Wharf 1 Theatre, June 30
Ultimately it’s a fairy tale, being replete with magic and a moral. But Michelle Law’s new play also mashes together genres like some people mash songs. Besides that fairy-tale element, it is variously a satire, a sitcom, a melodrama and a teen-style over-the-top comedy. James Lew’s scenic design is perfectly married to the script, brimming with candy-bright yellows, pinks and blues that amplify the zaniness, even as his mobile, modular set can be seen a crazy metaphor for all the mashing up going on.
The life of Winnie (Kimie Tsukakoshi), a manicurist who longs to have her own salon, is constantly chipped and torn by racism, whether subtle or overt. Kate (Amber McMahon), meanwhile, is a commissioning editor at the Multicultural Broadcasting Commission, where both the melting-pot people and her buffoon-like boss, Barry (John Batchelor) have an irritating habit of getting in the way of her best efforts at populist programming.
When Kate visits Winnie for an urgent nail repair job, an inexplicable electrical phenomenon (possibly also involving a hand-held bamboo fan) results in much gnashing of teeth and flashing of lights, and suddenly Winnie is occupying Kate’s body and vice versa – hence the title.
The two women are equally appalled at finding themselves in each other’s shoes: Winnie knows nothing about running a TV network, and Kate knows less about manicures. Winnie, however, does have an instinct for discerning right from wrong, which was never Kate’s strongest suit. That tended to be her power dressing. And whereas Kate has no intention of lowering herself to learning about being a manicurist, Winnie is stunned to find she’s now earning $200,000 a year, has free access to all the yummy snacks she can eat, is rather taken by one of her staff, (Matty Mills), and can redress an injustice by commissioning a new show from a network writer (Arisa Yura).
Amber McMahon confirms her reputation as one of our finest comic actors while playing the petulant, self-important Kate before the body-swap occurs, whereupon Tsukakoshi all but picks up where McMahon left off in revelling in Kate’s comedic potential. Batchelor is consistently funny, whether as Barry, Jeremy (Kate’s thick-as-a-plank rock-star boyfriend), Karen (an ageing salon customer) or a Pythonesque waiter at a French restaurant (where McMahon also makes a brief, hilarious appearance as a jazz singer, whose website is cathylikestoscat.com).
Director Courtney Stewart (for Sydney Theatre Company) has done Law’s play proud, ensuring the actors don’t squander the laugh-out-loud bits, and making Lew’s design almost become another character, so theatrical and entertaining is the process whereby the cast and crew wheel and twirl the set’s modular units to create new scenic wonderlands.
The moral of story can be spotted from the outset, and yet it floats like a flower atop the comedy. Kate not only assumed she was too perfect to be racist, she thought she was a glass-ceiling-smashing feminist, when in fact she was merely replicating the patriarchy with her own bullying behaviour. She has a slab-sided mountain to climb in discovering what the world is like from inside Winnie’s body, while Winnie is “having a holiday from white people”, now being one, herself.
The script could still be tighter and funnier, and some of the acting sharper (especially from Yura at the beginning), but this is a gleeful celebration of humanity, even as it is kicking a high-heel into racism’s crotch.
Until August 6.