Review by Thomas Gregory
To say Steph Teitelbaum is full of energy is to say that the Melbourne weather sometimes changes - an understatement. If we put Steph Teitelbaum on a treadmill, we will permanently solve any and all energy crises around the world and be able to finally shut down all the polluting ways we currently get our power. Hell, Steph may be the very embodiment of the Energizer Bunny.
Of course, if you don’t get that final reference, maybe Steph Teitelbaum isn’t for you. Her new show, Hello, Who Is it? comes from a very strange place in time. While many of the sketches presented are universal, so many also seem to have been transported from the late nineties. Couple this with a sense of humour that draws from early Monty Python, and you have a production that is not quite universal but certainly draws from every-when.
Hello, Who Is it? is a fast-paced sketch show you are surprised works so well on stage. With the help of fellow comedian Elliot Wood, Teitelbaum presents us with a series of short skits centred around the absurdity that is our use of telephones. From the pain of the on-hold-music pianist to what a certain game-show host would be like at home, the jokes range from entirely predictable to so completely absurd as to cause minor breaks to your psyche.
While never relying heavily on props and costumes, Teitelbaum certainly loves them. The door at the centre of her stage is more than just an entryway, but the source of multiple reliable gags and a central character in one of the more emotionally touching scenes of the night. While a piano on the side of the stage is used sparingly, one can never be too sure when it might just pop back up.
And then there are the phones. All the phones. Rotary, touch-tone, inflatable mobiles that look like they came out of 1987’s “Wall Street”, they are all there, and they all have the chance to add to the fun of the night.
The problem faced by the production, however, is one faced by all skit shows, whether on stage or on screen - it’s one of consistency. In a recent interview, Teitelbaum mentions her love of Eric Idle, and the influence of early Monty Python in this show is unmistakable.
This could be seen as a compliment if your memory of Monty Python only consists of the Parrot Sketch, the Ministry of Silly Walks, and The Life of Brian. An oft-forgotten aspect of the 1970s British sketch show, however, is just how often it missed its mark. In the same episode of “The Spanish Inquisition”, the troupe did a semaphore version of Wuthering Heights and a courtroom sketch in which the defendant happens to also be a judge. Neither is as interesting as they sound.
Teitelbaum herself mentions early in the night that the production is a compilation of all the ideas she didn’t know what to do with, and it shows. Long dance numbers in which the joke is….dancing… don’t hit as well as the early discoveries of Beefeaters that are finally allowed to move.
Despite these failures, Hello, Who Is It? was extremely well received by its audience, who revelled in both the absurdity and how much Teitelbaum was willing to stretch out an absurd moment until one couldn’t help but laugh.
For those who enjoy the traditional British sketch format and would like to experience it on stage, Steph Teitelbaum is for you. While not every joke will land, those that do will remain with you long after the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is over.