Greg Fleet in Ad Lib-Oration
Greg Fleet @ Rhino Room – Howling Owl
7:30pm, Tue 10 Feb 2015
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Greg Fleet; from the moment I first saw him (in 1998?), there was something about his style that I found compelling. But I’ve often lamented that I rarely found his shows to be the solid gold that I thought he was capable of delivering; but, many years after I last saw him perform a solo show (and after a podcast appearance reinvigorated my interest in the man’s work), I decided it was time to give Fleety another bash.
As soon as I arrived at the Rhino Room, I was accosted by Fleet’s manager: he was thrusting a six-question survey into the hands of the audience. The questions were simple: write the title for a play (“go crazy!” it suggested, throwing some of the eventual responses into eyebrow-raising relief). Name a superhero (“real” or made-up). A deity or mythical creature, a murder weapon. A vehicle. A household implement. I tried to walk a line between silly and solid with my responses, realising that these would be the fodder for his performance… it did not matter, in the end, as none of my ideas made it to air.
In a drawn-out process that screamed “opening night teething” (or “we didn’t quite think this through”), the six responses from each audient were placed into numbered jars; Fleet then took to the stage and, in his laid-back manner (whilst occasionally veering into his old-man voice), he explained the concept of Ad Lib-Oration: using responses plucked from the jars, he would improvise a story to link the fragments together. The idea, he joked, spawned from the desire to avoid the usual late-minute-show-writing panic that accompanies Fringe shows; he also assured us that it was equal parts inspiration and laziness.
And the first story – “The Merchant of Renmark” – demonstrated the potential of the idea; the title was supplemented by a Farmers Union Iced Coffee thread (laced with violent homosexuality) which drifted over centuries in a bizarre tale which Fleet somehow held together. Unfortunately, subsequent suggested titles – “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Homer” – didn’t provide quite the same depth of comic material, though “Earnest” at least had a murder being committed using the unconscious body of a best friend’s wife.
A show like this has the potential to live or die by the audience suggestions, and I was pretty disappointed by the “ideas” submitted by the room this evening. But Fleet supplements his short ad-libbed stories with segments of his standup material which, in these shorter bursts, worked really well; his fallback old-man voice was also used to great effect, and the open references to his previous addictions were refreshing. Most impressive of all was the theatrical nature of Fleet’s performance; his NIDA training comes to the fore with a great sense of presence and timing.
The show is capped off with a three minute flurry, where Fleet tries to connect as many of the remaining suggestions together in one narrative as possible. This was a bloody amusing – if completely incoherent – way to wrap up an amusing performance… with the right source material, one imagines that Fleet could improvise some fantastic tales. This evening, however, the laughs were present, but thinner than one would like.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 11, 2015