Fran Middleton, comedian, improviser, and all around wiggle-woman, is back at it again with a borderline indescribable show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Fran Solo. But describe it I must (because that’s the point of reviewing something), so here goes.
Firstly, yes, Fran Solo is Star Wars related, surprisingly so. If you were to describe the events of the show at their most basic, you could say that it’s a one-woman depiction of the events of the original Star Wars trilogy in about 50 minutes. You could say that, and technically you’d be right. But you’d also leaving so much out you’d basically be lying by omission.
Middleton is a force of physical comedy. She is utterly charismatic, operating chaotically in a tiny, and rapidly very messy, space. She sets the audience up to orbit them, but she’s no moon; she’s more like a meteor crashing into her own punchlines and burning up on impact. In case my space metaphor is too oblique – I’m saying it’s offbeat and very funny. One audience member described Middleton as ‘genuinely terrifying… and hilarious’. The two are connected, and both experiences are triggered by the comedian’s intense eye contact. Middleton’s gaze is unwavering. It pins down each member of the audience while the rest of her face moves freely. It’s unnerving, and the only way to escape is to collapse laughing.
There’s also some great lip-syncing in this show, as well as a few straight up standard gags. These gags, so ridiculous in context, offset Middleton’s physicality and heighten the absurdity of the whole bundle. There’s a lot of leaps, both through the story of Star Wars and across chairs in the venue. Middleton’s prop and costume work is lo-fi, which works with the chaos of her humour to create the feeling that this is all impromptu. This vibe is undercut (purposefully, and to great comedic effect) by the audio-visual cues Middleton has (kind of) worked out with her tech Hailey.
It’s not something that works for everyone though. At every Middleton show I’ve been to, including this one, her magic seems to only entrance about 70% of the crowd. The other 30% are pretty confused, and can’t really understand why everyone else is laughing so hard. Must be the midi-chlorians.
Fran Solo is on at 9:45pm at Globe Alley until 4 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased from the comedy festival website, box office or at the venue.