As Lenny Kravitz’s ‘American Woman’ blasts through the speakers, a young guy in dark sunglasses and cap ushers the audience into a small room at Trades Hall. He hands out slips of paper and instructs the attendees to use them to write out Tweets purporting to be from Donald Trump as the ex-President’s Twitter ban is about to be reversed.
It is established from the get-go that the audience here are the press, this is an exclusive press conference for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a right-wing politician from the USA. The young guy, Gumbo, is her sidekick, security guard, tech person and someone to cop the blame when there’s technical difficulties. Huckabee Sanders makes things very clear: she is here ‘down under’ to spread the word of her lord and saviour, Donald J. Trump (the J is for ‘Jenius’ in case anyone was unclear). People trickle into the show late, and Huckabee Sanders shames them, setting up direct audience address from the start. She is hostile to the press pack, which is funny, but also a sad reality of this post-truth world.
The Briefing is written and performed by writer and comedian Melissa McGlensey. It is a salient political satire, a take-down of US politics, namely the Republican party under ex-president Donald Trump. However, it could also be broadened to populist politics in general, as populism and political polarisation present democracies around the globe with their greatest challenges since the Second World War.
Australia certainly has not escaped this trend, and McGlensey extends her mockery to right-wing politicians such as Peter Dutton, Pauline Hanson and ex-prime minister Scott Morrison. Director Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall’s resume includes writing jokes for Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, another fine example of political satire.
The stage is occupied by a rostrum and a large screen that Huckabee Sanders presents her numerous side shows from: political propaganda, her redneck family in the American South, while private texts from Trump himself keep popping up on the screen.
There is much commentary on American politics and culture (McGlensey is an expat) but there’s also an Australian angle. Huckabee Sanders details her favourite Aussie inventions, from the goon bag to the hills hoist, but her absolute favourite is offshore detention. And, as a special treat to the Melbourne audience, she wears a North Face jacket, in tribute to Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ hundreds of press conferences throughout one of the world’s longest lockdowns.
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Some heavy topics are covered: abortion, guns, and the rights of miniorities, but McGlensey traverses them all with a poignant dark humour. Her character is a nasty piece of work but she is incredibly funny. Although her delivery of the script started off slightly stiff, she quickly gained a good flow and was able to let her comic skills shine through improvisation and audience participation.
When there was a slight glitch in delivery, she was not flustered and turned it around quickly, inviting the audience to laugh at her mistakes. These minor errors could be put down to it being preview night and did not take away from the energy of the show.
The show’s finest moments are when McGlensey is ad-libbing and bouncing off the audience. When the crowd, as the press pack, gets to ask her questions in an improvised Q&A session, her responses are quick off the mark and consistently hilarious. This brand of comedy is a most welcome relief from the bin-fire of contemporary politics that we are all living through.
Trades Hall, Melbourne
Created and performed by Melissa McGlensey
Director: Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall
The Briefing will be performed until 23 October 2022 as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival