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NZ Fringe 2014
Kieran Bullock and Callum McDonald
The Slow Diagonals

at Fringe Bar, 26 Allen St, Wellington
From 13 Feb 2014 to 16 Feb 2014

Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist, 14 Feb 2014

Kieran Bullock and Callum McDonald together comprise The Slow Diagonals, a trans-Tasman pairing which combines the musical talents of McDonald from Tasmania and with the writing and acting expertise of Bullock from Christchurch.

Bowls Club Jazz is their first foray into the notoriously competitive genre of the folk comedy duo and Thursday's performance was the world premiere in New Zealand of their show. As such, it was exciting to see the potential this comedy team has – a potential that I would expect to see develop over the course of this short season as well as into the wider future.

Bowls Club Jazz begins with a strong number about just how hot it can be to witness a sensitive new age guy making scones in the kitchen. We follow this process, step by sensuous step, and on to the whipping of the cream. This last is portrayed in a surprisingly literal and engaging fashion and there is a nice sense throughout the show of just when and how props can work.

There follows some very loosely planned banter including a successful running gag based around a melon placed in the tender care of a member of the audience. The significance of the title of the show remains determinedly obscure, however, and it becomes clear that in this first outing in which Slow Diagonals have been content to gather together a number of satirical songs and see what they can make happen by way of repartee in between.

There is plenty of good material in the lyrics, though, focussing on some sharp social comment rather than trying to parody specific song styles as well. McDonald, on guitar, is a strong performer and the pair really find their groove in numbers like the one describing the perils of trying to run your day on energy drinks.

There is some sense of trajectory in the show too as it spirals toward the climactic three part epic about riding the bourbon train to the end of the line, somewhere in the Hutt Valley.  Bullock's acting skills come to the fore here, as does his ability to sustain a dramatic narrative while including lots of telling gags. The pair know how to go over the top when required as well and were enthusiastically received by the opening night audience. 

Publicity for the show mentions both Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords but it is clear that the Slow Diagonals will need to chart their own course if they are to develop a substantial following of their own and avoid unhelpful comparisons to these unique exemplars.  

Their strengths appear to lie in acting and writing, together with some good original tunes rather than musical parody as such. Bullock's musical delivery was only just adequate last night. What's more, they need to write their whole show, develop genuine personae, stay in character and trust to the stories they can tell so well.   

Lots to work on and lots, I hope, to come.
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