Tom Ballard: Boundless Plains to Share | Melbourne comedy festival review by Steve Bennett

Tom Ballard: Boundless Plains to Share

Melbourne comedy festival review by Steve Bennett

When I last saw Tom Ballard, he was a young twentysomething, talking affably about his own life. Now he’s still mid-twentysomething, he’s discovered a political mojo, which is injecting a real passion and heart into his work.

This, one of two shows he’s presenting this festival, is about that most relevant of hot topics, the plight of refugees fleeing persecution to Australia. 

The title, as those who like to drape themselves in the Aussie flag of patriotism will surely know, comes from the second line of the national anthem, which promises: ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.’ A bitterly ironic sentiment given the actuality of asylum-seekers detained in offshore gulags while the news is filled with hate-filled Aussies screaming racist sentiments and politicians, terrified of being thought soft on the issue even by more moderate voters, direct naval firepower on the weak and desperate.

So… comedy!

Yet the assured Ballard pilots a steady course through this tricky of issues. With his PowerPoint and his opinions, he looks as if he’s angling to follow Ronnie Cheng on to the Daily Show team. And on the strength of this audition, he should definitely get the job.

Perhaps surprisingly it’s a gag-packed script, finding lots of laughs in the issues surrounding the big story; from Mohammed cartoons to grossly inappropriate local newspaper analogies, to some splendid Harold Holt material… oh yes, achingly topical. Meanwhile, the seriousness of the underlying story gives the frivolous asides a counterpoint.

Some of the more engineered gimmicks can be hit-and-miss – the breakneck sprint through Australia’s entire history with immigrants is too garbled to even the speed to be funny, and the solid idea of detaining a latecomer could have been better exploited. Director Scott Edgar, from Tripod, might have advised Ballard to rein in the show to the traditional 60 minutes rather than the 70+ it runs to, too.

He’s playing to packed, sizeable room, as well. Seven years of youth radio draw a crowd; and though they’re likely to be sympathetic to his viewpoint, it’s commendable that he’s playing preacher to the masses on a weighty issue. He’s an enthused guide through a subject close to his heart, making his frustration apparent – an honesty and passion that can only be compelling.

Of course, he has no solutions, but he has a nifty way of humanising an issue so often heavy with dehumanising language, highlighting shameful actions being done in Australia’s name and busting some myths about the ‘sponging’ refugees. But it remains a comedy show before a lecture – and plenty of jokes are allowed to pour through the border.

Review date: 5 Apr 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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