The central theme of the current show is Bob Downe’s newfound straightness.
Bob Downe, the safari-suit king, is back for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in a tell-all show where he reveals he has been living a lie and is, in fact, straight. With his shimmering flaxen head bobbing about on stage, the show starts with the joyful, dynamic singing and sashaying that Bob does best. The crowd is buoyant and eager to embrace him; they join in with clapping, cheering and singing.
Bob Downe, a camp singer of lounge songs from Murwillumbah, was created by Mark Trevorrow in the 80s. The central theme of the current show is Downe’s newfound straightness; accordingly he employs time-honoured traditions of the heterosexual Australian male. He peppers the show with expletives, flirts with women in the audience, makes sexual innuendos about female politicians and rejects his standard musical repertoire as ‘too gay’, choosing instead songs sung by men for women, such as ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond. He is backed by a talented three-piece band (guitar, drums, keyboard) led by John Thorn.
While the show is rich with Downe’s signature strangled vocals and fitful dancing, which is always a delight, he seems unable to sustain the momentum for the duration. At times he looks tired or the act seems forced, brittle, and lacks pace. Perhaps the magic of Bob Downe lies in his kitsch, camp cabaret style and when that’s played down the magic fades a little.
There are two costume changes in the show; he cuts a fine figure in a fuchsia wide-lapelled shirt and three-piece pin-striped suit to knock out a couple of Roy Orbison tracks, at one stage freezing in an eerily accurate impersonation of a shop mannequin. Indeed, the ‘living doll’ qualities of Bob Downe are what set his act apart from so many acts in this genre.
His wit, while normally razor sharp, just seems a little less refined in this performance than in previous shows. When the band goes off-stage for a five minute break, leaving the show entirely reliant on stand-up, it lags, indicating that Trevorrow’s strengths lie principally in his physicality and musicality. The show is much more dynamic when the music is punctuated by brief snappy quips by Downe before moving into the next number. We are enchanted by the singing-prancing Bob Downe extravaganza, not the slightly repressed–and therefore less vibrant–Bob who is trying to play it straight. Nonetheless it is a solid show for any Bob Downe fans, just a bit light on the fizz.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
Bob, Sweat & Tears
By Bob Downe
Athenaeum Theatre, Collins St
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
28 March -20 April