Review by Lucy Lucas
Produced by Mover’s Call Theatre Company, Gemma Caruana’s Underwire is a sublimely witty one hour of tight comedy, parodied pop songs and heartfelt storytelling.
The autobiographical piece follows Caruana’s life through puberty up to the point of her breast reduction surgery as a young adult. Focusing mainly on her personal journey it also looks at the effects of the male gaze, casual sexism and body-based violence on young people, especially women.
Wonderfully funny with excellent comedic timing, Caruana has a face for cabaret, making her opening night audience roar with every tiny grimace or exaggerated wink. The moments in which she dropped her heightened comedy facade however where the true sparkles of brilliance lay. Her honesty and clarity during the slightly more serious or personal stories held the room with the command of a much more seasoned performer. What made these grounded moments more delightful was the fact that, perhaps due to opening night nerves, I found her to be pushing vocally in the opening fifteen minutes, her earnestness a little intense and overwhelming at times. This made me yearn even more for those wonderful, softened moments and, regardless, I think it highly likely those jitters will pass as she settles into the season.
Caruana’s script does not have a single dull moment. It is snappy, smart and expertly structured, though I must admit there is a missed opportunity to reprise an earlier mentioned ‘blue-dress’ in the final number that is instead centred around a slightly incongruous nun bit. I particularly appreciate the light way Caruana handled the heavier aspects of her experience. Too often in independent theatre artists seem to think the only way to explore weighty themes is with an intensity and sombre tone that often clashes horrifically with the piece at large. Underwire is a fabulous example of the exact opposite - Caruana lets us in on the darker themes of her work gently, without compromising on authenticity
This production definitely leans more towards the comedy side of a ‘comedy-cabaret’, a good decision overall as Caruana’s comedy and writing skills are slightly more confident than her vocal ones (though, again, I think this may be something that settles over the run).There were less musical numbers than I expected but those that were selected were used to great effect; the hero being a joyful cover of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball.
Sarah Frencham’s direction kept things beautifully paced and accompanist Connor Dariol did a superb job of inconspicuously supporting the production in a very small stage space. His and Caruana’s onstage relationship had lovely balance, sweetened by the revelation that they are partners off-stage too. This is the second independent production I’ve seen directed by Frencham and I have heartily enjoyed both; she’s definitely one to watch. She has a fantastic ability to bring the best out of her performers and keep cabaret/musical acts entertaining from beginning to end.
An overall spectacular debut from a new comedy voice, Underwire is not to be missed.