Xmedia Award: Best Review 2nd Place

Came 2nd in Exeter’s Xmedia Awards for my preview of Squiffy Cabaret’s ‘No Filter’, judged by BBC Sport’s John May.

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In new performance ‘No Filter’, recent Exeter graduates Squiffy Cabaret set to deconstruct contemporary young-womanhood with songs about blowjobs, ‘girl code’ and pooing.

Winners of the coveted 2014/15 Bike Shed Theatre Graduate Company Residency, Anya Williams and Magda Cassidy have already carved out a pretty unique blend of musical comedy and multi-role theatre that falls somewhere between Bananarama and your leery cousin’s list of Tinder matches. 

Equal parts in-your-face smut and precision irony, their scattered cabaret performances at Firehouse and the Bike Shed have already showcased a side-splitting catalogue of filthy comedy numbers. Taken at face value, they paint a parodic portrait of the Instagram-gen young woman: self(ie)-conscious, Arena-savvy and prepared to exchange sex for emotional (and financial) security. 

But together with their sketch-work and stage rapport, the pair have an eerie knack for making you question the irony of it all. Their character-comedy flits from caricature to genuinely thought-provoking moments of confusion surrounding female sexuality. One minute they’ll have you cackling at the vacant clichés of expertly-played, po-faced wags. The next, wondering in genuinely dicey terms whether or not they should be using their bodies to get what they want. So that the cheap laughs get mixed up with the philosophising and you’re not really sure what’s funny any more.

The best part though, is that you don’t have to grasp the nuance to enjoy the finished product. Anya and Magda perform every step with so much warmth and genuine talent (they’re both outrageously good singers), that this is neither a total farce nor an intellectual exercise. At the end of the day, whether or not the tragicomic nuance of ‘I’ll Still Let You Jizz On My Face’ immediately gets you thinking about the merits of sex-positivist feminism, it’ll still be ringing in your ears two days later (while you’re ignoring Martha from SocStu ranting about double standards) because it’s got a bloody good tune. And also you will most likely get the jizz. Jist.

Plus, as you’re never sure to what extent the duo are playing it straight, there’s a kind of universality to their boldness. Behind the irony, the fact remains that the girls are actually up there in red dresses playing songbird – because Barry from Whimple’s just walked into the Firehouse and I’d bet a tenner it’s not the gender politics he’s so incensed by. “Using your vagina as a weapon”, as the duo phrased it in their earlier piece ‘To Battle’, might not be the ideal route to empowerment, but it gets results. So too does mock-erotica work pretty well for the duo when they’re up there, dressed up to the nines and heaping on more melisma than Mariah. In that unsettlingly performative way, you get the feeling that the often desperate, sad women they so vividly portray – singing into their hairbrushes and examining their bikini lines – are not so different from you, because they’re not all that different from Anya and Magda.

Overall, Squiffy Cabaret toe a delicate line between sympathy and parody that mines the comic potential of the selfie-matic new woman without condemning her for her insecurities. Their output so far has demonstrated a super-accessible, intelligent mixture of the beyond-the-pale musical comedy of Tim Minchin, the grotesque-glam humour of Ab Fab and a darkly canny social media sensibility. So if ‘No Filter’ is even half as good as its forerunners, then you can expect not only a thoughtful exercise on modern sexuality, but a comic, melodic romp for all the family – except, don’t bring your nan because she might not like the one about dildos.

‘No Filter’ plays on 21, 23 and 29 January, 7pm at the Bike Shed Theatre, together with ‘Open Couple’.

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