‘Case Numbers’ // Melbourne International Comedy Festival

‘Case Numbers’ was layered.

Melbourne is again echoing with chortling laughter. Even in its 36th year, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival proves to be a popular event for Australia’s festival city. Heralded as the biggest comedy festival in the southern hemisphere, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (or MICF for short) offers a smorgasbord of performances. The festival is known for not only offering accomplished comedians an invested Australian audience, but also as a launching pad for performers at the beginning of their comedy career. Every year, the MICF presents new stories for audiences to engage with and explore. For Dylan Cole, it provides him the opportunity to tell his own “fictional true story” in ‘Case Numbers’.

In ‘Case Numbers’, Dylan Cole combines aspects of comedy, theatre, and fictionalised storytelling to present a show about finding the combination to a locked briefcase. While the premise sounds simple enough, Cole ensures the audience that the show is anything but. Delving more into the artistry of storytelling, ‘Case Numbers’ aims to subvert the conventions of narrative-driven comedy.

Cole’s history with comedy stretches back to his teen years, whereby he placed second in the 2004 and 2006 national finals of the Class Clowns competition. Crediting himself as a storyteller first and foremost, Cole’s unique brand of comedy is illustrative and immersive. Originally titled ‘The Briefcase’, ‘Case Numbers’ is Cole’s third show to do the Australian festival rounds. His first, 2017’s ‘Blank Tiles’, was heralded at both the Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. His sophomore work, ‘It all sparks joy’, garnered rave reviews at Adelaide Fringe’s 2020 Gluttony. After premiering at the 2020 Melbourne Fringe, where it was nominated for Best Comedy Show, ‘Case Numbers’ marks Cole’s solo debut at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. A fitting addition to his never-ending comedic story.

As regular patrons of MICF would know, the venues on offer are as varied as the comedy itself. In the case of ‘Case Numbers’, Lonsdale Street’s Greek Centre plays theatre. With storytelling being an integral facet of Greek culture and history, the location is perfectly suited to this show.

Audiences taking their seats in the cosy meeting room-turned-theatre are drawn to the miniature stage before them. A lone microphone stand is centrally positioned, standing to attention. An unassuming brown suitcase sits upon a table to the right of the stage. A black tablecloth is draped over the table, hiding a rectangular, bulging object from view. To the left of the stage is a large television screen displaying the title of the show. The simplicity of the staging is purposeful, drawing eager eyes to it in inquisitive anticipation. The stage is deceptively modest, much like the beginning of a story, something for which is considered paramount in ‘Case Numbers’.

In keeping with the simplistic nature of the show, standard lighting is utilised for majority of the performance. Allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the narrative of his show, Cole forgoes additional lighting effects for the most part. The main exception is in two extended sequences of meta-commentary, where the Limahl’s “The Never-Ending Story” plays in time to the glow of warm, whimsical lighting effects.

The minimal lighting choices are in stark contrast to the abundance of sound and music used throughout ‘Case Numbers’. Harking back to its foundation as an auditory form of communication, the show’s focus on storytelling is heightened by its vast soundscape. Decisively sentimental music is used to evoke a sense of nostalgia, while several novelty songs, tunes, and speeches are inserted for comedic effect. An arguable standout is a modified version of the 1990s ‘piracy disclaimer’ that would play before a film on VHS. Producing laughter and sighs of recognition in equal measure, ‘Case Numbers’ use of sound is aptly integrated.

Similarly, Cole’s prop usage and costume design throughout the show is incorporated in an effective manner. Much like the layers of an onion, each prop is revealed in succession. Correlating to certain aspects of the unravelling story, each object is used to elicit genuine laughter from the audience. From an out-of-date tomato sauce bottle to a blow-up world globe, Cole’s use of random objects perfectly accentuates his humorously haphazard delivery. While the television and briefcase are undeniably at the focal point of Cole’s prop use, the variety on offer throughout ‘Case Numbers’ is massive and amusing.

Inanimate objects are not the limit to ‘Case Numbers’’ prop design, with occasional costume changes proving to be equally arbitrary. While Cole adorns a composed, semi-formal attire for most of his performance, he does change this occasionally, particularly when paying homage to people or entertainment that have inspired his creativity. Whether it be mimicking the MGM logo with a lion hat and glove combo or wearing a captain’s hat and aviator sunglasses akin to a Cold War-era naval officer, Cole’s crude costume choices are as entertaining as they are unorthodox, making them a particular highlight within the show.

Serving the trifecta role of writer, director, and performer of ‘Case Numbers’, Cole is passionate and affecting. As he stipulates in the introduction, he bases his storytelling upon his own life, but with considerable liberties taken throughout. There are moments throughout the show that are sure to leave audience members pondering, which is exactly what Cole aims for. Serving as a meta-commentary of the art of storytelling, Cole’s writing is exceptionally witty and layered. Referring himself as a habitual liar, it is a testament to his performance that audiences are sure to question throughout whether what he is saying is true or fictitious. Much like the briefcase codes he aims to crack, Cole’s performance is riddled with insightful anecdotes and textured signposting. In deconstructing the art of comedic storytelling, Cole creates a deliriously clever show that adeptly illustrates his strength for writing and performance.

As the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival revs into gear, a show such as Dylan Cole’s ‘Case Numbers’ is an intriguing addition to the program. Part comedy show, part fictitious true story, and an entire conceptual performance, ‘Case Numbers’ skilfully merges elements to create a refreshingly unique theatrical experience. In critiquing the conventions of a traditional narrative, Cole presents a show that will leave audiences laughing and ruminating equally. If you enjoy cracking codes as well as cracking up, ‘Case Numbers’ is sure to fit the brief(case).

‘Case Numbers’ performs until Easter Sunday, 9 April 2023 at the Greek Centre. For more information about this or other shows, or to purchase tickets, visit the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s website. 

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