I thought it would be a cheap shot to compare Loretta Maine to Tim Minchin, despite the back-combed blond hair, the deadpan, slightly unhinged delivery and the deeply blackened eyes. But then part-way through her one-hour show she hits the nail herself, saying she: "Looks like Tim Minchin f*cked Alice Cooper."
There are glimses of Minchin, too, in Loretta's use of songs that start sweetly and gradually dissolve into comic chaos, only Loretta's slightly unhinged love ballads have a more disturbing edge to them; the audience laughs along, maybe recognising themselves or a friend in a scorned-lover or heavy-drinking scenario – and then suddenly squirming in their seats and laughing a little more uncomfortably as she pushes an extra button or two beyond the safety zone, with lines like: "It's funny how you bled with just one blow to the head".
However, she doesn't bite the heads off any chickens.
Loretta is classic white trash – even classy white trash at times – and her dialogue and songs explore its rich realms: How teenage mums can help IVF mums; how a Cheezel can help stop teenage pregnancies; how to drink a full bottle of wine in less than 20 seconds; what happens after three bottles and the best revenge on a cheating lover.
It's tough material to make light of but luckily Loretta has an underlying innocence that makes you want to hug her before locking her up in a safe, padded cell.
Her muscial ability – guitar, banjo and voice especially – is exceptional and further enhanced by her top quality local backing band: Casey Bennetto (Keating! the Musical) and Tony Day (Master's Apprentices, Girl Overboard and Broderick Smith). The deadpan but somehow intimate interaction between the three adds an intensity to her performance and their professionalism is a comforting reminder that "it's just a show" when Loretta stumbles a tad too close to the bunny boiler.
The creative talent behind Loretta is well hidden, personalilty wise, but she shines through in her confident rapport with the audience and witty ad libs.
There is also the clever use of projected images and videos, adding an extra dimension.
In fact, considering this is her debut at the Melbourne Iternational Comedy Festival and she only arrived a few days' before it opened, she displays some remarkably astute observations, and has quickly rewritten her song 'How many chicken shops' (reflecting the USA's love affairs with friend chicken) to 'How many coffee shops', reflecting Melbourne's obsession with caffeine.
The only downside is Loretta's American accent cum drunken slur is at times so strong that essential words are lost.
Loretta is the creation of Pippa Evans, a British comic with a music theatre background who first put Loretta on show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008.
Together they've come a long way, presenting "I’m Not Drunk I Just Need to Talk to You" in 2010 and recording a Pogues-like vitriolic Christmas love-hate song with British comedian Matt Roper in December 2012.
Last year her Bipolar show won rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and played to packed houses and I predict Evans' Melbourne shows will start selling out soon, too.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival proudly presents
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall – Powder Room | Cnr Swanston & Collins Sts, Melbourne
Dates: 28 Mar – 21 Apr, 2013
Tickets: $25.50 – $31.50
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 660 013
Part of the 2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival