Picture this: you’re at the local on a Sunday night and the old guy who’s been propped up against the bar since Thursday is regaling you with tall tales of love, boyhood, and his travels to “all five corners of the world”. They’re ludicrous; based upon untruths and total unlikelihood, yet… they’re undeniably entertaining. In fact they are funny, enlightening and just the right amount of uncomfortable. Eventually, you realise it hardly matters whether or not a story may be true, exaggerated or entirely fictionalised; as long as that story is told well.
An occasional naughty song about bananas doesn’t go astray, either.
Munfred Bernstein (New Zealand funny-man Jamie Bowen), brashly waltzes into the hearts of his audience with an accent and demeanour that seems a little reminiscent of Michael Keaton from his “Beetlejuice” days; a dry wit and a sharp tongue that is sure to get a giggle from even the most sombre of audience members.
See it with a group of mates or bring your Dad and shout him a beer (he’ll appreciate the Monty-Python-esq, philosophical finale).
John Smythe - Theatre review'Munfred Bernstein's Cabinet of Wonder delivers a whimsical hour of idiosyncratic humour that entertains by transporting us from our ordinary world into his parallel universe'open/close
Billed as “a rambunctious and ramshackle opus from a man unhinged”, Munfred Bernstein's Cabinet of Wonder delivers a whimsical hour of idiosyncratic humour that entertains by transporting us from our ordinary world into his parallel universe and raising some questions about who exactly got where and why.
The titular cabinet is a plain old wardrobe (which he calls a tallboy), from which he appears and disappears, and through which he may or may not have travelled to exotic climes. As such it rates as a distant relative to the C S Lewis one (which gave access to a Lion and Witch) and Dr Who's TARDIS, albeit more earthbound and anti-heroic.
It has passed down through generations, apparently, and his ‘adventures' may or may not have been provoked by having an alcoholic father given to inflammatory outbursts who was nevertheless able to answer conclusively the abiding question, “how long is a piece of string?”.
Perhaps the paternal pronouncement that “if you can dream it you can be it” is the key to what has followed. And what was that about ‘the naughty cave'?
Jamie Bowen manifests an elusive character whose engaging befuddlement taps on the window of pathos more than once. Eschewing self pity, but nabbing little nips of something stirring from strategically placed shot glasses, he has flashes of generosity, like bestowing a gift on an audience member that makes them an instant member of an exclusive global club.
He moves from the big questions, like “why are we here?”, to singing about bananas. He dips into a pile of letters than have finally caught up with his ever-itinerant self. He shows us mementos kept in his cabinet and in the little drawers therein … And thereby hangs a tale or five.
There's the man who kept missing his wife, the unwelcome tenant now kept in a jar, an Australian wise man (I kid you not) … An elusive story about a clairvoyant is assisted by an auto harp and the soul of an old blues musician. We share the dilemma of a man who is the last to speak a particular language …
You will have to see it to reach your own conclusions about where truth lies, sits or stands. And I recommend you do. In its own strange way Munfred Bernstein's Cabinet of Wonder is very engaging.