‘ROAR’ // Melbourne International Comedy Festival

‘ROAR’ was a knockout.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we battle every day. From deciding what to eat for breakfast to which route to take to work, we face numerous small battles in our daily routine. Add to this exterior factors such as family and friends, work commitments, and social expectations, we find ourselves fighting just to keep our heads above the metaphoric water. It is these daily ‘battles’ that serve as the inspiration for Lisa Sharpe’s newest show doing the rounds at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, ‘ROAR’.

Although Sharpe only discovered comedy in her late-40s, her humour is refreshingly earnest due to her tendency to imbue it with lived experience. The comedienne’s comedic trajectory has seen a natural progression over the past five years. Sharpe first cut her stand-up comedy teeth serving as MC for The Comedy Commune in 2018. Following this, she branched into numerous radio, cabarets, and gigs within New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region. Sharpe was named a Raw Comedy State Finalist in both 2018 and 2019, officially setting her sights on her own stand-up show.

Following on from her acclaimed solo debut at the 2022 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sharpe returns with a seasoned vengeance. ‘ROAR’ serves as a fitting follow up to last year’s ‘Drown ‘Em Out’. While the former took inspiration from her own life experiences, ‘ROAR’ turns the comedic lens onto Sharpe’s nearest and dearest. Sharpe frames her latest show in the style of a comedic boxing match, where each ‘round’ is dedicated to an illustrative and humorous story about the battles her loved ones have faced. From her mother choosing the perfect seat in a restaurant to her son’s love life, each verbal vignette Sharpe spins is equal parts comical and relative.

Situated just back from the hustle and bustle of Prahran’s Chapel Street, The MC Showroom plays host to Sharpe’s bout. At first glance, The MC could be mistaken for an annex of office spaces. The narrow hallway connecting the recreation room with theatre space gives away little away about the venue’s theatrical purpose. However, once audiences take their seats in the cosy theatre, all reservations subside.

Several rows of cushioned chairs face toward the miniature stage. A simple black curtain cascades down the back wall. The floor is adorned with a statement Persian rug, similar to ones featured in a staged Ikea area. A small rectangular table sits next to a pink stool – an unassuming black tablecloth draped over it. Sitting atop of it is a drink bottle, a bell, and a small handheld spray bottle-fan. The entire scene is encased within a striking crimson light. The stage mimics the subtle extravagance of a boxing ring – little fanfare to see, but with a feeling of great anticipation. The stage is set. Now it just needs it’s ‘fighter’. 

Perhaps the most obvious illusion ‘ROAR’ makes to its boxing motif is through Sharpe’s costuming. Entering The MC Showroom’s theatre to the welcome of encouraging applause, Sharpe could believably have arrived after a training session with Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. Complementing the scarlet backdrop, Sharpe knocks her red gloves together, ready to perform. Her black boxing shorts and singlet subtly sway as she moves across the stage, finding the optimum position to pack the best comedic punch. Sharpe’s aesthetic demonstrates her eagerness to entertain. Her training is complete – she is now ready.   

As one might expect from a show framed in the style of a boxing match, ‘ROAR’ utilises a number of lighting and sound effects to evoke emotion. The vibrance of Sharpe’s stories are matched by the hues of red and pink that illuminate the stage. The colours, much like the stories she weaves, are evocative of passion and power. This is emphasised again by the inclusion of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” as a theme in between each round. Sharpe’s stories channel the humour found within daily struggles. Her choice to utilise a soundtrack that elicits this notion illustrates her understanding of the importance of conceptual consistency. 

With Sharpe’s sophomore work being heavily influenced by her close relationships, it is fitting that she engages many throughout her routine. In stark contrast to her debut, where Sharpe’s stories were hers and hers alone, ‘ROAR’ is a comedic celebration of the love and frustrations we have for each other. Several members of her own family and friends are nominated to be her ‘ring-people’ – coming on stage at various intervals to hold a title card for the succeeding round. She designates her aunt as her emblematic trainer, instructing her to come on stage to spray cool water on her face after a particularly ‘challenging’ opponent (story).

Much like the boxing framework Sharpe utilises, a familial connection is resolutely ingrained into the heart of ‘ROAR’. Incorporating people close to her, whether it be through her stories or on stage, demonstrates Sharpe’s skilful ability to seamlessly include others into her work while also perform independently. Sharpe stands strong in her comical delivery, yet it is her willingness to allow audiences to engage in her roots that truly affirms her as a talented storyteller.    

However, while all are accomplished with effective ease, all of these elements are kept restrained enough not to overpower Sharpe’s presence. The strength of Sharpe’s comedy lies in her earnest honesty and humility. It makes sense therefore that she wishes for her jokes to be the focus of her show more so than stylisation. At the core of any great battle is the fighter, something for which Sharpe aptly conveys throughout her banter-fuelled dialogue. 

Sharpe’s style of narrative comedy is perfectly matched for the format of a six-round exposé of daily battles. With a hint of wry cynicism and a wink to the audience, Sharpe proves herself to be an adept comedian beyond her five years’ worth of experience. Her comedy deftly mashes her affection for her loved ones with her sardonic wit. Audiences, both familiar and new, are drawn into the hilarious tales Sharpe weaves, proving her potential as a true comedic heavyweight to follow.

After a captivating debut at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, comedienne Lisa Sharpe is back for Round 2 with ‘ROAR’. Progressing from self-referential storytelling to a highlight reel of her dearest and dearest, Sharpe’s comedic evolution attests that she is nowhere near the ropes yet. ‘ROAR’ exemplifies Sharpe’s growth and maturity in the world of comedy. She proficiently utilises her narrative approach to elicit not just a funny joke, but a well-crafted and hilarious atmosphere. As Sharpe continues to extend the breadth of her comedy style and platform, she showcases her readiness to fight for hilarity. ‘ROAR’ packs a powerful punch which is sure to leave audience members hunched over in fits of laughter. Listen for the bell and put your hands up to applaud – this is one bout you will want to be in Lisa Sharpe’s corner for.

‘ROAR’ performs at The MC Showroom in Prahran until Saturday, 15 April 2023. For more information about this or other Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

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