Review By Kipp Lee
It feels almost criminal for someone as talented as Michelle Brasier to be put up in The Container, one of the smallest spaces in the Factory Theatre but as her show progresses you realise a venue this small is deliberate. Average Bear in an intimate and personal show, benefiting from the close quarters and limited audience.
Billed as equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, Brasier’s solo return to stage lulls you into the nostalgic safe space of Wagga Wagga in the late-nineties and early-two-thousands before rocketing you back into the real world of pain, disease and possum maulings.
Framed by the narrative of Average the Bear, Brasier shares an emotional and dramatic autobiography. Upon entrance, the audience is greeted by Average, a breathless and excitable bear, anxiously preparing for the upcoming hibernation period. She has a drink in hand and eagerly cheers’ everyone, “It’s pre-drinks for Hibernation!” The upbeat but nervous bear (denoted by a set of furry ears and no pants) sets us up for a good time with the comedian she’s hired (Michelle Brasier - denoted by human ears and wearing pants). Brasier lightly quips that maybe the bear is a metaphor but leaves it at that for the time being.
Brasier - one half of the award winning duo Double denim, regular in Aunty Donna sketches and Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell and much more - has an angelic voice and a bright demeanor. She is joined on stage by her life partner Tim Lancaster, who accompanies her with guitar and sweet harmonies. He plays the supportive, doting partner and Brasier takes every opportunity to berate him for the smallest of missteps, but there is a clear chemistry that goes beyond their stage personas - making some of the hardest emotional moments even harder, watching not just Michelle reliving those times but also someone who loves her very much.
The show is woven with songs both poignant and silly, odes to the fingering shed at her high school or her brother’s time in Ireland. Brasier builds a sense of comradery with the audience that is as strong as that of ANZAC diggers. Her open conversational style feels like a new friend telling you anecdotes at a bar. But slowly you realise no matter how light hearted that last story was, you’re always only seconds away from tragedy. Brasier has had more than her fair share of misery but she doesn’t allow you to wallow in it. Every moment blends seamlessly into the next one, an incredible feat of writing and directing, until the end where Brasier offers to console the audience outside, and after the raucous applause she does just that. Offering each person a meaningful interaction, where they get to share her sorrow and unwavering joy.
Average Bear is much more than a funny metaphor. Michelle is the bear, choosing to embrace hibernation or experience everything life has to offer - good and bad - and she invites you to make that choice with her.
The Sydney Comedy Festival run of Average Bear is sold out but Brasier promises a remount soon enough so be on the lookout, because this is a show everyone needs to see.