[Review] VAULT Festival 2017: You Having Olaf? by Joseph Cullen (26/2/17)

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Joseph Cullen is a bit of a madman. Armed with an English Literature degree and an assortment of children’s party tricks, the artistic director of Over The Limit’s solo show comes fully equipped with all the tools to make you laugh at one man’s crusade against the children of the world, and shockingly, you might find yourself rooting for his cause too.

Still suffering from the trauma of performing for children’s parties in 2014 and 2015, Cullen staggers out of a children’s play tent stocked with cans of Stella Artois and Strongbow Cider onto a stage graced by the presence of One Direction…standees. Cullen possesses a strong knowledge of history and penchant for literature, along with an unhealthy obsession with taking out his frustrations at Zayn Malik (standee), all of which he inserts in between deadpan accounts of his encounters with children. From his perfectly worded application e-mail to get a headstart in children’s discos, to possibly turning his godson into a future serial killer, Cullen’s stories are delivered in a dead serious tone, in contrast to the rather cheery shirt he dons, and are uproariously funny.

Cullen’s stories may veer dangerously towards the depressing (he watches his grandfather die), and in fact, it is a brush with depression that convinces him to go into children’s parties in the first place (bad idea), but somehow always manages to create nervous laughter at the very least. This is the result of his unabashedly politically incorrect responses to various situations, which are almost always inappropriate, and ridiculously silly. But can you really fault him when the children in his life are such absolute monsters? Along the way, Cullen also manages to casually insert parlour tricks such as folding a balloon sword, showing off a ‘magic’ picture flipbook and hand puppetry, and proceeds to completely destroy the effect by taking his repressed anger out on these reminders of his traumatic past, even managing to slot in a Harambe joke. Cullen can rest assured that his ability as a performer has surprisingly enough, been honed by is experiences in the children’s party industry and was a worthwhile (if scarring) use of his time.

Cullen’s greatest asset of all however, is his mad poetry skills, which are without a doubt the best parts of the show. From attempting to parody Samuel Taylor Coelridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to his own original works, Cullen is living proof that an English Literature degree has its uses (apart from learning that Salman Rushdie apparently thought Roald Dahl was a bit of an arse). Towards the end of the show, Cullen whips out two particularly impressive original poems – the first a rap-like piece about a harrowing experience in the toilet of a primary school, and the other expressing regret to his girlfriend about the potentially scarring effects of fatherhood, both of which rhyme (mostly) and maintain regular meter. This is rogue creative writing at its comedic peak, and one wonders if Cullen might ever consider publishing a poetry collection from virtue of the brilliance we saw tonight.

Told with all the glee of a man who starts producing cold, fearful sweat in the presence of children and with an atom bomb’s worth of improper jests, You Having Olaf? is an outstanding, outrageous comedy that will convince you that children are indeed demonspawn and are most certainly not our most valuable resources. Stay well away from kids for a while after seeing this show, because you might just want to kick their head in.

You Having Olaf? has ended its run, but Joseph Cullen will be back this week with his company Over The Limit with 3 shows – The Witch’s Mark, Siren and The Lock In. You can keep up with Joseph Cullen on his Twitter @Joseph_Cullen90

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