Review by Thomas Gregory
TRIGGER WARNING: This review contains comments about rape as it appears in the context of the show. Please be advised that this may be triggering for readers and read ahead only if suitable to you.
Making comedy is a difficult task at the best of times. People have different ideas about what is funny, and a joke that lasts too long can lose its entertainment value. If there is something positive to say about “A Murders Off a Duck’s Back”, it is that it has attempted something most people would never try.
Unfortunately, that is the most there is to say about the show, which provides few laughs, a number of quite concerning “jokes”, and is taken as seriously by its creators as the federal government takes climate change (hint: it doesn’t).
The Midsumma Festival declares itself an “explosion of queer events that centre around hidden and mainstream queer culture”. Over the years it has become as important to Australian queer culture as the Sydney Mardi Gras. So saddening, then, to find a play advertised under its banner which so directly contradicts what the festival stands for.
“A Murders Off a Duck’s Back” promotes itself as a “shocking and hilarious absurdist thriller”, and only the first word rings true.
The premise of the play is a film-noir inspired murder mystery in which a young woman meets a man who she decides to immediately marry. The couple, along with her mother and a bartender/real estate agent/doctor/etc, goes on a train trip to the wedding when “tragedy strikes” and the husband-to-be is murdered. In an attempt at the classic farces of yesteryear, the characters slowly die off, sometimes even in front of a pair of bumbling detectives, and in the end, no one survives.
The play is structured with little dialogue, instead employing over-the-top monologues told over jazzy covers of pop songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Black Velvet”.
Writer/Director/Actor Lachlan Casey-Roloff loves malapropisms - the extent that half the “comedy” in this show is simply listing off as many as can be created. Even when they are not warranted. While frustratingly present in almost every line, these are probably the smallest sin that Lachlan has committed in the writing of the comedy. Greater may be the sin of “drag for comedy”, in which the cross-dressing of actors is done more to make “women with moustache” jokes than any other reason.
The unforgivable sin, however, is the frankly offensive “jokes” at the expense of little people, women, and victims of rape. That is right. The sexual assault of a police officer by an over-aggressive woman is apparently funny to this writer.
It’s hard to determine if a better-written play would be enjoyable under the guidance of this company. Is it that the script is so bad that the actors put so little effort into presenting it? Is it intentional that they allow themselves to laugh at the lines which they think are funny? Or perhaps they simply can’t put in the effort they might if they performed “The Importance of Being Earnest”?
There are moments in the night that, in another comedy about film noir, may have worked. The role of a mannequin as one character, the “decapitated body” prop, and the “classy old bar” set that begins and ends the show all have promise in some other play. The choice of red and blue lighting added to the look, and the set transitions could have worked if not marred by the unnecessary metatheatrical chatter of the performers as they moved the pieces about.
In the end, it is difficult not to be thankful that the fifty-seat space was only half-filled. Midsumma audiences deserve better than the show that was offered up at the price of far more professional productions.
A short note on the title of this show: On some websites, it is entitled, “Like a Murders of a Duck’s Back”. In others, “Murder Off a Duck’s Back.” When I asked the lighting technician, they said “A Murders off a Duck’s Back” was the correct title. Despite the obvious poor grammar, this is the title I have given the play. If it is wrong, I take full responsibility for it.