Reviewed by Eleanor Strathern

Aaron Jelley has a great face. Jelley’s face is the kind that can deliver a punchline with a well-timed twitch and he has the audience at The Refinery Artspace transfixed on the subtleties in his delivery.

It is clear that Jelley is a competent stand-up; he would do well on stage with nothing but a mic, a light, and a collection of his delightfully specific analogies and anecdotes. But for his hour solo show, Jelley gives so much more to the performance and provides several avenues for laughs that keep the whole crowd either giggling, snorting, or (often in my case) cackling. Dabda rides the balance between theatrics and conversational stand-up comedy well and Jelley takes us on a wondrous ride through the five stages of grief and withdrawal.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are embodied by five larger-than-life characters all played by Jelley with fondness and familiarity. The first character we are introduced to, however, is Aaron as himself. An extremely affable character, Jelley kicks off the show with some apologies. Disclaimers are not usually a strong start to any show, but Jelley gets genuine laughs and empathy from the audience whilst apologising for both his sickness and the dark turns Dabda would take. Given the style of comedy Jelley delivers, there is room for apologies from the top. If he wanted, these could be developed further to help build the personal connection between Jelley and the audience rather than popped in on the fly.

Jelley is vulnerable with us right from the get go and we warm to him and his story, settling in to take the journey through rehabilitation. At this point the woman next to me realises why the show is called Dabda and exclaims, “Ooooh! He’s clever!” She loves a good acronym like I love a good autobiographical story. Her and I both remain impressed with Jelley’s wit and multiple talents throughout and, although we may have different expectations for the night, neither of us is disappointed.

Anyway, back to his face. Jelley creates characters that are reminiscent of cultural icons (I swear saw Tom Waits, Quentin Tarantino, Brian from Downstairs (Spaced), Edna Mode (The Incredibles), and a former Nelson College physics teacher grace the stage in fleeting moments) but all brought to us through the gloomy and relentlessly lovable face of Aaron Jelley. Combined with well thought-out prop humour and skillful guitar and loop pedal, my interest in what comes next never lulls. Of the characters presented on stage, there are clear crowd favourites; Denial, Anger and Acceptance kill it on stage, whilst Bargaining and Depression fall a bit short in comparison. Tropes used in these segments are missing some of Jelley’s originality and, crucially, we lost his face in these performances. Everyone was back on board in a big way when Jelley brings out his kazoo.

Dabda is a showcase of Aaron Jelley’s multiple talents within a format that is honest at the same time as it is silly and ridiculous. It is wonderful to be a part of the process of turning Jelley’s personal struggle into a source of joy. Jelley is part of a new generation of stand-up that is vulnerable, personal, and important and I am all about it. I can’t wait to see more from Aaron Jelley and his five right-hand men.


Dadba is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

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