The Recruiting Officer
1 September 2018
Blood Moon Theatre, Sydney
We often refer to deeply moving works of art as heartbreaking. However, Foreign Woman draws its power not from breaking, but uniting hearts. This cabaret is a hilarious and deeply moving celebration of the human condition, and the shared release of emotions is tremendously powerful.
Sandy Whittem and Nicola Kuiper demonstrate their agility as actors throughout the hour of sketches and songs, but they are most effective in the moments when they are simply and honestly being themselves. Cabaret is at its best in moments of openness and vulnerability, and both actors are totally committed to maintaining an open connection with the audience from the first minute to the last.
The comedy in this show is founded on this connection. Whittem hooks the audience with a Gaulier-esque glance at every opportunity, while Kuiper reels them in with a smorgasbord of brilliantly absurd ad-libs. The balance between their contrasting styles and personalities gives way to delightful physical comedy and striking images as they cycle through half a dozen characters, but truly shines when Whittem’s pure, crystalline vocals blend with Kuiper’s raw, bluesy tones to set up striking harmonies.
In the more emotional songs, Whittem and Kuiper demonstrate excellent taste with their smooth, unpretentious delivery. Their tears are no by-product of their well-honed acting chops – they are genuine evidence of two people who love their families so much that it hurts, and who are not just willing but eager to share this emotion with the world. In this hour-long vulnerability, Foreign Woman is particularly demanding of its actors, and the sheer tenacity of Whittem and Kuiper in their undiminished eagerness to share their stories with us, no matter how much energy it takes, is both endearing and impressive.
As the songwriter, Josh Cake sets a new standard for cabaret. Cake’s control of emotion throughout his songs is extraordinary. Few songwriters can make an audience roar with laughter, and fewer still can make an audience weep as one. Not only does Cake move his audience to laughter and tears repeatedly in the same show, but he even achieves both within the same song.
From bluesy dirges lamenting cabbages to a bittersweet ballad that centres on the imagery of raindrops running down a window, Josh Cake weaves simple, universally recognisable objects into extraordinarily beautiful metaphors for the human condition. This reaches its peak in an ode to the role of light in human rituals around death: “Some hope’s too much to hold alone: it’s only human to need a light”.
Throughout the show, Cake extends these images to us as invitations to enter the story, as human beings who share the same condition. While the individual scenes of the cabaret highlight the specifics of the lives of two individuals, the songs tell a story of universal humanity. We are all included in Foreign Woman, to laugh and weep and hope together. Having shared these emotions together, the audience left the theatre slowly, with an unspoken feeling of unity. Foreign Woman is a powerful argument for live theatre.
Go see Foreign Woman. You’ll laugh yourself dizzy, cry yourself dry, and leave emotionally spent yet thoroughly fulfilled. This is the best hour of theatre you’ll see all year.
Published with permission from The Recruiting Officer.