The 4 Noels in PRIMITIVE

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

16/05/2006 - 20/05/2006

ODDFELLOWS Comedy Festival

Production Details

In a break from their narrative genre shows – The Lost City of Argos (2005), Doom Riders (2003) – THE 4 NOELS are back with their new show, PRIMITIVE. A rollicking rollercoaster ride of comedy sketches and routines, it’s jam-packed with breathtaking physical comedy, berserk miming, hilarious characters, musical numbers and moments of beauty.


Theatre , Comedy , Music ,

1hr 15mins, no interval

Wacky riffs but finally hollow

Review by John Smythe 17th May 2006

The 4 Noels love silence and stillness. From their nothings small miracles loom large. If Einstein had seen their work before his big breakthrough, he might have attributed his theory of relativity to them. Not that they use anything so square as an MC. As for Energy, they seems to expend very little. If they were more laid back they’d be horizontal.

This year they eschew the delights of genre-based narrative for sketch comedy, winning delighted laughs over many opening minutes without uttering a word, while generating thir own music track. When they do get into a conventional audience interaction sequence, it triples as an improv set-up and a commentary on the nature of comedy itself, fuelled by seething inter-team conflict on questions of taste.

There are only 3 of them, by the way, and they’re Kiwis who live in Melbourne. In white coats and clutching clip boards, they ingeniously conduct a survey on what makes people laugh simply by being there. This enquiry becomes a recurring theme in various guises, with various twists.

John and James send up male egos with motorbikes I could swear I saw in all their chrome glory. Later Jessie and John push that theme even further with two foul-mouthed blokes (recalling an infamous Cooke and Moore ‘Derek and Clive Live’ vinyl-only sketch), slagging off women, menacing each other, touching on a need for affection before reverting to their perverted Aussie masculinity.

The sick humour highlight is a set piece involving the Victims of Accidents Comedy Troupe. And the final routine involves a kids’ TV superhero show called ‘Insectomen!’ involving an invasion of planet Earth from Mars. The genre-jocks ride again!

It’s when the intrepid heroes are summoned to the White House for a presidential briefing that I suddenly think their wacky but actually relatively hollow riffs are going to grow real guts and grit. The fear and ignorance-fed arrogance that permeates world politics is going to get a salutary serve! But no. Trivia is the winner on the day.

In the end Primitive (I’ve no idea why they called it that) show-cases the fabulous minimalist physical theatre skills of The 4 Noels but the medium is very much the massage. I’m left wishing they’d use all that talent as a means to some greater end.


Michael Wray May 23rd, 2006

After seeing the 4 Noels for the first time last year in The Lost City of Argos, this show was the one I was most looking forward to in the festival. From Lost City, my wife and I picked up numerous catchphrases that we've never quite lost - Dotty! ; re-aa-lly? re-aa-lly? ; that's two letters from Africa! - phrases that no-one who didn't see the show can put into context and allow us to share a private running joke. It was simply brilliant. So expectations were high coming into this show and I took my daughter along so she could share this year's running joke, instead of rolling her eyes at me as she has doen for 12 months! I then read that this year they were not doing their usual genre show. Damn. And so it was. What they did was fine and contained many enjoyable moments, although there were several flat ones too. Last year the Downstage auditorium was filled with near-hysterical laughter all the way through the show. This year there were no moments of hysterics and the crescendos of loud laughter only came in rare sporadics. Knowing that what they usually do is so good, we left disappointed. The Insectoman skit was the nearest to a proper 4 Noels outing, but it was just an epilogue to a series of (mostly) disconnected sketches. It made me wonder if they'd run out of ideas for the narrative story shows. Perhaps Insectoman was intended to be the 2006 show proper, but was unable to be developed to full length standard. I see they are doing The Magnificent Seventeen in Auckland. I've been trying to figure out how I can get up to Auckland to see it, but it's not going to happen. Why couldn't they have done that show in Wellington? A quick search on the web revealed the reason; they already did it in Wellington in 1999. I guess they felt they couldn't repeat it. Bad news for me as I wasn't around Wellington much back then and didn't discover the 4 Noels until 2005. I look forward to their usual style being re-introduced next year. Please.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council