Feminism, as a playwright told me recently, is very much the trendy topic to be explored at the moment, particularly in the light of #MeToo and #TimesUp. It is reasonable to expect, for instance, this year’s Edinburgh Fringe offerings to contain a good number of shows looking at feminism in its various forms. This show, What The… Feminist?! abbreviates itself to ‘WTF’ and begins with an assumption that ‘feminist’ is a profane term, and immediately, mostly through satire and sarcasm, sets about systematically demolishing extremist ideas about feminism by highlighting their sheer absurdity.
It’s a brisk and broad show, which covers so many different topics and themes, but devotes such a brief space of time to each that the production cannot be accused of padding. There are several ‘Should I be laughing at this?’ moments, including the opening number, in which the cast (in the order given in the programme, Calum Connelly-Smith, Sophie Holmes, Frankie Lamb, Lucy Pollock, Grace Tarr, Jazz Thomas, Tia Thornhill and Olivia Walker) strut their, um, assets, in the manner befitting a most un-feminist (if there is such a word) gathering.
There’s much to be enjoyed in this lightning-speed production, but it could do with a little more variation both in tempo and in atmosphere. A relentlessly happy and celebratory mood somewhat betrays the harsh reality of the status quo – earlier this year, for example, Mhairi Black MP, of the Scottish National Party, described some of the terminology used in online abuse that she has received. There are, to be fair, hints that not everything is tickety-boo: a YouTuber called Calum responds to some feedback following a rather provocative video, for instance.
Feminism is portrayed, derisively, as some sort of mental illness: it must be remembered that this is a comedy (or, at least, that’s the intention), and very little, if anything, is to be taken at face value. There’s even a parody of the likes of Alcoholics Anonymous (which might, admittedly, not go down particularly well with people who have benefited from what AA has to offer) in which people are applauded for standing up in front of a group and stating their name and the proclamation, “I am a feminist.” But the irreverence is not unlike the sort of close-to- the-mark humour found elsewhere in the canon of musical theatre: overall, this is a cross between The Book of Mormon and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. They might as well have reprised ‘A Secretary Is Not A Toy’.
It does also appear to be influenced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton musical: one musical number is rapped, and later, a debate not unlike the ‘Cabinet Battles’ in the Broadway blockbuster speeds up the number of words per minute to an impressive rate. Some commercial advertisements break up the scenes – the products on offer are ludicrous, and deliberately so. I liked an Attenborough-esque commentary about a man “in mating season” who attempts to pull. Failing on the first attempt, he tries harder and eventually gets what he wants.
Perhaps the most hilarious line for me was, “I’d shake your hand, but I don’t want a court case,” a perceptive remark on how careful some people think they have to be in this day and age. It is up there with not wanting to get into a car for fear of being involved in a road traffic incident. The apparent ability to create one’s own ideal man, treated superficially here, has been explored in depth in science fiction plays about artificial intelligence and how far robotics could influence daily living. The emphasis in this show is on equality, whilst recognising that there is scope for differences of opinion. Whatever one’s views on the subject matters raised, this is an enthusiastic and gratifying production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Bits’n’Bobs Company is made up of Calum Connelly-Smith, Sophie Holmes, Frankie Lamb, Lucy Pollock, Grace Tarr, Jazz Thomas, Tia Thornhill and Olivia Walker. “We have all collaboratively worked together to write ‘What The F*minist?!’, though Tia, Calum and Sophie wrote the music and Jazz and Olivia choreographed. Unfortunately, our ninth member Fern-Louise Sutton was unable to be a part of the London run but she was still very much involved in the creative process. We all graduated from the LAMDA Foundation course a year ago, after performing a first version of the show there.”
“What The F*minist?!” is a musical sketch show challenging the myths and stereotypes surrounding Feminism. It tackles a variety of issues from toxic masculinity to growing your own boyfriend, with the aim of proving the Feminism is indeed for everyone.