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Friday, 16 May 2014

NATHAN VALVO'S 'BOY NEXT DOOR' as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival, dissected by Rhiona

You must think I never write reviews anymore and have completely outsourced the blog. That's partly true. I still write between the hectic routine of life but I've now got three generations of interesting female voices writing for SOYP and here's the latest. Let me introduce Rhiona Armont, Gen Z and a previous student of mine with an exceptional talent in theatre. Rhiona describes herself as follows:

I am 17 years old and I am a first year student at UTS, studying a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Journalism) and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. I am a UNICEF Young Ambassador, Producer for 2Ser 107.3’s Breakfast show and I work part time at the Museum of Contemporary Art as a tour guide and event coordinator as a member of the Youth Committee. I have been engaged in the arts throughout my life – both as a performer and an audience member. I have a passion for art and music, live theatre and writing, and hopefully, as I get older, my connection with and involvement in this industry will only grow.

Here's what Rhiona thought of Nath Valvo's show:

I cautiously crept down the stairs, peeping around the corner of each flight, descending into the deep, dank bowels of the Enmore Theatre. All in the hope that I would stumble upon the claustrophobic cage that is the Laneway, and indeed, I found it. “Apparently the name Fritzel’s Rape Dungeon was already taken” Valvo noted in his opening lines. So he didn’t have me at hello, but it was close enough. It was true; the venue is somewhat reminiscent of a secret chamber reserved for the Phantom of the Opera but it has its charm with the…umm… Well, credit to him, he made the best of it.

Originally from Melbourne, Valvo recently touched down in Sydney after running his show in Perth. And yes, the jet setter did come by plane despite much joking about coming by boat. “There’s no way a gay could’ve come by boat – that’s Tony Abbott’s worst nightmare.” But as far as being gay goes, Valvo does it and he does it well. He has embraced his sexuality and it forms a large part of the hilarious material that is “Boy Next Door”. It is endearing and honest, relatable and raw, like any good comedy show should be.

He began with “small talk”, a segment devised to make the audience recoil in fear of being picked on. In an audience of fifteen there isn’t much room to hide. Still, people averted their eyes and busied themselves in false conversations with their partners. Small talk: that awkward, unnecessary part of existence that we practise every day and yet are unable to master for the times it really matters. Good choice, Nath. Despite a harsh audience, unwilling to engage, he managed to squeeze out a few laughs.

Then he began his own story, in the outer-Melbourne suburb of Greensborough, complete with the unruly big brother, loving parents and childhood crush. Through love letters and telephone conversation points, we begin to understand Valvo in his childhood context.

The red letterbox stamped with the number 8 was a nice addition to the one square metre of set. As each new segment began, he pulled out a new letter or invitation to his successful brother (“who lives in London and works at Google”)’s wedding. It gave his material a sense of continuity, which it didn’t necessarily need considering he was working chronologically, but it nonetheless was a simple throughline that didn’t go unnoticed.

Despite the deterrent of his year five crush, Rebecca Spiteri, his gay neighbour, Michael, awakened Nath Valvo’s homosexuality. Visits featured games of Pop-Up Pirate and sing-alongs of Les Miserables and from that point there was no turning back. He delighted us with stories of Mardi Gras and near-one night stands with men nicknamed McDreamy.

He didn’t shy away from highlighting the highly promiscuous nature of the gay community, namely in Sydney. The culture is undoubtedly uninhibited and daring to say the least, but this is the identity that has been constructed and conserved. Valvo is as stereotypical as he is cynical.

There is a sliver of the distasteful, in good measure and good form, and the rest is good old-fashioned biographical recounts and self-deprecating humour. He compares himself to Missy Higgins/a child from the Make a Wish foundation (separately, very separately) and that was met with the most laughs. Refreshingly, he didn’t touch on anything too explicit and his profanities were kept to a minimum. There was a lot of room for it, but his flare and effortless delivery satisfied the audience to a tee.

Through curious observations and accurate insights into the true meaning of Tapas (Spanish for “go home hungry”) and uncomfortable comparisons of Tinder and Grinder, Nath Valvo shows how he is just like the rest of us.

Although the ending, featuring him attempting to catch a bouquet at the aforementioned brother’s wedding to the soundtrack of single ladies was terribly unrehearsed, it was a wonderfully successful performance by a very talented and insightful young man.

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