Leaving the brightness of Flinders Street at 6pm for debut Melbourne International Comedy Festival show of Sydneysider Penny Greenhalgh is a ideal way to slip off the stress of the work day and step out an our later into the cool evening, a changed and happier person.
Tucked in under the staircase on the left-hand side of the Forum Theatre is the Pizza Room. A dark fifty seater rimmed with faux crushed velvet curtains, the space is small and the stage smaller. Penny Greenhalgh, wrapped in a blue bed sheet, greets the audience as they sit down. She whispers things to them, asks them for favours. As the lights dim even further, they begrudgingly oblige, unsure of where this is going and just how enthusiastic they should be.
Pretty enthusiastic, it turns out. Greenhalgh is both welcoming and distant, playing with the non existent gap between performer and audience in the tiny room. She manipulates the intimacy of the space, clashing the low budget feel with ridiculous visions of an area spectacular. Greenhalgh’s onstage ego dreams big and drags the audience along with her, giggling like they’re being tickled.
Greenhalgh’s preshow requests are indicative of how much audience participation this show involves. Without giving too much away, it’s fair to say there’s a bit of touching and a bit of movement. It’s occasionally uncomfortable, but Greenhalgh is careful not to push the audience too far out of their comfort zones. As the show builds, the audience relax, and with that relaxation comes a feeling of unity, like they and Greenhalgh are sharing a secret.
With everything from character work to costume changes, Greenhalgh presents a cute, straightforward show with Pop Pop. Any first time awkwardness folds almost unnoticed into the error based humour, and the show makes the audience laugh in the most embarrassing sets of snorts, giggles and squeals.
Pop Pop is on at 6pm at the Forum Theatre from Thursday March 26th until Sunday April 19th everyday except Mondays. Tickets range between $15 and $22 and are available from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website.