Review: The Working Bitches at the Sydney Opera House

Review By Isabella Olsson


It’s International Women’s Day, it’s the All About Women festival, it’s a quartet of shameless and outrageous women performers revelling in their womanhood. I’ve brought my mum along (dad has joined in solidarity) and we’re outside the Studio Theatre at the Sydney Opera House waiting to see The Working Bitches. I say “see” – it’s probably more accurate to say “experience”. As we enter we are welcomed by the performers – the Bitches – with a level of infectious enthusiasm rare in theatre as they direct us to our seats, acting as ushers-cum-MCs-cum-warm up act. As we wait for the rest of the audience to shuffle in, this energy is matched in equal parts by a solemnity, as though we are about to participate in an ancient womanly ritual. There’s a smoking ceremony happening in the front rows and the Bitches are greeting audience members with kisses on the cheek (only with consent, of course).


The Working Bitches are Fijian artist Stelly G, Thursday Island performer Iya Ya Ya, Perth born actor and drag king Megana Holiday, and Sydney club scene icon Emma Maye Gibson, better known for her cabaret clown alter ego Betty Grumble. As they point out, the show is titled as such because… well, they’re working on it. It’s clear from the outset that this is hardly a neatly polished product – we witness their pre-show warm up, there are a few mic mishaps, and the Bitches improvise and free ball with abandon when they need to – but this ad hoc, slightly chaotic vibe is hardly a drawback. If anything, it feels delightfully liberating, as though this theatre is a safe space to express ourselves and make mistakes while doing so.


A combination of storytelling, dance, music and, for lack of a better word, antics, the Bitches use their hour onstage to take up space, physically and vocally and spiritually. There is a boldness and unfettered joyfulness that evokes the sort of cathartic elation of dancing alone in your bedroom, or pub karaoke. It’s not quite performance art, not quite cabaret, not quite straight theatre, but instead lies somewhere in between, and the Bitches, while each distinct, share a warmth and a candidness that is enormously welcoming. They are inclusive, making sure to give time and respect to women from all backgrounds, and as a result when they speak to us it really does feel like they’re speaking directly to us – seeing our individual humanity and experiences and valuing us for it. Better yet, they’re funny: cheeky and brash and self-effacing and wonderfully unapologetic.


Despite the comedy and high energy, the show is perhaps most moving when it dares to be earnest. Maybe it’s because it was IWD, or because I had my mum sitting next to me, but I was most affected by the opening quarter in which each performer introduces us to their grandmother. Beautiful vintage portraits of these women hang on the back curtains as the only real set pieces, and one by one we are told their stories: stories of raising children, of migration, of loss and sacrifice, and, very often, being the unsung heroes of their families. In sharing the stories of their grandmothers the Bitches pay a loving respect to the lineage of women who have preceded them, their strength and courage, and tenderly pay tribute to motherhood. Mirroring this, the show finishes by looking forward, with our Bitches surrounding a cauldron and manifesting futures for themselves and for all women – futures where trans bodies are safe, where the natural world is nurtured, where Indigenous women are celebrated, and where free champagne awaits the audience.


Feminism can be an exhausting project, and feminist theatre is often used as a tool to explore its more daunting facets: the anger and despair that women experience in existing within patriarchy, the oppression and the seemingly constant uphill climb. And, while I love a good feminist rampage as much as the next Bitch, it is refreshing and soul-nourishing to witness a show like The Working Bitches – a show that celebrates Bitchhood, that takes the time to revel in and be grateful to womankind. A show that leaves you wanting to hug your mum and line dance outside the Opera House. That’s my kind of theatre.

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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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