BWW Review: IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS Has the Potential to Be the Battle Cry it Sets Out to Be
Audiences who are expecting a bit of song and dance from IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT, the underground feminist cabaret that opened at the Alexander Upstairs last night, might find their expectations somewhat confounded. There is a little of both in the show, but IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT is more a kabarett than the mostly light entertainment pieces that South African audiences have come to call cabaret. While the piece eschews the political satire that was originally at the core of the form, its focus on social issues brings it in line with modern exponents of kabarett, which line up a more extensive range of targets for their satirical arrows. Imagine a late-night German television programme like MANN, SIEBER! filtered through the pop culture aesthetic of an American variety show like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and you might know what to expect from IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT.
Loosely framed by the experiences of two waitresses preparing to take on the sexual harassment that even now goes part-and-parcel with the job, IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT follows Beth (Jamie-Lee Money) and Lori (Donna Cormack-Thomson) as they expose a series of social norms and niceties geared towards the suppression of women. They tackle television shows, fitness fads and beauty magazines. They are explicit in their thoughts about how men objectify women. More obliquely, they comment on how relationships between women can conspire to maintain the status quo. The whole affair has the potential to be a gloriously disturbing and dangerously subversive piece of theatre.
But Kei-Ella Loewe's new adaptation of Sue Pam-Grant and Sheena Stannard's 1980s original pulls its punches, the writing largely being couched in pastiche and parody. Loewe's direction also needs to tease out the material, further examining the unique intent of each episode to vary the evenly-keeled rhythms of the production. Nonetheless, her work is image-rich, the simple but striking design of the piece playing a meaningful part in developing her mise en scène.
In Money and Comack-Thomson, Loewe has cast two performers who are up for the job of taking IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT wherever it needs to go. They play well with the comedy that runs throughout the piece, whether it comes in the form of sketches, ditties or burlesque. They also embrace the physicality of the piece, investing Loewe's carefully structured patterns of movement, gestures and facial expressions with layers of meaning. They make good proposals in moments that require more bite too but need a stronger directorial hand to mould their work into a form where it can have its greatest impact in these sequences.
There are times when IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT comes dangerously close to threatening the patriarchy that it sets out to dismantle, but I am uncertain that it fulfils its mandate to "make dads cry and fuckboys cower" - although it may make some of them feel a little on edge at times. One hopes, though, that this run of the show is the beginning of a trajectory that will lead the production to the highest heights of social satire. IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT has the potential to be the battle cry it sets out to be.
IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES' LAMENT runs at the Alexander Upstairs until 22 July at 21:00 nightly. Tickets are available from the Alexander Bar website, with tickets costing R90 if booked and prepaid online or R100 if paid on collection at the bar. For telephone enquiries, call 021 300 1652. The Alexander Bar, Café and Theatre is situated at 76 Strand Street in the Cape Town city centre and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.