Review: Mantaur — Premium Fresh!, Sydney Comedy Festival

It’s not every day that you walk into a show and Spider-Man is playing you in with some ambient tunes. Just Spider-Man, chilling at a keyboard in full costume. Why Spider-Man? Who can tell – but it’s pretty safe to say that Peter Parker would get a kick out of comedy duo Mantaur and their show, Premium Fresh! 

Comedy, theatre and magic? Mantaur are your guys.
Comedy, theatre and magic? Mantaur are your guys.

Mantaur is Harry Milas and Rob Johnson, who between them are a musician, a musical theatre actor, comedians, and acclaimed competitive improvisers. In their new show for the Sydney Comedy Festival they have re-appropriated a long-form improv style called “The Dream” from The Second City in Chicago (basically the inventors of modern comedy – Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Keegan-Michael Key and more all came up from the company).

In Premium Fresh! Milas and Johnson find an audience member and coax them onstage to talk about their day. On the night of review, the guy shrugged his way through his description of a day at uni. Taking this story, Milas and Johnson promise to tell the story, based on their audience member’s day, of the dream he will have that night.

It’s a surreal, broad-strokes mess of comedy and cleverness from there on out. The jokes fly fast and about as many land as they fall flat, but that’s the exhilarating element of live improv and of seeing Mantaur in action: when the jokes land, they really land. With interstitial and establishing music from Spider-Man, Milas and Johnson weave a complicated and frequently funny legend of eccentric hermit collectors, people who just want to dance, and long lost loves. And tusks.

It’s impossible to explain, just like all the best memorable dreams, and the audience response was full of really warm laughter – that wonderful thing that rarely happens. Mantaur are too big for such small venues, really – their energy and magnetic personalities were all but falling off the stage. It’s nice, in the middle of a comedy festival, to see an act that has already outgrown its venue.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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