A Guide to Unhappiness

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Magic and philosophy make strange bedfellows, but it’s the curious mix of the two that provides the gentle humour and charm of A Guide to Unhappiness, an almost sell-out show playing at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

This is a strange show to describe, with its blend of magic, music, storytelling, and stand-up. The narrative is itself deceptively simple, unfolding like a fable. Opening with video footage of writer-performer Sunny Leunig performing magic tricks as a young boy, we learn of Leunig’s childhood anxieties and his subsequent struggle with depression as an adult. Leunig and co-writer and performer Jono Burns then re-enact Leunig’s rediscovery of magic during a trip to Germany, reflecting meanwhile on the sources of melancholy in his life.

Throughout, Leunig also shows off a series of very skillful magic tricks, to the amazement of his small but appreciative audience. Leunig’s on-stage persona is endearing, both soulful and self-aware. He is matched by the energetic Burns, who takes up all the supporting roles in Leunig’s tale with humour and aplomb. Musician Sara Retallick is the anti-glamorous female sidekick, a send-up in reverse of the smiling magician’s assistant.

It becomes apparent that the blend of magic and philosophy—trademarked by Leunig as “magosophy”—makes more sense than it would first appear. Both practices deal, in their respective ways, with illusion and reality and, for Leunig at least, both demanded the stamina and discipline he needed to pull himself out of his depressive pit.

Although small in scale, this show draws on its various resources with great skill and pathos, resulting in an affecting hour of entertainment with a lot to admire.

A Guide to Unhappiness is playing at The Loft at the Lithuanian Club, Melbourne Fringe Festival until October 14. For tickets visit www.melbournefringe.com.au.

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