By Michael Kaufmann
Parody is easy. Throw in some clear references, funny visuals, maybe a song, and there you go. Getting parody right, though, is incredibly hard. On one hand, a loving parody will joyfully lampoon the traits of a piece of culture with love, mocking it to show how it’s actually overall great; on the other hand, a mean one will pick culture apart to highlight and analyse its flaws, and then laugh at its remains. Either way you have to commit to love or hate. A Game of Thrones musical parody seems like a great idea on paper. In execution, I’m sorry to say , Thrones! The Musical Parody is lifeless, cringeworthy, and to be frank, not worth your time.
The first warning sign came when I looked at the program before the show - Thrones! Was first written in 2015. For context, Season 5 of Game of Thrones aired in 2015, and viewers were still in the golden age of good writing, effective characters, and satisfyingly gripping television. Perfect fodder for a loving comedy, and that shows in Thrones!, as a group of people try to explain to their depressed friend why GOT is a great show. The parody here is loving, it’s bolstering its target by kindly mocking its flaws whilst never highlighting anything structurally wrong with it. Since the show’s inception, they have continually updated it with each new season, adding new material and references, and getting more critical as it went; but I don’t think they ever edited the old stuff, because this is where the show starts to get tonally inconsistent and the cracks in the material became gaping holes. Reference comedy is fleeting and ages faster than other genres due to its reliance on current pop culture. There were references were made in the show that were conversation points 4 years ago. The jokes are old, and in some cases, inexcusably problematic.
The jokes started in poor taste with an unfortunate send-up of a scene depicting sexual assault, and as the evening continued it was clear that the material wouldn’t improve. From jokes about Peter Dinklage’s height, to Rickon Stark running in a straight line (a joke they made twice, directly in succession; because if a joke isn’t funny, it will surely be funny again immediately after), the punchlines were clearly often of the lowest common denominator. They were obvious to the point of being predictable and fell flat. This brings us to the pointless framing narrative, which padded the show out by trying to fill the gaps with a plot and characters that started as uninteresting, and ended by jumping the shark just when I thought the show was starting to get on better grounding. Given the laziness of the references made and clear lack of editing, I genuinely believe that this device was employed because the writers seriously didn’t have enough to say beyond the same old jokes that passed around online years ago. This also dragged the runtime of the show to 2 hours plus intermission when this clearly didn’t need to be more than a 90 minute one-act.
That’s not to say that there weren’t some saving graces in the form of particular cast members. Jordan Stidham’s impression of Kit Harrington was the only consistently funny joke in the show; and Mary Lou Kolbenschlag brought a freshness and commitment to the material in spite of being the butt of some very poorly formed gags. On the other hand, many of writer and creator Albert Samuels' jokes fell flat. He revels in leud comedy, playing the group's perverted friend who seems to enjoy certain aspects of GOT a little too much. Unfortunately, given that the show never earns the audience's trust enough to truly make the dark comedy land, these jokes just felt uncomfortable. Production-wise the show felt a little rushed. The set for the show was nothing special, which makes sense for a show where the effort has clearly been placed on the writing, but for a show that has had the track record that Thrones! has had, I was left wanting a bit more than some painted flats. The lighting was dynamic but quite redundant at times, become often distracting and jarring. The sound design was fine, and musically the songs were as expected, functionally sound, but ultimately forgettable.
There were actually some clear (but misguided and lazy) attempts to bring some relevant comedy to the evening. My guess is that three months ago, when planning for this Australian production, the writers tried to add some passing jokes that this audience would get behind. These were also dated, and in the case of a particular George Pell joke that landed so poorly that I seriously considered walking out, very uninformed.
This should have been so much better. With the current sentiment towards the TV series, it shouldn’t have been hard to get an audience of GOT fans on side, but that would have required a level of wit and self-awareness that just wasn’t present. I went in wanting to like this show, but with everything combined, I just couldn’t get behind it.
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.