‘PASH’ was love(ly), actually.
Every autumn, laughter can be heard resonating throughout Melbourne. The city’s International Comedy Festival is heralded as a key event on many comics’ calendar, along with the likes of Montreal’s Just for Laughs and Edinburgh’s Fringe. While the prestigious festival is known for its world-class array of professionals, it also offers a strong base for emerging talent to dip their toes into the expanding pool of Australian comedy. This is the reality for Melbourne-based performer Olivia McLeod, whose one-woman show ‘PASH’ premieres at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year.
Staged at the intimately bohemian Motley Bauhaus in Carlton, ‘PASH’ is a highly engaging sixty minutes of romance, comedy, awkwardness, and creativity. McLeod plays Max, an openly bisexual woman who has one week until her 25th birthday. Or, more accurately, one week to receive her first kiss before she considers her romantic maturity ruined forever. Throughout the show, Max shares anecdotes about her friends’ first kisses during their adolescent years, as well as her own idealistic Hollywood-inspired notion of what such a moment would feel like.
Telling a story as intimate as ‘PASH’ requires an equally intimate venue. The Motley Bauhaus, affectionately called ‘The Motley’ by regulars, is the perfect location. Situated on Carlton’s Elgin Street, the independent theatre is low lit and atmospherically cosy. The muted, earthy tones of the walls seem to emphasise snugness, like a warm embrace from an old friend.
As guests take their seats in the Black Box Theatre at the rear of the building, the colour palette changes to a bright hue of pinks and purple overhead lights. The stage’s brick façade is adorned with film posters likely to make any romance fanatic swoon: ‘Titanic’, ‘The Notebook’, ‘Romeo + Juliet’, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Love Actually’, and even ‘Lady and The Tramp’. A clothing stand is positioned in the corner, in a direct standoff with a pink vanity table opposite, adding to the atmosphere of adolescent femininity. The close quarters of the theatre make it feel almost like an intrusion into someone’s personal world, but equally like a warm invitation to come in.
‘PASH’ marries the concepts of youthful romantic anticipation with adult reality through both McLeod’s endearing performance and its use of lights and sound. McLeod slips deftly from character to character, often accompanied by light and sound transitions to denote tonal shifts and key moments. Perhaps this is best illustrated through the use of a lukewarm blue spotlight as Max considers what a true first kiss should feel like.
Similarly, sound is used extremely well throughout ‘PASH’. From snippets of movies to tram bells, the echoes of each accompanying sound permeate the Black Box Theatre, drawing the audience further into Max’s world. However, in one of the most intense scenes of the show, it is the lack of sound (besides McLeod’s narration) that is pitch perfect. Each hushed word out of Max’s mouth draws out the audience’s unified anxiety about what is to happen in that moment behind a bookcase. The interplay between lighting, sound, imagination, and McLeod’s energetic storytelling showcase the true strength of ‘PASH’ as both a coming-of-age comedy and a moving anecdote to self-discovery.
While ‘PASH’ is a work of fiction, it is hard to completely remove it from reality as McLeod shows a lot of care for her constructed heroine, Max. Max is an instantly likeable character, thanks in no small feat to McLeod’s charming presence on stage. Whether it be through her humorous dance-aerobics enthused choreography, her knack for character duality, or her quiet reflection, McLeod presents the audience with a triumphant underdog story of aspirational love.
McLeod demonstrates a talent for storytelling reliant on witty dialogue and sharp execution. Max’s commentary of one of Colin Firth’s key scenes from ‘Love Actually’ is likely to induce chuckles days after the show. So too will McLeod’s bombastic array of side characters she expertly establishes. From Max’s defiant younger sister Joey to her best friend Maisie, McLeod’s innovative performance fleshes out each character, enabling them to feel almost like old friends to the audience over the course of an hour.
Olivia McLeod’s one-woman show ‘PASH’ pays loving homage to both romance and comedy. In crafting a story about one woman’s quest for her long overdue first kiss, McLeod creates a show that is likely to speak to many. Premiering as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, ‘PASH’ is a prime example of what homegrown comedy has to offer the world stage. Whether you’re a lover of rom-coms or just a lover of comedy, ‘PASH’ is sure to bring a smile to your face and a laugh to your heart.
‘PASH’ performs until Sunday, 3 April 2022 at the Motley Bauhaus in Carlton. For more information about this or other Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.