Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night is back for its sixth year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Playing every Friday and Saturday throughout the festival in the magnificent Spiegeltent, it’s an opportunity to see some of the festival’s best cabaret, burlesque and stand-up acts strut their stuff.
Ali McGregor’s vocal mastery is undeniable – she moves flawlessly through her material with a surprisingly sexy mix of sultriness and downright creepiness. McGregor’s shtick is to bring tired old pop tunes to life with interesting arrangements and strange instruments (anyone remember Rolf Harris’ stylophone? She’s got one). It’s not terribly inventive, but she does do it with style. She dips occasionally into her classical training to wow the crowd with her crystal-clear soprano and sometimes comically fruity vibrato.
Acting as McGregor’s butler, Saxon McAllister, is award-winning comedian Asher Treleaven, who lurks side-stage and interjects intermittently with the kind of crude comments befitting of a late night variety show. His ‘burlesque’ performance to Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ is equal parts horrifying and hilarious.
The real downfall of the night was the inclusion of well-bred English lads Idiots of Ants, whose sketches were more private school locker room antics than world-class comedy. Their opening sketch about a school for new fathers learning the art of the dad joke got a few giggles out of the crowd, but they were treading on thin ice with their second sketch: four ‘hens’ who wake up after a wild night only to find they have all had sex changes. Cue a tidal wave of mediocre jokes based on old and very tired stereotypes. Giggles from the audience quickly turned to nervous ‘teehees’ and more than a handful of ‘boos’. This torturous performance was all wrapped up with a zombie-esque cry of "BOOOOBS" - it was all too much. Did the clocks go back years rather than hours on Saturday night?
Luckily things got better – a lot better.
Felicity Ward is high-energy and fearless, and her material moves from her bogan home-town to, well, something very rude indeed, at lightening pace.
Also on the bill is London burlesque star Agent Lynch, who shimmies her way through Barry Manilow’s ‘Lola’ with great humour, even if it isn’t all that sexy. Her act features seriously fabulous costuming, including an amazing mirror-ball bra (I want one).
Apparently Bob Downe had been due to fill the closing spot but was unfortunately ill, so magician-slash-comedian and festival favourite Carl-Einer Häckner stepped in to fill the void. The tragedy of his magic show and tacky visuals are endearing, and the childish silliness with which he relates to the audience is daggy but adorable, and very funny.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night
The Famous Spiegeltent at Arts Centre Melbourne
March 30 – April 21
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
March 28 – April 22