Watching Joshua Ladgrove feels like mining the gold seam of character comedy. Known for portraying Neal Portenza, who recently announced his retirement from comedy, Joshua Ladgrove is now playing Neal Portenza playing “Joshua Ladgrove: the greatest bilge pump salesman in the Australasian region”. This conundrum sets you up pretty well for the ensuing eccentricity.
I’ve recently been seeing a lot of comedy that veers towards a serious ending, and while reflective performances are effective and important, Ladgrove’s pure escapist hilarity makes for a wonderful evening where you can just throw back your head and laugh. He grasps the creative liberty the Fringe offers to plumb the depths of absurdity. What he finds there is rib-ticklingly funny but the skill in his performance comes from grounding it in the mundane and well-known reality of exuberant sales people. Allowing himself the space to stamp on the barriers of normalcy, he always returns to the capable hands of ‘Joshua Ladgrove: Bilge pump salesman’ to both send up this type of character and give the absurdity a meaningful anchor. His performance progresses with twists that never fail to surprise the audience and seem obvious in hindsight, building towards an ever-funnier show.
The truly impressive talent that sets him apart is the connection he builds with the audience. The intimate and slightly ramshackle basement venue is ideally suited to the constant interaction that gees up the punters. He stirs a skillful cocktail of charm, embarrassing the audience members, and getting everyone to shout his bilge pump sales chants. Dashes of improv keep the act feeling fresh, and, using the first part of the show to churn out in-jokes with the audience, he takes advantage of well-placed callbacks to get everyone on side.
His enthusiastic commitment to the character is totally captivating and leaves a crowd of hunched over gigglers. I can confidently say this is the best seminar I’ve ever attended, and I’ll be packing in the reviewing to devote more time to selling bilge pumps.