Review by Ellis Koch
Every so often, amongst all of the shows vying for attention at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, you manage to sit in on an absolute gem of a show. Case Numbers, the latest offering from writer/performer Dylan Cole is one such gem. Case Numbers presents itself as a mystery concerned with solving the combination to an inherited briefcase in order to discover the contents that lay within – it stresses that it is not a comedy show. There are jokes – not very good ones according to Cole himself but, also according to Cole, he is a liar and so anything he says or presents throughout is to be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, events at the start help to sow uncertainty amongst the audience so that one is unsure as to what they are watching. Sure, it has bad jokes but it is also constantly amusing and often funny – and always engaging even though there is that odd feeling of uncertainty throughout the show. Cole is a storyteller and this story is a nostalgic piece heavily leaning on 90s films, littered with outdated pop culture references and deliberately flat jokes that are actually very clever. It also has a solid dose of Communism too and, of course, the mystery of the briefcase. At its heart, however, Case Numbers is an exploration of writing form, drama and repetition. It’s “A Beautiful Mind” with Babushkas. It’s a story that often times doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere – just the amusing ruminations of Cole’s life. Except he’s a liar . . . so some of it is false or none of it is true. It’s this feeling, and the slow burn towards solving the mystery of the briefcase, that Cole maintains brilliantly throughout the piece. His delivery feels real, his opening feels real and even though there are delightfully silly moments throughout they only serve to keep the uncertainty up. But Cole, liar that he is, does present some truth at least, mostly in the assurances about what to expect from the show as it unfolds.
The performance of Cole, playing himself and serving up a straight delivery, really sells the material. Of course it helps that Cole also wrote the piece as his intimate knowledge of concept and content allows him to play it all out to perfection. He has a really easy way with the audience, his delivery is charming and engaging and really does just feel like someone telling a part of their life story. He utilises dot points and lists on a television screen, which also provides some visual humour, that gives the piece the feeling of a presentation or lecture. So . . . it’s a mystery story, a rumination of one man’s history, pop-culture and 90s movies with sprinklings of comedy in the style of a presentation or lecture. It’s an exploration of writing form and drama . . . and Communism . . . And it’s very clever. I can’t say much more without giving things away, really, but as you sit in the audience, nursing your uncertainty as to what it is you are watching, you will eventually be rewarded with a rather excellent and clever payoff. Things that seem arbitrary connect up to form a resolution that is quite satisfying to watch and, ultimately, provide the biggest joke contained within the show – a joke that spans the entire length of the performance and uses the whole fifty minute duration to build towards. This is the brilliance of this piece and of Cole’s writing. Case Numbers is an entirely satisfying experience and you’d do well to get yourself a ticket and see it before it disappears.