Review by Dan Hutchings
Jane Bell’s Slops is an hour of questionable mental health advice, questionable font choices and glorious, glorious fun.
Performing at Bard’s Apothecary for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Slops is not stand-up comedy, as Bell helpfully tells us at the start of the performance. Nor is it a sketch show. In fact, Bell tells us quite a lot of - increasingly specific - things that it’s not, including a Space Jam musical and a Queer cabaret about the characters in McDonaldLand. So if it’s not all those things… what is it?
The answer: a very funny hour of beautiful chaos. Bell’s debut solo show might not have been traditional but it had the audience laughing the whole way through. She isn’t afraid to get a little weird, if that isn’t clear already, but the audience remained firmly on her side through every off-the-wall joke, even when she attempts to run some guided meditation with rather stressful fragments of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire. There is lots of audience participation, which everyone was on board for, including handing out things like a gratitude journal, or asking audience members for a goal to achieve by the end of the show (one person’s was simply to finish their wine, another’s to start a standing ovation for the show). I got handed a colouring book which very nearly distracted me from actually watching the show. An intimate setting like Bard’s Apothecary - the kind that many comics are setting up shop in this festival season - allows for a level of high audience engagement, and Bell delivers that in spades.
In between all the wackiness, though, Slops has something to say. A highlight is an extended bit featuring a character called Nirvana, a new-age hippie-type who spruiks questionable mental health plans and online supplements. It’s a stereotype we’ve seen before, but what could have been a one-joke character isn’t, and Bell takes the bit into all sorts of unexpected directions, and perhaps even has something to say about mental health in the process.
Bell also makes effective use of the visual elements of her show. Rather than reading directly off her powerpoint screen, she instead packs the screen with visual gags that she may or may not draw attention to, leaving a whole slew of easter eggs for the audience to find.
Whether its stand-up, sketch, or something indescribable, Slops is very, very funny. The audience loved it, and the standing ovation goal was achieved (which, admittedly, may have been for the audience member who finished his wine, but was mostly for the show). It’s poignant, weird and certainly one to catch this festival season.