Stuck in a small and charismatically slow elevator, I am reminded that pokey venues and small crowds are at the heart of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival experience. A stranger who has decided to practice his own material on this unassuming audience in the cramped elevator, reveals that not only was Tom Gleeson better before he ‘sold out’, but that he had discovered him on the old pub circuit long before “those broadcasting hoons” took a likening to him. As we shuffle out of the elevator the man checks out a poster for the show we are seeing and leaves us with this final thought, “they’re playing the small rooms now, but they’ll be big names one day – you’ll see..”
Whilst the pamphlet carrying man from the elevator has no basis for his judgement, bar the photo of the five performers on the poster, should he have seen Flat Pack’s Space Force, he would have plenty of evidence for such a conclusion.
Centring around the creation of an Australian Space Force, the likes of which Donald Trump wishes to create in the United States, sketch comedy Space Force has something for everyone. Its associative structure is effective, with all sketches on the theme of Australian national identity and women with careers, connecting to a lose plot involving a self involved janitor (Isabelle Knight) and her determined husband back home (Ella Lawry).
Whist this format keeps the audience engaged throughout, never quite knowing what the performers would (often quite literally) throw at them next, Space Force fails to decide if it is going to come to any larger moral point to the show. Given that it is entirely female cast, is centred on politically loaded themes and contexts, and with multiple sketches and characters being built on the basis of women balancing careers, lives and societal expectations; it feels hollow coming to the end without any sketch truly satirising or making a stand on the cultural treatment of women in workforces with scientific backgrounds.
However, it is rare at any level of theatre to watch a show where not only are there truly talented people on stage, but each performer is equally impressive.
Georgie Daniels has the most natural comedic presence on stage, leading the opening and handling the majority of the audience interactions. Daniels’ strong commitment to each individual character she plays, most memorably as some animated slime, displays an immense amount of versatility as a character actor.
Ella Lawry is incredibly wacky in each sketch, never quite playing each joke as the audience is expecting. Notably, as the persistent husband of the Australian Space Force janitor, Lawry shifts between satirically pathetic and disturbingly creepy to great effect.
Similarly, Millie Holten’s wonderfully bizarre energy fuels so much of Space Force’s humour. Holten’s facial abilities steal the show in multiple moments, owing to its immense comic elasticity – most comedians would kill for such a face.
Isabelle Knight’s strong and clean physical humour provides the centre for the ensemble’s overall performance. Whilst she proves incredibly witty and very comically able, it is clear that her greatest strength is in lifting and enhancing the performances of those playing off her.
Madi Savage has by far the most impeccable comic timing of the five – her ability to judge when and where the funny is proves unparalleled, and upon leaving it is her one liners that keep running through your mind.
These five performers make an incredibly well balanced team, and watching them up close in action is an absolute must; for if my friend from before the show’s premonitions turn out to be correct, they’ll be scooped up by the broadcasters if you don’t take the opportunity now.
Space Force by Flat Pack runs at the Nicholas Building in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 27 March — 7 April 2019.