“Who here is a guard llama?” Confused? So is the attempted narrative arc of Rhys Nicholson’s set, supposedly an hour-long look at protectors (guard llamas) and protected (sheep) in various situations. It’s a good excuse for the continual presence of a blow-up llama onstage - never a bad thing, really - but it’s Nicholson’s charismatic, brazen personality that leaves the lasting impression.
Even if the set’s errant themes resist being herded to a neat close, he makes a veritable flock of his audience
Nicholson, who somehow self-identifies as a sheep, is utterly at ease as he leads us through his caustic examination of work, religion and his own sexual appetites in a lisped Aussie twang. He has absolutely no qualms about reeling off vivid analogies for his ejaculating penis or glibly propositioning the series of men who, on this night, left the venue for a toilet break. The way he dealt with these strays affirmed the strength of his stage presence, especially when he took the opportunity to prank them upon their return.
His set is constructed from lengthy, elaborate anecdotes, punctuated by magnificent, evanescent zingers. These footnotes are often half-whispered, but it’s worth paying close attention to hear him neatly supplement or undercut his material. At their worst, these moments reveal a little too much of Nicholson’s onstage insecurity, but most of the time his confidence seems indubitable.
He is refreshingly and believably frank: one anecdote about his understanding of faith is as sexually explicit as can be, but it manages to feel incidental to his uncompromising comedy rather than needlessly provocative. His striking image – flaming hair, lensless glasses, glittering nails and sheer cheekbones – is totally in line with his mischievous jokes, which march deep into taboo territory and, on occasion, bring back considerable spoils. Still, the more run-of-the-mill subject matter (Christianity, experiences with drugs and cruelty to supply teachers) feels beneath him. His assured, withering humour shouldn’t be wasted preaching to the converted: he could afford to take far more risks with what his audience will bear.
Even if the set’s errant themes resist being herded to a neat close, he makes a veritable flock of his audience: he turns out to be something of a trailblazing guard llama after all.