The aptly named A Guide to Unhappiness is a tedious journey through magic and philosophy by ‘Magosopher’ Sunny Leunig, his able magic assistant and cowriter, Jono Burns, and their depressed musical assistant Sad Sack Sara (Sara Retallick), who looks like the audience feels.
There are a few genuine laughs to be had, and the magic is all performed beautifully, although there’s nothing new or spectacular to add any ‘wow’ factor. Leunig, and Retallick in particular, both have good voices and are fine musicians but the musical element is minimal. Instead, what is presented is a plodding piece of bad amateur variety poorly directed by Anne Browning. It would work better, perhaps, in the small, intimate setting of a general Fringe venue instead of a larger, curated Festival.
Leunig is not, it seems, a good actor, and his attempts to create an awkward character simply make for an awkward show. It lacks pace, suffers from poor delivery of lines, and fails to entertain overall. Retallick has the potential to upstage regularly with the sheer blandness of her presence, but she barely manages to garner a chuckle, let alone a laugh. Thankfully Burns adds some life to the show with his characterisations of people from Leunig’s past, but ham acting only works if the rest of the cast is on board.
As a guide to unhappiness, it succeeds in abundance. The polite applause by the end of this very long 70-minute show spoke volumes and confirms the unfathomable mystery of how such a bad show made its way into an otherwise sensational Cabaret Festival.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Venue: Artspace, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 21-22 June 2013
Duration: 70 minutes
Tickets: $19.90 – $34.90
Bookings: Book at BASS