This show is to Play School what Avenue Q is to Sesame Street. That is to say it’s a modified children’s concept where political correctness was not only barred from entering the venue but was told to fuck off downstairs and wait in the car for an hour. It is lewd, crude, breathtakingly non-PC, and a hilarious pisstake of early morning children’s shows.
The story is simple – Darren (Luke Bolland) wants nothing more on his fourth birthday than for his parents to get back together and for his father to say he’s proud of him. To do this all he has to do is go on an adventure to find the magic lamp of Northbridge and make a wish. In this quest he is assisted by a couple of sidekicks – Shoes the talking monkey (Jez Watts) and Pam the Map (Dylan Dorotich). Shoes hates Pam with a passion so their non-stop bickering is in direct counterpoint to the cheesy sort of camaraderie you would usually find in a “kids show”.
Obstacles are put in their way mainly in the form of Stealy the Dingo (Sarah J Christiner) who covets the lamp (and pretty much anything else he can get his puppet hands on) and a set of challenges. These involve visiting a strip club, surviving a knife fight in Northbridge and finding a homeless man (Glenn Grimwood).
The humour is not for the faint hearted with some very blue jokes on a range of contemporary subjects. Bill Cosby and Taylor Swift are among the more notable targets. There are plenty of sight gags – one involving a ping pong ball that was laugh out loud tasteless – and in the show I saw a ‘prop malfunction’ that had Watts struggling to stay in character at the absurdity of it all. There is also pungent commentary on the overly bogan aspects of Australian culture and a riff on the city of Adelaide that is relentless. There are questionable jabs at abortion as Shoes deals with the unexpected pregnancy of Shirts the stripper; while in the best Avenue Q tradition racism is given a subverted treatment.
The show swings for the fences and is unapologetic in its brand of humour which is offensively funny. But that is the beauty of the premise – couching such barbs in the cloak of a childhood format makes the content so incongruous that you can’t help but laugh while also potentially questioning why you are doing so. It’s one of those gloriously squirm inducing experiences as an audience member.
Bolland plays Darren with straight forward earnestness that provides the foundation for all the craziness that swirls around him. He’s at his best when asking the audience what they think of certain situations or to answer questions in mock educational style. The dead pan style works a treat. By comparison, Watts gets to riff with an energy and malicious glee that is infectious. Dorotich is the good natured target of derision that acts as a counterweight to Watt’s malevolence.
Christiner plays a less than useful barman (to their quest) with some truly crude jokes but it’s her work as Stealy that reverberates in the bigger scheme of the story. She also has a bizarre knife fight with Grimwood who provides the glimpse of a moral compass before being seduced by thoughts of an irresistibly exotic locale.
Director Levon Polinelli keeps this all moving along briskly while incorporating some backing video animation and the inclusion of music by Courtney Murphy. The songs are again a subversion of typical children’s sing-a-long fare with satire (We’re Singing a Song that Rhymes) and vitriol (You’re the Worst).
If you like your comedy barbed, very dark, and flirting with being truly offensive then this show is going to be right up your alley. Don’t be surprised though if that alley is a vomit filled laneway in Northbridge full of disreputable characters who will steal everything you own to pay for a trip to Adelaide.
Written by Luke Bolland, Directed by Levon Polinelli, with Music by Courtney Murphy, Darren the Explorer is on at the Noodle Palace until 6 February.