The Joan, August 21


Why are Phil Scott and Jonathan Biggins getting two bites of the review apple only 54 days apart? Has a palm been greased with something more than hand-sanitizer? No, it’s because two months ago they were little people in a live stream on a screen, and here they were offering a different show in the (thankfully fully-clothed) flesh. Yes, live!

Their first gig back with a real audience was also the Joan’s first show since March (beginning its Live & Unlocked series), and the mood was one of slightly furtive celebration, like we were all doing something behind the bike-sheds that was both fun and rather naughty. It was a bit naughty, too, because masks were rare and the Joan’s socially-distanced seating plan needs fine-tuning. So if I start coughing before the end you’ll know to turn the page or clean your screen or whatever.

Phil Scott and Jonathan Biggins. Photos: John McRae.

The safest people in the room were the two unmasked men on stage, clearly delighting in doing it again, even if there were a few creaks and groans in the live-performance hinges. Usually as meticulously scripted as a Double Bay matron is manicured, here Scott (grahnd piahno) and Biggins (occasional guitar) were so funny adlibbing to cover occasional fumbles that perhaps they should dare to give themselves more elbow room in this regard. Safety nets, after all, are for old men. Oh, I see…

This show, hatched for last year’s Sydney Cabaret Festival, was updated with sufficient references to COVID and the like that we all knew it was 2020, the year that barely got going before it took to its bed and hid beneath the covers. The premise was to poke a stick into the different cabaret nests, from Broadway to satire (the vile NRA), and from frothy titters to comedy about as black as Lenny Bruce’s. Trump (Biggins) couldn’t be prevented from intruding, joined by Kim Jong-un (Scott, wearing what was either a wig or a black rodent with fastidiously parted hair) in a rendition of New York, New York (“Start spreading fake news…”).

They’ve done it better, but the four-star rating is for coming out of hibernation and reminding us that sundry humans sharing laughs in the same room is good for the [cough] health. And [cough] only a little bit naughty.