Thursday, 8 February 2007

Chocolate Monkey, John-Paul Hussey, Feb 7, 2007

Chocolate Monkey by John-Paul Hussey
By The Amazing Business
Black Box, Victorian Arts Centre, Tues to  Sun, until Feb 7 to 18, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Chocolate Monkey is a wild journey with the ebullient John-Paul Hussey.  He leads us a merry dance, relating his experiences trying to mount a solo production and to survive heartbreak, homelessness and overeating.

The content is never the most interesting part of this show; it is, rather, Hussey’s idiosyncratic style that makes it so compelling. He is a consummate comic character actor with a rubber face and a compact, snuggly build that allows him to glide and prance around the stage like a dancer. His comic timing is impeccable as he switches physicality and accents, playing all characters and mutating at will into Sean Connery just for the heck of it.

The random collection of episodes is constructed around Hussey’s chaotic attempt to stage his one-man show, A Night of (Modern) Irish Storytelling, in an unlicensed warehouse venue in the middle of junkie-land, Smith Street in Collingwood. Some of the funniest moments are his acute observations of Rainsford, the naked experimental theatre artist who runs the studio, or “space,” as artists love to call their theatre.

His characterisations are ruthlessly accurate and include Mr. Flanagan, the feisty Irish funeral director who occupies downstairs, Peter, the swaggering Greek railway foreman and a Chinese cook in Little Bourke Street. Even when not playing specific characters, Hussey changes accent from thick Yorkshire, to upper class English and an hilarious impression of how to replicate Japanese language by simulating suffering freezing temperatures, constipation and memory loss simultaneously.

Each scene, introduced by Hussey as narrator of his own messy life story, has an accompanying scene title and a projection of a William Blake style of  black and white etching (Natalie Lowery).

Kelly Ryall’s evocative soundscape enhances the atmosphere and the lighting design (Luke Hails, Remo Vallance & Mark Benson) captures the energy and rapid movement of Hussey’s thoughts and memories.

The show has some moving and intimate moments but he finds self-deprecating comedy in most things. He tells us that he was born a day apart from his girlfriend, his “twin monkey”, with whom he fought and made up until the relationship collapsed. He reveals his pain as his weight balloons and his shock at a publicity photo portraying him as a fat pig chef.

Chocolate Monkey is a return season of the first in Hussey’s Monkey trilogy. We look forward to the third, Love Monkey.

By Kate Herbert

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