REVIEW: Cabariot: Frisky and Mannish (Auckland Live International Cabaret Festival)

Review by James Wenley

Frisky and Mannish

[Queen St Riots]

Frisky and Mannish are quick to put the audience in their place. Those seated closest to them are clearly the best people in the room. The middle section is okay. This reviewer was seated at the back, fittingly, with the rest of the scum. The Town Hall Concert Chamber is a hotbed of injustice and inequality.

Their banner shows a first raised in uprising, clutching a red heel rather than a hammer or sickle. Cabariot is Marxist critique with added fabulousness. Their central thesis is the whole system sucks. They say they’re angry. They ask members of the audience if they are angry. A few mumble “everything”. “New Zealand: We need specificity” rejoinders Frisky. Thank goodness this duo from Britain have arrived to shake up the Kiwi she’ll be right apathy.

They begin with a mashup of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears and ‘Wanna be startin somethin’, Mannish taking the keys, both taking the vocals. They next cycle through potential feminist anthems from the likes of Spice Girls, Pink and Beyoncé (because every social movement needs an anthem, and feminism is so hot right now), but keep being foiled by problematic messages. You realise a few things: their humour is smart, they are talented parodists, and their musicianship is impeccable.

They’re also yet to actually get through a full song. It’s a hyperactive start, and while this doesn’t let up, Cabariot reaches higher levels of greatness with their extended, original set-piece numbers.

They make a convincing case that public voting has been irrevocably spoiled by reality TV voting (where talent rarely comes into it), leading to results like Brexit. Godwin’s law comes into play shortly after. This is all set up for a number where, in an attempt to escape their increasingly right-wing and racist country, they decide New Zealand offers better prospects for Brits, and they seduce us with knowledge of our country gleamed from Wikipedia research. That would have been a good time to give them a little more specificity about why New Zealanders actually do have reason to be angry about this country’s ills.

Another piece begins with a girl begins with a conflict over sharing Frozen princess dresses (“It’s not my fault you have nothing”) that keeps expanding its satiric wit as it follows these characters through adulthood. Their showstopper is a paean to sexual inclusivity, and you catch where it’s going very early on, but that doesn’t take away the shear enjoyment as they pile more categories into their broad rainbow LGBTQI+ church.

In their cabaret utopia, they are the artists who get to call out society but don’t have to do anything about it themselves. They are aware of the absurdity of playing to the well-heeled types, the futility of their show doing any actual good.

We’re up on our feet at the end of the show, but only because they’ve coaxed us. We don’t leave angry – how could we when we’ve been so thoroughly entertained.

This is the third year of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Festival, and they’ve struck a good balance between bringing international acts like Frisky and Mannish over to dazzle us, as well as providing a platform for local artists. This year access to the Festival has been democratised with the partnership with The Basement and their affordable tickets. I recommend Suits, a showcase for Jessie Cassin’s powerhouse vocals and engaging comedy, and Valerie, which is the big news to come out of the Festival so far. Both the dramatic and personal stakes are high for creators Robin Kelly and Cherie Moore, as they grapple with the extent that Kelly’s family and genetic history has shaped the destiny for their own relationship. Don’t let the Cabaret season end without having seen it. Frisky and Mannish meanwhile have one more show on Sunday 2nd, and you’d be foolish to miss that too.

Cabariot plays at the Concert Chamber as part of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Festival. Details see Auckland Live

SEE ALSO: review by Candice Lewis

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