Dr Duck - Student Review and Interview
The Duck Will See You Now:
a gem from the Melbourne Fringe
By Monash University student journalist, Josh Timewell
When one thinks of a sketch show, the first thing that comes to mind typically, is a small stage, a small group of people and a small audience; a kind of comedy club vibe, with dark rooms and pretentious humour.
Now that might seem frivolous to some, however comedy offers the opportunity for the discussion of deep and often taboo topics, in an intelligent manner.
Showing at the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival and produced by Grouse Media, sketch show The Duck Will See You Now, ran most nights of the two-week long festival. It was performed at the Tickle Pit, Fancy Hanks, right near the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. A small venue, with around 100 seats, the Wednesday night performance was only 20% full.
Awkward you may ask? No. For those who were present, it was a privileged experience. When attending a sold out Arj Barker concert for example, you laugh with a thousand other people, but in a more intimate setting, you could be the only person laughing. It’s strange, but at the same time, quite special.
According to the group, some shows were packed to the rafters, while others had to be cancelled, because they lacked an audience. Definitely a tough life for those involved, both mentally and financially. Artists have to be prepared for this harsh reality, and often have full-time jobs, giving them the flexibility to perform in their free time, alleviating the financial burden.
The show was broken as expected with a sketch performance, into various sections, each generally with a different theme and combination of the troupe’s performers. The sketches explore topics such as gender equality in the workplace, or Santa Clause, as he is challenged by Jesus Christ for the throne of Christmas.
The beauty of sketch comedy is that it is visual, meaning little equipment is used. All dressed in black, with the odd chair or small prop, the group relies heavily on their talented members to carry the hour long show.
Hidden throughout the show are crafty Easter eggs (hidden motifs), that appear from one sketch to another. This means that rather than a number of totally disconnected scenes, the audience is able to link the start to the end. It is this full-circle progression that demonstrates the group’s attention to detail and hard work.
A highlight is Melbourne’s Annie Louey. She is young, has great timing and a mature stage presence. At the age of 17, she entered the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns competition and made it to the national finals. She says she likes sketch over improv because she prefers the safety of having a script.
The sketch group in question, Dr Duck, is made up of director Andrew Keen, as well as Caroline Seal, Ella Lawry, Lauren Hayward, Richard Mealey, Vaibhuv Rajour and Ms Louey. She says the embrace of multiculturalism has been praised by a number of critics, with backgrounds of Chinese, Indian and American in the group.
Their diversity is something to be celebrated. Not only does it mean they appeal to a wider audience who may share similar values, but they are able to take on slightly riskier material and have more fun with their role choices.
“I hope I’m breaking stereotypes every time I perform. I like to surprise audiences with my loud voice, accents and physical comedy.
“Comedy is definitely a powerful outlet for bringing up serious issues. Right from the beginning, our director’s goal was to confront sexism in the form of all-male writers’ groups.”
Ms Louey says serious themes naturally weave their way into the sketches.
“Through deliberate casting, we were able to break down stereotypes in relation to race and gender. For example, my personal favourite sketch is called “Do You Mind”, also known affectionately as “The Fart Sketch”. It involves two office workers trying to have a serious business discussion while farting throughout the entire scene.
“When I read the script the first time, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was originally written for two men but Lauren and I ended up performing it as two women. The sketch became even funnier because it is a well-known fact that girls never fart.”
A stand-out sketch depicts the struggle of a male in the lower ranks of a workplace, who is subjected to sexual harassment by his dominating ‘lady boss’. It is clear the group is having a dig at the male dominated corporate world, however their comedic licence allows them to explore light heartedly, without offending the crowd.
Ms Louey says the show’s writers are “young and observant, and our progressive views are instinctively reflected in what we write. This also applies to our other sketches that touched on religion and Australian politics.”
Previously having worked for prestigious organisations such as the Arts Centre Melbourne and the Wheeler Centre, Simon Abrahams is no rookie. 2016 was his second year in charge of the Fringe Festival, and he says it was a great success.
“Melbourne Fringe has been prioritising a shift in our strategic direction around what we call the celebration of cultural democracy. Our interest is in finding ways where every citizen can contribute to the cultural life of the city. We do that through our open access program, which means we don’t curate, we don’t make decisions about who is the most experienced or who is the most talented. We let everyone into our festival.
“This year we had shows about grief, about death, about a number of mental health concerns, and several about the American political situation. It’s something that we see when people look at the darker things in the world, one way to shine light on that is through comedy.”
Mr Abrahams says the art that the Melbourne Fringe Festival brings is multi-formatted, meaning each form brings its own unique style of storytelling.
“Through contemporary dance, you can explore things in a very different way. Comedy I guess gives you a political freedom to be able to get away with a lot more than any other contexts.”
The Duck Will See You Now will need some slight polishing before it is ready for larger stages and bigger crowds, but the talent and know-how is already in place. Dr Duck is an amazing group and they will no doubt be successful if they stick to their own style. Keep an eye out for them, as they plan to appear at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2017.