Kate Dehnert’s style of comedy is not for everyone. Her premises are absurd, her execution energetic, and the jokes themselves are wild. Her Melbourne International Comedy Festival show last year – Pony Yell – told the story of a pony mail-man and his comedian friend, to critical acclaim. This year, Dehnert is tackling the end of the world, the future, and a strange DJ.
Dehnert was awarded a Moosehead grant for the production of Shabamalam. Her director is one half of beloved Australian comedy duo Lano & Woodley, Colin Lane. As always, the show features expertly produced sound design, including pre-recording that requires expert timing and deployment, Dehnert’s forte. She is hugely enthusiastic, bouncing and bounding about the floor level stage at ACMI with the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. The production is impeccable, from the props to the lighting. Every practical aspect is well structured and executed.
The world Dehnert has created is rich, and she inhabits it fully. The audience, however, does not. Over the course of fifty minutes, no one sitting on the uncomfortable carpeted steps gives more than a loud chuckle. It’s really hard to tell why exactly this is. Are we a boring crowd, not prepared to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride? Is Dehnert too nervous? Are the jokes just not that funny? Is it more story than comedy? Was it simply a bad night?
Dehnert jumps from moment to moment, bit to bit, without much regard for the silent crowd. It’s hard to keep up, she’s so focused on getting on with the show. At other times, the punchlines seem a little too easy, like Dehnert has grabbed the first thing that came to mind rather than searching for the funniest.
Perhaps it’s just all a bit too much for one woman to both express and make humorous. On the way out, an audience member remarked that the show felt like an amateur theatre show missing most of its performers. The purpose of the Moosehead Grant is to fund ideas that are ‘mental and overly ambitious’, which is a pretty fair description of Shabamalam.
I wanted so badly to enjoy Shabamalam, but it was hard to muster more than an appreciative giggle. I’m still hopeful it was just an off night. If not, there’s no doubt that Dehnert will learn from this experience and be back next year with something stranger and better than ever.
Shabamalam is on at 8:15pm at ACMI until the 17th of April. Tickets can be purchased online and at the ACMI box office.