Review - Femmo Hysteria at Melbourne Fringe
When you read a title of such contemporary self-stereotyping at a comedy festival, you are guided in the belief that the comedy therein would express the typical commentary of self-deprecation and systemic clichés that can almost be overbearingly awkward if not delivered right.
Femmo Hysteria, however, proves just the opposite in a glorious parade of irony and empowerment.
For one wild night only, Hot Mess Productions (just as colloquially dubbed as their show title) ‘delivered right’ indeed in delivering what they promised: a feminist comedy gala that assembles “an entourage of the most formidable queens of comedy” in a diverse showcase and “unmissable celebration of all things femmo”. Hosted by the side-splitting Claire Hooper (Good News Week, The Great Australian Bake Off), who immediately makes the stage her home with her brand of leisurely stroll and easy engagement, the audience is caught in that brilliant limbo of being both relaxed into their seats with the knowledge that the night will satisfy yet teetering on the edge with the anticipation and curiosity of what each performer will bring and what punchlines will know ’em out. Getting the audience to cheer on each performer with her intermittent moments between sets, Hooper energises the room into an uproar of applause and whooping, supporting her fellow sisters-in-arms by creating an atmosphere of appreciation that will guarantee each of the jokes to land effortlessly.
With a front-stage microphone on stand and general wash lighting, the stage establishes your usual stand-up scene; however, it is fashioned with a few nuances: a second mic-on-stand leaning above an electric piano and chair, towers of what seemed to be bulging tricolour pouffes to represent something female (at least, that is what Hooper humorously admitted to not understanding herself despite having it explained to her), all in front of a drawn house curtain that must be hiding a big secret. The audience’s curiosity deepens in the understanding that they will be getting an eclectic range of performances.
And eclectic the performances were. Starting out the night was Lou Wall’s fiery-red gospel-inspired number about her unfortunate genetic disposition of having the ginger “disease” as she delves into society’s standards of beauty not really knowing what to do with her, pricelessly pointing out the strange expectations she has experienced throughout her every realm of her life from romantic to social through a series of descriptive vignettes that sets the room on fire with the same vivid red as her scalp.
Annie Louey takes the stage next with a confident air, comically covering a spectrum of topics and themes in a free-flowing contour that allow the dramatic stories to blend into one, catching the audience suspended in chucklesome disbelief and nodding their heads with a ‘how relatable’ expression as Louey moves from conversations with annoying strangers to the fear that people may be jerking in public bathroom soap dispensers.
Following Annie was the dimple-smiling Claire Healy, giving off an incredible Liza Minnelli vibe with her unmatched vocal prowess and musical theatrics; with fingers fluttering across the entire piano in a virtuosic manner as they played her intricate and complex score with ease and voice flipping between beautifully sighing and powerfully soaring, Healy animatedly discusses her many ‘bicycle faces’ in the context of the 1895 New York World article ‘Don’ts for Women Riders’ that still sadly represents some of the systemic misogyny in today’s society.
Next up were the rowdy Travelling Sisters in a farcical bout of physical comedy and slapstick that starts innocently as a trio of girls preparing their act for ‘Lollipop Ladies Got Talent'; with each individual consistent in their quirks and expressions, it very quickly and very deviantly went to a place nobody expected upon performance time, drawing out the longest stretches of hysterics for the night with their masterful caricatures, costumes and comedic timing.
Moving on was the incomparable Charity Werk, stealing the spotlight with fantastically entertaining details of her becoming a performer and drag queen, and the many experiences that inspired and developed her from the aeroplane show to the vegan lesbian sister; fighting stereotype with stereotype, Charity Werk wins the crowd with her intelligently hilarious commentary on being a performer in her everyday and the mishaps of coming from (and coming out in) a flamboyant family household.
Finishing the night, the curtains are finally drawn apart to reveal a full rock band as our last performer Alice Tovey struts out in a tight leather one-piece with red-tasselled sleeves to dominate the microphone; with a ringing anthem, Tovey belts out her fear of knowing that death could be just around the corner and that she feels she just hasn’t really done enough with her life to feel secure about it, calling upon the audience to chant with her and realise that they, too, should fear that maybe they are a bit too lazy with their lives.
With lighting and sound cues puncturing and highlighting effectively, the event provides what its description honestly expresses: “delivering more razor-sharp wit and bloody-minded charm than you can shake your patriarchy-fighting stick at, Femmo Hysteria is a one-night-only event featuring a ball-busting line-up to quench the thirst of femedy-loving Fringe-goers everywhere!” Who knew commentary on the current socio-political climate and its traditionalist mindset could bring such light to a person? With sore sides and aching abdominals, the audience will be enlightened to hear that all of these performers have shows of their own as part of this year’s Fringe Festival; however, they’ll be disheartened to find that the festival is coming a close soon and so, too, will these shows. But having a platform like this where various artists of ethics can band together and bring an accomplished night of love and laughs really identifies as the heart and soul of Australian comedy, beautifully bringing a sense of connection and optimism to every person in the room. Hot Mess promised to deliver. And delivered it did.