If you’ve followed Fringe festivals for a time, you’ll at least know Melbourne’s own Joshua Ladgrove through shows with his character Dr Professor Neal Portenza. By various accounts these physical comedy offerings – such as one where he promised to perform his own autopsy – were very funny. With the good doctor on sabbatical, Ladgrove explores more personal territory through a tale of his Ukrainian grandmother: Baba.
We haven’t seen much of Ladgrove for a while because of that whole Covid thing kept him quite busy. He lived with, and cared for, his Baba from February 2020 until her death in August 2022, aged 97. It may seem that this is a curious choice of topic for a “comedy”.
Fortunately, we are in safe hands, as Ladgrove, with co-creator Jason Marion, manage a fine balance between dramatic and comedic moments. Melbourne Fringe audiences are fortunate to have a second chance to see this show after its Moosehead-awarded MICF 2023 season.
A sparse stage featured an empty armchair to the right, covered with a blanket of the homemade kind, as we could expect from an industrious peasant of Baba’s generation. Almost immediately, it felt appropriate that Baba should maintain a presence in her story.
Whilst Ladgrove’s interactions with Baba’s chair provided comic relief from the heavier stories, these asides also show a grandson’s devotion to keeping a beloved grandmother as part of his life.
The story skipped lithely between tales of Ladgrove’s caring for Baba in recent times, back to the hardships of her upbringing in Ukraine, and other experiences in-between. Whilst there may be tears, there’s also a celebration of family bonds and resilience. However, the darker themes and swearing might mean that the show isn’t ideal for some.
This aside, the show is extremely polished, as Ladgrove skilfully jumped between different styles of presentation, and some appealingly absurd comedic asides.
Thanks to Baba’s substantial role in Ladgrove’s life, the show features a good deal of Ukrainian, and this was well received by the audience who shared his grandmother’s origins. The show is also likely to appeal to anyone who had a close relationship with a grandparent, whether they used to water the concrete, or not.
If you needed another inducement to visit the Gasworks Arts Park, local artist Elsa Thorp has the exhibition Botanica Sculptilia in the Angela Robarts-Bird Gallery near the Studio. Photos and sculptural arrangements of parts of edible plants range from the precise and symmetrical to the playfully unruly. Some version of this body of work seems suited to something like the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize Exhibition.
Studio Theatre – Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
Performance: Wednesday 11 October 2023
Season continues to 14 October 2023
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: Joshua Ladgrove – photo by Bec Petraitis
Review: Jason Whyte