A Guide to Unhappiness is a magic show for the Y Generation. This is Cosentino without the dancing, the schmaltz and the glitz. This is David Copperfield without the ta-daaa! at the end. This is so GenY there is no end. Beat that, Copperfield.
Sunny Leunig, a musician, magician, philosopher and filmmaker - accompanied by NIDA trained writer/performer Jono Burns and musician Sara Retallick - obviously decided it was time he put all of his talents on stage at once. The result is a (mostly) highly entertaining, well crafted and thought provoking piece of theatre with, of course, a hearty amount of GenY indifference and diffidence thrown in for good measure.
In A Guide to Unhappiness, Leunig combines his trademark Magosophy (magic and philosophy) with music, film and some heartfelt story-telling. The result is a strangely compelling stage show with much to like about it - Burns' performance, for one. I cannot imagine this show without the energy that Burns brings to it. He is that rare breed of performer who immediately reassures an audience that whatever character he takes on, whatever may or may not happen as it's supposed to, he will carry it all off effortlessly. He is a joy to watch.
Another large part of this show's appeal is how cleverly all these seemingly disparate elements are woven together. The story-telling is wrapped around the magic and the film and the music like a piece of music itself. This delicate dance, though, does come uncomfortably close to being its ruin. It's perhaps inevitable that, with so much going on, some of these elements are destined to trip over one another. As Leunig points out, he is disentangling the mysteries of human existence whilst performing magic; hardly a simple thing to do. For the most part it works, but there are moments that are a bit too unhappy, a bit too de-emphasised, leaving you slightly unsatisfied. The show is crying out for that Copperfield ending. It would be so perfectly ironically satisfying to have that ta-daaa! at the end after all.
Still, the magic in the show is fantastic, particularly considering the ultra-intimate, nowhere-to-hide venue. The writing and performing is exemplary (Burns, I am now an ardent fan) and the music and film elements are both compelling and beautiful. A Guide to Unhappiness is a Fringe show that reminds us of how much talent there is in this city and how lucky we are that it's so accessible to everyone.
The Melbourne Fringe Festival presents
A Guide to Unhappiness
Written and Performed by Sunny Leunig and Jono Burns
Dates: 6 - 13 October, 2012
Venue: Fringe Hub - The Loft, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St North Melbourne