Festival review: Splitting the bill: Michael Workman & Tommy Little/Michael Workman - Mercy; Gilded Balloon

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NEITHER of these Australians splitting a double bill wears out their 30-minute welcome.

Blond bombshell Michael Workman delivers ruminations on cats, dogs, smoking and bemusing drive-by abuse in his home town. But worries about one day being told by a doctor that he has Aids feel very dated, and adding a rider that the condition is manageable today doesn’t make it any funnier.

Workman is good company; his delivery is confident, though the odd mumbling between subjects as he wanders back and forth is a tad unnerving. Maybe it’s meant to be.

He doesn’t seem to go in for audience interaction, whereas Tommy Little bounds onto the stage like a puppy, thrilled to see so many lovely humans. He’s soon getting to know the punters, but the banter isn’t a substitute for jokes and stories; it’s a way into his material.

And where Little’s material meets his fearlessly friendly delivery, that’s sublime. Subjects include the non-joys of Saturday night singledom, his dad’s conviction that he’s gay and the secret motivations of gym members. My favourite story involves his brother and bread thickness, but it’s a close call – the audience was roaring from beginning to end.

Splitting the Bill – Michael Workman & Tommy Little

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue 14)

Rating: ****

Workman is an apt name, as Michael has a second show earlier in the day. Mercy is a “‘sentimental absurdist fantasy” about Augustus, who dares criticise Castro in Sixties Cuba.

His words see him separated from wife Frida and baby Claudia, tossed out to sea in a boat loaded with personality-filled cabbages. Encounters with sharks, an angel and a star-maker ensue before Augustus’s story comes to a close.

Rather than straight-up storytelling, Workman involves cartoons on cards and a cardboard TV, along with songs – the boy’s a talented pianist. Shark Facts is lots of fun and, appropriately, informative. A second number, which I suspect hits a big emotional beat, sounded wonderful but even from the front row the words couldn’t be made out.

The moral of the story is indeed sentimental, but it’s a good one. Earnest in an entertaining way, Mercy won’t change the world, but it certainly warms the heart.

Michael Workman – Mercy

Gilded Balloon at Third Door (Venue 24)

Rating: ***

• Splitting the Bill until 26 August, tomorrow 10:45pm. Mercy until 26 August, tomorrow 12:45pm.