The John Wilkes Booth – Theatre Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Through the illusion of theatre, we enter the French restaurant Rue de Toilette (located downstairs at The Motley Bauhaus) and can tell we’re in for a show.

A 100% legit French waiter with a dodgy accent and even dodgier moustache shows us to our seats. I’m handed a menu (please return them, just like a real Melbourne restaurant they only made 12 and they need them for the following night) and in walks a suspiciously young Texan oil tycoon with a hunger for violence! 

Clint the Oil Man (Lachie Gough) and Marcel the vaguely French waiter (Alex Donnelly) have more in common than just their very, VERY adequate peckers. They are in fact both trained assassins, Agent 69 and Agent 420. Each are heavily armed and tasked with taking the other party out. But which one will succeed? Or more accurately, which one will fail less? Maybe if our two Daniel Day-Lewis appreciating goofballs can join forces, nobody needs to go home in a doggy-bag!

The John Wilkes Booth is the debut show of comedy duo Gough & Donnelly of Handful of Bugs Theatre Co., a company so new, their promo sticker on the back of the Motley Bauhaus’ toilet is still fresh! For this show, the entire crew have collaborated writing for months. From Monty Python to Lano & Woodley, they blended together all their comedic inspiration into a non-stop barrage of rapid-fire jokes.

I need to stress this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen. In some ways, I found it funnier than even my favourite shows of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I really can see the Python influence, as what starts as a simple enough premise goes completely off the rails into some wonderfully absurd territory.

Word play, slapstick, prop comedy and even a musical number, this show has it all and the entire room was roaring with laughing the whole hour. Even the little things like Donnelly wearing a fake moustache over his real one as part of his French waiter disguise had me in stitches. Both performers have excellent chemistry to boot, being hysterically funny and being able to bounce off and improvise with ease. 

Donnelly’s waiter reminded me of a young Michael Palin in being able to make you laugh at every single little quirk and it only expands from there as he moves on from the ruse. Gough is so full of energy, I kept thinking of a young John Belushi. You can see from the sweat beading off the guy on just how much he’s putting into the show.

As is to be expected, sometimes things don’t work out or something may go awry. On opening night, Gough was able to improvise with a blooper salvaging it and turning it into one of the night’s funniest moments.

As much praise as I have for the two lead performers, I was also impressed by the creative work of Ayesha Harris-Westman and Liv McKenna. Always a great venue, The Motley Bauhaus downstairs fits the show perfectly and its transformation really sets the scene. With the brick wall backing lending itself to the look of a French restaurant, just as authentically as it did the drug den setting of the last play I enjoyed there.

Handful of Bugs Theatre Co. have hit the ground running with an absurdly entertaining debut play. I’m already excited to see what they come up with next, but for now don’t miss out on seeing The John Wilkes Booth

Handful of Bugs Theatre Co.’s The John Wilkes Booth is currently playing at The Motley Bauhaus until May 13th, 2023.
For more information and ticketing, visit:

Photography by James Reiser.

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