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Fiona O'Loughin: The Divine Miss O

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Pushing 50 and fearing she’s lost her appeal to the younger generation, Fiona O’Loughlin has decided to have a go at reinventing herself.

And reinvent herself she has, for she used to be one of Australia’s most accomplished storytelling comedians. And now, on the evidence of this show, she’s not.

This should really be retitled The Divine Miss… Oh Dear, What’s Happened Here Then? given the number of ill-judged diversions from her normal shtick. Midway through the show, for example, she sings, in full and in complete earnest, the Sondheim song Ladies Who Lunch. Seriously, WTF?

It’s part of the conceit of the show that she’s consulted a pair of camp PR gurus to revamp her image, and they’ve decided she should target the gay market. This is set up in an unfunny, indulgent and seemingly interminable opening video segment, followed up a couple of times during the show and making the heart sink every time the lights dim in preparation. This set-up also lets her have a more tongue-in-cheek bash at Cher and Bette Midler numbers too, in keeping with the titular reference.

There is still time to squeeze in a bit of stand-up amid all this nonsense – and it’s decidedly patchy. The best segments involve incidents from her stint in rehab after she collapsed in front of 400 people at a Queensland theatre, but they featured in the previous show about her alcoholism.

Otherwise, she seems grasping for people to hate. In one joke she complains about people who are forever banging on about their love of mangoes. Not a particular bugbear I’ve ever noticed, but we’ll let that go. Her Oscar Wilde-style reposte? ‘Well, I like pies but I don’t fucking go on about it.’

It earns a laugh – possibly because of its swear alone – but really? It’s not the only occasion something quite ordinary is the punchline. Her big ending involves some cocky kid talking back at an authority figure by accusing him of being a paedophile – just like pain-in-the-arse cocky kids do the Western world over.

O’Loughlin does show some flashes of the attitude that made her reputation, especially her swipes at the neighbourhood do-gooder and ‘perfect mother’ – an epithet that becomes a sneer in her hands – as she paints a vivid picture of the weirdness of her home town of Alice Springs. Her dislike of her own brood is as funny as ever, while the efforts she makes to avoid sliding into comfortable middle-aged, suburban anonymity are to be lauded.

But in doing so, she seems to have lost focus on the sharply barbed comedy at which she excels.

Review date: 10 Apr 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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