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January 28, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Stevl Shefn and his translator Fatima


Published 22/11/10 by www.artshub.com.au

Ah, the translation gag. What joke cannot be made utilising the timeless, dead-pan delivery of a poker-faced observer? Stevl Shefn milks the fake Eastern Euopean language schtick with the merciless repetition of a gag stretched beyond its limits. Fatima and Stevl commit to the joke with admirable staying power, and while it can run dry at points, there are a few gems; the in-depth conversation with the vacuum, the eastern-European gibberish anthem, and the sad-sack instrumental with an intro longer than the performance.

This show runs for an hour, and the concept of weird guy and translator is funny for about half that time. As my companion remarked, ‘after fifteen minutes, that was enough’. Stevl can’t break character or the show is over, and Fatima (his burqa-clad translator) would be left helpless on the side. There’s only so much you can milk from the translation gag, so much from the out-of-touch Eastern European before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There is only so far a plaid suit and incomprehensible language can take you. And after the show is finished, you may wonder; what the heck is the context for this show? Did the audience just happen to stumble across some bloke who likes to tell weird stories? Stevn Shefl is just that; a character with no context aside from the props he has on stage. Maybe he’d be more lucrative as a comedy tool if he had a background, a life the audience could imagine. After all, we are not offered a country, an age, or a family to connect with this oddball. It’s like having to sit next to the bloke in the large overcoat on the train, without the sexual innuendo (well, not quite so much innuendo anyway).

And so much could have been made of the mysterious Fatima’s burqa-clad existence. Isn’t there some kind of politically-incorrect gold mine of comedy there? Sure it may be controversial, but nothing about this show even hinted at pushing the envelope; it was quite happy to stay in the area of comfortable-yet-quirky, where a talking vacuum cleaner was the pinnacle of oddities.

Having said all that, I still giggled. It takes guts to stay in character for a full hour talking nothing but gibberish. And while this kind of comedy format presents a bucket load of restrictions, it’s interesting to see people giving it a shot. Just not for an hour.

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