Presented by: Adelaide Fringe Festival
Reviewed: 20 February 2018
They say ‘life begins at 40’. If you’re eternally youthful entertainer Bob Downe, that number doesn’t exist – hence the title of his latest show. Australia’s own ‘Prince of Polyester’ has entertained audiences for over 30 years wearing a litany of sparkling sequins and safari suits. The creation of the multi-skilled Mark Trevorrow, Downe has travelled the world in a vast range of shows which have highlighted his talents. From singing classic pop songs to bitchy showbiz gossip, Downe is the type of evergreen friend we all like to have. Having seen him in very different shows such as World War Bob where he explored a range of war songs, the character has evolved over time. With his new show Bob Downe’s 39th Birthday Bash, he goes back to basics by providing a variety cabaret show resting comfortably on his glittery laurels.
Presenting its world premiere at the Adelaide Fringe Festival within the confines of the Fortuna Spiegeltent, Downe burst on the stage like a neon Knight in shining armour. Backed by a 4-piece band of two guitarists, keyboardist and drummer respectively, Downe began singing tunes from ABBA and others. It’s a well-worn road Trevorrow’s character has travelled and with his latest production, it shows. Downe’s vital freshness appears to have given way to a jaded persona, relying on a heavily used bag of tricks for laughs. Whilst the humour generally hits the target, the reliance on old gags reveals a character running out of steam. Downe’s interaction with the audience was still great and he knows how to draw out the comedy in that type of situation. But when on stage, it feels like a performer going through the motions – forcing the character out on the arena instead of effortlessly ‘being’ the role as previously.
This is perhaps most evident when Downe has a troupe of special guests to help him celebrate his birthday milestone. Sydney drag artist Cindy Pastel put in a boisterous appearance during a rowdy rendition of Lola, complete with local Adelaide references. Everyone’s favourite German entertainer Hans showed up as well as the divine Anne Wills and her sister for a few brassy numbers. When with his guests, it was clear Downe was better suited as a solo character and not having to rely on others to pump up his show. Whilst Hans was as delectable as ever with Ms. Wills giving it her all, the Cindy Pastel moments weren’t entertaining or funny and stopped the show dead in its tracks. This highlighted its ‘stop/start’ nature as the pacing suffered with the many flat spots revealing the somewhat unrehearsed feel of the show overall.
Without doubt the backing band was the best part of the show. Their music skills were top notch and really added to the party atmosphere the show desperately needed. The Fortuna Spiegeltent was a fine venue, it was just the show itself appeared very unfocussed and unsure where to go. Jokes about Adelaide and Australian culture were amusing enough and Downe’s vocal range still shines after all these years. The costumes and dancing were suitably kitsch but these elements needed a better thought out event to showcase them. Something like World War Bob is more interesting as it had Downe explore another facet of pop culture from a different era done in his own style. Bob Downe’s 39th Birthday Bash was just more of the same by comparison, a rather lacklustre effort devoid of consistent laughs.
Bob Downe has done much better shows than this with more creativity needed to maintain the character’s sparkle. They say 40 is an age where people take stock. Perhaps it’s time for Downe to reflect on his career and forge new horizons otherwise he’ll be in danger of becoming the type of celebrity he has parodied for decades.
Reviewed by: Patrick Moore
Rating out of 5: 2.5
Venue: Fortuna Spiegeltent at the Garden of Unearthly Delights
Season: 20 – 22 February 2018
Duration: 1 hr.
Tickets: Full Price – $40.00, Concession – $35.00.