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Sydney Fringe: Single Ladies - Review by Faith Jessel

Are you ready for a macabre and off-the-wall ride? Single Ladies, written and produced by up-and-coming talent Nichola Allen and tightly directed by Amy Lawler at the cosy Chippen Theatre, delivers a distinctly Aussie, absurdly funny and energetic show in the spirit of everything the Sydney Fringe Festival season should be.

When psychic Madam Estrange, who also happens to be an alcoholic, compulsive gambler, inevitably becomes bankrupt, she does whatever any savvy business owner would and summons a vengeance demon to make a deal. One soul for two wishes. When a snooty school principal, three of her embittered teachers and a low-life cheating husband became entangled, Madame sums up the hijinks perfectly: ”This s**t is about to get weird.” Rebecca Lee Matthews plays the hippy charlatan in question. Cleverly costumed in typical boho from top to bottom by Taleece Paki, with wild and carefree hair to complement her overall mood, she exudes an appropriately eccentric demeanour featured by a spacey gaze suggesting that she is perpetually hungover or high, never really present in the room or moment.

She contrasts nicely with her long-suffering, uptight daughter, Bordini, portrayed by Celeste Loyzaga. Her knee-jerk fight or flight response in the face of her mother's nonchalant chaos is painfully realistic while also anchoring the stakes when Halfrek arrives in a flurry of demonic red and dramatic lightning flashes. Her gob-smacked reactions and increasing panic assist the audience in navigating the farcical plot twists.

Nicholas Richard as Halfrek radiates the energy of a seedy used car salesman who has been around the immortal block one too many times. He deals with women like this all the time, and it bores him. His casual, conniving quips and punchlines are slickly timed with his entrances and exits and draw many laugh-out moments from the audience.

Segue to a local high school and blonde alpha principal, Caroline, played Melissa Jones, a narcissist in the extreme who is obsessed with white marble countertops and her status symbol husband. She commands her domain and colleague, mousy doormat Helen, from a swivel chair with cold castigation and sporting impeccable designer clothing.

Jacky Hire is Helen, a woman who really could do with her vengeance demon. Jittery and as dismal as her drab and dowdy brown dress, constantly apologising for just existing, she is everyone's stooge…until she isn't. Hire approaches this challenging role beautifully by drawing on the conundrum of empathy and exasperation from the audience. We can see her potential if only she would wake up and stand up for herself.

Enter two boisterous teachers, Kim (Aisling Delahunt) and Pat (Caitlyn Cabrie`), reminiscent of, dare I say, Kath and Kim. Delahunt relishes chewing up the scenery and spitting it out with aplomb and a frequent F-bomb. Cabrie’s goofy Tweedledum sidekick tendencies balance her wonderful comedic skills. How they do any teaching (or got the job in the first place) is a mystery. Both women severely lack self-insight or empathy, boosting the comedy to deliciousness. If only Kim got the part of Snow White in primary school and Pat’s boyfriend wasn’t married, their lives would be perfect. Together, they mutually hate Caroline and manipulate Helen while bouncing around the set and hurling insults until everyone’s stories and characters collide at a local pub. Who will they choose to die? How will they do it? Who will succeed?

Theo Rule makes a bedazzling late entrance as self-centred wannabe lothario Charles, who also happens to be Helen’s husband. The humorous and delightfully timed choreography by Joss Chalmers of his seduction scene performed with Melissa Jones and tongue-in-cheek conviction had the audience in stitches. It was a definite highlight of the evening.

Kudos to Lighting Designer Jasmin Borsovszky for synchronising perfectly with excellent sound design by Tracey Okeby Lucan to enhance the special effects and enrich the atmosphere of an open, fluid set suggesting multiple locations, such as a spooky seance, a stark staffroom and a Charles` hokey boudoir. Snappy cues from the box operators kept up the pace of scene changes and the show, in general, to ensure this 90-minute one-act play never dropped in energy.

Nichola Allen’s biting script also threw shade over the fast-paced comedy. There was a slightly sad undertone to the plight of all these larger-than-life characters, who blindly pin their self-worth on the seven deadly sins and allow them to sway from a true path. The denouement left me thinking everyone got their just desserts. In the words of Madam Estrange, during a rare moment of clarity, “The scales of life and death always balance themselves.”

Single Ladies plays at the Chippen Theatre, Chippendale, until September 30th. It's a rollicking great night out you shouldn't take seriously - unless you love white marble countertops. Happy Fringe Theatre Sydney!

Four poisoned toothbrushes out of 5

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