For both audience and the many and varied acts tonight at the Thornbury theatre, school is a comfortable enough distance away in time, that mocking its regiment feels like a rite of passage we can all relate to. Justin Heazlewood (aka; The Bedroom Philosopher) who established himself as one of the best observational comedians on the album, Songs From The 86 Tram, taps into that powerful uniting source of mirth and agony we call our school days in this latest in a series of themed concerts. Anybody who grew up attending an Australian school, recognised tonight the painfully accurate bad student poetry/music/acting in a show that - although aimed more at a Gen-X crowd –managed to remain broadly accessible.
Heazlewood’s type of humour works simply by identifying factors specific to average Australians. While Justin might laugh in a different part of the story to most of us, he usually manages to get his audience in on the joke without much effort. School, for those who excelled, was probably not particularly funny or remarkable, but for most of us, the experience is a source of pained amusement, which is precisely what informs Justin’s soft attack. Seated in what could easily pass for a typical school hall, we are presented with the atmosphere of a typical assembly, except for the first time, nobody is really expected to sit quietly and pay attention – or remain sober. The realisation sets in that Heazlewood has thrown his audience a golden opportunity to talk back, lounge around and generally rattle the nerves of those tiresome teachers and staff with no fear of a dreaded parental phone call.
Save from delivering actual canings, the performers in the Croxton School Assembly show maintain an engaging illusion of those uncomfortable, over-long school gatherings complete with authoritarian MC/Principle, (Ben Pobjie) and a better-than-in-reality school band, (Sex On Toast). The mumbling MC, who manages to embody every bored school Principle addressing a restless classroom, ever, becomes a figure of contempt as the night wears on. Between the main acts, he cops a deluge of paper planes and booing and hissing from the cross-legged ‘students’ spread out along the floor in front of the stage. Building on the already realistic atmosphere, he deals out ‘detentions’ in raised voice to even greater objection. But Principle Pobjie’s in-character droning, means reception for the performers is highly enthused whenever he leaves the stage, and with Tripod’s established guarantee-of-fun in place, the boys are swamped by applause after a particularly long head-masterly speech.
Tripod’s routine of songs, ‘unplanned’ cut-aways and geek-ified self-mockery is right at home in the Assembly, as is some stunningly awful poetry courtesy of Emilie Zoe Baker. The broad range of age groups – some with their own kids, some probably just out of school themselves – all respond with the same enthusiasm for being propelled into the horror of an amateur talent-night vibe. Crammed in among the ‘amateurs’ with his cover blown, Damien Cowell - ‘the guy who was in TISM’s’ new band, The DC3 displayed fitting irreverence for the whole event, (and Henry Wagons). Improvisational hooligans, Lime Champions fulfilled the role of class clowns, alongside stiff competition from The Bedroom Philosopher himself, who’s own set allows one notorious local identity to live out a school-age fantasy. Justin and his band, The Awkwardstra, deliver highlights their marvellous 86 Tram CD, plus newbie, I’m Leaving My Hairdresser, before unleashing their surprise guest.
The by-now even rowdier fans, roar their disapproval as Justin asks, ‘who here likes Aussie hip-hop?’ Not to be deterred, he jumps into We Are Tramily, a freakishly spot-on Hilltop Hoods send-up, during which the one and only John Safran, decked out in a silky tracksuit, bursts onto the stage, freestyling like a pro. Anyone who saw Safran’s Music Jamboree series, will recall the failure he endured getting his rap group, Raspberry Cordial taken seriously, but tonight he commands respect. That is, at least until he runs out of rhymes, and resorts to yelling ‘Raspberry Cordial’s in the house!’ randomly until the song ends in total disarray. Yes, it’s unplanned and a complete mess, but so much in the spirit of the Croxton school assembly, no-one cared. The Bedroom Philosopher along with a slightly embarrassed John Safran, file off stage to thunderous approval as our Principle returns to deliver joke-certificates to the performers. Closing the night, the mess of bodies played out on the floor hurling paper at the stage are treated to a medley of ‘90s rock songs by now partly de-trousered school band, Sex On Toast.
Justin Heazlewood took a huge leap of faith in making this theatrical, pretend-amateur show work. Whereas it could easily have come across as confusing and ‘just amateur’, Justin relied on, successfully it turned out, his audience’s willingness to go along with the joke for the duration of an event that gave little indication of what, if anything was expected of his fans. I suspect though, that the sight of half his audience turning up in school uniforms and behaving as if they were extras in the show, was the ultimate pay-off for Heazlewood and co. Other would-be comedy/musical acts should note: The Croxton high class of 2011 final exam results are in, and its distinctions all round people; time to pull your socks up.