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Review: Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered at Union Hall

By Lisa Lanzi

Trigger warning: this performance and hence this review has 15+ content that mentions sexual abuse.  Please consider this and seek advice or assistance when you need to.

Millicent Sarre is exceptional.  A singing voice that could take on many genres, stage presence, intelligence, wit and a rare song-writing gift to be celebrated.  Catch this show before Ms Sarre gets snapped up interstate or internationally, or her ticket price skyrockets! It is Cabaret with heart and meaning and a real and challenging dialogue with an audience.

Union Hall resides in Adelaide’s Central Market precinct.  It is a perfect cabaret venue, intimate, welcoming and classy.  There is a good sized stage, grand piano, excellent lighting facilities, as well as a bar and comfortable seating options.

Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered has a complex, perceptive and fascinating script.  It is entirely original and based on Ms Sarre’s own adventures, opinions and beliefs around contemporary feminism and the way we negotiate gender and protest in our world.  Words and songs deliver biting points of view, hard facts, and some poignant revelations but never descends into didacticism. It is a wild ride with perfect timing and shading buoyed by the performer’s energy, commitment and skill.  Consummate cabaret entertainment.

Ms Sarre found a passion for cabaret through mentorship with David Campbell in Class of Cabaret in 2011.  She is also a law and performing arts graduate, performs with many pro-am groups around Adelaide and teaches singing.  Her backing vocalist is Jemma Allen, a skilled performer in her own right.

Khaki endeavours to “stuff every feminist stereotype into a two and half minute song” and eases the audience into ‘friendly’ feminism making a salient point about the arts, and artists, being uniquely situated to influence change.  What good are laws, and indeed lawmakers, unless culture and society make shifts to a more generous, accountable and equitable place? 

The ABCs of Feminism is offered as her “first, perhaps last attempt” at rap as a “porcelain-skinned, middle class female” but it is truly a tour de force.  It starts melodically and gently then Ms Allen adds the beatbox and the tempo and style hit a furious pace.  My mind was boggled by how many words and biting observations Sarre could fit into a bar of 4/4 time.  As she points out - start them young.  Maybe get your toddler grooving to this one and get the cultural shift started early.

Moving on then to a dissection of “the big ones” starting with toxic masculinity and the many situations in which this occurs.  The lyrics are Sarre’s own with a sly theft of the Britney Spears’ Toxic melody to carry them.  The audience laughs but the bite of the truth is not lost.  Another ‘big one’ is rape culture - a confusing term, perhaps it should be anti-culture. The idea of consent was illustrated a few years ago by this analogy: If you're still struggling with the notion of consent just imagine instead of initiating sex you're making them a cup of tea.  Ms Sarre has composed a brilliant song, ‘a kind of educational ditty’, using the analogies presented in the Tea and Consent video.  Audience participation was encouraged but we managed to ‘shatter her low expectations’ by being just that great at singing and consenting to sing.  There is also an amusing song about mansplaining with excellent spoken examples by both Allen and Sarre.

Ms Sarre’s vocals are seamless ranging from warm alto to smoky jazz and blues, the occasional musical theatre belt and scoops up to soprano-land.  This was illustrated perfectly in the incomparable ballad It’s OK To Cry inviting us to consider how we speak to young boys and men.  The ‘toughen up’ diatribe isn’t healthy, for anyone: “If men don’t express emotion openly, they are not the only ones who get hurt.”  Welcome to the Female Experience is a lesson for men: don’t be predators.  There was a definite mood change during Me Too, chronicling Ms Sarre’s experience of sexual abuse as well as broader issues for all of us.

Many conversations will be inspired from Millicent Sarre’s performance work.  She led us to find opportunities everyday for men to be supportive of women.  Call out bad behaviour, remembering The behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you condone. Sarre reminds us that we can’t do everything, so start with something. Be an ally and check your privilege. There is a confession in the finale with Ms Sarre suggesting that we were lured there under false pretences.  She IS an angry feminist and so she should be.  Anger = power = do something about it.

Ms Sarre advises us that no two forms of activism are the same.  Welcome to the world of Cabaret Millicent, long may you inhabit and shine in that space and keep us entertained with your particularly wise activism and talent.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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