Friday, 13 November 2009

David Strassman: Teddy’s Farewell Tour ***

Atheneaum Theatre, Nov 13 to Dec 6, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

David Strassman, American comic ventriloquist, has a fiercely loyal fan base in Melbourne for his characters, Ted E. Bare and Chuck Wood. He brings his show to the Athenaeum Theatre almost annually and his followers carry teddies and wear his T-shirts with the ardent commitment of AFL fans.

The sentimental audience favourite of Strassman’s characters is the charming Ted E. Bare who is a naïve, slow-talking, goofy and over-sized teddy. Strassman manages to give the inanimate puppet soulful eyes and a cuteness factor of 100.  This show is billed as “Ted E’s Farewell Tour” and Ted milks the audience’s empathy for all he is worth.

Ted E’s primary antagonist, and the audience’s other favourite, is Chuck Wood, the puppet world’s answer to villains. He is cunning, lying, conceited, foul-mouthed, sexist and intolerant of everyone and everything. He taunts Ted E, Strassman and us – and we love him for it. Chuck is the classic ventriloquist doll with a cheeky, wooden head. (Anyone remember Gerry Gee and Ron Blaskett?)

When Ted E. announces he is leaving the show, it draws gasps and howls of “Don’t go, Ted E!” from the crowd and “Good riddance” from Chuck and the other characters. Strassman’s cast includes Sid the Beaver, a crass stand-up comedian, Grandpa Fred, a forgetful old teddy with a penchant for hookers, and Kevin, the kooky Alien.

Strassman’s technique is impeccable and, when ventriloquism errors occur, he makes them into gags. His comedy relies on classic, verbal and often vulgar stand-up routines as well as his cleverly created puppet characters.

Strassman’s newest creations are electronic puppets that he calls puppetronics. These include some marvellous inventions such as a very talented and acrobatic 20cm robot that almost steals the show and an electronic chorus of dinosaurs that sing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in perfect harmony. The remote electronic controls trigger a head-scratching, how-did-he-do-that reaction from the audience.

All that being said, the show feels a little tired, too long, and the style, at times, feels a bit dated. The fans, however, seemed to be delighted to witness the reprise of all their old favourite gags and characters.

By Kate Herbert

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