Adelaide Fringe 2011
From the outset, as this larger than life duo burst out of the RKO opening sting and into a very un-politically correct introductory show-tune, we are warned that taboos will be broken over the next 70 minutes. And they surely are! I felt blown apart—eyes agog and split open laughing as they sang, stripped and sight gagged toward an outrageous finale. But what is even more tantalizing about The Freak and the Showgirl is the underlying social commentary on prejudice and Puritanism cleverly delivered in routines that are beautifully ridiculous and irreverent.
The advertising flyers for The Freak and the Showgirl replicate film posters of the 1950’s, those 3D horror classics like ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ featuring a monster that is half-man, half-fish. The Freak in this show is UK performer Mat Fraser, a living legacy of the Thalidomide mistake of the late 1950’s. He gets straight to it “Yes, I am different…I’m English.”
He may not have an ulna and a radius but he does have the humorus bone (his gag), proven by his easy stand up patter. With an extensive performing arts portfolio including ‘serious’ film and TV acting Mat sees his Freak role as an opportunity to “deal with stuff that you can’t in other formats.” Clever writing and his great singing voice combine to deliver new pagan subtext to Sinatra’s ‘Witchcraft.’
American Julie Atlas Muz is the stripping high-kicking Showgirl who takes lip-syncing to a whole new level. She visits and pulls apart every female stereotype of titillation—creating disturbing hybrid monsters that put the heads of storybook villains on the pasti-ed bosoms of the Folies Bergère. She is totally at ease with her body and is not afraid to seriously invade the personal space of the audience members. I don’t want to give away any of the wonderfully executed developments but the classic artefacts of the striptease are mutated in exquisitely naughty parody.
There are satisfying shifts of mood where the caricature gives way to the real performer with a quiet reminder of how far we’ve come (and still have to go) in our relationships to intimacy and difference. Overall there is a sophisticated rhythmic and musical sense in the way the show unfolds. All aspects of the technical stagecraft are also expertly conceived and produced—the seamless shifts between acoustic and amplified voice, the spooky soundscapes and slick backing tracks, the various original props and wearable paraphernalia.
It’s late 11.30pm time slot means that a number of the crowd are already ready to let loose (which extends to one woman’s breast in an audience participation section on opening night). Not for the faint-hearted, this is an unforgettable and uncompromising show with interpretive dance moves like you’ve never seen before.