Fringe review: The Coconuts

Sweet-faced and sharp-tongued, The Coconuts make their Fringe debut with Brown on the Outside, White on the Inside ­– a lively blend of storytelling, stand-up, songs, and slideshows. ★★★★

Mar 08, 2023, updated Mar 08, 2023

Leela Varghese and Shabana Azeez are an Adelaide duo who perform musical comedy in the tradition of Flight of the Conchords. Their opening song, which describes the packed-out tent in Gluttony as the “second-most beautiful audience” they’ve ever seen, certainly has echoes of the Conchords classic “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)”.

Like the Conchords, The Coconuts accompany their original songs on guitar. Azeez’s turns out to be more of a guitar-shaped plush toy, so it is Varghese’s acoustic strumming that provides the backing for most of the show. Later, she also brings out a delightfully janky 1980s guitar synthesiser with dubious-sounding organ and harpsichord settings.

Personal stories and reflections are sprinkled throughout the set, as are some well-placed slideshow presentations. Azeez takes us through these with excellent comedic timing. After an introduction to the performers’ contrasting cultural backgrounds and upbringings, we learn where famous figures such as Donald Trump, Mr Bean and Mindy Kaling fall on “The Coconuts’ Guide to Brownness” scale, and get a glimpse into Azeez’s traumatic phobia of cats.

What reliably gets the duo their biggest laughs is their knack for flipping without warning from sweet-natured charm to foul-mouthed humour. There are whole songs devoted to awkward sexual encounters, as well as a running joke about fancying grandmothers. Some of the tamer numbers (such as one exploring the annoyance posed by slow walkers) are saved from being forgettable by an off-colour aside dropped casually at the last moment.

They tackle more serious subjects, too: racism on a micro and systemic level, the meaning behind the loaded term “coconuts”, casual misogyny, mental health, and queer sexuality, to name a few. It’s a wide range of material, and they get through it at a rapid clip. With many songs coming in at under a minute, there is rarely time to give these topics more than a cursory glance, but there’s no time to get bored, either.

It’s a touching surprise for everyone (including the performer herself, it seems) when Varghese’s voice catches on an upwelling of real emotion during the show’s final moments as she reflects on the joy of finding a kindred comedy spirit in Azeez. Their closing duet is a moving and, naturally, very funny ode to their friendship.

Take your own best friends along to this joyfully offbeat show, but maybe leave the kids (and Grandma) at home.

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The Coconuts: Brown on the Outside, White on the Inside is playing at The Bally at Gluttony until March 19.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.



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