“An eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable showcase of feminist writing, acting and musical theatre, celebrating and promoting women’s rights, and in the case of the closing number, women’s wrongs…

The Suffragette Cabaret was an eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable showcase of feminist writing, acting and musical theatre, celebrating and promoting women’s rights, and in the case of the closing number, women’s wrongs. Directors Emily Browning, Jasmine Starbuck and Megan Dunlop presented a compilation of engaging and thought-provoking theatre, playing to each performer’s strengths and consistently highlighting feminist themes. The cabaret took place in the Students’ Union Lounge, a spacious venue that was made to feel cosy and relaxed. With the audience seated on sofas, and pink balloons cascading from the walls, it was immediately clear that this was going to be a fun night. Not enough praise can go to the tech team, made up of Willa Rowan Hamilton, Aaron Lo and Hamish Campbell, for successfully employing lighting and sound in an unconventional venue. Actors were always well-lit, and sound was executed with almost no noticeable errors. Credit should also be given to Alannah O’Hare, the charity co-ordinator and MC of the production, who ensured the show ran smoothly, as well as performing her own humorous, poetic musings on the ethics of eyeliner.  

The show was a collaboration with the Revival Charity Fashion Show, raising money for the charity Stormbreak, which aims to improve children’s mental health through movement and provide them with coping strategies and skills which will be transferable to adult life.   

The production began with an extract from Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an iconic scene conveying the relationship between Fleabag and her sister, Claire, which was expertly performed by Scarlett Clarke and Indie Spafford. The two made for a hilarious duo, with Clarke’s exaggerated facial expressions, gestures and fourth wall breaks brilliantly contrasting with Spafford’s dry, witty delivery and uptight disposition. The effective use of props in this scene should also be acknowledged, as Spafford’s hand-sanitising was a subtle yet successful tool for communicating her character’s discomfort.  

The next component of the cabaret was a monologue, written and performed by Maariya Khalid, which followed a young woman attempting to heal her inner child. Khalid’s writing explored abstract concepts relating to mental health and growing up, whilst also remaining wonderfully down-to-earth, and the self-awareness her character displayed allowed audience members to find their own moments to relate to, despite the character’s journey feeling very specific. This element of the performance was aided by Khalid’s skilful use of audience interaction, breaking down the boundary between the action and the observers, and forcing us the enter into the world she had created.  

Superb acting was also demonstrated by Maddy Banner, Alexa Thanni and Horatio Holloway. Banner captivated the audience with a fantastically unhinged monologue from Love and Money by Dennis Kelly, delivering the most out-of-pocket lines with a nonchalance that was perfect for the unpredictable humour of this extract. Alexa Thanni performed a piece by Daisy Mitchell, which unpacked the conflicting feelings its protagonist had towards calling out someone for making a sexist joke. Mitchell’s writing tackled casual misogyny head-on, contrasting effectively with the more understated feminist themes present in many of the other sections of the cabaret, and Thanni executed her performance with considerable sensitivity and nuance. Horatio Holloway, along with Maariya Khalid, took to the stage to enact a scene from Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, and the pair’s physical closeness versus distance throughout the scene was beautifully illustrative of the character’s emotional journeys.  

Unfortunately, there were moments when all the actors could have focused on projection and made sure their enunciation was clear, as occasionally words were lost to the carol service taking place within the same building. That being said, the vast majority of speech was clear, and lines were delivered with unwavering commitment and clear passion for the extract each actor had chosen.  

The musical numbers incorporated into the showcase were some of the most impressive performances of the night. Rhyen Hunt demonstrated her outstanding vocals with a rendition of She Used to be Mine from the musical Waitress. Whilst Hunt should be commended for their spectacular ability to belt, it was the quieter, more introspective moments of the song which allowed their gorgeous, mellow tone to truly shine. Emily Browning and Mirran Morrison also wowed with their singing; Browning’s movement around the space felt intentional yet spontaneous, her considered use of facial expressions creating a dynamic and engaging performance, and Morrison’s effortless vibrato provided warmth and charm. The final number in the cabaret saw many of the performers return to the stage for Chicago’s Cell Block Tango. The unexpected costume changes, masterful acting and stellar singing and dancing, as well as the fact that everyone on stage was clearly having a fantastic time, made for a surprisingly celebratory end to the evening.

Overall, The Suffragette Cabaret was a fantastic showcase of feminist theatre, created by an incredibly talented cast and CPT.  

By Felicity Rickard

Photo Credits: Suffragette Theatre Company