Written & performed by Katie Reddin-Clancy. Directed by Peter Blackburn. Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The Butterfly Club, Carson Place, Melbourne CBD. 27 March – 1 April 2018

The teaser hook on the poster and the flyer – ‘A comedian’s first time on stage… as a woman’ – might lead you to think Grace is a drag show.  It’s not.  It is, however, about identity and gender while being very funny.  It’s also about role-playing, survival and ghosts.  It’s not a stand-up show, moving from one gag or routine to the next.  It’s theatre – as Katie Reddin-Clancy insists – because she moves from one character to the next and there’s a story, a narrative, told by her multiple characters – by my count, six, all of them sharply realised.  There’s a beefy male (?) figure, in cap and fancy tracksuit, trying out some dance moves as we take our seats – but ‘he’ is a red herring – or a misdirecting set up for the first reveal.

Apart from her polished skill as a performer, this show illustrates beautifully how a change of wig and costume changes more than mere appearance; they can change our perception, our reading of a character – and Ms Reddin-Clancy’s choices here are precise.  She has said, in an illuminating interview on radio station Joy.FM, we ‘take on characters to perform Life’.  That idea is at the heart of this show – but it’s delivered via some fine writing, punchy one-liners and a well-judged interaction with her audience.  Even her claim to have a ‘velvety voice’ turns out to be true.

(By the way, why does the Butterfly Club relegate an artist of this calibre to their lesser downstairs venue?)

The narrative conceit is this: in a haunted regional theatre, Alfie, once a comedian, comes on stage ‘as a woman’ (with flashes of himself) in that he plays - or becomes - the women in his life – that is, the women that were in his life…  A snotty venue manager, a brusque and cynical agent, a tribute show comedienne, the eponymous Grace, love of his life, and Zora, the temptress.  To say more would involve spoilers.

Ms Reddin-Clancy is not just an insightful observer of theatrical folk (her mother was a theatrical agent), she is a thorough professional who’s been working since 1998, when she did her first feature film.  She’s done movies, short films, theatre, radio and numerous Voice Overs.  She debuted with this kind of show in Adelaide, then here in Melbourne, in 2013.  Nowadays, she’s a regular on the London stand-up circuit.  Experience and intelligence show: her delivery is confident, clear and assured – fine tuned, no doubt, by the director with whom she works in Australia, Peter Blackburn.

I won’t say that Grace is entirely successful.  The narrative – or Alfie’s narrative, I suppose we should call it - embodies Ms Reddin-Clancy’s insights, observations and ‘message’, and towards the end, we might wonder are there too many of those?  The satirical edge and the wit tend to drop away as she becomes really serious about finding one’s true self - and the transitions between or among her characters become just that bit confusing.  That said, it is a pleasure to watch her, to be beguiled by her characters and to be left with plenty to think about.

Michael Brindley

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