Raincoats and ‘privilege’ were checked in at the Coopers Malthouse cloakroom for Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival. Wet shoes and bags dried off as the femme Fringe Wives Club warmed up Beckett theatre with their feminist fervor.
Five gorgeous glamorous gals in sparkling pink, lilac and blonde Dolly Parton wigs, wore white fringe tasseled halter-neck tops, shorts, skirts and skorts and ushered “Y’all” to our seats. The “wives” and a live band persuaded all to clap along at the very beginning of the hootenanny.
The thigh-slapping wives were in exceptional voice from the opening medley – a traditional Appalachian ballad – to Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Madison Avenue, Roxette and Rhianna. They sang the provocative yet purposeful lyrics and paid homage to women of all nations who strive for independence.
By the end of the first number, an instant smile was unavoidable. Their energetic harmonies, fast paced boot scooting, high kicks and swiveling hips heated up the cold and dreary night, leaving the audience delighted and breathless. Their infectious personalities bubbled to the surface like the champagne or moonshine they swilled on stage, as they celebrated radical bad girls and “dangerous” women of rock, country, blues, R&B, and pop.
The Fringe Wives Club is a clever cabaret packed with light-hearted, forgiving, or somber flawless original tracks, compilations, and covers. The accomplished wives play a variety of instruments; Victoria Falconer on keyboard, Tessa Waters on banjo, Sharnema Nougar on ukulele, all backed by Alana Dawes on bass and Jarrad Payne on drums. Victoria Falconer effortlessly includes the mandolin, piano accordion, singing sword, zither, and a metal bucket in her repertoire—all from her self-confessed “privileged London conservatory days”.
Each thirty-something wife, counting in the comedic styling’s of Laura Frew and Ro Hutson, were introduced by Tessa—not as “girls”—as a bunch of laid back, fun-loving “women or persons”, who recognise their unique contribution to the club and society. The women did point out the obvious—the drummer and only male on stage, and his status was noted as a “white, single, middle class, and thirty-something, male” which drew a huge laugh from the audience. Then the wives sang their individual tales or “tweeted” on a mobile phone the ongoing struggles for equality today.
The mixed gendered audience are reminded of the first women, Australia’s original “boot scooters” from thousands of years ago, the custodians of the land—the Wurundjeri peoples. The Fringe Wives Club proudly acknowledged the past, present and emerging elders and segued into a catchy original ditty about the first female bushranger Jessie Hickman.
Sharnema Nougar gets up close and intimate to sing a folk song rivaling Ned Kelly tales. She climbs into the audience strumming her ukulele singing the praises of Elizabeth Jessica Hickman who allegedly struck her drunk and abusive husband in self-defense, killed him then fled into the bush and stole chooks, clothing, cattle and a horse to survive.
Sharnema is hilarious as she slips in an out of accents; Irish to English, Australian to Polish and back to Irish again, making a point of Australia’s rich heritage.
No subject is off limits in this brave and brassy cabaret. Listen out for the thought provoking “privilege” song and Laura Frew celebrating shyness, her curves, and the divine feminine rising with the support of the club and dances her way into womanhood.
The femme fatales address another insidious step backwards for feminism, the rise of teenage female suicide in the twenty first century. The wives don’t bow down to social media trolls and cowards on instagram and twitter, they rejoice in song.
The Glittergrass slapstick, story-telling and melodious voices will have you foot tapping, hand clapping, and laughing. A sixty-minute hootenanny isn’t enough time for all of today’s and tomorrow’s wives, single women or girls on the fringe of greatness.