Fringe Review: A Modern Guide To Heroism and Sidekickery

Michelle Zahner fills the tiny Rajopolis Theatre at Raj House with vivaciousness, humour, wry smacks on the hips and determination; her show is as kooky as the venue is funky. Raj House’s very fresh vibe, unique bar, strong sense of a community in its prime, art gallery space and chill out-zone is noisy, brash, colourful, a fun place to be. The show is an unravelling of sorts, it takes place inside the head of our hero or if not inside, at least over.

Using diagrams, body language, puns and projections Zahner unleashes the perplexed perspective of an individual going through an identity crisis of sorts, she builds the story as she goes demonstrating possible super powers of comedy timing. In as many refreshing moments as you can count the performer single-handedly (with technical support from the Stage Manager) scatters her brain in an intentionally ridiculous story of identity, masks, super heroics, expectations and self-acceptance.

This performance is a combination of stand-up comedy and improvisational story telling. Improvisational because there are moments of audience interaction that would be subtlety different every performance that she handles with aplomb.

It delivers as comedy yet there are deeper layers in the material which is what I appreciated from a Mental Health perspective. The story of getting wound up inside expectations and unknowable outcomes, the various possibilities of identity sometimes become boxed and commodified unintentionally, aspirational feelings can be frustrating, communication can become too specific, too detailed, or unbound and uncontrollable.

The story the character virtually lives-out on stage is a tale that you may hear from many a stressed, confused yet self-aware person hovering beside the black hole of ‘Identity Crisis,’ any of us may grasp from time to time, for a copy of ‘A Modern Guide to Heroism and Sidekickery’ in the days of our lives as they are.

The way the program identifies and then resolves problems is very personal, sometimes awkwardly so, which makes it extremely likeable and easy to identify with. The main character could be any age; Zahner tends to keep the tone around a slightly edgy tweeny age group, never too much raunch but plenty of sass. Imagine the optimistic outlook of Sue Heck (from television’s “The Middle”) and the style of Sandra Bullock in her most self-depreciating comic roles mixed in the same pot, trying to figure out is she really is a super hero or a side kick.

Young folk going through growing pains would probably find a lot to enjoy in this production, it entertains without ever getting heavy handed or preachy. It is humorously gentle while maintaining a rapid pace with many magical theatrical flourishes.

5/5 stars.

Review by David Jobling

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