Together, oddball chaps Neil Frost (orange check) and Dan Lees (pocket trout) are The Establishment. They pursue a line in that very recognisable wibbly-wobbly realm of English silliness through their MICF offering, Le Bureau de Strange.
The work blends improvisation with set pieces. It was recommended for a 16+ audience, and we were to test this with a Year 11 class in attendance. There was the odd F-bomb or adult concept, but this wasn’t overused.
By merely appearing in those bowler hats and wildly clashing outfits, The Establishment prepared us for a loopy journey. Gambolling Frost wore a toothy smile that at times recalled what you’d see on a low-ranking monkey trying to show submissiveness to those above. Lees tended to a certain directness with the audience, appraising our quality with a hint of menace.
The contrast between the pair, highlighted by audience requests, led to physical comedy as our English gents pranced about the stage, say to put on a musical number. A running poll: “Who in the audience thinks we’ve started?” punctuated some amusingly goofy episodes, including games with the audience.
It seems likely that the silliness isn’t going to be for everyone. I’ve found anticipated shows such as one by Paul Foot to be disappointing when they forgo structure for random, disconnected elements.
Here, Lees and Frost walked a comedy tightrope over the course of the show, mostly with success. The show changed tack enough to keep the surprises coming, although I did start to feel that some of the novelty was wearing off as we progressed.
What a disappointment the finale was, as the show collapsed into an overlong, really quite stupid and repetitious number, showing an absence of the deft judgement that had made earlier parts of the show so appealing. Perhaps the performers ended up catering a touch too much to those Year 11s?
One of the great things about a comedy festival is the diversity of styles on offer. On balance, Le Bureau de Strange was a welcome change of pace at MICF 2019. Lovers of the silliest branches of English comedy might quite enjoy this.
The Establishment – Le Bureau de Strange
Shell Room – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 3 April 2019 – 8.15pm
Image: Neil Frost and Dan Lees are The Establishment (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte