REVIEW: Live on Air (Anywhere Fest)

Live on Air is the only Anywhere Fest show this year to truly go anywhere. Comedy-poet Telia Nevile’s pirate radio show streams from her lounge room into yours, wherever you are. 

Logging into Live on Air feels like checking in to Skype with a friend. Nevile turns on her webcam and broadcasts live from a homely couch in a Melbourne living room. Black-and-white posters of writer-rockstars plaster the rear wall; Oscar Wilde features, along with his epigram: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Nevile wears a homemade shirt that says, “Rimbaud Built My Hotrod”. From the get-go, we know this is erudite comedy. Bring it on.

Relia Nevile

Live on Air takes the format of a radio variety show, interspersed with power ballads, pop and even a bit of grammar grindcore (“Apostrophe Apocalypse”). Nevile’s poems form the heart of the show. Each follows an extended metaphor (e.g. “‘Eros’ is Just ‘Sore’ Spelled Backwards”) via one-liner witticisms. To the tune of Satie on piano, Nevile explains that she’s “deep (in thought)” but you’re deepest “when you’re six foot under.” As well as poems, there’s fiction — both flash and slash (West Wing fan fiction, to be precise).

Nevile is a strong performer and the setting (from her couch to yours) makes for an intimate performance. Rather than feeling tucked away in the privacy of home, I keep forgetting that the video is only one-way. It feels rude not to respond with, at the very least, applause. Perhaps we need a talkback line.

Comedy is an incredibly subjective beast. Nevile’s poetic brand of funny doesn’t quite tickle my funny bone, but I do appreciate her commitment to satirising form. The “poetry cabaret” variety show, delivered here via webcam in the manner of radio plays, is a fantastic format. Live on Air also proves that performance can be just as intimate online as on stage.

LIVE ON AIR ran from 8 to 16 May, 2013. Anywhere Festival.

Anywhere Fest: Live on Air

Melbourne’s own Telia Nevile hits the airwaves for Anywhere Fest. As her comedic character Poet Laureate Telia Nevile, our host broadcasts Live on Air from her lounge room to yours.

Q. Describe your show in under 25 words.
A. An ode to the outsider full of tongue-in-cheek poems set to backing tracks that range from rap to blues, death metal to bubblegum pop.

Q. Anywhere Festival is about making art everywhere. What makes your venue (or in this case, airwaves) unique?
A. There’s something about bringing theatre into your own home, where you can experience it in amongst your own reality and entirely on your own terms, that makes the idea of live-streaming really intriguing. With a show over the internet, which you can watch while you’re in your pajamas curled up on your couch, there’s a lot of possibility for intimacy and honest reaction without any big emotional demands on the audience. I’m both excited and terrified because it’s such a different experience as a performer, but I hope that it will open up new places within the character and that it will expand the audience experience.

telianevile

Q. If your show were a new My Little Pony, what would it look like? What would its superpower be?
A. Is there a dark, furtive and socially awkward one that reads Proust in public and Mills & Boon in private?

Q. Live on Air sounds like it’s billed as part BBC radio play, part character comedy and part poetry. How do you meld these forms in your show?
A. The poetry is an inherent part of the character — it’s her chosen form of expression and it acts as a pressure valve that releases all her greatest hopes and frustrations. The radio part was inspired by a 90s film called Pump Up the Volume. In this, as in that movie, it allows the protagonist to be entirely, unflinchingly honest because when you’re alone in your room there’s nothing to lose — you can’t see any shock or disappointment or disapproval on anyone’s face because you never really know if anyone’s listening or not. In that aspect, radio is incredibly freeing.

Live on Air runs online from 8 to 16 May, 2013.

The Birdmann in The Events of Momentous Timing

“The queen of Highgate Hill,” Tigerlil opens for the Birdmann with The Unrehearsal, a show that revels in the art of practised incompetence. Tiger Lil falls, spins, tangles and trips with perfect comic timing through a series of routines: whip-cracking, hooping, and puppetry. Tigerlil is always a pleasure to watch; however, each segment of The Unrehearsal feels overlong — if only by a little. From hooping to hoop skirts, she brings us to her stunning finale: a dextrous, devilish puppet climbs the skeleton of her undergarment to the boneyard tune of Waits and Burroughs’ “‘T’ain’t No Sin”.

We refresh our wine glasses and it’s time for the Birdmann’s Events of Momentous Timing. Billed as a one-man mystery, we join the Birdmann — in tails, tie, and tight black pants, with a plastic bag sticking out of one pocket — as he awakens from unconsciousness. Just how did our hero find himself handcuffed to an ironing board, holding one gorgeous black stiletto?

The Birdmann

The show follows a loose narrative through several events that help the Birdmann recreate that fateful night of the blackout. His mannerisms — simultaneously awkward and suave, and indeed birdlike — are the key to his comedy. The Birdmann shifts between cabaret-style one-liners (in the Aussie-noir tradition of Paul McDermott, Flacco and friends) and comedic circus feats. He defines this stylistic divide by dragging his plinth — the ironing board — to and from stage right.

It’s hard to take your eyes off the Birdmann. There isn’t exactly one word to describe him — and even the ones I’ve had to settle for don’t quite suffice. He has an eerie command of the surreal, but combined with that, an endearing — almost heartrending — dorky lonesomeness. As an example, this singular artist manages to have us screeching with laughter as he serenades and face-mashes a cupcake — his favourite comfort food and dietary supplement — but he tugs at our heartstrings too.

I won’t spoil the show for those yet to see it. The Birdmann’s mysteries are better unravelled in person. But he brings together a tenuous narrative with surprising cohesion and concludes with what can only be described as a stage spectacular worthy of Cher.

The Events of Momentous Timing, supported by Tigerlil, ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 23 to 24 March 2013.