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Claudia O'Doherty: What Is Soil Erosion

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Well, you have to admire Claudia O’Doherty’s audacity, not only presenting an festival show with the most boring title conceivable, but also having the commitment to go through with it. This isn’t really going to be all about soil erosion is it? Yes, my friend it is.

The premise is that this is her boiled-down version of the 26-hour television series she’s pitched to the networks, only to be repeatedly knocked back by executives for the flimsy reason it was ‘boring, formless and utterly unwatchable’.

They have a point.

For a good chunk at the start of this show, last year’s Melbourne Comedy Festival best newcomer does indeed impart some facts about this little-loved geological phenomenon. Sure, she strikes deliberately forced poses as she does so, while some of the key – and not-so-key – words are echoed with silly audio-visual stings, but a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that her subject is boring doesn’t negate that criticism.

Dressed all in beigey-brown, she harnesses the dry academic style in a similar way to spoof science show Look Around You – but while they used the deadpan as a vessel for the jokes, O’Doherty wants the style to BE the joke, and it feels rather weak, no matter how much schoolgirl surrealist nonsense she adds to it.

But then, despite all these misgivings, she won me round with one short interlude, when she conducted a quick straw poll to understand her audience. It sparked a turnaround from the merely nonsensical into the wonderfully absurd and proved she’s quite happy to look preposterous in the name of comedy. After that, her quirky charm shone through a little more, no longer entirely masked by an implacably serious façade.

Of course, the soil premise gradually, well, eroded, to reveal more about her fictional hang-ups, some good-natured audience involvement and other odd off-topic diversions. And while some of the frustrations remain, there seems to be a bit more impish fun to her kookiness.

There’s some good comic work going on here, although she shouldn’t always hide it behind po-faced surrealism. When she lets the silliness spill over, her warped world looks a lot more inviting

Review date: 1 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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