One of the challenges for comedians is keeping things fresh while maintaining the thing that makes them funny. Whether that thing is a particular style or further exploration of reoccurring subject matter, you can’t rely on the basis that just because an audience found them funny once, or even multiple times, that they will find them funny again.
Rhys Mathewson is the kind of comedian with whom you always feel safe, not because of any degree of genteelness to the content of his material, but because of the attentive symbiosis he establishes with his audiences and the positivity that imbues his affability as a performer. With an incredibly astute understanding of comedy, Mathewson is in a constant mode of discovery on stage; you can see his comedic brain working through each beat. He even openly acknowledges when and how the jokes land. It’s the type of commitment and informed sharing of knowledge that makes you feel like you have an education in comedy every time you see him.
Thematic in past years, the new Mathewson feels like more of a side step in style, granted a flamboyant one, rather than a progressive step forward in the comedian’s work, which is ironic considering how linked much of the material is. But what the show lacks in narrative, it makes up for in content. Whether it’s food, money, or stand up comedy itself, Mathewson is the kind of comedian who could mine the material from a given topic until he had excavated every comedic gem from it – even if he admittedly doesn’t do so in an challenge involving spontaneous offers on opening night.
Change is inevitable. Fortunately, Nouveau Rhys maintains the qualities that make Mathewson unique, while introducing an all-too-minimally used spectacle element that is sure to surprise audiences. It may not provide the full introspective insight that has emerged in previous Comedy Festival shows, but, if you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed, and if you haven’t acquainted yourself with Mathewson in the past, there’s no reason to not do so now.
Nouveau Rhys is performed by Rhys Mathewson and plays at The Classic Studio until May 14 as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2016. For details see Comedy Festival.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe