Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Stevenson Experience: Spot the Difference

James and Benjamin Stevenson
The Stevenson Experience: Spot the Difference, created and performed by Benjamin and James Stevenson.  At The Street Theatre 1, Canberra, Saturday March 24, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Ben and James Stevenson in
The Stevenson Experience

Now that I’ve stopped laughing, this is serious.  Despite one review a year ago of their earlier show Identical as Anything (“Their songs are catchy enough, but the content of their comedy is overly puerile and questionable..." by Joe Dolan, The, the Stevenson Twins, in their new show this year, Spot The Difference, still have catchy songs and puerile jokes – but that’s the point of their comedy.

How puerile indeed is so much of what purports to be ‘social’ on the internet.  The audience, mostly about the same age or a bit younger than the 28 the boys claimed to be, seated around time-worn me, got all the details of the jokes – many of which I missed – because they recognised the teenage-bitch quality in themselves.  In my maturity, I’m not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and the Stevensons have made be glad I’m not.

Of course, I recognised myself in the Stevenson parents’ text messages and emails.  Like them I like to be precise and careful about what I write, as well as making the occasional Dad and even Grandad apocryphal joke, though I hope I’m not quite as gormless as their father seems to be.

So what makes their show worth going to?  The serious answer, considering Benjamin’s insistence throughout the show that he is an intellectual and it's all about Art, would be the Menaechmi by the ancient Roman playwright Plautus.  In that play the twins are separated when young when their father takes Menaechmus to another country on business.  After their father dies, their grandfather, with the other twin in the original country, renames Sosicles ‘Menaechmus’.  As adults in a third country, chaos (ie comedy) reigns as people can’t tell the difference between the two Menaechmi.

The Stevensons have not been separated, so their experience is about their growing up together – looking alike to the degree that Ben took James’ driving test, so James had a driver’s licence for ID purposes with Ben’s photo on it; and so had to use Ben’s photo for his passport.  But, he discovered, German face recognition software saw the difference – with chaotic comic consequences, on a par with Plautus’s plot.

So what I like about The Stevenson Experience but not
is that it has something of a play about it, more than standard stand-up comedy. 

The twins play characters in a story which reflects on the lives of young people in the internet age in contrast to the past.  Time becomes a philosophical question, since James was born 30 minutes before his brother Ben.  They live in Sydney, but James insists that Ben is really in Adelaide (where the Central Australian time difference is 30 minutes behind Eastern Australian time). 

Of course, this sort of argument is puerile (literally from the Latin meaning ‘childish’), but the silly argument is funny because it is silly – yet it has implications for Ben’s feelings of being put down by James (especially because Adelaide is seen as a less than exciting city compared to Sydney, and we Australians all get the joke). 

Fortunately, as in Menaechmi when the identical twins finally meet, the Stevenson twins clearly get along – they couldn’t possibly write and improvise so well together otherwise, and the comedy has a happy ending, which deserves all our applause.

Benjamin Stevenson and James Stevenson