Friday, 28 March 2003

Men in Coats, Mick Dow & Maddy Sparham, March 28, 2003

Men in Coats  by Mick Dow & Maddy Sparham 
Melbourne Comedy Festival
Capitol  Theatre , March 28 to April 20, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you prefer a quirky visual gag to a glib line, Men in Coats are your cup of tea. 

This UK duo (Mick Dow and Maddy Sparham) is all slapstick and low budget illusion. They blend material from the old knockabout duos such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello.

They do not speak. They let the visual gags do the talking for them. The audience laughs like children. In fact. this is one show in the Comedy Festival to which you could bring the family and not risk naughty words or deeds on stage.

The difference between this pair of clowns and the old comic double acts is that Men in coats use popular culture images and characters. Superman, Jaws and Six Million Dollar Man and the music from Hawaii 50 and Mission Impossible all make an appearance.

The best clowns look funny before doing a thing. Dow and Sparham look peculiar and hilarious from the moment they appear peering out from deep inside their snorkel faced Eskimo parkas.

They look like cartoon characters.  One is tall, wiry, white-haired and rubber-faced. The other is short, and stocky, wearing huge, goofy, black spectacles.

They are complete dags so they can get away with anything by being charming and low status. They may play at being incompetent, but this is a slick and intelligent hour of physical comedy.

The show has a neat rhythm and the duo slide from one sketch to another effortlessly. It is jammed with clever, brief sight gags which means there is an enormous amount of material burnt up in sixty minutes.

They bring to the physical comedy elements of magicians' shows. We see trashy levitation, balloon tricks, sword swallowing, appearances and disappearances. All these illusions finish with an ironic twist. They even pull a hat out of a rabbit.

The stage has two windows upstage right and left and a curtained change room centre. The restrictions of space allow them to shift swiftly from place to place backstage and create illusions. The windows house shadow screens to create more illusions, finger shadows and even mini men in coats.

Men in Coats is a genuinely clever and hilarious ride through a land of illusion and slapstick.

By Kate Herbert

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