REVIEW: GRIM by Ellen Grimshaw – Melbourne International Comedy Festival

An alien, known only as Grim, falls to Earth and crash lands in the middle of a commercial audition in Carlton. Grim expresses themselves in a series of grunts, gurgles and gasps while grasping their way through life on this alien world, where people seem to be crafting their life for likes.

Welcome to the wild world of Ellen Grimshaw, performance artist, whose work is like nothing else you’ll see at Comedy Fest or Fringe or on any stages in Melbourne in 2023. After I saw her show Just Us Girls (What’s a Girl?) at Melbourne Fringe in 2019, I’ve been waiting to see what Ellen would make next.

As absurd as that show was, its narrative and themes were clear, sharp and precise. GRIM is altogether more alien, the character immersed in a scenario that we humans indulge in often but haven’t yet grappled with the ongoing effects of. GRIM is about social media and doing things for other people’s approval – that ever-present like button on every post we make to the wider world.

Auditions, of course, are a concentrated form of trying to be someone you’re not; actors all hoping for instant approval. And getting caught in the cycle of wanting or needing endorsement can only lead to bad things – like spruiking for the Liberal Party.

Ellen is on stage alone for this show, twisting and contorting her body, interacting with off-stage voices and surtitles for her alien mother. There’s some audience interaction, too – but though it’s wild, it’s not too outrageous. Tip: have your favourite song front of mind in case Grim calls on you, a part of her study of human culture.

The character work is totally compelling; Ellen is very physical in her approach and a lot of humour comes from how far she’ll go to get a reaction, in ways only someone from another planet might.

GRIM is frank and confronting and because it’s so strange, it might not be everyone's cup of tea. But because Ellen pushes everything so far in voice and movement, it helps put us in the shoes of the character, who has no reference for Bunnings or pillows, the Liberal Party or Guy Pearce (who has a cheeky voiceover cameo).

If you like your comedy physical and surreal, GRIM is for you. Sometimes laughs come from things that cannot be easily defined; we laugh at oddities all the time, whether they are from space or not.

The vortex of social media might be grim, and GRIM might well be a warning. But it’s also hilarious.

- Keith Gow, Theatre First

Ellen Grimshaw is GRIM at the Motley Bauhaus as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival until April 22nd.