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Frisky and Mannish's School of Pop - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

The Fringe still has the capacity to surprise – just as long as you’re prepared to take a punt into the unknown. Based on nothing more than personal prejudice, I’d dismissed Frisky and Mannish as the sort of all glitter and no soul camp cabaret act that really wouldn’t be my cup of Darjeeling. How wrong I was: this is pure exhilarating brilliance from start to finish.

The genre they work in might seem uninspired on paper. It’s essentially ‘one song to the tune of another’ for 60 minutes. But the artfulness and attitude with which they do it is irresistibly impressive, double-handedly reviving the often moribund genre of musical parody and providing an upliftingly fun night out.

The duo enter the stage to a cacophonous assault of musical mash-ups, the smoke clearing to reveal a striking collision of New Romantic and burlesque. Frisky, her bright orange mortar board perched coquettishly atop her electric-purple bob; Mannish with cuticle-hugging silver trousers and enough hair product to drown a guillemot.

These are our teachers for the School Of Pop, and what an education it is. Who knew that Lily Allen was best sung in the style of Noel Coward – and vice-versa; that Girls Aloud provides the perfect backing track to nursery rhymes; or that TLC’s No Scrub was originally penned by Henry VIII to the tune of Greensleeves. Yes, F&M can invigorate even the most vapid R&B dirge.

A simple catalogue of what they do cannot however, do justice to the brilliant juxtapositions, which are elevated way above the gimmick. Instead they are given devious, often misdirecting, set-ups – so the laugh of recognition when the audience figures out exactly what’s going on is heightened – and expertly executed.

The pace is invigorating, too. No spoof outstays its welcome, and songs twist and turn in unexpected directions to maintain the freshness. Several numbers crash an album’s worth of tracks into a single song, on themes such as stoned female singer-songwriters of the mid-Nineties or a musical spelling lesson, one of the occasion nods to the purported theme of the night.

Spike this tasty musical cocktail with bitchy badinage, Strictly Come Dancing vignettes with the most ridiculously silly Bruce Forsyth impersonations and strong satirical sensibilities, and you have a potent mix.

All this is topped off by the larger-than-life performances of these hugely charismatic duo, which sweep you up into their outrageous world. The diva-like Frisky has stunning vocal range and the ability blast out a power-ballad like Steve Tyler at a karaoke night, or shrink into the tiny voice of a nervous little girl. The sterner Mannish (who, in a nod to topicality, orders no applause between the movements of the oratorios he introduces) provides a more stable, yet still otherworldly, counterbalance – as well as being a maestro of the keyboard.

Never sounding a duff note, this is an utter blast from start to all-too-soon finish. If you don’t enjoy Frisky & Mannish, you have no soul.

Review date: 14 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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