In 2015, we’re confused. There’s a kind of doublethink going on, where we simultaneously hold two contradictory opinions. We know that unbridled capitalism led to recession, but we don’t affect political change; we know that rampant materialism skews our perception of value, yet we queue for hours for the latest iPhone; we know that gender bias is alive and kicking, yet we still keep playing out the tired gender roles. It’s this sense of confusion, of knowing one thing and yet doing another, that emerging comedy double act Squiffy Cabaret tackle as they debut their first show, No Filter.
The duo, made up of Magdalene Cassidy and Anya Williams, warn their audience that “if you don’t like women and you don’t like sex, well then, you might as well leave”, neatly summarising what they’ll be singing about for the next 90 minutes. A sheaf of witty songs allow the pair to satirise everything from shaving to Disney and its testament to Squiffy Cabaret that, by treating their deeply political subject with distance, presenting seemingly real conversations rather than explicitly protesting, they avoid seeming preachy whilst explicating a genuinely uncomfortable take on social norms – guerrilla feminism, if you will.
Any expectations of the decayed glamour that ‘cabaret’ evokes are quickly cast aside as the pair dress in a fairly boring twenty-something wardrobe. This isn’t a normcore influenced costume choice and it doesn’t quite seem appropriate for the cool vibe of the cellar-cum-performance space at Exeter’s Bikeshed Theatre, which could easily host a more traditional, decadent cabaret. However, their wardrobe lends an air of universality and avoids any signification of Squiffy Cabaret as the stereotypical edgy arts graduates railing against the patriarchy. Indeed, it is exciting to see that interesting, political work is being made without the need for hugely exciting design choices – the show subverts the usual expectation of musical theatre and offers something more intimate and honest.
Their voices are an interesting match – Williams’ operatic and high, Cassidy’s low and sexy- but they mesh well, and it’s exhilarating to hear such talented singers belting a song about ‘girl code’ before hilariously mimicking an orgasm through their riffs. A highlight is their take on the ‘girls’ night out’. Whilst playing their truly awful drunk dancing for laughs, Squiffy Cabaret create a deeply uncomfortable encounter that soon silences the laughter as they dance to Big Sean’s I Don’t Fuck With You – “You lil’ dumb ass bitch, I ain’t fucking with you”. It’s one moment of many in No Filter that illustrates how deeply misogyny has permeated popular culture.
No Filter is clearly a work in progress – its not yet slick, the balance between humour and the politics of the piece needs attention and there’s ill advised joke about turning gay that seems out of place in both the show and the decade. However, audiences will forgive all this because when No Filter works, it really works. The show has a touching truth to it, trusting in its audience to recognise the satire, creating humour through everyday situations. By avoiding any explicit ‘message’ for the duration of the piece, their final honest statement -“We are women, and we are confused”- becomes a poignant moment of self realisation rather than obvious explanation of the ‘point’.
No Filter proves that the pair vocal chops, a talent for witty writing and for humorously explicating the complexity of life for the twenty-something woman. Their run at the Bikeshed Theatre is over, but with plans to workshop the piece and take it to the Brighton Fringe, Squiffy Cabaret are a company to listen out for.
You can keep check up on developments with No Filter and Squiffy Cabaret by following them on Twitter or liking them on Facebook.
Cast and Crew
Directed, Written and Performed by Magdalene Cassidy and Anya Williams
Pianist: Mikey East