REVIEW: The Specialists

Michael Sams plays all four characters in 'The Specialists,' staged at the Empire Theatre until Sunday. IMAGES: Supplied

It’s clear no one can get e-NAFA the first North Australian Festival of Arts – every time we’ve walked through Queens Gardens, the grassed area in front of the main stage has been complemented by a spattering of families on picnic rugs or in camper chairs; the big tops each hum with echoes of the laughter and applause within, luring you to book tickets to the next shows staged; and the backdrop of Halo is nothing short of beautiful.

It was back into this hive of activity we dove into last night, to catch the world premiere of local Michael Sams’ original work, The Specialists.

The production, both written and performed by Michael, introduces the audience to four different enthusiastic men presenting at the very first Ideas Conference. The most experienced and knowledgeable people were approached at first, of course – but as they weren’t available, a selection of people with some experience in their chosen fields presented in their place.

The night opens with Michael donning the coat of Reverend Phil Smythe Junior … Junior. It was hard to tell if Phil had spent more time studying scripture or his DVD cabinet, with more movie references than I think anyone in the audience could possibly count. The reverend earned the least laughs out of the characters, which is nothing against him – because there were still plenty of laughs as we heard of the connection between man and woah, man.

Next on stage was Professor Xavier Zinc – an incredibly learned man on all matter of things, but particularly sexology. Xavier is a fan of growers, showers, and those unfortunate souls who do neither. The pop culture references continued through Xavier’s presentation, taking us through a thorough examination or erogenous zones (for those who haven’t already been educated by Monica Geller).

Following the professor was fitness guru Shawn Brawn – who was a spitting image of two gym owners I’ve been unlucky enough to chat to over the past couple of weeks. Michael was the perfect caricature of every protein-shaking steroid-slipping gym junkie, inducing laughs from his very first pose and with an accent that will have you questioning if you’d spotted him in an episode of Kath and Kim.

The final specialist, and a true highlight of the show, was NIDA graduate Mr Flair – who has starred in at least two commercials (for products you definitely wouldn’t want to be associated with) and – has he mentioned it already? – studied at NIDA. His performance was effervescent, bubbly, and Townsville’s answer to Mr G, with an incredible audience participation moment (when someone was finally willing to volunteer).

It was no surprise that Michael’s performance was strong – with a string of acting credits already under his belt locally and nationally, he knows how to draw attention – but his ability to keep the crowd enraptured for an hour-long one-man show was commendable. The script was incredibly clever and hilarious, testament to his collaboration with Theatre iNQ’s Terri Brabon, the Comedy Generation’s Laurie Page and Creative Concepts’ Julie Johnston.

Attention was fought for in places, as the noises of outside activity sought to overpower Michael on stage. This caused a visible irritation in its first instance, but it didn’t take Michael long to roll with it and include the Festival in his performance, earning some of the biggest cheers of the night as he complained about ‘Hicksville’s country music.’ Festivals are incredibly exciting, with different performances around every corner – but yes, when tents are set up beside stages, one can overpower the other. While it can be seen as a negative, it’s something so encouraging for Townsville’s arts scene, and was evident last night – as we left the performance, people outside were asking what the show was and how many more nights it was on for, while the exiting audience was drawn to the main stage to cheer for band 33 1/3.

The Specialists is an incredibly clever piece of theatre, easily adaptable to its venue and audience, and earnt laughs with every prayer, knee lick, squat, and tree imitation. Congratulations to Michael Sams on what I am sure won’t be his last solo piece of theatre, and I hope The Specialists is reprised after the Festival when it isn’t fighting for audience numbers.

Catch The Specialists at the Empire Theatre, Queens Gardens until Sunday, with performances at 9pm tonight, 7pm tomorrow and 8:30pm on Sunday. Click here for tickets.

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