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Print Version

NZ International Comedy Festival 2014
JON BENNETT Fire in the Meth Lab

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 14 May 2014 to 17 May 2014

Reviewed by Robbie Ellis, 16 May 2014

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I don't think Jon Bennett uses this exact phrase within his one-hour monologue show, but it is totally apt to the message.  

Fire in the Meth Lab's pre-show impression relies heavily on the imagery of Breaking Bad: a gritty, solid colour-filtered photo of a hoodied figure; the letter symbols of the periodic table within the title graphics; and pre-show music full of the pedal steel of southwest American desperation. But the set – consisting of presumably locally sourced objects like used Resene paint buckets, a dingy old 70s armchair, an LPG bottle – locates the show more clearly in this part of the world. 

Jon Bennett grew up the youngest of four children in a South Australian country town, the son of a Christian minister. By and large it was a happy, well-adjusted upbringing free from deprivation. He explains all this to give context to his next-younger brother, Tim: clearly a much more troubled character. 

Tim is an addict and Jon describes the various obsessions he's gone through: alcohol, drugs, religion and childhood popstar fanaticism. The sixth and final addiction is meth, and we hear of the many poorly judged decisions that this compulsion leads to. 

Jon tells stories of the two Bennetts plus their extended family in a variety of ways: monologues that vary in tone from rapid-fire mushroom trips to the most poignant funereal whisper; letters between the brothers delivered as voiceovers; captioned photos (both family photos and whatever he grabbed off Google Image Search); TV and music video footage from the 80s and 90s; callbacks that border on dadaist; and the odd bit of physical theatre and mime. 

A wickedly funny performer, Jon presents his ideas and thoughts with a simply marvellous precision. He's paced his show in such a way that he can have us rolling in the aisles for five solid minutes, flip on a dime, and within half a second deliver us a whopping emotional kick to the guts.

He's made his peace with everything from minor childhood embarrassments to near-death experiences, and with the foibles of both himself and other people. He can share these with us because from the moment we walk into the theatre, Jon is open, charming, affable, but most of all, compassionate. 

Fire in the Meth Lab is a story of familial love despite terrible events and terrible choices. This year's Comedy Festival has been blessed with some great shows from sensitive performers who have found comedy in personal tragedy (Carey Marx, Tom Wrigglesworth and Jamie Bowen to name three) and Jon Bennett is another.

He doesn't need more quotes and plaudits from me – the reviews on his flyer have more stars than a Hollywood red carpet – all I can say is that it's great storytelling. He's wronged, he gets angry, he forgives. It's a beautiful way to spend an hour.
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