Laura Davis: Ghost Machine | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review by Steve Bennett

Laura Davis: Ghost Machine

Note: This review is from 2015

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review by Steve Bennett

As crowd work goes, ’Remember your first existential crisis?’ is far from ordinary as ice-breaker, but then Laura Davis’s thoughtful and bold show is from ordinary too.

And the question is surely better than her later query to the room: ‘Why don't you kill yourself?’ – even if that is meant more out of curiosity than as a suggestion.

Ghost Machine is a complex and layered show about the bleaker edges of existence from a compelling performer on the interface of comedy and angst-inspired art. That’s an interface that doesn’t pay very well – no, really – requiring Davis to take a repetitive, futile, life-sapping day job to fund her artistic choices.

The truly Sisyphean task, as she refers to it with all the impractical classical erudition her arts degree has bestowed, affords her plenty of time, and supplies the reason, to wallow in the great questions of life. Why, indeed, is she here.

At times, her show seems like a despatch from the frontier of insanity, as the torment of loneliness and depression risks getting the better of her. That she starts the show dressed as a ghost ‘who doesn’t believe in herself’, coloured LEDs beneath her white sheet and her non-existent face illuminated by a light on a stalk over her head indicates that she’s not entirely hinged. She sticks with the gimmicks for a long time – too long – but they certainly establish her a comedian on the more alternative end of the spectrum.

It seems important to point out that she is actually a comedian, given that any description of her show inevitably focuses on its intensity, its thought-provoking philosophy and its wretched point of view. But all the soul-searching results in punchlines with a fierce power to get to the point, which she expresses with an exquisite turn of phrase to trigger the laughs of released tension.

Her impotent anger at the world swirls around her declamatory delivery as she clambers around the limited space of her venue. It can be full-on, but although this ride into her psyche is not for the faint-hearted, it is rewarding.

The performance itself is an act of defiance against the role you might expect her to have, as a loser ground down by life. It’s not the only one. She can get delight in an innocent prank – or in far-from innocent revenge sex, a brutal response to a brutal life that still catches us by surprise.

Often described as a comedians’ comedian, Davis is still playing to largely unpaying audiences in a peculiar subterranean venue at the end of a deserted shopping arcade. It’s an apt setting given her downbeat, near-nihilistic world view.

Yet her honest, confronting comedy deserves a greater audience, even if the sour taste will inevitably alienate many – and too much success may anathema to her creativity. But for the raw ambition of what she is attempting, the personal evisceration and the depth of thought that goes into this peculiar ride makes Ghost Machine one of the more fascinating shows at the festival.

Review date: 7 Apr 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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