Frisky and Mannish’s Christmas Mess…Age
Cutting through the ubiquitous, mind-numbing tinsel muck of the holiday season is no easy feat – especially in the West End. Fortunately, musical comedy iconoclasts Frisky and Mannish have the uncompromising gall and relentless satire to wring some bellyache-laughing cheer out of Yuletide’s threadbare clichés. With a little help from an enviable roster of comedy, cabaret and burlesque talents, the frantic duo’s second Christmas offering was the perfect refuge for decadent deviants, jaded sceptics and the family-fatigued.
The pair’s delivery is a straightforward litany of general, mutual and self-abuse, reworking everything from boy band hits to arena rock anthems to suit their lurid agenda of pop provocation. Their penchant for comic invective is more than matched by their musical abilities, rendering parodies even more pungent. The odd impression, by contrast, is so shamelessly crude it borders on slapstick, as in the hilarious number where a drunken Lily Allen derails a persnickety Noël Coward into a torrent of enthusiastic expletives.
Unlike their 2009 Christmas debut, compèred by Des O’Connor, Christmas Mess…Age saw the headliners take on hosting duties themselves. The resulting format interspersed their trademark music mash-ups and plenty of salacious banter with their distinguished guest acts. Comedy was naturally prominent on the bill, with Fringe darlings Miles Jupp and The Boy With Tape on His Face stirring the crowd with consummate ease. While the former paraded staples of his acclaimed repertoire of toff detachment (“the recession must be terrible for the people involved”), the latter surprised successive audience volunteers with an ingenious combination of physical theatre, magic and pantomime. Irish MCs Abandoman rounded up the funny business with their cheer-inspiring hip hop improv, weaving a story worthy of a West End musical around the input of two spectators (one of them, ironically enough, a Chicago cast member).
Burlesque played a special part in the show, with the Folly Mixtures inventively revisiting vintage Christmas imagery in a string of clever cheesecake routines. The four bombshells deftly spurred the public into a whooping, wolf-whistling frenzy, masterfully adapting the intimate language of burlesque to the daunting magnitude of a proper West End venue. Hula hoop virtuoso Abi Collins’s act, on the other hand, struggled with the transition, leaving her impressive acrobatics considerably dimmed (even if her Russian alter ego Katinka proved a crowd-pleaser with her surefire ethnic bawdiness).
As if Frisky and Mannish’s multi-starred behemoth wasn’t enough, a select VIP crowd enjoyed a bona fide Soho after-party at the Escape Bar, which soon spilled next door into legendary variety haunt Madame JoJo’s. Hosted by the bouncy Kiki Kaboom with the same racy verve regularly featured in her excellent burlesque routines, the late-night romp hit the ground running with Audacity Chutzpah and Laurie Hagen’s faux-cheesecake E.T. parody double act, followed by additional contributions by the Folly Mixtures and Abandoman. Fresh from their Sideshow debut, cabaret divas Sarah-Louise Young and Tricity Vogue cranked the weirdness up a notch with the outrageous conjoint-twin inappropriateness of their Janus Sisters act. Piff the Magic Dragon also graced the evening with his terse magical comedy (enhanced by a multimedia projection not often featured in his act), with more animal fun from Ginger Blush and her coarse skin-shedding, lager-guzzling strip act. Closing the festivities were none other than the headliners, indulging the captive public with early hits from their career. The indecorous R&B medley of The Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald Had a Farm and other inappropriately chosen tunes is guaranteed to strip you of your last vestiges of innocence.
Despite the widely heralded post-Meow Meow, post-La Clique phenomenon of cabaret’s big-time explosion, large venue engagements are still few and far between in London’s perennially underground variety scene. Frisky and Mannish’s brash in-your-face irreverence makes a bold crossover statement, shamelessly seizing the mainstream spotlight with an unmistakable brand of humour both popular and defiant. Seldom does musical comedy strike such vivid, provocative highs. Especially during the Christmas season.
Frisky and Mannish’s Christmas Mess…Age. Lyric Theatre, London. 20 December, 19:30. £15. www.friskyandmannish.co.uk
Photo credits: Rosie Collins (Frisky and Mannish), Dress Me Up and Shoot Me (Folly Mixtures), The Boy With Tape on His Face courtesy of the perfomer