REVIEW: The Basement Theatre Preview Show (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by Matt Baker

[The Basement Theatre: For all your Comedy needs]

Hosted by comedy duo Chris Parker & Thomas Sainsbury, the Basement Theatre Preview Show is, quite literally, a preview of the shows Basement Theatre is hosting for the 2018 NZ Comedy Festival. The goal of the evening is to engage prospective new audiences, and in that regard Leon Wadham is stand out of the night. His style and content (a barrage of internal monologues), while seemingly absurd and superficial, are unique, providing astute observations on the ways in which we navigate life in our own minds.

Billy T Award nominees Alice Snedden and Melanie Bracewell present more or less the same sets to their Billy T Jam performances, as does former Billy T nominee Eli Matthewson with material similar to previous shows. While fellow nominee Donna Brookbanks introduces us to a new yet equally awkward character who personifies the concept of schadenfreude.

Jamie Bowen, whose self-reflective comedic content with Fred Award-nominated past shows Heart Goes Boom and Head Goes Bang, has an existential depth of content which proves quite difficult for an audience to penetrate in a few short minutes. Nevertheless, Bowen is able to engage his audience and demonstrates he has more to explore from his introspective observations.

Meanwhile, comedy duo Fuq Boiz (Ryan Richards and Hamish Parkinson) have no problem presenting an excerpt from their absurd non-narrative set. Their onstage Bouffon personas complement each other perfectly in the most outrageous way, as do awkward teen sex educators Brynley Stent and Rhiannon McCall, whose subtle and not-so-subtle character conflicts provide plenty of comedic potential for a full-length show.

Musical acts Hayley Sproull and Paul Williams entertain with clever and comical lyricism, although where Williams nails two short musical pieces, Sproull’s “free the nipple” bit is a weak ending to an otherwise strong set. Tim Batt has a more casual approach to the evening, taking the opportunity to chat with the crowd, zinging Deborah Hill Cone and Brian Tamaki, his content a mix of political satire and the everyday.

Closing the night, Nic Sampson utilises the skills developed from his theatrical successes with a new character, French chef Hugo Valentine. Sampson incorporates both dry and manic deliveries, and his irreverent wit epitomises the perspective comedians bring to established yet questionable ideas.

The difficulty with preview shows is that comedians have limited time to not only make the audience laugh, but also give them an idea of the wider content of their show. That a punter leaving the theatre stated that they “wanna see all of them now” bodes well for each of the performers, Bowen, Stent & McCall, Batt, and Sampson are the acts who stand out as having more to offer in their 2018 Comedy Festival Shows. However, that doesn’t necessitate the remaining performers have any less, or are unable to make audiences laugh as they did on Tuesday night.

The Basement preview show was held on 24 April. See The Basement website for their full NZ International Comedy Festival lineup. 

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