Snake Oil

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

15/05/2011 - 18/05/2011

NZ International Comedy Festival 2011

Production Details

Greg Ellis returns to Circa with a charlatan’s one-man improv comedy!

Greg Ellis returns with his second solo improvised comedy show following last year’s successful Holmes Alone – winner of the “Now!” Award at the 2010 NZ Improv Festival.

This time he takes you into the world of Dr. Artemis Lovelace: explorer, raconteur, amateur chemist and snake oil salesman. 

Snake Oil is a journey into a world of tall tales, bogus cures and Victoriana, as one man attempts to bring to the stage a tale that is too epic to be true! 

Improv has taken Ellis all over the world, as a professional comedian and Theatresports athlete. He has represented New Zealand at both Commonwealth and World Cup level.

“Greg Ellis is as excellent an improviser as Sherlock Holmes is a detective . . . the way he deals with entrances, exits and swift exchanges of dialogue is very funny and satisfying” –, Holmes Alone 2010 

Proud to be part of the 2011 Comedy Festival  

Dates:        15 – 18 May, 9.30pm
Venue:       Circa Two, 1 Taranaki St, Wellington
Tickets:      Adults $18 / Conc. $15 / Groups 10+ $15 / School Groups 10+ $10
Bookings:   04 801 7992 or   

The premise has promise

Review by James McKinnon 16th May 2011

I feel I should extend an apology to Mr Ellis on behalf of the audience on Sunday night, because a solo improvised show lives or dies on the generosity and energy of its audience, and we didn’t give him much to work with. We tried our best, but many of the dozen or so spectators who showed up for the late Sunday show were struggling to stay awake.

I’m sure Mr Ellis was not to blame for our collective somnolence – this had more to do with the fact that 9.30 on Sunday is a terrible time for a solo improvised comedy show. About 30 minutes in, Ellis’s character, Artemis Lovelace, threw in the towel and threatened to drown himself, and I wondered if he was serious (I think his accompanist did, too).  I wouldn’t have blamed him. 

The premise: the aforementioned Artemis has arrived here in Port Nicholson, circa 1886, to sell us some fabulous tonic or potion. What does it cure? What is its nature? How did he come to possess it? What scientific or alchemical insights made it possible? That’s what he’s here to tell us, and we will help him by supplying some of the details, or perhaps by challenging his scientific erudition and demanding clarification. Or simply by enjoying his puns. 

The most interesting thing about the show is its evocation of the late Victorian period, the era of patent medicines and their hawkers – the titular snake oil salesmen.  Ellis uses three things to establish the period: costume, dialect, and the aforementioned musical accompanist, Robbie Ellis [no relation].

Greg Ellis looks and sounds the part, and draws on what must be a considerable level of immersion in Victorian language and literature. However, in the inclement conditions described above, he fell into somewhat of a rut, and his rhythm and tempo became monotonous. The fanciful journey from the Wild West to Imperial China and back became somewhat of a slog, and if not for the heroic efforts of pianist Robbie Ellis, who did his best to set both the tone and the ever-changing scenes, we might all have ended up floating in the harbour.

The premise has promise, and under better conditions this might be a great show, but I don’t think anyone was disappointed when Artemis drew his narrative to a rather early conclusion on the night in question.
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