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Dr Brown

Dr Brown

Real name:Phil Burgers

Visual comedy absurdist, who won both the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival's main prize, The Barry, in 2012

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Dr Brown: Befrdfgth

Dr Brown: Befrdfgth

Like the shark in Jaws, Dr Brown makes his presence felt long before you see him. As the audience waits patiently for the show to start, you might spot a ripple in the stage curtain, or spy him peeking coyly through a gap in it. After a couple of minutes of this, he cloaks himself in its comforting fabric to investigate his viewers more closely, causing a triffid-like stalk to spout oddly from the back drop.

Also like the shark in Jaws he unleashes chaos once he emerges from the darkness, for this is merely a scene-setter, both a signal that this is no ordinary comedy show and a device to lull the audience into the false sense of security that Dr Brown is as scared of them as they are of him.

For the unaware, the bearded man dressed like a grieving widow is both a mime and a clown, thus setting himself the challenge of overcoming not one, but two common preconceptions of poor-quality entertainment. To complete the triple threat, he’s a children’s entertainer too, but as we’ve said in a previous review, his kids’ offering at this festival is quite the delight, too.

After the entertaining opening sequence, Brown seems at a loss of what to do. With his little-boy-lost expression, he tentatively grasps at recreating a couple of movie scenes, wordlessly of course, before acting out other quick sketches – from recreating a bullfight to miming a marathon runner taking on water.

Although this elicits a few wry smiles, there is little remarkable here, and you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the Barry-nominated fuss is all about. But then in a watershed scene about halfway through the hour, all becomes crystal clear.

The turning point comes when he easily persuades the audience to ‘ring, ring, honk, honk’ along as he mimes a bicycle ride. We have somehow become tacitly complicit in his odd little world, now giving him carte blanche to indulge in all manner of heinous audience participation.

I’ve previously found him over-intimidating in this, but here his transgression of personal boundaries seems entirely playful. And those punters he selects to join him on stage are all willing players, revelling in the attention even when the good Dr is silently admonishing them for getting the wrong end of the stick. And he’s not above firing his participants, too, exiling them back to their seats when he loses patience with their inability to follow their brief.

What is most impressive is the careful structure behind all this apparently random madness. He might act as if each idea has just occurred to him, but the action proves nicely circular. The laugh of the penny dropping is a regular feature of Brown’s shows, and it’s magnified here, as your patience sticking with the often repetitive early scenes is repaid with interest.

Add in the bizarre and unique scenes he creates, which will stay with you long after the hour is out, and you have a clear highlight of the festival, with a much wider appeal than its avant-garde sensibilities might suggest.

Tuesday 17th Apr, '12
Steve Bennett

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