A Funny Femme Affair

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12 and 15 July, Common Room
By Jess Soutar Barron

Three short comedy works by three actresses: interlacing themes running through but each a stand-alone. We have just been reminiscing about suburban neurosis, we are always discussing the role of women: mothers are frazzled by the school holidays, grandmothers are fried by the antics of wayward relatives, teachers are worn out, nurses are on strike – the zeitgeist tonight, on stage and in the audience, is various women on various verges of various breakdowns – matriarchs across the board, just trying to keep their collective shit together.

The first two pieces are excerpts from Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells written for comic genius Caroline O’Connor. First, Bridie Thomson takes on cactiphile Tiggy with such mastery that she turns this older Aussie work into something here and now. It becomes an excellent example of place-based theatre perfectly set in Common Room, in Hastings, on a brisk wintery night. Poor Tiggy’s slow spiral down towards despair is heart-breaking, riveting and hilarious. Her love of cacti and succulents (far superior to “passive aggressive camellias”) is catching and so familiar it stops being funny and just for a minute becomes really sad…before going back to being funny again.

The trick of using powerpoint as co-star echoes the current cultural obsession with short-form, fast format talk-fests like Pecha Kucha and TED. With presenter and images duetting on a shared interest the powerpoint holds the narrative together, which allows the presenter to freestyle, embellish, and – as with the occasional PK – become unstuck. Here lies Tiggy. In specs, sweat and cardi she’s awkward but amiable and we are left loving cacti, hating Harry and applauding Bridie Thomson for bringing her story to us.

Also from Bombshells, Mollie John introduces us to bride Teresa. We are taken through the nuptials, privy to the Dutch courage, with her at the aisle, witness to her vows, there to catch her bouquet, to waltz with her, to hear her confessions of Bridal Regret. As Teresa goes from girl to wife (“funny word ‘wife’, sounds a kitchen implement”), we see the move women make away from themselves towards a position as property. It feels archaic now, this narrative, but still holds many more truths then we would like to think. With Mollie John still a young actress it’s difficult to commit completely to the subtleties of this critique on the lot of women, but she certainly has the foundations of an excellent performer. En pointe comic timing and an understanding of the despair layered under the one-liners, makes for an entertaining performance with hidden depths.

The third piece is something completely different. Here we are figuratively ushered into the Actor’s Studio for a work in progress. Brigid McVeigh introduces us to the great matriarchs of our time: Helen Clark, Queen Elizabeth, Daphne from Matamata. Her harnessing of voice, intonation and vowel-swallowing is superb; Her singing to-die-for. She channels NZ’s comedic whakapapa through Ginette McDonald, the Topp Twins, Anya Tate-Manning, that boob who does Kiwis of Snapchat. Her skill in conjuring character in nothing but basic blacks and an ill-fitting wig in consummate. But the excellent mimicry and impersonation needs scaffolding to carry it through to a more polished piece. With a stronger spinal column of story, some culling of superfluous characters and a tightening of the rather baggy script this work would be festival-worthy. It’s a delight to watch this performer work and it will be a pleasure to see a more finished version of the piece. In parts the narrative is too scant, in others it’s over-egged: McVeigh can trust her audience to fill in the gaps, leaving pauses for us to get the joke and respond. Talent is there, timing and a tough directorial eye is what’s needed.

A Funny Femme Affair is a joy, for its polished bits and its works in progress. Don’t miss Sunday’s show at 6pm.

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