Truth in advertising: Unmythable is, indeed, a show built around myths. It is, indeed, wilfully unafraid of very silly jokes. And if you have any kind of taste for manic comedy, the title’s in-your-face claim is justified bravado: you should, indeed, not miss it.
Three performers from Britain’s Temple Theatre present Greek mythology – pretty much all of it – with the energy and something of the spirit of Monty Python, lightly blended with a less deadpan version of Flight of the Concords. The show only lasts an hour, which is refreshing in the middle of a festival – as we filed out afterwards, I heard someone comment appreciatively, “Oh, look how much of the evening is still left!” – and also constitutes shrewd assessment of how long you can keep an audience at a high pitch of hilarity without exhausting them. But I suspect the real reason the running time isn’t longer is that no three humans could work this hard for much longer without falling down dead.
Avoiding specifics to avoid giving away the show’s best jokes, Unmythable trades on extreme verbal dexterity, a perfect feel for pop culture references, and a very fast pace. Not that our three performers are afraid to let stillness and silence work for them on occasion – one of the best moments of the evening involves a held pause that lasts … and lasts … and, just as you work out it is going to last longer than you’d imagine anyone could keep such a thing going without losing half the audience, it … lasts still longer. At the other end of the scale, a four-way argument between Hades, Persephone, Zeus and Demeter is presented by two persona-shifting actors with so much verve it almost doesn’t need its (many) jokes: the effortless changes of accents and body language from one split second to the next are hypnotically entertaining.
This kind of comedy is a high-wire act, in the sense that any hint of awkwardness or strain is instantly crippling: let your audience feel you’re not quite on top of your material and you’ve lost them. Seeing it done perfectly is a rare pleasure. If I were festival management, I’d be in talks about adding an extra session or two right now.
UNMYTHABLE, Temple Theatre at Hannah Playhouse, Wellington, until March 7, as part of the New Zealand Festival.