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The Recidivists

"a 70-minute road to hell paved with very good intentions"

The Recidivists are back. Rob Johnson explains why he and Harry Milas can't help but reoffend.

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The Recidivists: Serial comedians

Date: 17 Jan 2020

Recidivist

noun – One who relapses into a previous behaviour or condition; a habitual criminal.

“That’s a cool word,” I said out loud to nobody upon reading this definition seven years ago after coming across it in an article and dutifully going to my Dictionary app for assistance.

“That’s a cool word,” said my friend and comedy partner Harry Milas the following year when we were brainstorming ideas for a Sydney Fringe application and couldn’t come up with a title.

I suggested that The Recidivists sounded like a pretty gnarly name for a show. So we put it on the application and decided to worry about what the word actually meant later. And who cares anyway? Titles are silly and “recidivist” is a cool word.

The fact that it is now 2020 and Harry and I are about to present a heavily re-written and re-imagined version of that 2014 lo-fi Fringe spectacular at the Old Fitz is more than vaguely bemusing. Not because we doubt the show in any way – quite the opposite. In fact, we’re pleasantly puzzled that it has come to mean so much since its rather haphazard inception in 2014.

What started as a bag-of-bones sketch show with a reverse-engineered theme of recidivism tacked on to make the whole thing sound smart is now an intricate and rather personal story about flawed people striving earnestly to overcome their circumstances. And invariably failing.

Should I have put a spoiler alert there?

Too late. It wouldn’t be a show about recidivism if the characters didn’t fail, anyway. If you wished to be philosophical, you could describe The Recidivists as a 70-minute road to hell paved with very good intentions.

I shouldn’t use the word “philosophical.” Like “recidivist,” it’s a deceptively intellectual word to apply to this show.

As a writer and performer, I love faux intellectualism like nothing else. Creating characters and situations that are rigid, academic and untouchably esoteric and then revealing their perversity is my happy place.

So beware the smug philosophy pedalled by some characters in The Recidivists. If they sound too smart for their own good, they’re probably going to cop it. But then again, now that I think about it, some of them don’t. I’m one of the writers and I’m not doing a great job of summarising this show’s thematic.

Probably because The Recidivists is, first and foremost, a comedy. A very, very silly comedy.

In fact, I think I can speak for Harry by saying that the show is far sillier (and funnier) than we ever hoped it could be.

Harry and I have always loved exploring the realms of quiet, friendly alienation – taking an audience by the hand and going down a very strange path only to end up back at home safe and sound.

If you join us on this particular journey, you’ll encounter a character singing a love song from underneath a hessian sack, someone who coughs up eggs when they’re anxious, and an unstable talent agent with a fascination for barrels of acid.

Harry and I play every character, with most of our changes happening onstage in full view of the audience. One of my costumes is pulled directly from a bin at one point. Along the way we hope to make you laugh a lot and maybe think a little bit, while also sharing our interest in lounge classics, the works of David Lynch, and the origins of modern psychiatry.

This is all without mentioning that the main character in the show is Carl Jung.

It makes total sense when you see it.

Putting The Recidivists together this time around has been a great collaborative experience. Harry and I have performed as a duo for years, but haven’t done a “show show” together for a while.

To reunite and reinvigorate this sneakily personal and purposeful show that we first chucked on for a laugh in 2014 is very exciting. And fun. And oh man, is it silly. You won’t be able to fault us there.

The Recidivists plays at the Old Fitzroy Theatre January 21-26.

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