Though she darts occasionally into the wings to retrieve a wig or dressing gown, Camilleri fearlessly transitions between characters in plain view of the audience with the quick addition or subtraction of a jumper, a moustache, a hat, etc. This regression to elementary stagecraft will remind you of the dress-up box at home, but it’s all the material needed by a comic who has mastered solo stage performance.
The Flag Room at the Melbourne Town Hall is the intimate setting for Hannah Camilleri’s Lolly Bag, an assorted mix of delights showcasing sketch comedy at its simplest and best. Camilleri strips back even basic conventions of theatre magic, placing a table of miscellaneous props down stage right. Though she darts occasionally into the wings to retrieve a wig or dressing gown, Camilleri fearlessly transitions between characters in plain view of the audience with the quick addition or subtraction of a jumper, a moustache, a hat, etc. This regression to elementary stagecraft will remind you of the dress-up box at home, but it’s all the material needed by a comic who has mastered solo stage performance.
Camilleri deftly demonstrates her understanding of live comedy’s inherent discomfort as she eases us into Lolly Bag via the soft-spoken mechanic, who can fix our car if only someone in the front row would admit that they had a bit of an accident. She reminds us not to panic if we’re called on for participation: after all, “it is fiction”. Don’t need to be concerned if audience participation makes you nervous–Camilleri conducts the crowd beautifully, handling even the weakest efforts from those seated with a calm, reassuring hilarity. Here and there, a smile slips through. Camilleri enjoys what she does, and her joie de vivre fills up the room. The actress is brimming just below the surface of her characters, consistently imbuing them with a vitality that doesn’t rely on exaggerated gesture or even legible speech.
Indeed, some of her best sketches are close to speechless. The muttering mechanic needs only a few audible phrases to let us know it’ll be over a thousand for that one, if that works? Say no, because you’ll get a better fake deal at Camilleri’s workshop than anywhere else. After she’s warmed up the audience like a good motorist does their car, the mute cowboy sketch really gets the comedy crowd involved, becoming voiceover actors for the dialogue and sound effects in a good ol’ fashioned cowboy standoff over stolen keys, a moustache and a refreshing drink (cowboys played by Camilleri & Camilleri).
Even the most unheard-of scenarios are recognisable when Camilleri incarnates the role, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ridiculous. “Dog at a dinner party” is one to look out for–feat. long ears, puppy eyes and a healthy amount of barking. You’ll know it when you see it.
While thanking us for coming along, Camilleri notes with significance that she performs sketch comedy, not stand-up. It is an interesting point on the preconception of the live comedy genre, particularly that performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, as exclusively stand-up. Where stand-up leans heavily on–be it genuine or contrived–biography, the real and the individual, sketch comedy rather dwells in the imaginative, offering bite-sized imitations of the world that are unashamedly fictional. It comes as a refreshing surprise when we hear Camilleri’s real voice for the first time at the end of Lolly Bag. Her sketches become only more alive in the mind from this late revelation. Lolly Bag will leave you feeling like you’ve just had a sweet treat–perfectly full.
Lolly Bag is showing at the Melbourne Town Hall until 23rd April.