It’s four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and in a hot basement room under Leicester Square a woman in a purple wig and a tight black corset is singing Noel Coward’s I went to a Wonderful Party in the flat drawl of Lily Allen.
It is a perfect rendition, with every facial expression and mannerism well observed and executed.
The woman in question is Frisky, one half of the comedy cabaret duo Frisky and Mannish, and this is the last show of their brief residency at the Leicester Square Theatre before the Edinburgh fringe festival kicks off in August. Mannish meanwhile, clad in gold leggings and with a feather fascinator perched atop his head, sits beside her at his piano.
Their show, entitled School of Pop, does indeed have a vague classroom theme. Frisky uses her best school-mistress tones and there is talk of assemblies; a sorting hat makes an appearance. But this is mere linking material for the duo’s superb musical parodies. As well as the aforementioned Coward-Allen swap-over, the musical stylings of Kate Bush are merged with those of Kate Nash, the perils of cannabis over-use are illustrated by way of Joan Osborne and Alanis Morisette, a lengthy roll-call all the songs they can think of with questions in the lyrics is set to the tune of Beyonce’s Independent Woman, and Mannish performs Chesney Hawke’s only notable contribution to the pop canon as a sincere hymn to self-esteem.
There are occasional breaks between numbers so Frisky can don another wig-and-hat combo and these are filled by comedian Sarah-Louise Young who performs both as the dirty-tongued and Lurex mini-dressed County and Western singer Sammy Mavis Jr and the tortured, black-clad Edith Piaf-alike La Poule Plombee. In the former guise, having taken a shine to one of my friends, she proceeds to serenade him with a list of her (numerous) former lovers but he sat in the front so he has only himself to blame!
Frisky and Mannish’s material works as well as it does for a number of reasons. Firstly they actually do succeed in making you listen to pop lyrics in a new way Frisky’s rendition of the Bangle’s Eternal Flame with a dead-eyed stalker’s stare (“I watch you when you are sleeping/You belong to me”). The parodies feel effortless but they’re incredibly well put together and both Frisky and Mannish, as well as having incredibly versatile voices, show a spot-on sense of timing. Frisky just pips it in the vocal stakes, swinging easily from operatic high notes to earthy R’n'B drawl.
The teeny, ever so slightly seedy space beneath the main Leicester Square Theatre, with its red velvet curtains, little cabaret-style tables and fake plastic candles, was perfectly suited for their act and if they’re this good on a sticky Sunday in a London basement, I’d imagine their Edinburgh residency with larger crowds and a bit of liquor in the system will be pretty spectacular.
Frisky and Mannish’s School of Pop will be at the Underbelly at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 6-30 August 2009.
For more info see Friskyandmannish.co.uk