Before getting into a review of Taranoia, we here at Pop Culture-y always try our best to be as inclusive as possible, and in that spirit we make mention of the fact that the show does address mental health issues (especially anxiety and depression) and may be triggering for some people. Should you find yourself affected, please go and make a soothing cup of tea, and read one of our many other articles about other shows you may enjoy at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Tara Dowler is the incredible woman. She has succeeded where others have failed. That’s right, ladies, gentlemen and enbies, she’s created a mountain out of a molehill! So begins TARANOIA, the only, to her knowledge, neuro-scientfic cabaret of the festival. The show actually starts proper with Tara, shrouded in a cape, “attacking” members of the audience as a comedy vampire, a sequin-clad metaphor for anxiety. Ever since her doctor made a joke while diagnosing her, she’s decided that if anyone’s going to see the funny side of her “acting like a mad bitch”, it’s going to be her (and luckily for us, her audience).
What follows is an intensely personal hour of songs and stories, but, in a similar fashion to how we have proceeded with a warning, Dowler is very keen to make her material, which can at times be somewhat confronting, as accessible as possible. She urges any audience members who feel distressed to go to the loo, or get a drink, and that her producer would let them know when she had moved on to the next topic. As someone who has issues themselves, this is one of the greatest, most refreshing, and mature takes on material of this nature that I have ever seen; this is definitely one where the “suck it up, we’re being too PC” movement you – regrettably – still see in comedy will find themselves vastly outnumbered.
Dowler is a very talented musician and composer, and a delightful storyteller; there is a manic energy to her performance style that betrays her anxiety, but that “mad bitch” energy is channeled into the creative and the entertaining. Especially humorous to me was her history of the word “hysteria”, which included a homage of some of the more ridiculous forms of treatment (including coaxing it with aromatherapy), culminating in a climactic (pun FULLY intended) example of how the Victorian era dealt with a misplacing of the humours.
I really would like to reiterate how important that opening acknowledgement was; Dowler is very clear that she can only talk about her own experiences as a cis-gendered woman, and that there are many that she can’t talk to, but an underlying theme of her show may be the “common humanity” that can be experiencing difficulties with mental health. I know I’m not alone in saying that a lot of her performance connected with me on a deep, personal level, and I wish her all the best not only with the show, but as fellow human being.
Taranoia is on at 8:30pm at the Butterfly Club until 11 April as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available from the comedy festival website, or at the box office.