Reviews/Comedy/Fringe World Festival

A tsunami of subversion

26 January 2021

You might want to brace yourself for Patrick Marlborough’s radical gloves-off stand-up in On Fringe, but it’s well worth the effort, advises Xan Ashbury.

On Fringe, Patrick Marlborough ·
Rubix Bar, 15 January ·

Full disclosure: I have fan-girl-level admiration for Patrick Marlborough’s journalism. So the prospect of seeing the Fremantle-based writer, comedian and musician on stage rather than on the page made me a little giddy.

If you haven’t read Marlborough’s work in publications such as Vice, Junkee, Crikey and the Guardian, fire up your favourite search engine and catch up. Whether they’re writing about being an Australian in New York or providing an eco-critical reading of The Lion King, they are consistently brilliant.

Equally, I was curious – On Fringe would be my first serve of Marlborough’s comedy. In print, they have described their brain as “constantly inventing scenarios, vignettes and characters”, said wrangling multiple narratives wasn’t easy, and “ordering them in a way that can be parsed by an outsider is almost impossible”. How did that go before a live audience, I wondered?

I soon had my answer. Marlborough is no standard-issue stand-up. They don’t create gentle waves of laughter through a consistent persona, observational humour and audience banter. They’re an atypical, shape-shifting force of nature, serving an audio-visual tsunami of subversion. It’s not impossible to keep up but you have to brace yourself – and embrace their hypomanic, cartoonesque world.

Patrick Marlborough

The show begins with a short, quirky mockumentary, complete with archival footage of Perth, about a larrikin called Fringey, who “establishes” Fringe World… and so begins what Marlborough characterises as a “polyamorous, co-dependent relationship with a mining giant”.

Can art co-exist within capitalism? It’s Marlborough’s main thrust in On Fringe, and they pose this question before we all board the fast train to absurdist town.

There was a bit of shrieking into the mic, and pornographic images of Shrek I wish I could unsee. There was hilarious commentary on fake posters of Marlborough’s previous Fringe shows, fanciful stories about their fake children, and reflections on being the face of chocolate Yogo. And there I was, expecting just to be entertained with some witty anecdotes about the time they actually lived above a glue factory in Brooklyn …

What could seem flippant ultimately has a radical edge. By design, Marlborough resists the pressure of turning themself into content, which (along with mining) they see as exploitative.

I am reminded of their feature article in praise of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese maker of poignant animated films (fan girl, remember – I warned you): “Buried within the grandeur of these cartoon fables is a thrumming advocacy for kindness, understanding, and the path to both: resistance.” In a similar way, this is what Marlborough achieves in their own art.

“Rather than offering escapism, Ghibli reframes imagination – childlike and wild – as an essential weapon in the radical’s arsenal. Fantasy becomes the way of altering what is real, a way to fight back.”

Marlborough certainly has the gloves off.

Even if you’re a little curious, grab a ticket.

On Fringe is at the Rubix Bar again, 12 and 13 February, 2021.

Pictured top: Patrick Marlborough – “no standard issue stand-up”.

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Author —
Xan Ashbury

Xan Ashbury is a teacher who spent a decade writing for newspapers and magazines in Australia and the UK. She won the Shorelines Writing for Performance Prize in 2014-17. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the flying fox.

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