REVIEW: That Was The Year That Was

That Was The Year That Was

SHOW: That Was The Year That Was
VENUE: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
DATES: Dec 29 (Tues) & 30 (Weds), 8pm
DURATION: 120 minutes + interval
BOOKINGS: P +61 2 9250 7777; E:
W: Sydney Opera House website
PRICES: $110 / $95 / $85

Performers: James O’Loghlin (MC), Flacco and The Sandman, Felicity Ward, Mikey Robins, Celia Pacquola, Scared Weird Little Guys, Eddie Perfect, Fiona O’Loughlin, Wil Anderson, Cameron Bruce and House Band

Much as I love the Concert Hall at Sydney’s Opera House, in general I think that The Playhouse is the better venue there for shows that emphasise the spoken word. Still, Celia Paquola got the whole audience to play silly buggers with the superb reverb in the Concert Hall with her, so that was fun.

Audiences in huge venues can take a while to warm up to a comedy show, and last night was no exception. James O’Loghlin as MC made a strong start with his cosy self-deprecations vying with wicked topical jabs – he keeps an audience anchored in their comfort zone while encouraging them to peer just that little bit beyond it (and then a little bit more). Flacco and The Sandman as opening act sadly lost much of that momentum, as so much of their trademark style seems tailored for the small screen, and loses oomph in the auditorium (although the vaudevillian business with the wine glasses was highly amusing).

Felicity Ward’s usual warped whimsy was stretched by an audience not quite ready to follow her along those paths – she perhaps would have done better in a later slot in the show (but isn’t that always the problem – someone has to be the one who gets a tepid audience warmed up?). I do love a comedian who brings out some genuinely new material to a big show though, instead of just relying on the tried and true.

Mikey Robins was a recurring feature as he provided commentary to various “top X of 2009″ montages on the big screen behind the stage. Robins sold these largely predictable segments of the show pretty much purely by the sheer force of his personality, which of course was why he was a good choice for the role, however much I personally prefer it when his schtick is less constrained by the format. Cameron Bruce and the House Band (aka Britney’s Comeback) provided musical punctuation through these segments with great aplomb.

Celia Pacquola almost entirely eschewed any predictable rundown of the year’s headlines, using Tiger Woods’ peccadilloes only as a hook for observations made during her own history with a loverat, and the punters, loving a bit of humiliation revenged by mockery, lapped it up. She also invited them to indulge themselves alongside her with some pure sillinesses, and they were definitely up for that.

The Scared Weird Little Guys wrapped up the first half of the show with those topical parodies encased in those soaring harmonies floating around in those Concert Hall acoustics. The audience were back on familiar ground again, very ready to relax and roar at the punchlines, and definitely went off to interval with big happy grins.

The second act of the show brought us more of James, Britney’s Comeback and Mikey, and then Eddie Perfect gave us some standup and then some new songs, which sounded exceptionally lush on the full concert grand piano. Mostly unknown to many Sydneysiders unless they’ve caught him in Shane Warne The Musical, his wit and style seemed to come as a very pleasant revelation.

Fiona O’Loughlin (standing in at late notice for the advertised Wendy Harmer, whose non-appearance was unexplained) was, as always, a crowd favourite. One of the nation’s best-loved storytellers, her highly publicised acceptance of her alcoholism and determined rehab effort in this past year has only given her even more stories to share, and the sober edge on them is sharper than ever. It seemed like no time at all before her fifteen minutes were up.

Wil Anderson was the final comedian on stage for the night, and following Fiona was always going to be a challenge. A long poem written in doggerel couplets, however, ended up being just the change of pace that felt just right for closing the show, and the rhyme scheme forced some delightful juxtapositions of the year’s headlines to surprise us.

The finale was a musical all-stops-out effort from the Scaredies and the Britney’s Comeback House Band, ending with a parade of the night’s performers and the obligatory NYE streamers. A big finish for a big show.

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