Review by Emily White
Sunanda Sachatrakul has brought their show Sunanda Loves Britney to the Fringe Hub at Trades Hall after being nominated for Best Newcomer in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival earlier this year.
Sunanda opens the show with a dance sequence to a classic Britney banger that is immediately high energy with genuinely impressive choreography. With a bedazzled denim shirt, shorts, and no shoes they have created an intimate space reminiscent of Lizzie Maguire dancing to Blondie in her bedroom. Sunanda connects with the audience from the second they enter the stage, drawing us into the world of 2000s pop music without needing to say a word.
From here we are taken on a journey through Sunanda’s life and the love of their life - Britney Spears. Entirely relatable yet never predictable, it’s a queer coming of age story for those who didn’t get to find themselves until later in life, imbued with the infectious enthusiasm and vulnerability that comes from sharing a decades-long obsession with an audience.
Sunanda’s style of stand-up comedy is energetic and physical in a way that is refreshing and fun to watch. Sunanda’s stories are told in the enthusiastic tone of a Play School presenter reading from a picture book - which is somehow subversive yet comforting at the same time. The jokes are well crafted, the stories are nuanced, and the interspersion of lyrics from Britney songs are delivered with the exact level of commitment that a pun mixed with a celebrity impersonation needs.
The visual details complimented Sunanda’s storybook style and punctuated the show with visual gags. In both the costume design and the infographic foam board visual aids there is a level of campness coming from Sunanda’s effortless commitment to the bit. If anyone can make maths feel balletic, it’s Sunanda.
The lighting design was also a standout element of the show. The use of colour was bold and specific in a way that was over the top, but never too much - in other words, entirely camp. It complimented Sunanda’s high energy performance and elevated the moments of storytelling when we went into a flashback, or a dramatic showdown of family drama. The bright green lighting as Sunanda danced like a zombie to a slow-mo version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” after coming out to their parents was a particularly strong example of this. Silly, but cleverly presenting a serious topic in a comedic way without discounting the realness of it. It was a great way of inviting the audience to share in a vulnerable moment of genuine hurt, especially for a situation so loaded for a queer audience - rejection by the family after coming out - in a way that expressed pain without angst.
This is a testament to what a great director can do for a stand-up comedy show. The direction by Candy Bowers, with assistant director Phoebe Mason, is resonant throughout. The story was so cohesive in its emotional arcs and satisfying in the pay-off of the many running gags Sunanda set up throughout.
From Sunanda’s plasticine facial expressions, to their joyful dance moves, passionate energy, and truly impressive whistling ability, Sunanda Loves Britney is a camp celebration of the queer body and growing up in your own time.