The local improv champ is back with another character-driver hour: You Know The Drill
This young veteran of Sydney's improv scene (and former Theatresports champ) is slowly working his way up the Festival food chain: in 2013 he won Best Newcomer at Sydney Comedy Festival, in 2014 he was nominated for Best Newcomer at Edinburgh Fringe, and in 2015 he was nominated for the Barry Award for best show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He also appeared in BBC3 series Top Coppers, alongside UK comedian John Kearns.
In other words: if you’re not on the Steen train, get on that stat.
Steen opens his show by asking for a show of hands for who have seen his stuff before – and the response explains the preternaturally warm vibes in the room tonight. The show is, after all, called You Know The Drill.
The offering is a mix of character work, audience participation and improv – often at the same time. In one bit, Steen gets one audience member up on stage, commandeers another’s phone, and plays a ‘father and son’ scene off cues from a text-message thread. In another, he invites two different couples to act out paintings at an exhibition according to a voiceover track, while he plays a museum visitor.
Obviously Steen has chops when it comes to character roles, but a lot of the bits work largely because he himself is so likeable, and because he makes canny choices about who to pick from a crowd and how to work them – without anyone feeling too uncomfortable.
Bits by favourite characters ten-year-old Timmy and Greek Orthodox film reviewer Yanni Constanopoulos are highlights of the show, as is a laugh-out-loud sequence in which a Stereosonic-ready MC Raskopoulos gurns his way to a climax before suddenly dropping into a minute’s silence, Anzac stylee – and then picking the beat right back up again.
It’s a show almost entirely built from congruent ‘bits’ or sketches, but the most satisfying bits are the interlinking conceits (there’s a nice set-up with three audience members and three ping pong balls, in the first five minutes of the show, that pays off several times later) and callbacks in which characters like Little Timmy and former-second-best heart surgeon Dr Daniel Kowalski are given a story arc.
And this is another secret to Steen’s success: for all the lols, his characters are basically ‘nice guys’ and endearingly vulnerable, and it’s telling that he ends the show the way he does. He doesn’t just want your laughs – he wants your heart.
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