This is his second solo show and it marks the transition from standup performer to theatre performer.
Possessed is a slapstick comedy about a reclusive model boat maker, Louie who is possessed by a gorgeous nineteenth century Irish woman, Phoebe who drowned on her way to Australia. She needs to resolve something on earth before she can rest and only Louie can help her. They fall in love and are both ultimately redeemed.
A natural buffoon (or dickwit, as he prefers to call it), Woodley uses all the comic devices of the commedia dell ’Arte genre. A farcical and highly improbable plot is served up through slapstick and mime to produce a very funny, fresh and inventive show.
Woodley bumps, rolls and tumbles over Christina Smith’s subterranean, grungy but homely set and flings himself around to Paul Mac’s eclectic score. He is like a wide eyed rubber man who is at once mischievous and ingenuous. Woodley has a wonderful capacity to establish a strong rapport with the audience.
A couple of other characters are included to add comic breadth: an Italian sea captain and Louie’s lecherous father. The sea captain, who instantly had the audience in the palm of his hand, is pure standup and does a brilliant job warming up the audience and, later, helps to fill in plot details.
Woodley expertly turned a series technical mishaps on opening night into a running gag. He was so skillful at exploiting the situation that, rather than hindering the show, it further endeared him to the audience and drew greater respect for his talent.
Physical theatre director Kate Denborough choreographs some impressive physical comedy but it felt like she concentrated on the slapstick routines in isolation. They were not always fully integrated into the rest of the show and they sometimes felt like set pieces that have been slotted into the action.
Perhaps Woodley’s material would have been better served if it had been directed by a theatre director who could have integrated all the elements and provided a greater theatrical polish to both his performance and to the show as a whole.
Frank Woodley is a very talented and experienced performer. This show played at the Adelaide Fringe Festival for which it is perfectly pitched. Woodley clearly has the talent to go beyond this however.
The Sydney Opera House season will draw not only Woodley’s existing standup comedy fan base but also a regular theatre going audience whose expectations are high. He deserves to work with a highly experienced theatre director to take him to the next level and use a physical theatre coach for the acrobatic and slapstick elements. For instance I would love to see him directed by Neil Armfield, a master of inventive comic business (who will ever forget his hysterical Underpants?).
But that is a minor quibble as it is a very funny show. Frank Woodley has made a big theatrical step up. Very few people can do what he does and I am very keen to watch his progress a he continues to grow into a national treasure.
Token Events Presents
Venue: Sydney Opera House, Playhouse
Dates: 10 - 29 June
Time: Tue & Wed @ 7pm; Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 8pm; Sun @ 5pm
Tickets: Previews (10 & 11June): $39.90
Weekdays (Tue-Thu, Sun): Full $49.90, Conc $44.90
Weekends (Fri & Sat): Full $52.90, Conc $48.90
Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com or 9250 777 or Ticketek 132 849