It’s Australia Day, and the kookaburras have just begun their morning cackle. I crawl out of bed at a quarter-to-six and haul my languid frame to Morley. At this point you’re aghast, asking “Good grief, why!” and, to be honest, so am I, but I’ve been called upon last-minute to fill in at a concert for local community members as they savour a sausage sizzle breakfast, and heck, who am I to turn that down? It’s a weird and blurry affair, punctuated by marquees, mayors, bush ballads and untimely snaggers. I’m home before midday and wonder if it was all a dream.
Seemingly it wasn’t, and what’s more, my brain won’t go back to sleep, so I’m left to eat toast and grapple with my fierce ambivalence towards Australia day. That gets old pretty fast though, and soon enough I venture out, listening to that new “Down Under Nuggets” compilation of old Aussie garage gems (which is well worth a listen, for the record), and eventually I’m in Northbridge, and we’re watching mermaids and mermen swim and kiss and burst up for air in a great big illuminated soupcan, and opposite is the Aquarius bar in Fringeworld with its geyser roof spraying cool water into the warm night air.
Down under the big Orwellian screen, a man does magic tricks with coins and things, hiding all but his hands behind an Australian flag and a fez. His sleight of hand is projected onto the massive screen, and crowds of people gather and grin in a wholesome display of appreciation. Feeling the tug of Fringeworld and its abundant hidden talents, we agree to see a show. Someone hands us a flyer.
FRISKY & MANNISH
“A complete triumph!” – Time Out Sydney
“A Gold-Star Masterclass!” – Mail on Sunday
“Such glittering panache!” – Telegraph
“Comedy gold!” – The Guardian
“Pure exhilarating brillance!” – Chortle
“Etc etc!” – Etc.
Alongside each of these rave-bites invariably appears a “five star” rating. Well, the graphic design on the thing is setting off alarm bells, but hey, with that many rhapsodizing reviews, how bad could it be?
I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of the fluoro-punk-burlesque-circus aesthetic (with the exception of Tomas Ford, who rules), so I did have my doubts from the outset. But I put them in a box and sat on the lid, reassuring myself that so long as there was no cringey audience interaction, everything would be fine. Funny I should have thought that. As soon as I entered the Circus Theatre Tent (which I would soon come to know as “the seventh circle of hell”) and sat down, the crowd was instructed by a woman with pink-red hair and a wire hat to stand up and “shimmy to the left” before “shimmying to the right” and – oh yes – “shimmying to the front.”
There is no time to catch our breath or get our bearings. There is no hint as to what we’re about to experience or why; no real introduction or context: straight away it’s just bright flashing lights and gaudy, abrasive montages of hyper-commercial pop music. But hey, maybe this could be cool? A weird cabaret duo distilling the sheer grotesqueness of the pop music machine? Mashing mainstream culture into a freaky, almost nightmarish funhouse of sight and sound? Ah, wishful thinking.
FRISKY & MANNISH – one is the aforementioned cherry-haired, ostentatious singer, the other a skinny, glittery, and slightly greasy looking fellow with chunky kicks and highlights (he also sings, and plays a keyboard). Once we’re permitted to sit down, Frisky & Mannish launch into their relentless set, which consists of “satirical” reworkings of major label pop hits. The concept is fairly uninspired, but it’s not terrible. It could certainly be done successfully. It’s not a doomed idea. Where will they take it?
Well, they start singing a Kelly Clarkson hit, but after a few lines, begin swapping Clarkson’s lyrics for generic English-language idioms (“absence makes the heart grow fonder / the grass is always greener” and so on). Ah – so what you’re saying, Frisky & Mannish, is that Kelly Clarkson is not a great lyricist and her songs could be said to be clichéd? Ah yes, it is what you’re saying, because you just stopped the song and said exactly that, in case we missed the joke. Maaaate. (“Comedy Gold” – The Guardian).
Soon, they delve into the theme of “pop duets”, taking up the example of Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. The joke is that the two singers will try to “out-do” each other. The execution of this joke (which was, naturally, pre-explained) is that Frisky & Mannish sing the duet together… somewhat loudly. (“Such glittering panache!” -Telegraph).
I bite down on my program very hard, withholding a tortured moan. Don’t get me wrong – I have no desire to be cynical – and there are promising moments; moments that actually take an idea beyond crudely spelling out the basis of a gag. When they implant Lana Del Rey into a scene from Phantom of The Opera, it’s genuinely funny. When they rework Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used To Know” into a crass duet with Danni Minogue, it falls flat in terms of its intended irony (i.e. “serious indie musician” meets “annoying pop star” with hilarious results), but complete with tacky MS-Powerpoint type video clip it remains sufficiently bizarre and ridiculous to incite a laugh.
These bits are good: they begin to approach the whole point of “satire,” using irony, or exaggeration, or juxtaposition or some other twist to make a point and transform the mundane into something amusing. But for the most part, Frisky & Mannish just point out the obvious and make cheap shots (portraying Westlife as pappy, and George Michael as camp? Really guys? Is that all you’ve got?) (“A Gold-Star Masterclass!” – Mail on Sunday).
After about an hour of loud and lurid tedium, I can no longer give Frisky & Mannish the benefit of the doubt. Mate, this sucks! It really STINKS! They go into the crowd and pull out a dude and make him dance with maracas and another dude plays the castanet or something and “oh how embarrassing!” and the crowd goes wild and THEY MADE FUN OF JUSTIN BIEBER OH NO WAY and now they’re doing the fake “serious section” in which they throw all notions of “comedy” to the dogs and just deliberately sing bad songs really, really, badly, so it’s kinda like watching a really awkward school assembly or a genuinely tragic drunken karaoke performance by a grown-up emo kid. (“Pure exhilarating brillance!” – Chortle).
By the time they get to the “encore” (I am now chewing my own tongue as a pleasurable alternative) the overwhelming feeling is “what have I just watched?”
Frisky & Mannish would have you believe that’s because their show “eludes categorization” – “Why is it so hard to describe us, journalists?” they taunt on their website – but in truth, it’s more because they don’t really DO anything. They mock big name pop artists, in an extremely unimaginative fashion. They tease successful (albeit dubious) musicians, without adding anything whatsoever to the creative pool themselves. What’s more, they’re complicit in this whole shitty music cycle, because they feed off all that mainstream tripe and replicate its worst features, making for a far more distressing listening experience than if you were to simply hear the originals.
Ultimately, some of these jokes and impressions would be acceptable humour amongst a group of drunken friends on a Wednesday night, but it’s not international Fringe Festival material. If you get the chance to see them – don’t. Save yourself the inflated ticket price, and buy a Danni Minogue album. That might actually be funny.