La Mama

A WHALE of a good time ha ha ha he he (Review: Jofus and the Whale at La Mama)

21 February 2021

La Mama is back, baby! The opening night of Jofus and the Whale was the first return to theatre after a long line of bad luck for La Mama Theatre in Carlton, first burning down in November 2019 and—of course—being closed for the lockdown. The evening started with a lot of excited hustle and bustle, a welcome back to the theatre and a raffle prize of Rex Hunt’s Fishing Australia (still sad I didn’t win it). Even before the show, the audience was enthusiastic and Jofus and the Whale was certainly a fun and exciting return to the theatre. 

Full disclosure – I’ve never read Moby Dick. Simply because I’ve heard it’s quite arduous and difficult and laborious and long and boring and almost 1,000 pages long. Jofus and the Whale, on the other hand, is an hour long slapstick retelling of Melville’s epic by award-winning comedian and clown Lily Fish – which ends up being much less long and much less strenuous. The story follows Jofus as she dives between the sea and the land, introducing us to distinct worlds and characters through expert mime. 

First, we are introduced to the world under the sea, with Jofus miming each part of the antisocial and dislikeable whale (from the eye to the tail) in order to demonstrate the size of the creature. In a similar fashion, she introduces us to the characters above the sea – the pirate-esque Captain Ahab and his disobedient dog. The whole act was an intensely physically demanding performance, and it was a delight to watch Lily Fish manage to convey character through nothing but mime and sound effects.

The play is advertised as a retelling of Moby Dick, but really its half Moby Dick, half Jonah and the Whale, with most of the second act focusing on Jofus being trapped in the stomach (or colon?) of the whale. The whole play cumulates with an appropriately silly conclusion – I won’t spoil too much of it, but it involves a lot of whale poo. 

It must be kind of strange for actors in these Covid times, especially comedians in shows like this, to see everyone staring down at them wearing masks when they rely so heavily on the energy and momentum of the audience. It didn’t seem to deter Lily, however, as her character would constantly break the fourth wall to acknowledge and participate in the laughter and enthusiasm of her audience. Self-referential and consistent fourth wall breaks, such as thanking the lighting designer for their work whenever the lighting changed became a common part of the show, which worked for the most part but could occasionally make the show lose momentum. Furthermore, the voice that Jofus uses for her main character could be kind of hard to understand and become somewhat grating after an hour of listening to it.  

Jofus and the Whale, in the end, is an example of clown work in the modern era, utilising slapstick, very physical comedy and self-referential humour to depict an unconventional retelling of a prolific work of literature.


Catch Jofus and the Whale at La Mama Theatre, running from 10th – 21st February.

Created and performed by Lily Fish
Co-written and co-devised by Ell Sachs
Directed by Kimberley Twiner
Lighting design by Lisa Mibus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *