Comedian Ben Russell is a man of many skills. With a background in Chicago improvisation and a suite of acting abilities, Russell’s current Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Tokyo Hotel is a hidden gem of the festival.
The show is on at 11:15pm at the Imperial Hotel, and it’s a timeslot that lends itself to oddity and dreamlike adventure. Russell takes full advantage of this and greets his potentially drunken audience with dulcet tones and a grin that borders on sinister.
The Tokyo Hotel is grimy, past its prime accommodation in down town Los Angeles boasting a vivid history and strange guests. The show is a multi character piece, essentially a one man theatre show. Armed with a door, Russell guides the audience through the venue, introducing each guest and resident. He switches deftly from concierge narrator to Carlos the piano player, the historic elevator attendant, or the guests. Russell’s range and physical control are impeccable, and it results in smooth transitions and distinctive characters, each with their own mannerisms and accents.
The few props Russell has he uses to full effect, in tandem with some clever mime. There are also technical elements, music mostly, that Russell times perfectly with his actions. The show is clearly well rehearsed and well written, yet those moments in which things do go awry are handled expertly by Russell. His improvisation background allows him to turn everything from technical slip ups to hecklers seamlessly into part of the show while remaining in character. It is a delight to watch, and the audience clap like children, fully aware that something unique is happening onstage.
It’s difficult to say much more about Tokyo Hotel without giving the jokes away. In between Russell’s twisted stories are sketches and stand out moments, both with and without narrative context, but all of them tear-jerkingly funny.
Ben Russell’s Tokyo Hotel is on at 11:15pm at the Imperial Hotel Tuesdays through Sundays until April 19th. Tickets range from $8 to $15 and are available online or at the door.