How to honour the memory of your resilient migrant grandmother? You could condense her story into key events and sing songs about her. Don’t be sceptical – the “comedy cabaret” Foreign Woman, written and performed by Nicola Kuiper and Sandy Whittem, glides across a backdrop of adversity, and still makes for an entertaining exploration of family histories.
Kuiper and Whittem each let one of their grandmothers have stage time; Polish Irena and Canadian Dorothy, respectively. This is not your typical cabaret. It “transcends space and time” so that the two grans who never met could share their mutual loathing of cabbage from around the time of the Second World War.
Over an hour, Kuiper and Whittem present some insight on their grandmothers, drawn from personal experience or family lore. At other times some critical event, such as how Dorothy met her Australian pilot husband, would be set to music. Some of the songs, with original music by Josh Cake and committed choreography, could be quite amusing.
As for the lyrics, those longing for some originality will be rewarded. Where else will you get a tune on meteorology, one of Dorothy’s particular gifts? Or a tense ditty on avoiding uncomfortable situations, both in a conflict zone and with dating, in Chasing the Jew, an account of Irena’s would-be husband Samuel.
Given the inspiration for Foreign Woman, it’s reasonable to seek to blend some more serious content with the comedically-refracted segments. With the critical hat on, one slow song stands out as forcing a metaphor and sentimentality, especially when it is reprised. It feels like a rough edge as everything else in the work fits so well together even if it does flirt with the absurd. Some further refinement of this area can only make a good show even better.
Accompanying the vocals, keyboardist Josh Cake showed the quality of his talents. Cake enhanced songs with melancholic notes or blues inflections, and showed appropriate awareness to modulate volume as the vocals required.
The show moved along at a good pace, even if that meant a few abbreviated costume changes to avoid the Butterfly Club’s fee for running over time. You know a work is going well when it just comes across as part of the show’s charm. In its factual stories and songs, the affection of the performers for their grandmothers was apparent. Don’t be a stranger to Foreign Woman – it’s a quality cabaret at Melbourne Fringe 2018.
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Performance: Monday 24 September 2018 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 30 September 2018
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: Nicola Kuiper and Sandy Whittem star in Foreign Woman (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte