Judith Wright Centre & WIV
Judith Wright Centre Performance Space
March 17 – 19 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Tiffany (Judy Hainsworth) and Kendall (Caitlin Oliver Parker) have enjoyed a sold out debut season (2014), an enthusiastic reception at the Matilda Awards (2015), and a sold out Adelaide Fringe Festival run complete with four and a half star reviews (2016) before their return to the Judy this year.
I’m possibly the only person in the country to not rave about #FirstWorldWhiteGirls
These two incongruous characters introduce themselves as a trust fund princess and a wealthy husband’s trophy wife, yet they fret about paying off their credit cards. They LOL at the thought of op-shopping yet they wear vintage floral frocks, Grandma’s pearls and plain pumps (to hide a bad pedi? Mismatched Shellac? It makes no sense!). While it’s true that vintage fashion never really goes out of style if you know how to accessorise, it’s a bit rich to expect us to believe that these rich bitches would opt for 1950s Tupperware party hostess frocks rather than Kardashian branded (or, I love it but let’s face it, Kookai) once-seen-never-seen-again bodycons, contoured cheek bones, long silk lashes and perfectly Blow Dry Bar(ed) Hollywood hair.
The setting is far from lavish, with pull-up banners, and token Pellegrino bottles and a Tiffany bag pre-set on a high table. From the outset I’m at odds with the conflicting elements of this production.
#FirstWorldWhiteGirls looks and sounds like it wants to be an outrageous comedy – it sells itself as such – but it’s not as outrageously funny as it claims to be and it’s not nearly politically incorrect enough or sassy or crass enough, although it seems to satisfy the needs of at least half the second night audience. The first world white girl problems are the sort we see hashtagged on social media, and they’re basic and familiar and funny; you know, too hot without the air con on and too cold in it… But when we realise the girls are not reading the audience contributions (they appear to have the lines memorised), I feel cheated. I think the Tiffany bags have been switched! Perhaps at one stage of the tour they tried to read only the audience’s suggestions and it was difficult to decipher handwriting, or the first world problems just weren’t dramatic / problematic enough.
Another #FirstWorldWhiteGirl blunder is to have overlooked the need for an accompanist, surely a vital component of Cabaret? Without the musicianship and witty banter of a talented accompanist on stage – a Worboys, as we say (we literally say it aloud, i.e. “What they need is a Worboys!”) would be ideal – we politely sit through pre-recorded tracks, penned by Hainsworth and arranged by the seriously talented James Dobinson (was he unavailable? Unaffordable?), which slow the show, contributing to its clunky feel. A combination of original tunes (most are too long by a verse or two) and re-arrangements of popular songs leaves us without a singular style or theme to the show. The best musical number sheds light on labiaplasty and should set the tone for the rest of the show, but no. It’s a stroke of politically incorrect, hilarious genius that can’t be repeated. The girls close with an amusing number about the importance of acquiring the ultimate accessories: black babies to go with their new Mercedes, but the encore that follows this is subdued and Hainsworth barely whispers, “Thank you” before leaving the stage.
I’m so disappointed. Everything I experience is at odds with what I’d expected.
I’d like to see the stakes raised and bigger risks taken. I’d like to be horrified when I realise I recognise these girls, that sometimes I have to teach these girls! And drink with their mothers!
With a bit more vocal clout and genuine confidence in some more sophisticated material, Hainsworth and Parker will prove themselves even better performers. I wonder… (I wonder how much time this version of the production has had with Lewis Jones, who was passed the director’s hat by Cienda McNamara)… It seems as if a formula has worked in the past and no one feels the need to stray from it…well, clearly, with a history of sell-out shows, it works! But Cabaret and Comedy are evolving genres, which demand high stakes, compelling stories and convincing performances that must grow from authenticity, and the performers’ genuine connection with their character, the audience and each other. This hugely successful show, which will enjoy a regional tour of Queensland in April, is a missed opportunity artistically, and I’d love to see it stripped back and redeveloped to truly reflect the talents of these versatile performers, and the shallow world of the reality TV and social media obsessed, unapologetically self-possessed first world white girls in my neighbourhood.