A whodunnit like you have never seen. That is the domain of three hapless private investigators out to solve a murder mystery. Film noir blended with slapstick, burlesque and circus, Dumtectives is highly creative, very clever, decidedly funny and deliciously rude.
Much is performed with a minimum of dialogue, save for a few well worded musical numbers, notably “I Got Away With It”, an original composition by Mal Webb, performed by Aurora Kurth. Three talented artistes and acrobats, Amy Nightingale-Olsen, Thomas McDonald and Leigh Rhodes – energetic, flexible and muscular – are joined for one act by a brilliant puppeteer, David Splatt.
The show starts with a “bang”, when a man in a white singlet and black pants stumbles onto the catwalk stage, bleeding fake blood and continually groaning. He clasps a thick white rope and proceeds to perform a very athletic routine, climbing to the roof of the Spiegeltent and undertaking a series of dangerous manoeuvres – all the while mock hurting. He even finds time to draw a chalk outline (with appendages) on a life size screen. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for him.
Then we are introduced to the Dumtectives, two statuesque men – one deliberately more effeminate than the other – and a significantly shorter woman, all dressed in trench coats and plaid yellow and grey. What they only do for the next 45 minutes is sensational.
A hat, a hot dog, hip flasks and soft toy weapons are all part of their repertoire. In so saying, they nonetheless display strength, stamina and dexterity. One man balances the other pair, a number of increasingly difficult juggling acts and a risqué strip show with a difference (who knew nipple mustard was a thing) are all part of the offering. So is “playing” with a mammoth “hard joint” and twirling cloth pizzas. Mind you, none of this is simply random.
As referenced earlier, the trio is out to solve a crime and their foot slogging … and car troubles are what this theatrical treat is all about. They have been engaged by a mysterious woman in a slinky red dress, long red gloves and platinum wig who appears out of nowhere claiming her husband has been done away with and the powers that be are trying to pin the deed on her. Of course she pleads her innocence.
How the woman is realised on stage is a high point – one of many – in the production. Later she reappears in different forms, including as a 20-centimetre marionette “performing” in front of a microphone (Wow!) and then again as the mystery is solved at the Dumtectives’ climax. That, though, is not before the three mainstays “interrogate” each other.
Laughter and applause abound throughout, as well they should. Nightingale-Olsen, McDonald and Rhodes make for a slick, wonderfully choreographed and daring team that turn bungling and hijinks into an art form. It is a great spectacle that unfolds at pace and without a dull moment.
I was left wondering who comes up with this off the wall material. In fact, it was the performers themselves. Dumtectives is a wild and thoroughly enjoyable ride that puts a smile on your dial from the get go and doesn’t let up until the triumphant finale. Directed by Jamie Bretman and Clare Bartholomew, it is playing in the Spiegeltent in front of Arts Centre Melbourne, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, until 18th April, 2021.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Return of Shafar (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) – theatre review
- A Bond Among Us (The Butterfly Club) – theatre review
- Black Santa (Fad Gallery) – stand-up comedy review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.