A Frisky and Mannish Christmas

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Christmas just got a little bit camper, thanks to Frisky And Mannish.

Though still so fresh on the circuit they can take part in Hackney Empire’s new act final next month, this deliciously ballsy cabaret duo can already (nearly) fill a West End theatre on the strength of their name, thanks largely to their career-making Edinburgh run.

This festive extravaganza entwined their spirited and twisted musical numbers with guest stars popping round, evoking unfortunate echoes of Noel’s House Party. And while the result took some time to find its feet, the second half was as joyful a musical celebration of the extravagance of Christmas as you’ll find anywhere. Who needs the choir of King’s College Cambridge when you’ve a fey piano player and a bolshy diva?

The dynamic duo were not actually the hosts of their own party. That honour went to Des O’Connor, an act whose billing will forever be: ‘No, not that one’. O’Connor the younger is a great MC, flamboyant yet formal, with the RP intonation of Nicholas Parsons, but with self-awareness, and an affable ability to rouse a rabble when needed.

He’s also a mean ukulele player, although the ditties he sang had the air of smug tweeness of a dated intimate revue, right down to the predicable swerving away from rhyming ‘luck’ with the word everyone’s thinking of. It’s easy on the ears, but the turn never zinged (zung?) on any of the repeated occasions he trotted it out.

Even F&M struggled to demonstrate their usual upbeat verve in the early stages, choosing carols and earnest Christmassy ballads over the more exuberant pop hits they usually parody. Frisky has an amazing voice, with such great power and range, she can and does belt out snippets of pretty much any pop song from over the decades, but in the early stages the pair lacked the inventive twists and juxtapositions that made them such a hit at the Fringe. Swapping a few lyrics and even doing a fairly straight cover version of Destiny Child’s ultra-materialistic 8 Days Of Christmas, just because it was ridiculous enough in the first place, seemed an under-use of their talents.

There were a couple of flourishes, especially their take on Baby It’s Cold Outside, with Mannish utterly uninterested in Frisky’s drunken advances, but the fun only really took off after the interval.

Then they reprised a couple of the greatest hits from their School Of Pop Edinburgh show, such as the sexed-up, Girls-Aloud-style nursery rhymes and the Pussycat Dolls as a bawdy end-of-pier turn. Later, their Lily Allen/Noel Coward double act performed an enjoyable new version of Fairytale Of New York, while highlight of their set was surely a brilliantly inspired reimagining of The Holly And The Ivy as a realty-style showdown: Christmas’s Next Top Foliage.

As for guest stars, the lithe Kalki Hula Girl adopted the persona of a drunken party-crasher to add some value to her talent, while the Puppini Sisters, the swell Forties-style close harmony trio, brought sled-loads of festive spirit to their perfectly old-fashioned vocals, proving real crowd-pleasers.

Shooting Stars regular Angelos Epithemiou’s downbeat ‘anti-comedy’ certainly brought contrast to the slick high-production of the rest of the night; shuffling on in Primark anorak and clutching his precious plastic bag.

He admits he only has three jokes which he must carefully ration, so extends his set by carefully drawing out the microphone, failing to banter with the audiences and generally looking uncomfortable on stage, exhaling loudly into the microphone after almost every sentence, like an awkward newbie.

While playing ‘dare’ with the audience’s patience can backfire – especially the finale played out to Mud’s Seventies hit The Cat Crept In, which he admits ‘drags on a bit’ – he did manage to pull off the right balance between embarrassment and laughs tonight.

And his actual material turns out to be rather fine, from the gags he doesn’t quite understand, to the muddled rant about environmental Armageddon. Glimpses of the impressive range of voices at the command of Epithemiou’s creator Renton Skinner add to the enjoyment of this distinctive character.

But the weirdest, and most wonderful, guest turn on the night came from Bruce Airhead. It’s impossible to do justice to his act in print – explaining that he climbs inside a giant balloon can’t hope to do it justice – but it is absurdly brilliant, with an impressively surprising finale. And when he stood there, just his head poking out from above the latex globe, he looked like nothing less a human bauble… how festive.

It echoed the spirit of inventive, spangly, silliness, performed with powerful élan, that epitomises Frisky and Mannish at their best. This show might not have been wholly consistent in that, but after the onslaught of playful high jinks in the second half, no one could mistake the party spirit in the cold winter’s air.

Review date: 22 Dec 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.