Frisky & Mannish's School Of Pop
There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding UK pop parody, Frisky & Mannish’s School Of Pop, the much celebrated underground hit of the Edinburgh Fringe. With rave reviews from major UK media outlets, I must admit I was expecting something pretty special.
The show takes on the form of a sort of finishing school for pop star wannabe’s with our wacky teachers walking us through some pop music theory using plenty of examples from recent and not-so-recent musical history.
They sing live to the accompaniment of Mannish's (Matthew Jones) keyboard and the pair display significant skill as singers in their own right. The musical numbers generally comprise a mish mash of songs and styles, taking snippets from a broad range of artists to illustrate various apparent or invented trends in popular music. The Bangles’ Eternal Flame takes on a sinister psycho stalker feel; Bonnie Tyler’s line “turn around” gets a predictable treatment; The Pussycat Dolls are played as a tits and bum vaudeville act from the early 1900's, proving that what goes around comes around.
There’s some nice ideas in the show, but much of it felt underdeveloped, and while there are some cute observations, frankly its hardly groundbreaking stuff. They conduct a spelling quiz with songs such as D-I-S-C-O, D-I-V-O-R-C-E and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. They speculate about the drug-induced state-of-mind that resulted in lyrics such as What If God Was One Of Us? They point out that none of the unfortunate events listed in Alanis Morissette’s Ironic, are actually ironic at all - again not exactly a new observation and not one that receives any original treatment here.
In one of the better segments of the show, Lilly Allen and Noel Coward swap music and lyrics with surprising results. But, while no-one is disputing the genius of Noel Coward, its been a long time since his music appeared on Top of the Pops, and certainly the younger and hipper members of my party had never heard of him.
And perhaps therein lies my biggest criticism of the show. Many of the musical and cultural references are specific to the UK tradition, and no doubt much of the subtlety in their humour was lost on an Australian audience unfamiliar with the source material. A few token attempts to Australianise the jokes certainly helped, and perhaps a greater effort to adapt the show for local audiences would result in greater engagement.
Having said that, Laura Corcoran (as Frisky) and Jones give charismatic and energetic performances, and there was a distinct warming to the characters as the show progressed. An attempted sing-a-long at the very start fell decidedly flat, getting the show off to a sluggish start, but by the end, as the audience had got to know the characters better, they'd managed to illicit a much more positive effort from their reluctant "students".
There’s no question Corcoran and Jones have genuine talent - both have terrific voices, Corcoran in particular displaying an impressive range - and Jones for my money had the better comic timing as well as playing the keyboard throughout. But the material seemed unfocussed and patchy at best.
Frisky & Mannish's School Of Pop
Venue: The Hi Fi* | 125 Swanston St (opp Town Hall), Melbourne
Dates: 25 March - 18 April, 2010
Times: Tue - Sat 8.15pm, Sun 7.15pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 660 013 | at the door
* Licensed venue. Under 18s must be accompanied by a Parent or Legal Guardian.