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NZ Fringe Festival 2013
The ALMANAC experiment
Directed/Written by Mark Scott

at Fringe Bar, Cnr Cuba & Vivian, Wellington
From 28 Feb 2013 to 2 Mar 2013
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Nancy Catherine Fulford, 2 Mar 2013

The Almanac Experiment by Mark Scott is based on an idea with some potential. That is introducing the almanac as an umbrella framework for delivering a series of alphabet sequential short stories designed to lead us to the funny side of things.

Almanacs are, after-all, already entertaining by virtue of the weird and wonderful bites of information that sit next to one another as well as an easy bridge over into an earlier era; the good old days.

However it might be said that the three most important things in comedy are the delivery, the delivery and the delivery. Not altogether true, in the same way location is not really the only factor in making a sound real estate investment, but we all understand the weight it carries. Sadly the delivery is not up to it; occasionally yes, but generally no, and certainly nowhere near enough to justify the hour plus we are there, being experimented on in my view.

This would have been fine if we'd been invited in to help workshop The Almanac Experiment, aspects of which I do enjoy, granted, but all up buying a ticket doesn't seem an altogether fair deal. On the bright side, our host has a very easy way about him and his relationship with the audience is a real strength in this evening's performance. 

The first thing Scott sets to is locating the audience and himself in time and space through a conversation about where we are from and which decade we belong to. While this makes sense for building up rapport, the comedic characteristics he attributes to each decade are only occasionally fresh or original.

We are only a few minutes in when Scott introduces sexual performance as a target. (It diminishes in the latter decades apparently.) In my view Scott lacks the delivery to pull off blue material without creating discomfort. Except the penis sundial, which works. It is a mismatch not so much of material to audience as actor to material.

Mark Scott onstage is a likeable character, a favourite Uncle sort, who keeps spoiling it by swearing or telling off-jokes when grandma and children are in the room. The person I am sitting with is thinking more in terms of her favourite science teacher. This is what Scott might want to consider building his show around while cutting back the cheap shots and over-exposed material. How many times have comedians worked the airport scene? You have to have an outrageously new twist to even go near this in my view.

Which brings us to the scatological content of the show. In the same way sexual jokes are falling flat, the instances of toilet humour are cause to look down and think, “Uncle Mark, please stop, please!” Why would you bring up poo with an adult audience, and to suggest smearing it on luggage to make room in the overhead locker??? Worst thing is, now I can't get the image out of my mind. 

However all is not lost and it becomes obvious – through a story told under F for foraging, about going tramping with a sack of dog biscuits – that Scott is very capable of writing and delivering material that is quirky and original. I think most of us also enjoy aspects of his craft lesson where we learn how to make a helicopter out of a toilet roll, a piece of celery, a knee sock and of course a rubber band.

It's such a shame, I keep thinking, he hasn't yet passed through the stage of developing a solid character who sticks to the good stuff because in that case I could be having a consistently fun ride.

Three times in the performance Scott picks up his guitar to sing us original songs about worst-case environmental scenarios. They are tuneful and demonstrate some of Scott's prowess as a wordsmith but it feels like they are all a plea for something ... Greater awareness? Hard to buy that message from a character who earlier is squeezing a dwarfs breast (something no one seemed to be able to help themselves laughing at).

What works is Scott's honesty. “I guess that's pretty glum eh?” or “Should I end there? I think I should.”

‘No,' says someone in the audience, so the songs are appreciated. It's just that, once again, they don't seem to match.

To back-track, I suggested it was all about the delivery but a major issue really is the choice of material. Once Scott settles on a consistent character and weeds out anything that isn't truly original and a good match, we'll be away laughing.

Presumably a director or outside eye would be a big help. I wish him all the best and look forward to the reworked version.
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 Naomi Cohen