Comedy reviews: Circus Oz, Jeff Green, Mark Watson, MICF

An ensemble of high flyers and two English comedians take to the stage.

Circus Oz

If you’re tired of the same old variation of stand-up, observational comedy and want to see something visually and aurally spectacular, head over to the resplendent Forum Theatre, which is hosting Circus Oz in its 45th year. After suffering managerial turmoil and uncertainty, it is back in Melbourne with vengeance, with a brand new show that’s brassy, sexy and high-voltage entertaining.

Like other acts at the MICF, the show is capped at an hour, and this short and sharp streamlined time slot is just enough to boast some of the very best acrobatic, aerial, juggling and trapeze work. The seven performers – all (cross) dressed in tight, bright dresses of different colours – move to the rocking beat and pulse of a band onstage, and the action never lags.

The ensemble not only consists of different body sizes and shapes, but impressively spans six decades in years (veteran performers and younger crew all muck in). There is real talent and grit collectively, with everyone literally pulling their weight: heaving bodies are primed to be thrown into the air, to balance on top of shoulders three high, flung across the stage in various tumbling antics and generally put under a gruelling regime of physical exercise, all in the service of making us gasp.

As the show is sitting under the auspices of the MICF, there’s a sly comedic element in Circus Oz’s signature style: the cheekiness and slapstick cartoon-violence elements that include mock fighting, an archery routine and a very unsavoury inclusion of a balloons and nostrils act (you’ve been warned).

Circus Oz has toured the globe; this family-friendly production is world-class and should not be missed.

Circus Oz is playing at the Forum until 23 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets: $27-$90.

Read: Comedy review: Taylor Griffiths, No Thoughts, MICF

Jeff Green: Back to my Roots
★★★ ½

Many in the sprawling line-up at the MICF are young ones, nervously trying out their comedy smarts for the first time. Jeff Green however, is on the other side of the scale. He has 35 years in the game and, as a sprightly 59-year-old, can teach the newcomers a thing a two. It’s fitting that the venue is an English pub in the city, as no doubt Green plied his craft in many such establishments when he first started, albeit in London way back in the 80s. English by birth but living in Australia since 2008, Green uses his background as fodder in his routine. Who would have thought that he started out as a chemical engineer before chucking the safety and security of this respectable profession for the instability of the comedy life?

Jeff Green. Photo: Supplied.

His style is frenetic, barely stopping for breath. He talks about being late to fatherhood, working on cruise ships, technology versus Luddism, wooing his wife pre-online apps, and twisting many other personal stories for comedic effect. The desultory delivery works because there’s an easiness and an earnestness to his style and a confidence born from decades of public speaking. Some comics struggle with audience interaction, but Green’s bantering has that perfect balance of tease without embarrassing his victims too much. He’s the type of comedian you can imagine having a drink with post-gig.

Jeff Green: Back to my Roots is playing at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow until 23 April 2023 part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets: $25-$34.90.

Mark Watson: Search
★★★ ½

This is UK comic Mark Watson’s 11th year as a guest of the MICF – which means he has a bit of an affinity with this city (cue local references) and that obviously Australian audiences like him enough to warrant repeated invitations Down Under. It’s not hard to see why. Watson, who’s been awarded or nominated for numerous prizes, is one of those ‘adorkable’ characters, a little bit messy and messed up, and not afraid to display his cluelessness.

He’s vulnerable and that’s comedy gold. Watson is also good at timing and, in this new show, he gets the audience on side by asking us to prank any latecomers with a special phrase he promises to utter (to great acclaim) at any moment during the proceedings. It works marvellously.

Mark Watson. Photo Supplied.

A divorced father of two, Watson draws on parenthood and ponders how his role as Google Dad has been usurped now that his elder child has acquired a phone and can check up on whatever facts he wants (what’s the biggest cat in the world?). Watson’s delivery is so intense that it’s exhausting to see him perform.

He’s hyper and fast-talking and sometimes has to stop and backtrack because his brain is processing several trains of thought simultaneously and he has to figure out which one he was riding to bring it to the end of the line. But he can certainly tell a story, even though it may take a while for the whole tale to come spluttering out. Something as seemingly simple as a Zoom call with the principal and fellow parents at his son’s high school is harnessed to great comedic effect.

The ‘search’ of the title refers to the search for meaning. That’s a big question to cover in an hour but Watson does his best, with plenty of chuckles along the way.

Mark Watson: Search is playing at the Melbourne Town Hall – Lower Town Hall until 23 April 2023 part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets: $30-$39.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on