Rachel Berger and Judith Lucy are Australian stand- up comedians with latitude. Craig McLean follows their progress from Melbourne’s thriving club circuit to the
cauldron of comedy that is Edinburgh.
In her early shows Judith Lucy would come onstage waving a sausage round her head and end up wrapping the audience in toilet roll. She was young. she was keen. she was stupid: ‘I just thought thst props were really the solution. I was wrong. You don't know until you do it in front of an audience just how bad you can be.’
Rachel Berger is less specific about her early professional inadequacies. Back at the dawn of her comedy career. ‘I died miserably week after week for a year. I’m sort ofthe litmus test in Melbourne — if Rachel Berger can get good. anybody can.’
This is a tale of two Australian comics in two comedy cities: Melbourne and Edinburgh. Rachel Berger, 40, has been a comedian for eight years. After stints doing ‘everything from cleaning houses
Hachel Berger: woman in
cognitive stimulation shocker to making jewellery‘ she took the plunge. Now she‘s well-established back home — theatre tours. TV shows. frothing press proﬁles. Twenty-six- year-old Judith Lucy is a rising star. her proﬁle most recently boosted at home by a year-long stint on a Saturday- night. post-pub. cult variety(-ish) show.
A steady flood of their Australian peers have wooed and wowed Edinburgh. providing it with a certifiable lunatic Fringe.
As far as Edinburgh is concerned. though. straight Australian stand-up has been a rare beast. Enter Melboume. Comedy Capital Of Australia and host of its own Comedy Festival. and enter Berger and Lucy. Both started off at Tuesday night ‘try-outs’ at a club called The Last Laugh. it was hard, but not as hard as one of Berger‘s later engagements. ‘l compered at this strip- club. and it was a very politically-
incorrect thing to do. But I had this fantasy — Lenny Bruce. Bette Midler. Tony Hancock. George Burns. they’d all done it - and I had this fantasy that somehow it was an important ritual I had to go through. And it was awesome. it was hideous. but i certainly learnt a lot.‘
For her third Fringe appearance (last time round. in I992. she appeared with Bob Downe) Berger brings Cmnerly Siren. a show based round the myth of Ulysses and the Sirens. The cock-eyed notion of the potent. men-destroying woman is. she says. given new vigour by the ‘female on stage’. ‘Women have performed. until recently. usually to a male audience. and usually they're singers. cabaret artists or dancers. whatever — it‘s to please the male gaze.‘ Then along comes — shocker! — the witty. intelligent. politically- opinionated woman.
For her first Fringe Lucy follows in Berger‘s footsteps. warming up for Bob Downe. It is her first time performing outside Australia. The ‘cultural cringe‘. she says. means ‘we don't think we're good until another country tells us.’ Nationality. of course. should be no pre-requisite for approbation. But if we point to Australians' and Britons‘ shared love of irony and self- deprecation. we might just get away with it . . .
I Comedy Siren (Fringe) Rachel Berger. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. 12 Aug—3 Sept. [1.45pm. £5.50/£6.50 (£4.5()/£5.5()).
I Judith Lucy (with Bob Downe) (Fringe) Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. ll Aug—3 Sept. 10.20pm. £7/£8 (£6/£7).
Take your pick. Headers of the Chicago Tribune were forcefully informed that Hired Gun Theatre’s production of Killer Joe was one of the ten best plays of 1993. Those who chose to take the rival Chicago Sun Times, however, were led to believe that it was one of the two worst. ‘The play had that kind of reaction,’ says playwright Tracy Letts. ‘It’s a fairly intense evening in the theatre, although from audiences we didn’t have one complaint. If there is a controversy, it doesn’t seem split along any cultural, demographic or gender line - but the fact that there’s something to argue about makes it good theatre.’
Inspired by and aspiring to the best 50s pulp fiction, Killer Joe tells the gruesome story of an all-American family which hires a detective to bump off its mother. Packed together with an unhealthy helping of lost, betrayal and greed, the play is performed with
Mother-murdering in Hired Sun's Killr Joe
the kind of high-energy, physical intensity that marked out the work of fellow-Chicago company Steppenwolf a decade or so ago.
But isn’t letts fulfilling our every expectation about life in Chicago with a play about violence and guns? ‘I spent some time in Dallas which has a very different kind of violent culture than they have here in Chicago,’ he explains. ‘Chicago’s history is
gangsters whereas Texas is plain killers and that’s more of the influence in this play.’
80 although the production is informed by the toughness of Chicago, the play itself is set in a down-at-heel trailer park outside Dallas. ‘lt’s a violent country no matter where you go,’ says Letts, pointing in particular to the rise in domestic violence. ‘I don’t think I’m adding to it, maybe not even commenting on it, maybe simply reporting it. People are very concerned about gang crime, but where violent crime is really sky- rocketing is in the home.’
A fan of Raymond Chandler and an actor by training, letts wanted to bring the excitement he found in the cinema into the theatre. ‘I have a high regard for that style,’ he says. ‘lt’s an under-rated style that often gets short shrift because of the dark themes it explores. And I think it does play well in the theatre.’ (Mark Fisher)
Killer Joe (Fringe) Hired Gun Theatre Company, Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) 2281404, 11-21 Aug (not15), 11pm, £7 (£4).
Looking for that first-show-of-the- first-week safe-bet? Here’s five bankers, as told to Craig McLean by a man he met in the pub.
‘ £39” I Bob Downe and The Hollywood Horns The panstick prirna donna retums with a big band. big showbiz belter. ()ne of Bob's Hollywood Horns is called Glenn Slender. which is surely a better name for Mark Trevorr<m"s alter ego than Bob Downe is. Bob ])()lt'll(’ and The Hollywood Horns ( Fringe). l’leasunee (Venue 33) 556 6550. ll Aug—3 Sept. [0.20pm. £7/[8 (£6/f7). I Hunter and Docherty The couch returns! Last seen at the Fringe in W88. this marvellous piece of living room furniture is one of the most versatile comedy props currently working the comedy circuit. Moray Hunter and .lack Docherty aren't too bad either. Hunter and I )oe/lerty (Fringe) Absolutely l’rmluetimts. Cliun‘li Hill 'l'lzeutre (Venue 46) 4470/11. /2 Aug—3 Sept. l0.30pm. £8.50/f 7. 50. I Smiley Runner—up in last year‘s So You Think You 're Funny competition. Smiley has broken free from the limited comic potential of his raving reporter pigeonholc on Naked (‘itv His own show, Tee/om Prisoners opens at the Pleasance on 28 Aug. lxite 'n' Live (Fringe). (Ii/(led Balloon (Venue 38) 226 2l5l. l2 Aug—3 Sept. 12.300111. £7.50 (£6.50). I Mal‘k Lamarr With a withering London sarcasm, a distaste for Terry Christian that was a joy to behold, and a quiff that recently applied for planning permission. Mark Lamarr‘s ‘first ever one-man show‘ is. at last. his chance to stand and shine alone. Murk lxtmurr (Fringe). Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428. 12 Aug—3 Sept. 10.30pm. £8/£9 (£7/£8). I Jim Rose Circus Sideshow For the uninitiated. Jim‘s freaks. geeks and weirdos are adroit masters of Brechtian alienation and Grecian angst. And dangling household objects from their bodily parts whilst piercing their flesh with skewers and having a slug of their own puke. As you do. Jim Rose Cireus Sides/row (Fringe). Acropolis ()n Cit/ton Hill (Venue 26) 557 6969, I2 Aug—3 Sept (not [5. 22. 29. 1). 10pm. £8.50.
The List 12—18 August I994 55