Review By Michelle Sutton
AJ Lamarque has sold out the second night of his show English Breakfast, as part of the FRESH program showcasing new rising talent at the Sydney Comedy Festival. People sit knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder, shuffling considerately when more people appear at the doorway of the cosy fuse box theatre looking for a place to sit. The stage is set with a teapot, a jar of marmalade and an old radio over a lace tablecloth. A crackly sound starts and an old woman (Lamarque’s best Dame Maggie Smith impression) begins a tutorial on how to prepare the perfect cup of tea. It is a delightfully fun segue into the show and its central image of the perfect blend of tea, which is of course, English Breakfast.
From the very beginning, Lamarque has a wonderful rapport with the crowd. He is transparent, self-deprecating and charmingly laughs at and sometimes through his own jokes. He seems to be having the most fun of anyone in the room at all times. It would be very difficult to dislike him, or to resist smiling yourself. For an hour he delves into his childhood, his experience of growing up mixed race and encountering both racism and the privilege that comes with light skin. He tells anecdotes with such joy and spontaneity that it really does seem like everyone has come round to his place for a cup of tea and a chat. He includes the audience on his journey of understanding, gaining knowledge and developing a sense of identity. He illustrates the experience of being mixed race and queer with the profound and hilarious take that, “intersectionality is just project management”; dealing with the most urgent, possibly crisis matters at hand before circling back to things that are merely important. Lamarque manages to expertly weave discussions on complex issues into very enjoyable and accessible bite sized pieces. The audience is hanging onto every word, and reciprocating by sending back just as much positive energy to the stage.
Each section of the show is punctuated by a radio broadcast, revealing the next step in the perfect tea concoction. This is used sparingly and to great effect, as it leaves an opportunity for the audience to process the thoughts and reflections Lamarque has shared. Inspired by his approaching 30th birthday, he has many insightful observations to share about what authentic community looks and feels like, and how we can try to be self-aware and still enough to ask ourselves what we actually want from people, situations and life in general. It is a show perfectly pitched at fellow millennials, extremely tapped in to the intricacies of the pressures and insecurities felt by a generation raised to perfectly anticipate and respond to the needs of others but not often taught how to identify and honour our own wants, needs and dreams. Lamarque has a flair for storytelling and this combined with his ability to share critical self-reflections in a funny and humble way make the hour pass all too quickly.
AJ Lamarque’s English Breakfast at the Factory Theatre is a roaring success, due to the open, welcoming presence Lamarque brings and the highly relatable, intelligently funny and gently hopeful content of his jokes. He has created a truly safe and cathartic collective experience that is nurturing, challenging and laugh-out-loud funny. After the curtain has gone down and the crowd has finished applauding, I turn to the person on my right and say, “That was so good, right?” and they nod enthusiastically and reply “Yeah, it was exactly what I needed.”
I feel very lucky to have been able to witness AJ Lamargue’s talent in English Breakfast at the Sydney Comedy Festival and can’t wait to see what he does next.