Review By Rosie Niven
Quote: Johnson and Milas know how to work a crowd, and performing together for almost ten years has made their quick-witted interactions seamless. Moments like this are what make live comedy so enjoyable to watch.
I had a conversation with someone the other day who said that comedy and horror couldn’t co-exist happily in the same show. Their logic was, the minute you laugh, you’re no longer afraid, and if you’re absolutely terrified, there’s no way you’re chuckling. Seems like a pretty sound argument. However, after a wild journey into the subconscious at the Old Fitz Theatre on Tuesday night, I now have a counter-argument and a brilliant reference against my friend’s adamant statement: The Recidivists.
But who are the recidivists? It’s a question we’re constantly tackling in this social commentary about mental health and human ambition, and how we’re all doomed to fall into a self-destructive cycle. Accompanied by a four-piece band, comedy duo Mantaur takes us through the absurd and disturbed, a world of nightmares, failed experiments and psychoanalysis.They even throw in a couple of dance numbers and a swamp monster.
Mantaur is comprised of Sydney performers Rob Johnson and Harry Milas, a pair who have performed together for multiple years, from Theatresports to Fringe Festivals to sketch shows. It is this familiarity between the two performers that makes The Recidivists shine: for me, the best comedies happen when the comedians are having a great time, and this pair thrive together on stage. Both Johnson and Milas bring their vastly different skill sets to the stage to create this hilarious nightmare - Johnson’s powerful vocals add depth to the musical moments and Milas’ close-up magic skills bring brevity and absurdism to the eerier scenes.
The set is simple but effective in drawing us into the characters’ subconscious, with chalk graffiti spread across the stage and up the walls into the audience. Realising that almost all of the words on those walls are referred to in the show, it becomes a kind of game to piece the story together from half thoughts and confusing iterations, bringing excitement to the work during slower moments. At the end of the show, Johnson and Milas leave us with chalk markers, and an encouragement to leave one of our own dreams on the wall. As we think about our own dreams and what role they now play in the show, it dawns on me: are we the recidivists too?
The Recidivists is a work I enjoyed while watching, but ultimately grew on me the more distance I had from the theatre. I began to miss the maniacal Dr Jung, the vicious kite string-cutter who just wanted a friend, and the stand up comedian who coughed up whole eggs when nervous. Although simple iterations, the characters all had their own sense of delectable charm - a credit to the two performers who played over a dozen characters. While some sketches felt too long for what was mostly a fast-paced work, and some jokes pushed too far beyond the punchline, The Recidivists had the audience laughing, shouting, cheering, and even dancing.
In short, it’s fun, and really damn silly. I didn’t think that comedy and horror could be so symbiotic, but The Recidivists has proven it so. Johnson and Milas know how to work a crowd, and performing together for almost ten years has made their quick-witted interactions seamless. Even moments when a prop was left in the wrong spot, or the audience didn’t respond the way they wanted, the performance thrived because they were comfortable with their mistakes. Moments like this are what make live comedy so enjoyable to watch.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.