REVIEW: Aunty Donna: Big Boys (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by Nathan Joe

Aunty Donna

[May Contain Traces of Nuts]

While I wouldn’t classify myself as one of Aunty Donna’s most devoted fans, having only discovered them recently, it’s easy to see why the Australian comedy sketch troupe has charmed audiences with their often surreal sense of humour and skewering of social norms.

Primarily known through their Youtube channel, I was worried that their on-screen antics wouldn’t translate well on stage. And while there is something lost through the lack of filmic editing (namely the ability to cut to visual punchlines), seeing them live has its own rewards. Playing caricatures of themselves, the core trio of Mark Bonanno, Zac Ruane and Broden Kelly come across exactly how you’d imagine, if not bigger in person.

At 60-minutes it flies by, channeling the energy of a rock n roll concert. The whole performance feels like an attempt to simulate the whiplash speed and urgency of watching a series of Youtube clips back to back on auto play (minus the ads). But, by the same token, some of the sketches do have diminishing returns and start to feel repetitive.

The best sketches are the ones that embrace the freedom of theatre, often involving audiences members or improvisation to some degree. One of the best and earliest examples is a musical segment called ‘Everything is a Drum,’ which is pretty self-explanatory: different objects, including unsuspecting audience members, are used to create drum sounds with foley to jarring comedic effect. The inventiveness of Aunty Donna is how they impressively embrace a wide range of performance styles, from the use of live sound design, pantomime, rap battles and more. Even corpsing becomes a bit of an art under their hands.

In a comedy landscape that grows more and more filled with political commentary and insights, Aunty Donna can also come across as bafflingly apolitical, opting for the nonsensical and random instead of meaningful. But rather than leaving a vacuum where nothing exists, Aunty Donna fill the space up with an unapologetic excess. Even a simple parody of the awkward interaction involving a woman waiting for her order at a cafe is pushed to its absurd extreme.

There’s a particular brand of masculinity the group often pokes fun at, right down to the title of their show. It’s a very Kiwi and Australian thing of being a ‘lad’ or ‘bloke’ that they mock and embrace. This is the beating heart of Aunty Donna, the juxtaposition between maturity and immaturity, machoness and silliness. Big Boys rather than men.

It’s a show by and large for the fans, tailored for those familiar with their idiosyncrasies as performers. For the people who will appreciate the comic trio’s larger than life personalities made flesh. While Big Boys doesn’t necessarily show off their best writing as sketch artists, it’s a brilliant showcase of their showmanship and stage presence.

Aunty Donna played Q 4-6 May. Details see Comedy Festival

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