Six women each offers up with their special 10-minute’s on stage. There is a slightly rotating lineup, but you’ll always get compere and founder of the troupe, Vashti Hughes, as Mavis Brown, the stitched-up office secretary type. You only have to pull at one thread and Mavis’s protective layer of propriety unravels. Mavis is taking French lessons off a tape in a portable cassette recorder when the sexy-sounding instructor (we only hear his voice) prompts Mavis to get more intimately involved. It’s a clever idea, and what unfolds is a great opening act.
Other performers I saw, not in running order, included Lucy Suze Taylor who, as Sadeptana takes us through her very British yoga class - sporting Gladiator-like elbow protectors and a thick sponge neck brace.
Celia Curtis, as Marcel Masofarsogood, is a gifted mime artist who brings pop song lyrics to life with an alarming vividness: prat falls, expressions of horror and alarm, even vast gushes of imagined blood.
Leisel Badorrek, as Li’l Piggy Lil, emerges from some Louisiana swamp grass county in a take on military attire to rev up recruits for the Lord. It’s a fine invention pushed to its limits.
Everyone will have their favourites, but for me two acts stand out. Annabel Lines, as Vladimira, looks as if she’s fallen out of some naughty 1970’s Moscow post card. Layered in wafty sheathes of leopard-skin fabric and and a vast spread of eyeliner, Vladimira strips and smiles while she cooks real onions on a frypan on stage. It is so utterly daft that you can only call this comedy ‘pure’.
I highlight this act because it best represents what all the performers are pursuing - a form of theatre-making that begins by tossing almost all conventional boundaries out the window. The girls themselves are likely a mix of gay and straight; but that’s artistically irrelevant. More accurately, and to the point: their characters are what you might call ‘queer’. They certainly challenge conventional stereotypes.
What I’d say, in view of writings on this subject by the great Susan Sontag, essentially these ladies work in ‘camp’. This is artistically of note. Clearly camp is no longer the domain of the drag queen or the gay guy. Radical ‘womanists’ have staked a claim. In the hands of these groovy ladies of the late-night gig, ‘camp’ (a somewhat faded form) certainly takes on a sharp new edge.
Some of the PR for this show has looked (can I say this?) to the Westie lesbian population. Are there any out there?? Interestingly such ‘types’ as could be identified in the audience - by haircuts, clothing, roaming in scary marauding packs of them - appeared at times alert if not alarmed. Perhaps they were not aware that such freedom of expression, as found in the show, was there’s for the taking. Maybe something to think about.
I’d certainly love to see a Li’l Piggy Lil lookalike walk into work on Monday and tell the boss to get on his/her knees and start prayin’ fur her/his ‘laugh’ (life). Or Poweeee..
In fact, the audience last Friday night was very mixed. Several groups above retirement age clearly loved the show, producing great laughs. How cool of these white-haired adventurers. Lots of talk back from the lady of Lakemba! And great good will from the blokey bloke in the front row, and his wife.
After all, some of these chicks are hot. In the presence of lofty, sizzling (the onions), haunting taunting Vladimira, even I got to contemplating the downside of being gay. Well a gay man.
A warning to the reckless who might fall for Christa Hughes’ seriously steamy Weimar allure. I heard of late she’s taken.
I wanted to write about this show not only because it’s well worth the purse of a tucket; but also because it represents a rare above-ground showing of some of the work that survives ‘underneath’ the Sydney most people think they know. Vashti and the girls, and the work they do, has emerged from a ‘party’ subculture that includes gigs at digs and squats like the recently demised Lanfranchis on Cleveland Street. (That was a great closing-down party - Stripperama - where all the artists performed some form of striptease; followed by volunteer Stripperoake, where a surprising number of party guests chose to try their hand (and the rest) at this evasive art form).
In recent years, this performance scene is probably best known in the guise of Club Bent: semi above-ground. Groovy Biscuit, who is so majorly part of Bent, was the first performer from this underground culture I saw in action. That was more than a decade ago at one of a guy called ‘Frank’s’ so-named ‘Subculture’ parties. There she stood on stage and, with a cotton and thread, stiched a bunch of beads onto/into the skin of her upper arm.
That crazy night I had to gift a young bloke my jocks (somewhere through the night he’d lost his clothes). Fortunately for other partygoers I still possessed another covering layer, but at least the kid had something to wear when attempting to hail a cab somewhat later on as the sun arose. Or did someone carry him home in their arms?
At another one of those parties we got to witness a full ‘branding’. A dominatrix in full vinyl/leather with a blowtorch, with her assistant holding the ‘iron’ as it was heated to a fearful glowing red; and a young bloke on the receiving end who’s gaze stayed steady and didn’t even flinch. Turned out he’d grown up in a circus family and was used to Dad throwing knives at him. The point being, you could see he was drawing the intensely silenced energy of the in-party crowd to help him endure the pain. Ritual at its most primal! Artaud and the Sacred, etc…
In more recent years, Club Bent in particular has hosted much of this alternative talent in at least semi-known venues. Such marvellous activity over such a period of time: yet rarely rating a mention in the cultural dialogue that sits on the surface of this city’s life. For someone like me who has to sit my way through so much predictable mainstream ‘funded’ theatre - week in week out - an evening somewhere up or down a set of semi-scungy stairs into a room full of gorgeous ‘alternative’ people, and the performing artists among them, is a life-enriching treat.
At what you might call the avant-garde end of the scene, performers of repute include Fiona McGregor and Ana Wojak. At the disreputably fun end, there’s Matt and Matt, and an artist currently known as Trash. How could I write this piece without dropping his name, having paid homage so many times now, ensnaring him up against warehouse pillars. Fortunately it would take more than a bit of unrepressed fandom to stop Trash or any others among this marvellous ‘queer vaudeville’ community from getting back up on stage. Put it this way: they’re not backward in coming forward.
If it counts - you can drink and laugh at the same time, with the help of little tables. Meanwhile (lucky Trash!) Vladimira - je t’adore! Oh those of so onion eyes…
Visit: Mavis Brown promoting the show on youtube»
Big Laugh Comedy Attractions in association with Riverside Theatres presents
SIX QUICK CHICKS
Venue: Riverside Theatres, Corner Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Date/Time: Friday 2 May, Friday 9 May, Friday 15 May and -Friday 30 May at 9pm
Bookings: Riverside Box Office 02 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au