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Thursday night was my sixth Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show for the season. I went to La Mama Theatre in Carlton, my companion and I bought a ticket, we waited until the allotted time to shuffle in, sat down, and realised, this was not the show the thought it would be.

La Mama, it turns out, has two venues. In venue A, where we were, they were showing ‘The Legend of King O’Malley’. In venue B, up the road, they were showing ‘The Return of Eric’, the show I had intended to see. ‘Eric’ is a sketch comedy show performed by Scott Gooding, who taught an amateur acting class I took last year and who I was keen to see perform so I could see him in action, but it wasn’t to be.

So to give you some thoughts on the show we actually saw. ‘King O’Malley’ is a lot of things; musical, Australian political history, comedy, drama, in part surreal, in others not so much, with a strong Faustian undertone. Written by Bob Ellis and Michael Boddy and first performed in 1970, the play has a strong fidelity to the sequence of events that were King O’Malley’s life (at least as far as the wikipedia page indicated, which we looked up while eating frogurt as soon as the show had finished).

The production company is Don’t Look Away, whose raison d’etre is to dedicate themselves to ‘reviving and reimagining classic Australian plays’ (from the program). I came out of the experience feeling as though I had thoroughly failed at knowing anything about Australian history.

The acting was of a high standard across the board, especially James Cook (who appropriately played King O’Malley) and and Alex Duncan (who played Nick Angel, the Devil). Being a musical there was a lot of singing, most of it un-miced in the small theatre, which was all very well done.

The production values were good – there were lots of costume changes, lots of inexpensive but highly effective props and backdrops and the whole thing flowed smoothly throughout. I should also make a special mention of Tom Pitts who provided the musical accompaniment (piano mostly) for the entire two and a bit hour show, plus playing us in and out of the theatre and during interval.

My overall impression of this show was mild confusion. I think this was heightened by the fact that it took until about interval to really be convinced that this was not going to turn into ‘The Return of Eric’, and was not helped by the surreal elements of the play. It probably also didn’t help that King O’Malley‘s life story is somewhat unbelievable*. It was, however, a highly enjoyable evening, and one which prompted much discussion and an interest in Australia political history.

All in all it was a fascinating, fruitful, fun if slightly absurd accidental theatre experience.


*Side note: O’Malley was a massive puritan, hated gambling and alcohol among other things, and in true Australian style, instead of getting a suburb in the ACT he got pub named after him.