Who knew killer whales have a funny bone?!
I must admit that I have never seen Free Willy, but I have seen Blackfish, which meant I approached Dom O’Keefe’s show on Friday night with a somewhat jaundiced view. This wasn't helped by the fact that my laughter button had definitely been depressed by the scorching weather and the sweltering conditions in the Old Fire Station Loft. I guess seeing the original film might have helped but I doubt it would have brought me to the level of outrageous gales of laughter coming from the woman in the back row. My ignorance was helped by Dom’s accompanying visuals and film excerpts – certainly enough to get the gags - and as they mainly centred around self-revelatory and self-deprecating humour on Dom’s part, not being a 'Willyhead' hardly seemed to matter.
Dom opened the show with his stated intention to re-enact all 112 mins of his beloved childhood film – solo except for one audience member, Harry, playing adopted child Jesse from the movie. Actually, he just used the Free Willy motif as a framework on which to hang his experiential jokes. He also acknowledged the Hollywood interpretation of the story and frequently referred to Sea World sub-textually as the villains of the piece, as he drew parallels between Willy’s captivity and his own recent experiences as a children’s party entertainer culminating in his inability to interpret Hanukkah through the medium of kid’s entertainment.
He then riffed on the parallels between Willy’s experience of captivity and the experiences of his adopted brother in the care system - 16 different caregivers in 16 months. He eventually joined Dom’s 'forever family' which culminated in a hilarious mock social work health and safety risk assessment of Jesse becoming a killer whale trainer at the tender age of eight.
As well as Dom’s mastery of comedic language, his performance was interspersed with a great deal of energetic physical comedy. Seeing as just laughing was making me too hot to breathe, I dread to think how dehydrated Dom ended up. With the help of audience member (and as it turned out Dom’s flatmate and able yo-yoer Harry) Dom was able to re-enact Willy’s dramatic Sea World show which crescendoed with a giant leap through a hoop (even though Dom was always careful to keep one foot on the floor) for which he was rewarded with cake and much laughter.
In addition to the show referencing extensively the Free Willy franchise movies I-IV (who knew), Dom also gave a popular impression of Ian McKellan as Gandalf, interplayed his humour with digs at the care system, the role of DVDs in the criminal justice system, Hollywood, stage fright, political correctness, whale-napping, cake etc. This culminated in a neat dovetail between Willy’s story and his own family’s experience, as well as explaining the importance of Free Willy to the O’Keefe’s. Finishing with a simple message 'the people around you are important', Dom ended on a great joke - 'Le Fin'.