Fest Reviews: Issue 2

Published in Fest, August 14 2011

Dead Cat Bounce
2 stars 

The first in Dead Cat Bounce’s set of “mock n roll” songs displays the same talent for clever and quirky musical one-liners that made Flight of the Conchords so popular – it’s just a shame they don’t carry on that way.

‘The Weeping of the Willows’ pulls Kenneth Grahame’s characters out of their Victorian rural idyll and drops them into a dystopian industrial future where Ratty is an oppressed factory worker, Mole is a prostitute and Mr Toad commits suicide a la Kurt Cobain. Played in thrash metal style, it makes for an inventive and brilliantly incongruous opener, but the rest of the set is mediocre in comparison.

Dead Cat Bounce

Most of the rest of the songs, like ‘Rugby’—which riffs on the sport’s homoerotic undertones—and ‘Firemen’—playing on hoes/hose—stretch one moderately funny joke over the course of three or four minutes. It’s mildly amusing for the first few songs, but it gets increasingly tedious as the set stretches on. The humour is at times insular: you can see how it would have been funny to the four lads in the hothouse environment of the recording studio, but it doesn’t seem to quite work when let out into the wider world.

A piss-take though it may have been, the last song, a plea for the audience to buy the band’s CD, again gives the impression that the men from Dublin don’t yet have the material to match their potential.

Conor O’Toole’s Manual of Style
4 stars

If good comedy is about finding humour in the smallest, most unlikely of places, then Conor O’Toole—still just 20 years old—is set for big things indeed. Not many comics would be able to get laughs out of the difference between the letter “R” in Helvetica font as compared to Arial, but O’Toole manages to do just that in this hilariously pedantic tour through the history of typography.

Conor O'Toole

He could have done without an awkward first few minutes of so-bad-they’re-good jokes, but when he does get to the meat of the show his enthusiasm for his subject becomes obvious and highly infectious, and his ability to tease out the humour and beauty that reside in the smallest of details is remarkable.

Given the subject matter, O’Toole has an appropriately quirky and awkward manner, which instantly endears him to his audience. The middle of the show is given over to a story ostensibly designed to teach children about typography—played out in old-school style on acetate and overhead projector—though replete with adult in-jokes.

The best shows should allow you a look at the world from a different perspective as much as they should make you laugh, and Manual of Style does just this. “Keep looking at things,” O’Toole says in the miniature style guide he gives out as a gift at the end of the show. “The details might not seem important but the bigger picture is nothing but a bunch of smaller pictures in one big collage. And we are all tiny artists.”

Steve Hill’s Very Still Life
3 stars 

Steve Hall has dubbed himself a “reverse Midas”: everything that he touches turns to shit. From an Immac-related incident that left his backside “like the Chenobyl exclusion zone” to him committing an act of public indecency trying to face down a young thug, he does seem to manage to screw everything up. The same, however, can’t be said for this engaging, intelligent and ultimately quite moving hour from the former We Are Klang member.

As he says at the start, this is a very simple show: there is no elaborate overarching concept and Hall never tries to be too clever. At its centre is the story of how he and his Australian wife were separated by the vagaries of the immigration system and his attempts to be reunited with her.

Steve Hall - Steve Hall's Very Still LifeThe public schoolboy background that makes Jack Whitehall so obnoxious only endears the audience to Hall, formerly of Habs Boys and Oxford, who manages to weave both a knob joke and a classical mythological reference into the same brilliant little sketch.

Perhaps too much of the humour comes from the sayings of his ballsy wife or his apparently very eccentric and spectacularly crude father, making Hall seem more like an adept relayer of other people’s jokes and leaving little room for his own original material. But these moments are nevertheless worked seamlessly into an accomplished hour which ends in a touching reflection on the joys of being in love.

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