Dating The World won 'Best Comedy, Adelaide Fringe, 2010'. The only real mystery is its title. I've no idea wherein lies its significance, since it would seem to bear little or no resemblance to the content of the show.
Stevl Shefn (South Australian comedian, writer, actor and director, Steve Sheehan) sounds like he could be a rabbi, but he hails from an unknown land and speaks an unknown language. Unknown to most of us, at least. He speaks it fluently. And plausibly. Which is to say, you're liable to find your self wanting, striving and struggling to understand him, just as you might any ESL individual you happen upon. His charismatic warmth, sparkling eyes, smiling face & gentle nature are encouragement. But try as you might, other than by interpreting his gestures and inflections, you never will.
Happily, Fatima (Emma Beech), almost completely shrouded by her burqa, may be the one other person on the face of the Earth who also understands Shefn-speak. Fatima's the straight woman, furnishing us with ironic translations that shock, surprise and have us bursting our sides with laughter. Shefn shuffles onstage in a checked suit and embarks on a forty-five minute, surrealistic ramble that includes such strangeness as multiple penises and a talking vacuum-cleaner. Yes, it's offbeat; often, off-colour.
Of course, we've no way of knowing if Fatima is accurately translating, inadvertently missing the mark, or deliberately subverting Stevl's communication; just as our understanding of history, politics, economics, culture and all else is tainted by who tells the story and how.
You'll be called upon to join in Stevl's national anthem, so you'll learn something of a foreign language. A very foreign language. 'Kish-oo pool poo we.' There. You're learning already. There are other musical highlights too. One of the funniest sequences is watching Stevl fit a harness to Fatima, to which he attaches a large bass drum. Let's just say her playing of such is minimalistic.
While we're laughing, of course, we're not necessarily grasping the importance of what's going on. Meeting Shefn one-on-one, as it were, engenders empathy for his plight. If only we could look each and everyone of our prejudices in the eye and realise that, given a comparable encounter, we'd most probably move quickly past them. It's also a reminder of how much we can share and understand, regardless of lingual or other differences. Fatima challenges, or shatters, preconceptions we might harbour about Muslim women dressed as many choose. Dating The World, all in all, asks us to embrace and celebrate difference. And now's always a good time to suggest that.
But you don't have to think about any of the 'deeper' messages. It's good to know they're there. But you can just laugh till your abs tighten. It's the best exercise I know of. And Sheehan and Beech, in tandem, are one of the best laughter machines. But the mystery remains. Dating The World?
Steeve Sheehan presents
Dating the World
With Emma Beech
Venue: New Theatre, 542 King Street
Dates: 25-29 September, 2012
More info: 2012.sydneyfringe.com