by Tara Beckett.
One of the great things about Melbourne is that no matter the time of year, or the weather, there is always a festival running, or about to begin. We, the cultural elite that run this town are just mad for them! MIFF was eons ago in August and the Writers’ Festival has just closed, but the Melbourne Festival is still a couple of weeks away. It must be Melbourne Fringe time! One of the more madcap festivals to grace our dear city, the Fringe is really an artists’ festival. It’s a collection of contemporary art encompassing comedy, cabaret, straight theatre, dance, live music, and more, all strewn throughout various tiny and not so tiny venues around the CBD and inner suburbs.
One such offering from this year’s Fringe is the engaging Choose Your Own Portenza! performed by the amusingly deranged Dr Professor Neal Portenza and a collection of awfully wonderful impressions from Fran Drescher’s ‘90s sitcom The Nanny. Choose You Own Portenza! may not be the most topical thing around but it is seriously funny, in an embarrassing-snort inducing way. Disclaimer up front; I love comedy and I have frequented gigs regularly for the last five years. I have NEVER laughed until I cried like I did at this show. But enough about me, let’s talk about the talent.
Dr Professor Neal Portenza is the blue eyeshadowed, rouge cheeked, beret wearing, Regal cola drinking, utterly mental alter ego of 27-year-old Josh Ladgrove. Ladgrove performed Choose Your Own Portenza! earlier this year at both the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and the rambunctious show certainly deserves a third outing. Sequestered away on the third level of what looks like a tarted up office building known as The Tuxedo Cat, is Portenza’s den of child-like excitement and whimsy. Placed on top of each of the audience’s seats are tape recorders with headphones, remotes and party hats. This was my first inkling that I was about to have what is known as Fun Times.
The show follows the loose narrative of Portenza’s birthday party (hence the party hats) and includes an array of characters, games, skits and audience participation. So much audience participation. It’s unique in that the audience decides which characters or dialogue they want to see and hear through various slideshow polls – this is where the remote gets involved. Get it? ‘Choose your own Portenza/adventure’. I enjoy puns.
For those who dread the very thought of having to get up on stage at the behest of a madman in a hospital gown, this show is not for you. Don’t think you can get away with not being picked on by sitting up the back; Ladgrove makes a point of mentioning this by disparaging a certain Australian comedy veteran. We’ll call him Bil Undersen*. But if you see the show and are picked to go on stage, it’s better for everyone if you go along with it and have a bit of fun. Unfortunately, one female audience member who was picked to play out a ‘date’ scenario with Gary Portenza (Neal’s evil twin half brother who appears to have captured the voice of Matt Berry and made it his own) proved that no matter how aesthetically pleasing someone is on the outside, they can still be a rude and uptight bore. I give her zero stars.
It’s a crazy show and the mistakes were plentiful, mostly from the sound technician, affectionately dubbed ‘Buttons’, but Langrove is talented enough to turn these missteps into memorable parts of the act. It’s kooky and hilarious and endearing and I like it unpolished; it rollicked along and I never once even thought of checking my watch. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste but if you like surrealist humour in the vein of The Mighty Boosh or Monty Python or you’re just willing to lose your adult brain and roll with it, you’ll have a great time. If you saw it the first time around at the MICF, just go again, every night is a little bit different.
Go on. If only for the stress balls.
ALL of the Stars.
Playing NOW until October 4 @ The Tuxedo Cat B
Level 3, 277 Flinders lane, Melbourne
8.30pm, Sun 7.30pm (60min)
Full Price: $ 20
Concession: $ 18
Tuesday: $ 15
Group: $ 15
(per person for 4 people)
FOR BOOKINGS: Visit melbournefringe.com.au
OR CALL: (03) 9660 9666
*Bil Undersen is a fake name. I’m talking about Wil Anderson. Hopefully by including his real name this’ll get a few hits while he’s Googling himself.