On the front page of the Ridiculusmus website is a quote, proudly displayed, which says 'not so much funny as deeply unsettling.' It seems appropriate.
David Woods and Jon Haynes, who comprise Ridiculusmus in its current form, are two English playwright/performers who last graced our shores earlier this year when they performed two very different plays. The first was a rather unusual (and hilarious) take on The Importance of Being Earnest, mining an already crackling script for additional comedy by performing the whole thing with only two actors. The second, Tough Time Nice Time, was a much darker, adult work in which two men conduct a wide-ranging conversation for an hour and a half while sitting naked in a bathtub.
These guys are a little unhinged. They know it and they embrace it. That said, I wasn't quite prepared for what happened on Saturday. While the rest of Melbourne was caught in the throes of Grand Final fever, I sheltered from the rain in the tiny La Mama theatre with perhaps a dozen other members of the audience, watching 50 people who had never met each other read a work-in-progress by the unhinged playwrights Jon and Dave.
There are not many shows one goes to where the cast outnumbers the audience. Nor was it entirely clear who was who. To make matters more confusing, the play being rehearsed was actually about the making of a play. Was that the director giving instructions or just an actor playing a director? No, it was the writer directing the other writer who was playing himself. Still with me? Didn't think so.
The whole thing was very... there's no other word for it... meta.
But after a while it did start to make sense. It really was a rehearsal, and if the audience hadn't have been there it wouldn't have mattered. The play was called Goodbye Princess, and was broadly about Mohamed Al Fayed trying to reconstruct the last days of Princess Diana by commissioning a play to tell his version of events.
It was funny, in parts, as much because of the chaotic reading by the thrown-together cast as any inherent hilarity. There were some good observations on society, theatre and celebrity, and a sordid telephone conversation between Charles and Camilla which, if not disturbing enough in itself, contained a rather unexpected joke about tampons. Mission accomplished here one feels - not so much funny as deeply unsettling.
There was a poke at theatre reviewers - they pose at providing reasoned criticism but are really just trying to impress - and a sequence that seemed to be a self-contained spray at the whole enterprise - 'arty farty bollocky tot', as one cast member described it before it was pointed out to her that she was a creation of the writer. The writer who was playing the writer of the play about the play, remember?
No reasoned criticism here I'm afraid. I have to confess there were huge swathes of the show where I had absolutely no idea what was going on. But I'll still be very interested to see the play in its final form.
To be clear though, what's on at the Melbourne Fringe Festival is Ridiculusmus conducting readings of three new plays they have in the works. Goodbye Princess is just one of those. I didn't get to see the others but they include Total Football, a behind the scenes attempt to galvanise British cultural identity by winning the gold medal for soccer at the London 2012 Olympics, and A Conversation About Comedy, which if anything sounds even more meta than Goodbye Princess.
If you're a fan of Ridiculusmus, you'll probably take all this in your stride. If you're new, I'd suggest waiting until the final performances.
La Mama presents
Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Dates: 26 - 29 Sept 2009
Times: Sat 26th 2pm - Total Football & Goodbye Princess
Sun 27th 2pm - A Conversation About Comedy & Total Football
Mon 28th 8pm - Goodbye Princess & Total Football
Tue 29th 8pm - Total Football & A Convers
Tickets: Conc $10.00, Full $15.00, Group $10.00
Bookings: Festival Tix: 03 9660 9666 or www.melbournefringe.com.au