1 September 2018
Blood Moon Theatre, Sydney
In the Kate Cameron Company’s new cabaret Foreign Woman, Melbourne comedians Sandy Whittem and Nicola Kuiper present the parallel stories of their grandmothers’ lives, beginning with the struggles of childhood in Depression-era Canada and World War II Poland, through to their migration to Australia and subsequent lives here. Whittem and Kuiper captivate their audience through their vulnerability and total commitment to every choice that they make on stage. Director Josh Cake’s judgement as the accompanist is sublime, and he also makes a delightful cameo as a retro voiceover artist.
The show is a collection of sketches and songs that highlight key moments in their grandmothers’ lives. In the rush of its opening scenes, Foreign Woman is presented as the kind of historical cabaret that might risk patchiness, but the show soon proves itself to be brilliantly cohesive and complete.
Whittem and Kuiper maintain their comedic dynamic with earnest honesty, playing off each other, their stories, and the audience. In the opening scenes, only some attempted jokes land, but after ten minutes, every punchline receives a laugh for the rest of the show – the humour hasn’t changed, but the performers have won us over, forging a rock solid connection with the audience. Rather than establishing settings and then making jokes based on that context – a common structure in historical narrative comedy – they use strong comedic choices in order to establish their many and varied settings and characters. These actors never waste time giving us comedy or story elements alone, but pursue both simultaneously.
Nothing in this show exists alone – every component functions in unity with the others. Most impressively, the show ties together the performers’ desire to remember their grandmothers with their grandmothers’ want of a better life for their families, and satisfies all of these wants in the very fact that this show exists. This coupling of wants between the performers and their characters, brought to fruition in a metastructurally connected resolution, results in a deeply satisfying sense of completion for the audience.
Whittem and Kuiper never give us the option of wondering whether they are primarily singers, actors, or comedians – they are all three, and are at their peak in the songs, when they are able to demonstrate all three skills. It is these songs that elevate this cabaret to the deeply complete, fulfilling experience that it is.
Josh Cake demonstrates a range as a songwriter that may never have been heard before. Musically, his songs range from explosively bright to viscerally dark, from relentlessly catchy earworms to exquisitely tender, soaring melodies. Lyrically, he moves from a masterful display of meticulously timed hilarity to metaphors that bypass the brain and land straight in your tear glands.
Cake applies the principle of “explore and heighten” to every song in this show, resulting in both potently comedic and deeply emotional numbers. His reprises never merely return to a musical or lyrical theme, but strengthen and develop it, doubling down on the comedy and emotion presented in the first instance. The motifs which tie together the show are flawlessly interlaced, and once again, we have a sense of perfect thoroughness.
Intensely funny and heartbreakingly poignant, with a core of sincere hope, Foreign Woman is the most complete comedy cabaret imaginable.
Published with permission from The Bullock.