After more than a decade apart, comedy duo Lano and Woodley have lost none of their charm, says Robert Reid
The most remarkable thing about comedy duo Lano and Woodley – the alter egos of Colin Lane and Frank Woodley, together again after 12 years – is how little time seems to have passed. Their hair is a bit greyer, their paunches a touch saggier, but they’re no less funny and, crucially, no less skilled.
Their new show, Lano and Woodley in Lano and Woodley, is a mix of new material and classic routines. It’s a little like a Greatest Hits album, a collection of the comfortingly familiar and perhaps less polished recent work.
Both are accomplished performers in their own right, but together they still share the on-stage intimacy that signals a comedic partnership of decades. Each amuses the other, though Col is still more liable to break and laugh than Frank. They slip into their stock characters – Col the uptight straight man and Frank the wide eyed innocent – as easily as a pair of old, comfy pants.
It’s striking how much of the physical comedy and banter they bring to the show has deep roots in comic traditions. They remind you immediately of the famous comedy duos – Abbott and Costello, Rik and Ade, George and Gracie. They blend vaudeville and comedy, making it seem effortless, almost natural. If you look carefully, you can see the craftsmanship that goes into their work, the years of experience on the cabaret and club circuit.
It’s not just a retrospective of their best routines, though there are familiar sketches. I particularly remember the game of tennis from back when they were Found Objects and there were three of them. It’s a confection of nonsense and irritation: Frank interrupts and confounds Col, while Col tries to maintain a sense of professionalism – though after all this time you can see he still can’t quite take it seriously.
It’s remarkable how an hour of almost non-stop frantic activity can say almost exactly nothing and be built of nothing. There’s no story, there’s no character development. It’s the most accomplished and detailed version of stuffing about on stage that I think I’ve ever seen.
I will say I’ve never been completely convinced by the songs that intersperse the routines, and this show doesn’t change that. The audience loves them – they have a sweetness, especially when Frank sings – but for me the songs lack the raw impact of the Doug Anthony All Stars or the wit of Tripod. To me they have always have felt like jokes at the expense of music, set to music. They can both sing – Col’s 100 Green Bottles almost accidentally demonstrates a complex blues that parodies Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, and Frank can definitely play that guitar. But I’d be just as be happy with more of routines and fewer songs.
There’s a lot of light audience interaction. Mostly we’re used as a foil by one against the other, clapping to demonstrate who is most popular (it’s Frank of course). Col keeps calling on the latecomers from early in the show, playing to them, building a relationship with them and, through them, with us. Frank finds another audience member in the front row whose name he struggles to remember all night.
And of course, there are lots of references to Covid and the lockdowns. Always in passing, always light and quick, not getting bogged down in it, but not ignoring it either. I guess most shows in this year’s festival are finding some way to talk about it; after all, it’s the biggest shared experience we’ve been through collectively in decades.
Lano and Woodley are a part of Australian comedy history and it’s excellent after so long to get a chance to see them together, live on stage again, doing what they really do best: being themselves and getting in each other’s way.
Lano and Woodley in Lano and Woodley, by Colin Lane and Frank Woodley, presented at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival.