Alice Fraser’s brought her latest show, Empire, to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. After rave reviews and sell out performances of previous shows the Resistance and Savage in 2015 and 2016, the comedian’s 2017 show is sure to garner the same attention. Thematically related to her previous work, Empire addresses notions of power and privilege, through the lenses of Fraser’s personal experience, and, of course, stand up.
Positioned in a corner on the third floor of the Chinese Museum, the space Empire is performed in is an odd one. The audience seem squished together amongst the artefacts, at times a jarring and at others an appropriate backdrop to Fraser’s own stories. On the night that I went, the tangible presence of history and Fraser’s intellectual aptitude made the audience timid, almost afraid to laugh or respond to Fraser’s direct questions, a pity given how well Fraser otherwise invites laughter.
Fraser’s stage presence is a strange thing. Her outfit is loud, thick shoulder pads, red corset and strong makeup all cut an imposing figure. But her tone, her movements and her facial expressions all speak to power of a different kind, a thin veneer of softness over a razor sharp wit. Rather than the in-your-face punchlines that her outfit suggests, Fraser’s jokes are drawn out, considered ideas. Their momentum grows exponentially, allowing you to grasp the conceit and follow the construction as a giggle turns into a full belly laugh.
If you’re after a hour of intelligent stand up that addresses the political through the personal and the heavy through levity, Empire is sure to deliver.
Empire is on at 8:30 pm at the Chinese Museum until 23 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available online, at the venue, or at the festival box office.