NZ Arts Festival: Frisky and Mannish review

By Chris Bourke

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A scene from 'Frisky and Mannish', playing at the NZ International Arts Festival in Wellington. Photo  / Supplied
A scene from 'Frisky and Mannish', playing at the NZ International Arts Festival in Wellington. Photo / Supplied

Are we all sitting up straight? We are. The demeanour of the woman in the purple hair and glitter mortarboard insists upon it. "Welcome," she says menacingly, "to the School of Pop." Tonight's lesson isn't so much launched as unleashed: 75 minutes of recent pop hits, mashed up, deconstructed, turned on our ear. It's exhilarating, a musical wake-up like a cold shower in a hot disco. Our tutor/host Frisky - Miss Jean Brodie as dominatrix diva - makes sure we do our homework. Shake it up, baby, now...

"Twist!" She barks. "Shout!" "Twist and shout! Crisp Ts! Articulation and diction!" As she calls and we respond, the music takes a swift twist into La Bamba. Her cohort Mannish - the androgynous chap in peroxide hair, eyeliner and latex leggings - responds instantly on his electric piano. You hum it, he'll play it. Do the mashed potato? Yes please ma'am, can we have some more?

We're at Pop Philosophy 101, taught at fast forward and delivered on high-rotate. The duo teach by the Socratic Method. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? Follow up questions come instantly: Would I Lie To You? War! ("What is it good for?")

British musical comedy duo Frisky (Laura Corcoran) and Mannish (Matthew Jones) keep us guessing with their rapid references and rewritten melodies. Both extraordinary singers and movers - the lithe Mannish could conquer the West-End while Frisky takes Manhattan - their talents can only be logged at revolutions per minute. They are musically adroit, vocally gifted and brilliant mimics. We witness Kate Bush on a windswept heath, as played by a stroppy Cockney; Alanis Morrisette, so ironic and so stoned; and Lily Allen as channelled by Noel Coward. I've Been to a Marvellous Party, he boasts, dropping 'is consonants. "I can relate to 'at," shrugs Lily.

The Pussycat Dolls arrive as bawdy seaside postcards, I Just Called to Say I Love You becomes a heavy-breathing phone call, and Time of My Life sees Princess Margaret flirting with Barbara Windsor. The only dud note parodies the Australian Dancing With the Stars without crossing the Tasman. But the maligned Festival Club venue works as a cabaret.

Go Now, sing the demanding duo, after exhausting their playlist and almost their audience. "So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye ..." Rodgers and Hammerstein, meet Lady Gaga and George Michael. Let's do the Mash Potato.

*Frisky and Mannish runs from March 18-20 at the Pacific Blue Festival Club, as part of the NZ International Arts Festival in Wellington.

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