The title is not a backhanded compliment. It is a front-handed compliment. The Women’s Revue is okay. It’s SO okay! The Women’s Revue is okay, but that’s not all it is. It is also very, very fun.
The show is a delightful celebration of mediocrity. If you’re looking for a Broadway production, you may want to look in Kambri instead for whatever large, acclaimed act it has managed to entice into its profit margin. Part of the reason why Broke Bitch Mountain is mediocre is simply because of its genre. It’s operated on the budget of a student organisation, and the entire production is written by members of the Revue, a massive and applaudable feat in itself.
I got exactly what I expected to see: people in handmade props and dollar store wigs performing their hearts out.
First, let’s talk about the band, who had their own stash of snacks. I am offered a sour worm upon approaching them to chat. I found out that some of them do this out of a love of performance. Others have been lovingly coerced into playing instead. The experience for them has been full of light and laughs. The band found different reasons for performing compared to the cast. There isn’t a single person in the band who considers themselves a new hand at this. For them, it’s about a chance to peacock a little (it’s hard to casually stumble upon a saxophone to show off your skills) and simply enjoy playing music with other people. It’s a group of people who find it more fun to play together. The band promises and delivers the most polished aspect of the entire performance.
There’s a genuine love in all these skits that comes throughout the Revue. They’ve been written from scratch by a large variety of the cast, directors, band and even those who have come to the writing workshops without being in the show. I dithered around the cast and crew of women’s revue for their tech and dress rehearsals like a colourful spectre haunting Kambri. There were nervous shuffles of feet and a colourful tale about the threat of a wet pillow as coercion to join the cast as I asked to take interviews. Soon after though, everyone relaxed more.
An autonomous space feels more comfortable and welcoming in many senses. It feels more relaxed. Critically, it allows people to try something new and be bad at it, like comedy writing. For many, this was their first experience in performing and writing comedy. Given how male-dominated the comedy space is, many echoed that it was more comfortable to pitch ideas and to let themselves feel funny in a group like the Women’s Revue. And many people told me with sincere warmth in eyes ringed with stage make-up – there’s no pressure to be good at being funny. It’s a collaborative process with a group of kind, non-judgemental and supportive people who are there to fall back on when you’re not so confident in your ideas.
One girl magics out a container of homemade brownies. It’s easy to see how you can grow out of the fear of mistake-making mediocrity into magical mediocrity-fuelled passion in an environment like this.
Now, it’s false advertising to say that the Women’s Revue delivered 100 percent on the supposition of being bad at their craft. Disappointingly, several musical parodies will indeed be stuck in my head. The yeast infection song will be with me for two years (watch the show, and you’ll get it. The reference, not the infection).
The show falls flat on its long-form comedic skits, which try to balance a political element and a humour element and delivers on neither. The actors deliver their lines with good comedic timing and appropriately dramatic expressions. However, it’s the writing that lets these skits down. I won’t point to specific examples because 1. My memory is Bad, and 2. The Women’s Revue writes collaboratively, and it’s fairer to share that critique equally.
The skits that don’t stick the landing share a common theme. They portray familiar, shitty situations in order to poke at the absurdity underlying them. The not-good ones are not absurd enough. They show a situation that settles into the uncanny valley of experiences. Where it’s ALMOST close enough to a real lived experience, but not QUITE close enough for it feels relatable. The Revue, however, in the pre-emptively defensive way that all people socialised as women are familiar with, is incredibly self-aware. They aptly have a skit centred around “let[ting] women be bad at things”, which resonated with me as someone whose academic transcript has more credits than a bank will ever give me.
I chat to the co-directors Brindha and Sian in the scant break they have between rehearsing Act 1 and Act 2. Brindha states, frank and honest, that there were issues they were uncomfortable making light of or simply didn’t know how to address in a light-hearted way. Sometimes, things just did not land, and there were constant revisions in the creative process to figure out how to keep things fun and joyous. They share a knowing look as Sian says, “when you’re writing a skit, you have to open to it not being good.” I assume that look communicates at least 203 scrapped ideas.
Broke Bitch Mountain is described by the directors as a political but not an activist show. It is about using joy to convey topics that are otherwise difficult to talk about. There’s something therapeutic about telling stories and creating comedy from experiences that would otherwise be unfunny. Sian sticks me with a gaze so intensified by the dramatic theatre lighting that I would’ve believed her even if she said that the sky was red. She tells me she thinks there’s a power in laughing about the Big Bad Issues. It doesn’t make them go away, but it lightens the burden in your heart about it.
I ask them why they’ve chosen to take the leap and take on the huge role of organising the Revue. The show first called for auditions in March, and it’s been a very long haul. Brindha ponders for a moment, telling me about the organisational skills that she’s gained, the experience of guiding a team, before laughing lightly and saying simply, “I like making people laugh. I like making people happy.”
I find myself smiling at her reply. Goal achieved, I think.
The Women’s Revue is okay, but that’s not all it is. There’s a liberty in being just okay at things but still doing it with all the love in your heart anyway. The songs, the skits, and the dances squeezed onto the small stage of Broke Bitch Mountain are infinitely enjoyable. The people up on the stage are students, doing this for the love of the performance, for a chance to try something new, and most importantly, for a chance to make you laugh.
Let’s go give them one.
Editor’s Note: This review was written after attending and watching the second half of a dress rehearsal, not a performance during the show’s full run.
Tickets available here.
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