A GENEROUS GIVING OF SELF
NZ International Comedy Festival 2012|
JOSEPH HARPER in MARCHING TOWARD DEATH WITH WOBBLY LEGS LIKE A VELOCIRAPTOR
at Tararua Tramping Club, Mt Victoria, Wellington
From 3 May 2012 to 4 May 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 4 May 2012
Few performers would contemplate developing a 45-minute comedy festival show around their mother's multiple sclerosis (MS) but Joseph Harper has always come at writing and performing from an unusual angle. As always, Marching Toward Death with Wobbly Legs Like a Velociraptor is extremely personal.
If you thought the title meant he was back on his bicycles (cf: Bikes I Have Known versus Girl I Have Fallen In Love With and The Boy and the Bicycle ) – no: that's velocipedes. The Velociraptor simile, derived from Jurassic Park, references his mother's mode of movement these days, and is Harper's self-confessed way of using humour to negotiate one of the milestones most of us have to reach at some point.
Our relationship with death invariably changes as we grow up, never more profoundly than with the first death of a parent. For me it was my father's sudden and unexpected departure at 57; the vanishing an immutable and reliable part of my known universe which threw me off an axis I'd totally taken for granted. Everyone's experience is different in detail but "wobbly" probably fits most in some way.
What's unusual about this one is that both of Harper's parents are still alive but the nature of his mother's slowly approaching death is totally predictable for her and everyone else, and the wobbles are currently hers, at least in their physical form.
In my review of Harper's most recent show, Honey, in this year's Fringe, I called his style 'theatre by stealth'. It would be remiss of me not to mention there is no 'theatre' of that kind in Marching Toward Death with Wobbly Legs Like a Velociraptor. It's just Harper talking; apologising initially for not being one of the much more high-profile comedians on stage around town, then sharing his experiences, feelings and observations about death vis-à-vis his mother.
As we hear about how death has turned up in his life, we cannot help but recall our own experiences, which of course enhances the sense of engagement. His first funeral experience is comically poignant. The question of what sort of death we would choose if we could is darkly whimsical.
But it's his youthful attempts to explain exactly how it feels to be in his shoes, to find an equivalent in literature, and to help us comprehend 'the fourth dimension' and find comfort in that, through participation in a simple 'thought experiment', that makes this 'show' special.
It could so easily have been self indulgent and/or maudlin but Harper has a wilfully honest way of doing things that makes you realise, in retrospect, that – even if you want to tell him to get off his 'me-myself-and-I treadmill' – he has been generous in giving of himself, so that we may better understand our selves and our world.
And he only asks for a koha afterwards if we think it was worth it. His loyal following on opening night certainly seemed to think it was.
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