Frisky And Mannish's Christmas Mess... age

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

This could become as traditional part of Christmas as novelty socks or overcooked sprouts – but a lot more welcome – as, for the second year, Frisky and Mannish wrap their biting cabaret in tinsel and cover it in baubles for a joyous West End festive special.

The campness of the season and the clichés of Christmas pop are an irresistible combination for both these smart, vibrant performers, and their theatre full of devotees. And my, what an audience – already up for fun and stirred into action with a silly party game orchestrated from the stage, this is as far cry from the uninterested drunken office parties that dominate so many gigs at this time of year. The crowd were always happy to join in the playful mood, singing choruses on cue or booing mere mention of Simon Cowell, as if he were a pantomime villain.

They were rewarded handsomely, with F&M fostering a celebratory atmosphere with their new takes on old songs, courtesy of Frisky’s haughty attitude and powerful voice and Mannish’s snide asides and jaunty piano accompaniment. The dynamic is so well established that it can only take a well-timed pause or a slight change of emphasis for these original popbitches to expose a well-established hit to the ridicule it deserves.

A couple of festive tracks made a welcome return from last year’s show: their role-reversal take on Baby It’s Cold Outside in which Mannish can’t get a sozzled Frisky out of his flat fast enough; and a version of Fairytale Of New York featuring their surprisingly complementary Lily Allen and Noel Coward – surely the most unlikely festive pairing since Bing Crosby and David Bowie – which collapses in to a barrage of Tourettic swearing.

But the main thread of the show is to expose the lies and clichés of festive favourites from A Spaceman Came Travelling to Do They Know It’s Christmas. And after sensibly ditching the MC of last year so they can host their own shindig, they stamp their own personality over the night, while allowing their well-chosen band of guests to shine just (well, almost) as brightly.

Cheeky burlesque dancers Folly Mixtures added to the tongue-in-cheek showbiz glamour, while Abi Collins adopted the persona of a Russian diva, mixing a few cheesy old comedy lines with her hula-hoop routine, not one of the cabaret arts I particularly have much time for, but she stamped her personality on to it.

Abandoman – who triumphed over our hosts in the Hackney Empire new act final earlier this year – impressed with their improvised raps musical about two members of the audience: a musician called Andrew playing hookey from Chicago down the road, and Jessica, his love interest whose enjoyably overactive imagination fed jolly Rob Broderick’s witty ad-libbed lyrics. F&M joined them for the third act, allowing Lady Frisky to demonstrate an equally quick-witted and eloquent gift for improv – another string to their already over-endowed bow.

Hit of the night was surely The Boy With Tape On His Face, reinventing audience participation as, without saying a word, he encouraged reluctant volunteers to cast aside any reservations and take part in his charming clowning, free from any risk of humiliation. Clever use of music – most notably the soundtrack to Amélie – and expert mime skills make this a delightful set, as he patiently establishes one set piece after another, only to reveal an unexpected visual payoff to each. He could give street entertaining a good name.

Amid all the high jinks low-energy comic Miles Jupp might have seemed an incongruous choice, not least to himself. But the parade of rambunctious cabaret that preceded him was perfect counterpoint to his posh-boy persona; infinitely privileged but at an utter loss when it comes to coping with the real world. This shtick allows for both high-status comedy as he looks down on people in general – and Northerners in particular – as well as low-status stuff at his own ineffective faffing when out of his comfort zone, as he inevitably is. It was a more sedate – and slightly over-long – segment, but Jupp held the attention, and he has both wonderful lines and a beautiful way of saying apparently trivial ones. Somehow a casual phrase such as: ‘I toyed with the idea of a jacket’ is hilarious in his privileged brogue.

And after that an all-singing all-dancing finale involving several of the preceding acts ensured the night most definitely brought tidings of great joy. Frisky & Mannish certainly have the X(mas) Factor.

Review date: 21 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue

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