Head down to the back of a Swanston Street arcade, dingy and empty at 10pm. Flash your ticket at the two Melbourne International Comedy Festival attendants guarding the steps down to Fort Delta and descend into the whitewashed space. There is something distinctly dystopian about an art gallery with no artwork on the walls. A black curtain hides disembodied laughter, and Steele Saunders. When his show ends, everyone files out quietly, nodding at the bar staff like regulars. It feels like another world.
The atmosphere of the venue carries over into Laura Davis’ show, Ghost Machine. Hidden behind a sheet, lit with bicycle lights and a desk lamp, Davis is upset, aggressively so. She just doesn’t understand life. An evening of existential crisis pours forth in a familiar high tide of angst and desire for meaning.
Davis, a Western Australian turned Melbourne dweller, is a seasoned comedian with a depressing day job. Her comedy carries with it a search for connection that informs her style. Davis is performative, intelligent and vibrant. She manages to build a storyteller vibe without actually telling an overarching story. Instead, Ghost Machine mimics the stages of a breakdown. The shouty start gives way to a gentle pondering of life’s twists and turns. It’s self aware enough to not be hammy, and sincere enough to not be offensive.
As her own tech, Davis manages to manipulate her few light sources to great effect. The tone moves around with the follow spot/desk lamp, and the LEDs are like bright lights in the distance that you don’t understand. Davis couples her lighting schema with light physicality, shifting around the underground stage to create a sense of smallness that turns easily to claustrophobia and back again. Eventually, Davis presents herself, and she feels closer for all the little flickers of light.
Davis does her best to draw out her audience and involve them in her journey through the void, but they are hesitant, content to watch her spiral and giggle from the sidelines. It doesn’t matter too much, even without a distinct end – the audience’s own fault for not choosing something – the show is a success, left open just like the questions Davis raises.
Ghost Machine is on from March 26th to April 19th at Fort Delta at 10pm Tuesday through Sunday at 10pm. Tickets are $12 and are available at the door and online.