Toby Halligan began the show sweaty-browed and self conscious on the main stage of Connections. The show is ostensibly a humourous life’s story about a gay man from Canberra moving to the Big City and finding love and self, despite being a bit of a dag. Maybe this sort of fish-out-of-stereotypically-gay-waters shtick plays better in larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney where the tattered remnant of the gaybourhoods still exist. I don’t know. But in our post-modern, hyper-suburban, FIFO-on-the-down-low city, with our 1.5 gay bars, all the things that supposedly made Halligan a quirky outsider seemed intimately familiar to being gay in WA.
Maybe I’m being picky and provincial (I’ve been accused of worse) but the whole show seemed specific to an East coast audience, or rather audiences of gay men in inner-city Melbourne and Sydney. For example, there was the stillborn punchline about how boring Adelaide is that came with a three-minute apologetic explanation of the comparative East Coast views of the city. I guess the lesson to learn is that you shouldn’t make jokes about how boring Adelaide is to an audience living in a city that defensively describes itself as Dullsville – but it wasn’t just these provincial cultural transgressions that left me unmoved; the whole show was a lukewarm mess.
In the midpoint of the first half of the show Halligan practically interviewed every member of the stage row audience. While he had a pleasant enough charisma he largely failed to capitalise on their answers. Instead he methodically moved along like a Q&A automaton before hesitantly returning to the supposed point of the show – himself. As to the ‘political’ side of the performance – which gained the show it’s own Abbott-lover’s warning – his sole punchline was to describe to us in detail the clip of Tony Abbott eating a raw onion. Spicy stuff indeed!
In the second half he once again derailed his own show with a long and detailed meander describing Canberra, before reading a front-page article from the local newspaper. Sure, it was mildly amusing for a minute or two, but not hilarious. The winds of whimsy must have been blowing with a cyclonic intensity through his mind that night. As a consequence he delivered his cumulative life’s insights on gayness, belonging, life, lies and laughter with rapid-fire delivery over the top of the inebriated staff member attempting to shoo the audience out of the club for the next show.
Considering Halligan is an established comedic writer I was surprised with how sloppy the show was. The main talking points Halligan elaborated on would have better served as pit stops along the over arching narrative – instead they became extended countryside picnics. Too often he’s settle into a story-telling routine, only to suddenly stop and go off-course again. There’s nothing wrong with mixing or moving between styles, or diverging, but it all seemed so unprepared, and the varied styles were never fully committed to. Was he supposed to be snarky? Political? Sassy? Sympathetic? I couldn’t tell, and to be fair, I’m not sure he’d decided before going on stage either.
I’d describe this show with a single neutral face emoji. Not abysmal, but not good either.
Words by Tom Reynolds
‘Toby Halligan is the Bad Gay’ ran as part of Fringe World Festival 2016.