Emma Holland and Frankie McNair: “Emma’s Debutante” at Melbourne 2024

**** (out of 5)

A late-night showcase at a festival tends to find its most success when it has a strong grip on its premise while maintaining the loosest flexibility to go with the flow, even when and especially if the flow turns into a spill requiring the hosts to break character. Emma Holland and Frankie McNair found themselves alternatingly relishing and reeling from such moments multiple times during the opening night of “Emma’s Debutante,” a show that already asks their audiences to suspend their disbelief so Emma can be 15 again while Frankie plays Emma’s mom, Michelle, just trying yet failing, or flailing, to give her a proper party to celebrate her impending womanhood. Her debutante ball might not have quite the topical theme Emma had hoped for, but it certainly achieves the “chaotic live-action soap opera” feel that her stage mom was going for, if that soap opera were Australia’s long-running Neighbours (which should’ve made mom a star, if not for a freak accident and a certain blonde bombshell).

A different trio of comedians from the festival play the parts of Emma’s special guests, ranging from the grotesque to the pink, and by pink, we mean acrobatic rock singer P!nk. Opening night’s guests included Alex Hines, Hannah Camilleri, and Roy O’Leary, all showing up in character.

It appears that Holland and McNair did mean to break the fourth wall at least once during the show, although perhaps you’re not always going to get the sheer shock value that came from the duo realizing in the moment that they left a necessary prop back home in the refrigerator, or that a freshly new ex-boyfriend might be in the audience. Regardless, though, there was unmistakable joy in watching McNair stomp offstage at one point after a reference to what happened at the festival last year, prompting Holland to exclaim: “This show is fucking awesome?!”

Emma Holland and Frankie McNair present Emma’s Debutante late-night Fridays-Sundays through 20 April at the 2024 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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