Australian Sitcom Festival



This an interesting experiment but of course fraught with peril. How can you possibly judge a sitcom from one episode, especially one performed on stage rather than through the transforming televisual medium? It’s a bit like judging a book on the basis of its first chapter, or a play based on its opening scene. A great strength of a sitcom episode is that you come to it with vast contextual knowledge: we know what a shambles and scrounger Kramer is, for example. The humour comes from the conduct of known characters in slightly varying situations.

But every series has to start somewhere, so it’s a good idea to involve a live audience in acted scripts starring live theatre professionals. This puts special pressure on QTC and its directors, of course, in trying to bring, or perhaps not bring, stage values to scripts written for television.

Not least of the problem is how to provide a suitable set for quite different pieces written for television. Designer Lucy Willink’s solution is to pile the QUT Theatre’s wide stage with mountains of cardboard boxes, which become walls, stairs and whatever other scenery is required. It works well.

All three pieces on the second night of the series have good lines and routines, although the Australian preoccupation with below the navel humour is wearying. Did the writers not think they might like to write a show for a 7pm audience?

Guru Blues has the interesting premise of an amiable conman trying to make his way as a paid speaker after his release from jail. So much of the episode is spent establishing character and plot history that it is difficult to see where the show would go, and the pace needs lifting. What’s That Burning centres on a collection of ultra-whacky types peopling a TV station including a highly neurotic chef and a wannabe star trying to edge her way on camera through threats of Mafia connections.

Most successful of the trio was Family from Hell. It’s a misnamed piece, as the family doesn’t seem unusually deviant or disruptive, and the situations are centred mainly within the family, featuring an extended battle of the sexes: Max (Peter Marshall)’s and his son’s desire to spend a Lotto win on a Harley Davidson conflicts with Marlena (Sue Dwyer)’s and daughters’ priorities.

The familiar QTC ensemble playing multiple roles do a good job. It was of course their chance to highlight their telegenic potential to the talent scouts.

Particularly memorable are Errol O’Neill as the maudlin ex-crim, Hayden Spencer as a bark-worse-than-his-bite bikie and Paul Denny, most entertainingly, as a pre-teen brat.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Mon 3rd December 2001)