Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe it was one of those nights where the audience weren't in the best of moods; it certainly wasn't a full house on this opening night. Stand up in particular relies on audience involvement and there were distinct peaks and troughs in the energy of the show. All the jokes we might hope for were there – jokes playing off Akmal's Egyptian background and his experience of growing up in Punchbowl; terrorism and religion – but the laughter was sporadic rather than non-stop. I found myself wanting to give the audience a poke, to wake them up and encourage them to join in, not an experience I've had at the shows I've seen so far.
Akmal's style is self-deprecating and dryly ironic. He rambles along his personal stream of consciousness, from time to time drifting off the point to engage with someone in the audience. These diversions offered some really funny moments as when Akmal focused on a bearded man in the front row and suggested that he should shave if he didn't want to be mistaken for a terrorist by a US drone.
Other highs for me were his jokes about the 72 virgins promised to Jihadists (no mention of their gender!) and how his mother had myriad pictures of Jesus – black, white, with and without sheep – in the hope that they would ward off the devil. For me Akmal was at his best when he acted out scenes like the devil reacting to these images. Buying a LARGE bag of fertiliser in Queanbeyan, at his wife's request, also lifted the energy level as did his rendition of Moses and the burning bush. Not surprisingly he had to make fun of his experience as a 'celebrity' in I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here! Not an experience he enjoyed.
There was lots to like in this performance but somehow, on the night, the laughter level wasn't sustained. Still every night is different and hopefully future audiences will be more ready to rise to the occasion.
A List Entertainment presents
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre | 188 Collins St, Melbourne
Dates: 5 – 17 April 2016
Tickets: $30 – $39