Franny Pack is unlike anything else you’ll see at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Recognisable from Kikki and Kitty and the Chaser’s the Checkout, Fran Middleton’s show is an intense, cathartic experience (potentially, depending on you as an audience member). It’s also just really, really fucking funny.
Middleton has an intense control over the space, and the audience. She is a master at building an atmosphere in which everything becomes funny – hip jerks, wicked smiles and wild gestures all elicit yelps of laughter from the audience. At times, Middleton has to pause the show while audience members recover from laughing fits – the infectious kind that spread and start up again in another corner of the room just as you think they’re finally ending. The cavernous gallery space of Comedy Unexpected @ Gallery West is perfect for capturing these laugh-echos, and drawing you back towards the stage whenever you think your attention might be trying to sneak out the back. The 10:15pm timeslot helps too, drawing out the kind of semi-madness that only the late-night can provide.
There’s also surprising amount of direct eye contact for a comedy show. Middleton isn’t afraid to stare you down directly until you are buckled over from laughing, no longer able to hold her gaze. At times it can all seem random, improvised and fleeting, but there are props and musical cues which operate like a scaffold to the physicality and strange dialogue Middleton strikes up with her audience.
The easy word to describe Middleton’s act is ‘absurd’, but perhaps the more appropriate one is ‘abstract’. There’s a detachment to Franny Pack that lets the audience bring their own free-floating thoughts to it, rather than directives and described experiences. It’s the kind of show that requires you to give a bit of yourself over to the space, to let yourself just react, to see what happens (the answer is usually laughter, laughter is what happens).
Franny Pack is on at Comedy Unexpected @ Gallery West at 10:15pm until Sunday 8 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available online via the MICF website.