Once, as a twenty-something larking around with my twenty-something mates in a pub, I made an observation. Every guy I knew seemed to have his own comical old man impression. Some were doddery, some were cantankerous, some had names like Cecil or Reginald, but we all had one that we did regularly, as if it was a must have in every young man’s repertoire of things-to-amuse-your-mates.
Archibald Wheeler Whets the Whistle is a show centred around sketch comedian Patrick Miller’s old man impression. Miller is best known for being part of Vigilantelope, a sketch troupe who started in the student law revue scene and achieved wider notice with their 2009 Comedy Festival hit Tale of the Golden Lease. Archibald, as you might gather by the twee name, is his old man alter ego, a garrulous coot full of tall tales, opinions, puns and silly songs.
The tall tales are the main focus of the show, with Miller also stepping into the roles of various zany characters that Archibald crosses paths with. There’s his deadbeat son and his loser mate; his grandson’s bratty friend; a sagacious kebab shop owner; a clownishly incompetent barrister and so on. Female characters are usually depicted by a recorded voice, though a couple of wigs get a run too.
Miller certainly has the performance skills to hold up this kind of one-man cast show. He is able to embody each new protagonist with instant conviction and can perform song and dance numbers without breaking character.
Although some of the jokes are perhaps too convincingly the kind of thing your granddad would come up with, Archibald is a fun comic creation. The humour is absurdist, getting siller as it goes. This works better when Archibald’s stories are presented as vignettes from his improbable life. When the show shifts into narrative gear with an extended story about an ill-fated world record attempt by his son, it requires the audience to invest in an increasingly ludicrous scenario and starts becoming a stretch. Miller’s characters can also suffer from like-ability issues, as they are primarily defined by their negative traits, making them easy to laugh at but hard to engage with in a narrative context.
Still, the story’s not really the point here, it’s more about Miller being zany. This he does with considerable verve and the show is tightly directed by Al Newstead (Al’s Music Rant) with good use of technical cues. Several moments, such as Miller’s parody of Vietnam commando techniques or his Little Shop of Horrors style singing psychopath eye surgeon, are memorable.
With his lively and confident performance, Miller has little trouble getting the audience onside. Although I did observe on the night I went that they were mostly young guys out with their mates and therefore possibly aficionados of old man impressions themselves.
2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival
Archibald Wheeler Whets the Whistle
Directed by Al Newstead
Venue: Rehearsal Room – Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall | 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
Dates: Sep 23 – Oct 8, 2011
Tickets: $18.00 –$12.00