Melbourne Fringe: 400 Columns, Trades Hall

The Age's resident dag Danny Katz is one of the funniest men in print. His weekly columns mix nerdy Jewish humour, a deceptively good understanding of the power of language, savage self-deprecation and a damn good understanding on what makes people laugh. To translate these columns - 400 Columns, that is - into a stage play was always going to be a difficult task, primarily because so much of the humour comes from who the columnist is and the egocentric nature of the stuff that he writes. If it was to be anyone else writing it, they'd be dismissed as a nutter, but because it's Katz it is instead considered schoolboy charm.



Ari Sharp said…
The folks at the SideStreet Players have taken on the challenge, and are highly successful at the task. A cast of six try to capture the essence of Katz as they read, act, sing, dance and live his columns. The production takes a while to warm up at first, and begins with a slow, measured opening that sees a few of the columns being read (albeit with plenty of enthusiasm) by the cast members. As the hour progresses, however, the production becomes much more intricate and the columns really come to life.

In appreciating the show, it helps to have some previous exposure to Katz's odd-ball writing. The cast struggle at times to convey the world view that Katz seems to hold, and understanding this world view transforms the cast of 6 from being mad-cap lunatics to theatrical geniuses. Those new to his work would struggle to fully comprehend what they were seeing.

The space the piece is being performed at, in the Victorian Trades Hall, is ideal for the performance. At some previous point in history, the room was no doubt a meeting place for workers, or activists, or Communists (that point in history may well have been last Thursday, given the eclectic bunch in Trades Hall). During the performance, though, it is cosy and intimate, and allows the audience to get up close and personal with the performers. During the more energetic parts, you can't help but get in the spirit of it.

Without giving it away, the climax at the end truly is a show-stopper. Rarely has a play managed to engage all five senses, but 400 columns manages to do that. With a bit of luck and by sitting in the right seat, you will taste, smell, hear, see and feel some aspect on the closing sequence, and it's not always plesant! A fun end to a fun show.

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