Review from: Underbelly venues, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 4th August 2019
I was going to begin this review by referring back to when I first saw Dummies Corp with their original production Trash Test Dummies in 2016. The more recent productions have the same hilarious surprises and top-notch child-centred excitement. Only it turns out I didn’t write a review back then. Slap my wrists.
So, from the beginning: Dummies Corp are an Australian clown-based entertainment company brimming with energy and creative ideas to make us laugh and squeal. Founders Jamie Bretman, Jack Coleman and Simon Wright began as a trio of acrobatic comedy dustbinmen in 2013 with Trash Test Dummies, and opened their second show – Splash Test Dummies – in 2018, where the three become beach life-guards who imaginatively adventure to the bottom of the sea. This year, they have widened the team, whilst keeping the same tried and tested formula of slapstick, physical theatre, visual gags, silly jokes and ground-based circus skills. Ellen Henry, Maya Tregonning and Shona Conacher star as jungle explorers in Don’t Mess With the Dummies, perfectly capturing the original nutty spirit of the Dummies and the laughing hearts of their audience.
Both shows will give you and your young’uns a sidesplitting hour, interspersed by wows and wonder. If you need to decide between the two, it’s more a matter of theme than anything else. Although there is a clear directorial formula, if you’ve seen one Dummies show you haven’t seen them all, as the performers bring their unique personalities and improv skills to create a complete fantasy every time. I saw these two back to back today, and was still laughing and grinning at the end of the two hours, consistently surprised by the company’s ingenuity.
Although the NICA trained artists all have their own circus specialisms, the skills appear in short snippets rather than full-length acts, flowing clearly from the silly characters’ storylines. Alongside the staples of juggling and acrobatics, we see magical illusion, puppetry, lip-sync, and a little bit of messiness aimed at us in the audience. The jungle explorers include hula hoops, foot juggling and skipping tricks. The seaside splashers include unicycles, hoop manipulation and pingpong balls popping out of their mouths and into the crowds.
The direct interaction with every member of the audience from the moment we enter the venue keeps us all actively engaged as part of the fun. The humour seems delightfully irreverent (but don’t worry parents, all totally safe), and it’s brilliant to see children responding to the cheeky mischievousness of the performers. I also love hearing children around me practice their interpretive skills, telling their parents what’s going on as they recognise the imaginary worlds created onstage. ‘They’re crabs!’; ‘It’s a bug!’. (My favourite is the three strange jungle worms created from singing sleeping bags in Don’t Mess).
Even the obligatory Edinburgh Fringe post-show announcement has original comic flair, and good on them for upholding the good old circus tradition of merchandising and offering photos after the show!
Even though I have a great time at both, I know I’m not really the target audience for these productions. So, from the little boy in front of me in Don’t Mess: ‘This is amazing! This is amazing isn’t it!’. And from the slightly bigger boy to my left in Splash Test: ‘I’m dying of laughter!’.