Review by Thomas Gregory
There is a long history of suburban satire in Australia. From Dame Edna Everage to Kath Darleen Day Knight, we have had an extra special soft spot for the middle-class housewife. While many people might argue that the character was perfected by Jane Turner, those people haven’t yet had the opportunity of seeing Nat Harris’ new character, Sal.
Sal is your 21st-century housewife. Sal is dressed in athleisure clothing, excited by her new personal trainer, and complaining to the council that the beautiful gum tree in front of her will get in the way of the marquee for her husband’s sixtieth party. When she is sad, she drinks wine from the bottle, and her favourite musician is the millennial hero of inner-city housewives everywhere.
Of course, Nat Harris also draws from another comedy trope to elevate the character of Sal. The overbearing mother. Sal isn’t just overbearing, she is obsessive. And when her son, the “love of her life”, isn’t able to make it to his father’s birthday, Sal falls apart in hilarious ways.
As well as Sal, Harris introduces us to a few other characters, including the boss at the council’s complaint centre and Sal’s personal trainer, Owen, whose second job is as the children’s party supervisor at a rock climbing center.
One of the big appeals of Nat Harris’ comedy is that it doesn’t rely on a single form. She gets just as many laughs from the physical comedy of her dancing as she does from her satirisation of the business world or her uniquely Melbourne references. She is supported by a few appropriate props, some great pre-recorded “phone messages”, and an assortment of wigs and costumes. Harris brings the audience into her jokes, encouraging interactivity. She isn’t worried if a member is uncomfortable responding - she has just the joke for that, too.
The biggest asset Sal has (outside of her obviously brilliant performance) is her co-star, Peter Knight. Knight’s performance as Sal’s husband, Mark, is the perfect representation of the “stooge”, and somehow never cracked while the room was in an uproar for nearly an entire hour.
While there is the odd adult joke, and the humor is definitely aimed at those who have regularly come across this particular woman in their own world, the comedy is mostly-clean. There is little humour that is off-colour and none that would be considered socially offensive. No reference is archaic and, while satire is the name of the game, it would be hard to imagine anyone it sends up would feel attacked. In a word, the show is uplifting.
Sal + Friends is not quite the perfect show. The “and friends” part is a little inconsistent. The opening scene nearly had people rolling on the floor, but Owen the personal trainer may not be as appealing to everyone. These were, sadly, the only “friends” we got to experience, and I personally would have loved to have a third. Of course, when this is the worst criticism that could be found in a show, it only highlights how great the show is.
That Nat Harris isn’t yet the same household name as Judith Lucy, Jane Turner, or Kitty Flanagan is a little mystifying. I’m sure this mistake will be rectified soon enough. Before it does, enjoy her show in a more intimate setting at the Fringe Festival Hub and then check out a few other shows while you are there.