The Poof Downstairs was, well, downstairs in the Visy Theatre at the Brisbane Powerhouse, oddly surrounded by a photography exhibition of middle aged lesbians going about their daily lives. It was ANZAC eve and The Powerhouse was a ghost town; there was an air of foreboding as just twelve or so audience members entered the theatre to watch the show.
The lights dimmed and a hush fell over the petite gathering and John Haynes revealed himself on a sparsely set stage. He had come to deliver an apology and it soon became apparent that this apology was actually the whole storyline of the play; the promise of The Poof Downstairs is in fact just a ploy to draw you in. Haynes’ actors had deserted him – so the tale goes – but he would valiantly play-on, acting all the roles in his fine masterpiece alone. Firstly however, we would embark on a sixty minute rambling digression through which Haynes relayed, in painful detail, the story of his somewhat uneventful life – a few predicable penis jokes were thrown in for good measure. Haynes did play all the various roles with impressive stamina and intentional deadpan but essentially this play is a play about nothing (does that sound familiar?). And there is the point; Haynes is a bumbling Hugh Grant-esque character plopped on stage to deliver a Seinfeld skit and unfortunately this style of comedy (although wonderful in its heyday) is somewhat dated now.
When asked recently why people should get off their couch and come and see his Brisbane show, Haynes answered “I’ll have travelled a long way, via Korea – if I survive it – so I think it would be nice to have an audience.” I found myself wondering if indeed it was the lack of audience that made the show unenjoyable, after all, childish humour is often funnier when there is a crowd to encourage each other but when Haynes quietly confessed to a bottom-sniffing fetish, an awkward hush smothered the “crowd” – even those who were happily guffawing at the penis jokes just a minute ago wondered where on earth his show was heading. The answer was soon apparent – nowhere. A quick look at his watch and he declared he was out of time and that was that, the end; thank-you and good-night.
John Haynes has garnered a fair bit of respect for his role in the comedy duo Ridiculusmus and to be fair The Poof Downstairs – the first independent work from Haynes – seems to have had mixed reviews with no two reports sounding quite like they are about the same show. In Haynes’ own words The Poof Downstairs is just “a prank on the audience” and by the end of the show, I certainly felt as if I had been duped.