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The History Girls Present: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Jay Richardson

A succession of great historical figures, cornerstones of English literature and the conventions of period costume drama offer a bottomless well of inspiration for sketch comedy.

For The History Girls too, there’s the opportunity for some feminist revisionism, to blow some of the dust off these most established and patriarchal of narratives. Instead, they simply reimagine the likes of Boudicca, the Bröntes, Napoleon and Virginia Woolf with contemporary mentalities, casting them in a series of modern situations to ever diminishing returns. This might be perfectly watchable if almost everything didn’t degenerate into R ‘n’ B-style bumping and grinding.

Inspired by Keira Knightley, Sophie Fletcher sets up their feminist politics at the start, an effective, deadpan statement of intent, immediately and amusingly undercut by the trio’s giddy excitement at getting into costume. The outfits supplied by Sunčana Dulie and Natasha Prynne are indeed sumptuous, and would put many theatrical productions at the Fringe to shame. Regardless, Fletcher, Megan Heffernan and Vanessa-Faye Stanley pull off their scene changes quickly, with a series of animated Terry Gilliam homages covering their more extended absences from the stage.

As Sloaney ‘queenagers’, a brattish Elizabeth I plans her sweet 16th birthday with sister Mary, the bling trappings of her demands referencing her namesake’s recent Jubilee celebrations, though perhaps not making as much capital from this as they should. Mary Queen of Scots pops up with a witchy recipe for Irn-Bru, deftly delivered in a formidable Edinburgh brogue. But in lieu of a decent get-out, they merely evoke Girl Power and strip into the next sketch to the tune of Nelly’s It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Their best characters are the Brönte sisters, with Stanley as the ostensibly weaker; and Anne actually more intelligent, far-sighted and less inhibited than her oblivious, overbearing older siblings. The fey spirit possessing them with any mention of "The Moors!" is a delight, a much more satisfying running gag than Napoleon’s materialistic lust for literally everything. With his flighty, flirtatious Josephine, Stanley is initially tremendous as the strutting, capricious dictator. But a homoerotic love-triangle with Lord Nelson soon becomes wearing.

Joan of Arc prescribing Joan of Arc-style solutions to Guinevere and the Lady of the Lake’s relationship problems has promise but never truly develops. The aforementioned Boudicca rapping aggressively at would-be invaders is a one-note joke that Heffernan can’t hope to sustain for an entire song. And multiple Nicole Kidmans, complete with ridiculous prosthetic noses, squabbling for the right to portray Woolf as a basket case is just confusing.

Review date: 19 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Assembly Hall

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