The “dead dad” show has become a standup genre unto itself in recent years – but that isn’t the half of it in Aussie act Michelle Brasier’s Average Bear. It is about a life that lacked hardship, then overflowed with it, as the gilded daughter of Wagga in New South Wales migrated to theatre school in Melbourne, and got more drama than she bargained for.
It’s a show that combines storytelling, standup and song, but is a little deficient in structure: Brasier performs a tenuous framing device in character as a bear, and withholds the point of it all a little too long as her undramatic youth unfolds.
These opening stages are always entertaining, as the Aunty Donna collaborator relates her juvenile crush on Aladdin and sings a hymn to the outbuilding where she and her schoolmates honed their sexual skills. It helps that her voice packs a serious punch – and that her partner, Tim Lancaster, puts in a shift as both stooge and backing guitarist. But there is a “so what?” factor at play as these so-so stories unfold – until a dramatic incident in Melbourne sends Brasier’s fortunes into a downward spiral.
What follows is not at all comical, as our host loses two loved ones to cancer, and must reckon with the likelihood, she’s told, of developing the disease herself. Yes, Brasier finds ways to soften the story’s blows, with songs about condolence and a tale of a possum set loose upon her face. But as she shares her hard-won carpe diem philosophy, the learning is as high in the mix as the laughs.
Where the bear fits in, meanwhile, is anyone’s guess. Brasier book-ends the show with appearances as her ursine alter ego, before explaining to us – and it’s a bit of a stretch – why she’s done so. It was partly, she tells us, because she doubted her own story would be enough. Those doubts were unfounded: she tells (and sings) a compelling autobiographical tale here, of a youth spent wishing for struggle, and a young adulthood fielding more than she could handle.
At Soho theatre, London, until 11 March