The Libra(ian)

by | May 13, 2024

By Nick Pilgrim

Sequestered off Little Collins Street in Carson Lane, The Butterfly Club is one of Melbourne’s leading performance institutions.

In operation since 1993, the iconic venue has staged thousands of new productions, hosting everything from stand-up comedy and game shows to improvised farce. It has also jump – started the careers of Tim Minchin and Eddie Perfect, Britni Leslie, Andrew Strano & Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer, as well as headlining stars such as Hugo Chiarella, Gillian Cosgriff, Amanda Harrison, Kurt Phelan, and Jemma Rix. Just to name a few.

This intimate space works best as a showcase for cabaret, where artists and audience members may connect as one. The biggest challenge for any performer is, away from the pyrotechnics associated with large – scale musicals and plays as back – up, if they can step up to the plate alone.

A common theme linking one person acts is the ability to draw on personal moments and shape them into stories and anecdotes suitable for viewing entertainment. Peppered with songs to propel the narrative, these routines often sit between the space allocated to chamber musicals or dramatic monologues.

With an extensive resume which includes training stints with ZenZenZo, TAFTA, New York Atlantic Acting School and Improv Conspiracy, as well as appearing in stagings of ‘All My Sons’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Lochie Laffin Vines is the writer and performer responsible for The Libra(ian).

Based on Vines’ own employment experiences, his high-concept vision details the working routine of Ian, a twenty-something council librarian who dreams one day of becoming a children’s television host on the biggest gig of all.

It would surprise some people to learn that Play School is considered the holy grail of acting. Projecting both a genuine on-screen persona coupled with the ability to keep youngsters wholly engaged, has challenged, and confounded some of the industry’s biggest players. Longtime local host, Simon Burke, famously recounted the time he and another well-known actor tested for the show, only for his rival to be turned away for frightening the program’s select focus-group of children.

For sixty minutes as Ian, audiences are educated with and enlightened by the quirks of library life. Some of these fast facts include:

  • Why tea breaks are so cherished and whether another staff member’s homemade carrot cake can make or break the moment,
  • When one older customer keeps the book, Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer on perpetual loan without having read it, and,
  • How the Dewey Decimal System and its incongruous coding decides the numbering for each subject. (Who knew that 666 was reserved for “Ceramic & Allied Technologies” or 696.9 for “Plumbing; Gas & Steam Fitting”?)

The list goes on.

However, The Libra(ian) catapults to another level through Ian’s command of story time. Especially, when his legion of devoted fans includes young mums who enthuse that he too should be on Play School.

This fortuitous catalyst sets the shy employee’s acting aspirations into motion. From the rigorous auditioning process where being yourself is crucial to the stress of making pipe cleaner art appear fun, he recounts the perilous journey warts and all.

Sharing Ian in action for ourselves, Thursday night’s opening audience dived in head-first. It was quite surreal yet sweetly touching to watch grown adults singing along to ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, or chuckle at Peppa Pig and her farmyard friends going on an Easter Egg hunt.

Perhaps my biggest take away from The Libra(ian) is Vines’ seamless ability to switch between gentle humour and poignant drama in a heartbeat. I was instantly reminded of the delightful English television series, Talking Heads (written by Alan Bennett), where some of life’s overlooked or forgotten individuals are kindly offered the spotlight.

Solid direction by Rob Lloyd combined with Sandro Falce’s precise tech sound & lighting, makes for a highly original and intelligently paced hour. The Libra(ian) is not only an excellent vehicle for its creative team but would make a strong addition to any cabaret or comedy festival schedule.

Here’s hoping for a repeat showing very soon.

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