The Furze Family Variety Hour
Judith Wright Centre
September 2 – 7 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
The Furze Family Variety Hour promises pies in faces. And it’s pies in faces we get, even if for no other reason than “pies in faces are funny.” Also, nakedness is funny. But this kind of family friendly “nakedness”, and a wild rumpus dished up as the finale, are even funnier than you’re imagining…
It purports to be a family show – or does it? It’s the Furze Family’s Ginger and Red taking to the stage to entertain us in the best way they know how. It goes along the lines of, “Make ‘em laugh!” And they do. In the timeless tradition of the likes of Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis, this duo appeared to be testing the waters with their opening night audience on Tuesday night. One of the first comedy cabs outta’ the rank this Brisbane Festival, the pressure to impress is real, but the season is relatively short, so I imagine the rewards will be great, regardless of critical opinion. The general response is already favourable because PIES IN FACES GUYS. And there’s a lot more besides.
These two multi-faceted performers are old-school style truly delightful; they’re cheeky and a little bit naughty. Leon Cain (Red) and Helen Cassidy (Ginger) are the brother and sister team that offers, true to form, a variety of vaudeville inspired entertaining acts. At times I feel the pace lags a little but nobody else seems to notice. Anyway, I’m convinced that Helen Cassidy has one of the most radiant faces in the world so whenever I start to feel a little impatient I look at her and she glows in a genuinely born for the spotlight sorta’ way. Cain manages to keep a wicked gleam in his eyes even when, or perhaps especially when, a scene requires some pretend pathos, so it doesn’t hurt to glance his way either.
A classic picnic skit, perfectly measured and polished, allows a new relationship to blossom and honours the timeless comic traditions of slapstick, surprise and the sharing of secrets or asides with the audience. This sequence highlights the director’s light hand and her trust in the actors, as well as her attention to minute detail and comic timing. A more relaxed musical interlude indulges our tendencies towards sibling rivalry, and a traditional lion tamer act turns into a Thank God You’re Here segment when a member of the audience is called upon to play the role of, you guessed it, the lion. “He’s so beautiful. But so stoopid!” He did very well in fact! Was he a plant? It doesn’t matter! We don’t care because FUNNY.
And my favourite act; Wendy the blow up doll becomes a stand in for Jennifer Grey in a riotous Dirty Dancing send up. For those of you sharing a cabaret table with kids (#isitjustme), you may wish you’d accepted the Furze Family part of the title for what it was, rather than assume this would be a “family” show. I got out of answering any tricky sex accessory questions because Poppy simply thought this sequence was hilarious. And it was! She recognised all the moves! That’s my girl! Cain’s commitment to this scene, his manipulation of his dance partner, and his mastery of the iconic choreography makes this the highlight of the night.
Poppy said The Dance of Love was funny too, when the boy played the girl and the girl played the boy until we got dizzy watching their clever coat changes. She loved Cassidy’s many voices, including her sweet singing voice, and having just come from Opera Australia and John Frost’s Anything Goes launch event at QPAC, at which we had heard from Caroline O’Connor and Claire Lyon, that is high praise indeed! And the use of song, or as Poppy puts it, poems sung – some we knew, like Moses supposes his toeses are roses but Moses supposes erroneously (she said to write the whole thing and embed the video, Mum; it’s so good!) – and some we didn’t (original music composed by David Megarrity & Samuel Vincent with Kellee Green). It was so funny because they would be talking and suddenly they would start singing a song.
Also, the (balloon) sword-swallowing act was hilarious yet it didn’t seem quite real… #theadventuresofpoppy
But the show splits itself right down the middle. On one hand we have our skits; a collection of mini narratives with pie-in-the-face punchlines (metaphorically only until the finale), and on the other hand we have a formally introduced segment, “The Rules of Comedy”, which could almost be the premise that got lost along the way. The structure of this segment could potentially serve to strengthen the entire show. Alternatively, put a red pen to it and keep this part short and sweet like everything preceding it (and get to the pies!).
I’m delighted to relay that the opening night crowd on Tuesday filled the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront with laughter but I fear I may need a slightly more sophisticated return season before I’m completely convinced about this one. It’s possible that the Furze Family simply needs to find new audiences for a while in our favourite regional centres. There’s no doubt they’d develop a following, and easily give the cousins, Ivan and Juniper, a run for their money in the sprint to host industry events each year. It would also be interesting to gauge the response of the after dark Woodford Folk Festival crowd. I ‘reckon Director, Bridget Boyle, and deBASE Productions are onto something but I don’t think this is it…yet.
It’s the cheeky and charismatic camaraderie, as well as the extraordinary individual comic talents of Cain and Cassidy that win me over in the end. And it’s for the entertainment value of these two talented performers that you should see The Furze Family Variety Hour in this format during this festival. Next, I’d love to see some stronger material delivered at breakneck speed to turn this hour of vaudevillian fun into a classic smash hit!