By Lucinda Naughton
Max Watt’s is transformed. Blue light shines onto the stage, catching sparkles on the backdrop of gathered curtain, and silhouetting the back of Phill Jupitus sitting in a chair. Music plays as the audience gather into their seats. Phill has a microphone in front of him that we can’t see.
The usual introductory host voice sounds, welcoming everyone. Unsure at first who is speaking, the audience hushes. However, laughter breaks fourth pretty quickly once it becomes evident that Phill is perfectly imitating a host voice and introducing himself, simultaneously taking the piss.
Phill begins Sassy Knack by taking the time to personally address his Australian audience. As we are well-aware, there aren’t many people who can pull off Australian accents. However, Phill is an expert. He imitates the BBC, flawlessly exhibiting the cultivated Australian accent, while also nailing the broad Australian accent, referencing a “parma”. He makes a tribute to his Melbourne audience by doing a bit about what he terms, “the Melbourne nannas”, explaining the quick and loud dominance they exhibit on the streets, and easily whips out his broad Australian accent again for his imitation, “Excuse me, dear!”. He claims only the Melbourne “ice street crazies” are as fast.
After Phill finishes his opening bit, the audience realise that most of it was improvised as he says he’s already spent eight minutes talking about Melbourne before even beginning his prepared show. This demonstrates his commitment to take the time to appreciate and relate to his audience and that his humour goes beyond the script (although the entire show felt unscripted), which is always exciting to see.
Phill knows his way around the stage; he knows exactly what his audience wants, easily makes us laugh, and reacts and plays off our reactions. It’s clear he’s been in the business a long time. From the first minute the audience comfortably kicks back: we’re in safe hands. Phill performs incredible accents and impressions from Stephen Fry (of course) to the Beatles (a conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney). Phill also makes crazy accurate sound effects from wind, door-knocking, duck quacks, to seal noises (the cute fake impression and the real screams – explaining in reality they sound like “murder victims”). Phill brings engaging and humorous physicality to his impressions, pumping the stage with his energy. His humour is self-deprecating and from early on he makes fun of his weight.
We get a bit of a personal insight into Phill when he jokes about not approaching him outside of stand-up as he won’t be in gig-mode, which is the energetic, entertaining person we see on stage. Phill does not refrain from clarifying he will instead be quiet and low-energy and so hilariously and honestly warns people away from approaching him on the street as he shouts, “You’ll be fucking disappointed!”.
Phill covers a wide variety of topics in Sassy Knack from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings references, puffins (and their wonder), to Creationism (from an atheist’s point of view). And Stephen Fry. Phill talks about moving to Scotland and hilariously blames Brexit, which he describes is like Mad Max but with the cast of Downton Abbey – “fucking bedlam”.
One of Phill’s focuses in Sassy Knack is on his experience of being awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts in 2017 by Kent University, Canterbury. When the head academic professor meets him and is disappointed by Phill’s normality, he asks for a Stephen Fry impression, which Phill obliges, beginning his fall from grace. He switches from academic mode to “gig-mode” – his entertaining self finds he cannot stop doing inappropriate things, such as throwing a bread roll across the room and accidentally hitting the head professor in the eye so hard that a shiner springs up straight away and also a rash because it turns out he’s gluten intolerant.
These chaotic life-stories Phill offers are completely wild and ridiculously hilarious yet also relatable (although perhaps because they make you feel better about your own, comparatively limp embarrassments). Phill is an incredible performer, such a funny entertainer, and Sassy Knack is a great example of his talent.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.