Current Issue #488

Fringe Review:
Zöe Coombs Marr: Agony! Misery!

Zöe Coombs Marr returns to the Adelaide Fringe with an at-times surreal show that explores the limits of nostalgia.

Zöe Coombs Marr is an inimitable force in Australian comedy. A history of wrestling with form saw her burst open the very stereotypes that were holding her – and plenty of other performers that aren’t straight, white and male – back. Her best-known work – Dave – saw her tackle the gendered nature of standup by performing as a mediocre male comedian called Dave. The follow up – Trigger Warning – was an oddly tender look at the dismantling of gender: in comedy, in language and in performance. Last year Coombs Marr returned as herself in Bossy Bottom, a spectacularly meta take on the form in which she makes her living.

This brings us to Agony! Misery! – the latest offering in surrealist storytelling. A show built around self-referential narratives, similar devices are used to Coombs Marr’s previous works. Clues are dropped early but one is never quite sure who is putting them together. Some won’t at all, but this show isn’t for them anyway. Agony! Misery! is for the dorky kids who went to band camp and loved drama; this is never going to be fodder for commercial breakfast radio.

Coombs Marr has an actor’s ability to command a stage without ever intimidating her audience. She never picks on the unsuspecting tall jock, but she will celebrate those who laugh knowingly about material that shows they never fitted in with the cool crowd. There are a few repetitions in tonight’s performance and several jokes don’t land, but as is always the case with a Coombs Marr show it’s difficult to tell what are early-season rough edges and what are questions to the audience. This is all part of the thrilling tension that her fans keep coming back for.

Agony! Misery! is about nostalgia for our younger days, but it’s also a delicate observation of the world we will eventually leave behind. After all, it’s hard enough being a teenager before your mum is seen stockpiling toilet paper. This is smart, observant comedy from an unrivaled storyteller.  

Agony! Misery! was performed at Le Cascadeur at The Garden of Unearthly Delights on Wednesday 4 March

Until 8 March

Zöe Coombs Marr:
Agony! Misery!

Kylie Maslen

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Kylie Maslen is a writer and critic from Kaurna/Adelaide, and the author of Show Me Where it Hurts: Living with Invisible Illness (Text Publishing).

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