Leafing through the MICF guide I saw The Ballad of Frank Allen described as “A sci-fi buddy comedy about a man who lives in another man’s beard.” Yeehah! Full credit to the show’s creators for an idea nutty enough to stand out from literally hundreds of other entries.
These kooks are Western Australian Fringe veterans Shane Adamczak and St John Cowcher. They play various roles in an offering that’s billed as “theatre” yet often had a slant towards “musical comedy”.
Adamczak is Frank, a janitor in a scientific facility who likes a predictable routine. Cowcher is Al, a directionless slacker struggling to keep his parents off his back and work up the courage to ask his dream woman for a date. A mishap requiring a leap of faith from the audience places Frank in Al’s beard.
Whilst survival is one thing, Frank needs to find meaning in his life, and the hirsute Al can certainly use a little help. Their unconventional symbiosis would be fine, except a secretive scientific institute can’t just have a miniaturised man running around…
The Ballad of Frank Allan feels rather more like a Fringe show than a MICF show. Especially in the first half it’s a little light-on for laughs, and some of the attempts at jokes seem there more to please the writers. The odd song was shoe-horned into the plot without advancing the story. This makes me wonder if the lavish praise heaped on the show’s earlier seasons from some quarters has discouraged some further polishing.
The show certainly does have assets though. Adamczak and Cowcher throw themselves into the physical comedy routines, achieving good laughs. The use of lighting and flash-forwards gave the work a more theatrical bent than many comedy offerings, and posed a puzzle to the audience that kept us on our toes.
Songs are often enjoyable and the performers harmonize well. The pair maintained a snappy way of switching from Al’s viewpoint to Frank’s right up to the action of the climax. I particularly liked the sense of playfulness in scenes when the performers seemed to muck around with the script. Whilst the work could use a little development, it’s already so much more fresh and interesting than much of the regulation stand-up comedy around.
There are plenty of mainstream stars at MICF 2017 you could see. Yet, if you don’t want to miss out on what’s going on at the margins where so many big names started, The Ballad of Frank Allan will be a very handy second show on a night out.
The Ballad of Frank Allen
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 4 April 2017 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 9 April 2017
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Shane Adamczak and St John Cowcher feature in The Ballad of Frank Allen (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte