Aggressively Helpful
Alice Fraser, Justine Rogers, Alex Wasiel @ The Producers Garden
8:30pm, Fri 22 Feb 2013
After the three Aggressively Helpful women impressed at the Rhino Room earlier in the week, I was looking forward to a more focussed ensemble performance; given the name and précis of the show, I figured there was a huge opportunity for some humorous interaction between the trio.
But before heading out to the beer garden, I thought I might grab a beverage – fair enough, you’d think. Into the front bar I wander, and I notice that there’s only two people in front of me in the bar queue – with five minutes up my sleeve, that should be no problem, even taking into account the fact that there was only one bar-guy. You’d think. But then the woman at the head of the queue orders three beers… then two wines… then five Jägermeister shots, all as different transactions. Which left the hipster chap in front of me getting quite irate… but then he ordered a large and complex batch of beverages too. People, eh?
The woman with the multiple drink orders – and her friends, who had arrived in time for the shots – entered the beer garden just ahead of me and parked themselves in the front row, immediately livening the place up… a good thing, too, because with the lack of music playing, the feeling out there was bordering on funereal. And that’s an odd feeling prefacing a comedy show: despite the fact that most of the seats in the beer garden were occupied, there was an expectant hush over the crowd – no music, no conversation.
Alex Wasiel, Justine Rogers, and Alice Fraser take to the stage, each armed with their own microphone. Their initial banter is… well, stiff. Awkward, even. And whilst the women promise to offer helpful advice to all who need it – including each other – there’s precious little forthcoming; as each comedienne performs her solo set (between twenty to thirty minutes each), the other two sit at an onstage table in near silence, only very occasionally murmuring an interjecting retort to the soloist’s comments.
Wasiel is first up, and her material comes from her past life as a lawyer (and especially her travels in the outback); there’s some oddball wall-hair stories in amongst jokes familiar from her Rhino Room set. She’s got a bright-eyed and very approachable style, and her writing is wonderfully verbose and lyrical, but the jokes unfortunately don’t really work as well the second time around.
Justine Rogers was the second soloist and, if anything, managed to create an even greater contrast between her pure-and-innocent appearance and gloriously filthy mouth. Unicyclist opinions turn into instructions on brother-wrestling, which were interrupted by (delicious!) cupcakes for audience, before she veered into a hyper-graphic face-fucking routine which… well, again, the contrast was quite incredible, but also says something (somewhat shameful) about my expectations. Alice Fraser wrapped things up reprising her Best Stalker in the Land song on banjo, as well as dipping into surreal staple-cat jokes.
I really wanted to like Aggressively Helpful more than I did… but whilst the three women provided a wide variety of material, its quality varied too much to build up any momentum during the performance. And any momentum that was built up was dissipated by the inexplicable positioning of the two non-performers onstage – it always felt like two of the women were in silent judgement of the performer at all times. Of course, I’d heard maybe a third of the material a few days beforehand, and the crowd was a particularly sullen bunch… but, after the show had run fifteen minutes long, I had no qualms turning my back and scooting out just as Fraser was wrapping up her set (and I normally hate leaving shows early). Having said that, I’d happily see all three of these women perform in lineup shows again… but I’m not convinced that their longer sets can maintain a decent quality yet.