Its protagonist may be ‘astoundingly average’, but Fat Rascal’s latest hour of unadulterated silliness – Vulvarine: A New Musical – is anything but. Impeccably slick and overflowing with imagination, this original feminist musical is a tour de force in its own (deceptively intelligent and sublimely riotous) right.
Fat Rascal Theatre transport audiences to High Wycombe with ample wry enthusiasm in Vulvarine: A New Musical, introducing us to plain-Jane-protagonist Bryony Buckle – whose luck is down. Her ‘Tinder for booking swapping’ entrepreneurial brainwave didn’t work out, and she’s trapped in a mundane tax office job – with only fantasising about Orson from IT to get her through it.
What follows is an hour overflowing with imagination and some of the wittiest one-liners I’ve heard all Fringe. Contemporary and acerbically self-aware devised musicals may not be groundbreaking (particularly in the context of Fringe) – but the wit and precision behind Vulvarine makes it superior, in my mind at least, to last year’s The Stage award-winning Prom Kween. Fat Rascal’s pace is relentless and unapologetic – it’s like the whole thing has both been devised, and is being performed, on crack – but I mean that in the best possible way. Feminist observational comedy is interwoven with farcical mayhem, and the company are masters at playfully poking fun at – and undermining – every convention they establish. It’s riotous and quietly intelligent and knows exactly what it is – which makes it so easy to sit back and howl with laughter.
You wait for it to fall (as so many similar shows do) into a familiar rhythm, but this one doesn’t. As the piece progresses, the wit gets ever sharper – and the characters get ever more shamelessly obscene. All of Vulvarine: A New Musical‘s human characters have a quality similar to the puppets in Avenue Q – fabulously offbeat and often little more than an (often questionable, entirely deliberately I expect) accent and a strange hat. Lines like ‘imagine calling your son Pat when he’s a postman’ seem (in its context at least) almost too good to have been written – and akin to Dolly Parton’s iconic ‘It costs a look to look this cheap’ mantra, ‘it requires a hell of a lot of precision to look this chaotic’ could easily be Fat Rascal’s. Of course, what really makes it a joy to behold is you have complete confidence – beneath the what-seems-like-pandemonium – that the piece is impeccably rehearsed and impossibly slick.
Robyn Grant steals the show as a multitude of sublimely outlandish characters (including the villain), each camper and more beguiling than the last. It likely won’t get the attention it deserves due to the light-hearted content of the piece, but Grant’s performance is exceptional (award-worthy, I’d suggest); it’s near-on impossible to take your eyes off her whenever she’s even clicking along in the background, and every character she (seemingly effortlessly) introduces seems entirely worthy of their own spin-off.
Allie Munro’s Bryony is magnificently warm and self-aware, Jamie Mawson demonstrates astute comic timing (despite the fact the women are given ALL of the best punchlines…in itself excellent) as Orson – and all are more vocally competent than you’d perhaps expect for a show of this nature. It’s perhaps a shame the ‘most stupid’ characters seem to be those with the working-class accents, and that the final song comes across as a little underwhelming (probably due to lacking a punchline of its own), but they’re tiny niggles in what really is an unadulterated hour of deceptively intelligent and carefully constructed silliness.