Hot on the heels of co-creating 2018’s Holt! The Musical in his home city, inventive Sydney comedian Alexander Richmond attempts something considerably less political – but similarly bizarre – in The Marvellous Snake Boy. Adapting the Mowgli trope, Richmond is our titular Snake Boy, raised by snakes in the wild and discovered by a scientist keen to reintegrate him into society. Naturally, he elects to use Fringe audiences to teach him everything he needs to know – including standup comedy.
This is, of course, the perfect excuse to deconstruct the art form – and human behaviour – all while having some fun with the crowd. Lightly interactive, Richmond has a knack for unthreatening participation, playfully getting us to guide his linguistic and motor skill development (“Teach him language! Teach him arms and legs!” cries the show description). It’s a brief but heartwarming space designed to show off the comic’s improvisational talents.
This delightful device is woefully underutilised, as the show then hastily progresses through other areas of his humanising education. The karaoke segments are fun, and again harmlessly interactive, but arguably take up space that should’ve been given to the more exciting spontaneity of an audience teaching a clueless snake-child. (Though even the karaoke format becomes cleverly deconstructed; we won’t spoil how.)
There’s a core of something brilliant glowing here, but it’s snuffed out by a conflicted ambition. We may have taught him arms and legs, but we still have so much more to teach him.