From the twisted imaginations of the new breed in the comedy underground comes the most wickedly funny version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory you’ll ever see.
“The idea first came when I was about 12 years old. I known Charlie [Garber, actor] since I was eight; we used to call each other up, turn the sound down on an old movie on SBS and do the voices,” recalls director Eddie Sharpe. And from late nights of funny voices, Wonka! was born. In the tradition of Bargearse, What’s up Tigerlily? and Hercules Returns, Wonka! is a ‘cinema remix’, whereby the 1971 Willy Wonka film is recut and re-voiced by a team of actors and foley artists – live. What was an admittedly already twisted tale of kids in search of candy is now a slapstick story of Nazis, transvestites, acid freakouts, bad poetry and a river of poop, jokes laid over the foundation of the search for a Polish Princess. “The plot actually came last,” Eddie admits. “Zoe [Coombes-Marr, co-writer/ producer] insisted on it, so we had to add one. Before then it was just a series of gags.” Let the theatre purists roll in their graves: Wonka! is unashamedly populist art, a dying breed in a city choking on self-important, self-referencing artistes. Eddie cites The Late Show first when asked to list influences, a milestone in intelligent yet accessible, contemporary Australian comedy. “Wonka! was always about being the kind of experimental theatre show your cousin from out of town could see and not think is weird,” Eddie agrees.
Like most great art, Wonka! was plagued by the usual technical nightmares, deadline blow-outs and difficult schedule juggling. A three month turnaround became eight. Halfway through pre-production, Eddie’s computer crashed, losing the entire unbacked-up script. All the players involved – loosely known as the AV Club – were busy with a million other projects, so rehearsals were few and far between. The first night of the show according to Eddie was “terrible. They all forgot their lines,” he laughs. “Luckily no one noticed.”
From a background in performance and video art at the College of Fine Arts [who also financially supported the production through the now-defunct Students Association – thanks to VSU!], Wonka! was Eddie and Zoe’s first large scale show. It was originally imagined as a ‘creative icebreaker’ – an excuse to have fun working with fellow students and friends Charlie Garber, Kenzie McKenzie, Xannon Shirley and Phoebe Torzillo, among others. But what was intended to be ‘just an exercise’ became an overnight cult hit. Both shows saw the comfy, grungy warehouse space of Lanfranchis packed to the rafters, punters pulled in by almost strictly word-of-mouth rave reviews. The surprise success of the first run has since warranted the fast approaching second season, plus inclusion in the Melbourne Comedy Festival, all of which is “completely weird” to Eddie. “At first, I really didn’t think it was any good,” he says honestly. “But now I couldn’t have imagined it going any better.”
So what’s next for the AV Club? Hillsong. “We all got a bit pissed and on a collective dare went to Hillsong in Waterloo. It was amazing. I’d recommend anyone to go. It’s like a Bon Jovi concert crossed with a Nazi rally.” We’re there.