Fringe Wives Club: A Cabaret for Cow People

Glittering jumpsuits, sequinned jackets and one particularly notable beaded skort are what catch my eye as I walk into the Beckett Theatre of the Malthouse. The costumes give me an insight into the kind of performance that is to come; a playful, energetic and interactive night of feminist cabaret. Of course, my friend and I sit in the front row, for what’s the point of going to see cabaret if you aren’t prepared to put yourself in the firing line? We are clambered over, have tambourines thrust upon us, the laps of people either side of us are sat on, and it is joyous. 

Glittergrass, performed by an all female group who dub themselves the Fringe Wives, has won Best Cabaret at the Adelaide Fringe, as well as Spirit of the Fringe Award at Edinburgh Fringe, both in 2018. They have returned to Melbourne with a slightly rearranged cast to perform at the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The songs, accompanied by talented backing musicians and performers within the cast, are undoubtedly the best thing in the show. Wavering between punchy and poignant, a new combination of performers come together for each different tune. Unfortunately there’s a bit too much rambling and not enough singing for my taste. There are long lead ups to each song that really throw a wet towel over the otherwise swift pacing, and performers drop in and out of different characters confusingly and seemingly for no reason or purpose. For what is a relatively short show, it seems strange that there is so much dialogue, particularly as much of it is clearly improvised on the night. While watching performers have fun with each other on stage can be a delight, at times the audience lies forgotten. Watching two actors giggle to each other over an inside joke while someone else is singing their solo is both distracting and self indulgent, and happens often throughout the performance. 

However Victoria Falconer displays the antithesis of this behaviour. Totally committed throughout the entire show, she covers for performers who drag out their song intros, lifting the energy to keep things moving. Constantly encouraging her fellow cast mates her improvised banter fills otherwise expansive stretches of awkward silence, punctuated only by the backing drummer’s steady thud. If the rest of the cast were to adopt the kind of commitment and energy as Falconer, undoubtedly this show would be more cohesive and fun. 

Despite the disjointed nature of the performance, the performers do a commendable job of interweaving comedy, musicality and social justice. Songs about white privilege and a female bushranger are equally as humorous as they are a societal comment. Most notably is a number about intersectional feminism, and the exclusion of coloured women from the equality conversation. This song is beautifully accompanied by a neatly choreographed dance, something Falconer, the only performer of colour in the cast is unable to join in on, despite her best efforts. This serves to perfectly illustrate the real world struggles of marginalised groups to be included in mainstream revolutionist movements.

The performance comes to a sudden and unexpected halt, and thus it can be said that the work is somewhat consistent all the way through, if only in that it is inconsistent. Despite moments of insight and plenty of comedy thrown in, Glittergrass is just a bit wishy washy. The songs are catchy and the costumes sparkly, but at times the Fringe Wives seem more interested in each other than the audience who has come to see them. 

Lucy Holz

Glittergrass by Fringe Wives Club runs at Malthouse Theatre in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 28 March — 21 April 2019.

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