The same is true across all the sketches in a show. Start with a good sketch to whet people’s appetites, your next sketch may be slightly less good, but then build momentum until you bring out your best sketch at the end.
Probably most awkward for the audience was the lack of clear endings. The Monty Python team felt endings were their weakness. To cover this up, they found absurd ways to segue into the next scenario. Boss Octopus could have given this a try or had a meta-show that held the sketches together, or made their punchlines clearer. As it was the performers lost some of their comic energy at the end of each scenario, and thereby had to play catch-up to retrieve that energy in the next one.
The Melbourne Comedy Festival is a very expensive exercise. The Boss Octopus ensemble are a talented group who deserves a better chance than simply leaping off the festival cliff, hoping to safely land. I would like to encourage someone to start a room specialising in sketch. Boss Octopus in And Evening of Sketch bears comparison with Idiots of Ants shows, in fact if the ensemble sticks with it, they could be better. Their characters are more likeable. Overall it was a good night and I am happy to recommend the show.
Peace and kindness,