Last night I had a dream. It was… strange. I was sitting in a packed-out theatre in Belconnen. There was some kind of comedy show on. They were singing a song about hay fever. And then another one about… erectile dysfunction? Then I was transported to a motivational seminar about how to do a little bit of white-collar crime. The last thing I remember was Mikhail Gorbachev trying to stop his alternate-universe neoliberal self, Reagan Gorbachev, from introducing the free market to the Soviet Union.
Imagine my surprise when I woke to realise that it wasn’t a dream at all. No, it was Bread Revue’s debut show, Mind the Crust. Developed by Synan Chohan, Rohan Pillutla, and Anna Coote, Mind the Crust was a one-night-only sketch comedy show at Belco Arts. A wacky and provocative performance of twenty-six sketches by eight local actors, it struck an impressive balance between esotericism and broad appeal.
For a highly wheaty title, there were hardly any bread references in the show. Producer Synan Chohan shared that the idea began with ‘an undeniably bad in-joke: to create a live sketch comedy show where every skit is bread-themed. However, our plan crumbled when we realised that, much like a carb-only diet, you can’t sustain a performance on bread-based jokes alone.’ So the bread-themed comedy was jammed into just one sketch. Two Mafia types discuss a hit on some poor victim, only to reveal that the ‘hit’ was more of a ‘kneading’ and the ‘dough’ they earnt was a golden loaf of bread, hot from the oven. There was some bread at the close of the show too: baguettes thrown onto the stage by well-prepared fans in lieu of flowers.
It was weirder than most things I’ve experienced recently, or maybe ever, but the team also knew when to pull in the reins. Quality acting was the talk of the post-show crowd, and every actor brought something different to the stage. Take the sketch with two wartime comrades meeting at a park bench in Tuscany, for example. One sits on the bench, face covered by a newspaper. The other, Lloyd, pontificates about the complexities of war, before the first drops the newspaper and reveals herself in a tux and a Cthulhu mask. Cthulhu speaks in garbled screams. ‘You were an idealist once, Cthulhu,’ Lloyd responds, understated and serious, ‘Don’t you believe anymore?’. It would have been slapstick, but the execution was spot on.
Most of the sketches felt like they were based on a ‘wouldn’t it be funny if…’ question taken to its humorous conclusion. Wouldn’t it be funny if Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ was reimagined in an Australian pub (‘VB, or not VB’)? Wouldn’t it be funny if glass-ceiling-smashing feminism was used to get women into gambling? Wouldn’t it be funny if there was an army whose only weapons were sex toys? And for most of them – not including that uninspired last one – the answer was yes, it would be hilarious.
The sketch of the night would have to be the self-absorbed poet, played by Jack Foster. Lounging at Smith’s Alternative with Ulysses and a coconut water, he waxes lyrical to himself. “I’ve always said Canberra in the wintertime was like living in limbo. I never elaborate on that statement.”
A woman walks into the room. His thoughts continue, “I was frozen in her presence as she passed, perceiving me in my insecurities. Baby, I’m the most emasculated man alive! I’m all withered from your gaze, can’t you see?”. He takes to the stage with some nonsensical slam poetry and bathes in the resounding clicks of his audience. The woman, impressed, approaches him, but he’s too shy to talk to her. “Ugh,” she storms out, “I’m so done with poets!”. Back in comfortable solace, he returns to his asinine soliloquy: “Like parallel lines, we were two ships in the dark. Destined to converge but never interact.”
Interspersed among the performances were skilfully produced video sketches, giving both the actors and the audience a break from the live format. In one, reminiscent of La Moustache, a woman is driven to insanity when no one but her, not even Google, remembers the hit 1997 Robin Williams film Flubber. “Why does it matter so much?” her therapist asks. She gravely responds: “It doesn’t. It’s Flubber.”
Minimalistic sets provided only what was needed for the scene, combined with props and audio-visual elements where necessary to drive the jokes home. A bird-hating scientist in Broken Hill uses a microwave time machine to go back and extinguish the very first bird, butterfly effect be damned. The main street of Broken Hill on the projector suddenly changes to a futuristic utopia: Fixed Hill. Lloyd is forced to assassinate his friend Cthulhu, scattering a bag of polaroids across the stage. On screen, we see an animation of each polaroid floating to the ground, showing various shots of the two friends knocking around in their wartime heyday. Even the sex toy army sketch was somewhat enjoyable because of the magnificently crafted papier-mâché penis sword, with veins and dangling balls and all.
I feel obliged to discuss the Gorbachev sketch, but I’m not sure it’s possible to fully translate into words. In an Everything Everywhere All at Once-style multiverse mash-up, Mikhail Gorbachev – the last leader of the Soviet Union – puts an end to Reaganomics with a little help from his alternate selves: Skateboarder Gorbachev, Goku-chev, Gorba-Chef, Simpsons-head-in-a-jar-Gorbachev, and somehow several more variants, all with detailed costumes. Like the previous sentence, it was a little too much Gorbachev, and it dragged on a bit long. But as the second last sketch of the show, by that point the crowd was won over enough to appreciate the silliness.
The show was advertised with this description: ‘Mind The Crust is sure to be your night’s delight. Or, you may be left concerned why a group of twenty-somethings spent their own money into creating a live performance just to temporarily cope with the hollow ennui of their youth.’ I certainly experienced the former, with just a healthy pinch of the latter. While there was little to take away from the show except for a good time and some funny quotes, I felt like I had been witness to a momentous event to forever be inscribed in the history of Canberran twenty-somethings post-COVID comedy. It was certainly worth a bit of dough, especially with the profits donated to HelpingACT, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next. I’ll be there, front and centre, armed with a bouquet of baguettes, bagels, and maybe even a croissant.
Mind The Crust was a one night show at Belco Arts Centre written and performed by Synan Chohan, Rohan Pillutla, Kayla Ciceran, Jack Foster, Alana Grimley, Lily McCarthy, Claire Noack and Jack Shanahan.
Writers: Lily Ievarsi, Eldon Huang, Elroy James, and Ella Serhan-Sharp
Production Manager: Anna Coote
Set and Costume Design: Roz Hall
Choreography: Gabi Izurieta
Marketing and Graphic Design + Backstage Crew: Jamie Leonard
Stage Manager and Lighting Designer: Evelyn Perry
Musical Directors: Kian Shayan
Assistant Musical Directors: Ryan Yu & Kahlil Perusco
Cinematography: Jeremy Tsuei Backstage
Crew: Anna Coote, Roz Hall, Jamie Leonard & Kahlil Perusco
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