By Liam McLoughlin 16/06/2015
Do you love problematic gender and racial politics? Are you curious about what jokes were like before feminism made any inroads into a deeply sexist public culture? Do you dream of a show which blends cutting-edge knock knock jokes and world-first cock gags with up-to-the-minute treatment of woman as objects?
Then Marney McQueen’s Hair to the Throne is the cabaret for you.
McQueen plays Russian beautician Rosa Waxoffski. She moves between glamorous stories about bikini waxing celebrities, to songs about the need for bikini waxing, to interviews with audience members which stress the value of pubic decoration, following a bikini wax. Move over Simone De Beauvoir.
The tone is set early by Boris Longschlongadongski, ‘Russia’s biggest pianist’ who says he is ‘partially erected’ when he introduces Waxoffski to the stage. What follows is a charismatic display from a talented performer who is let down by thoughtless writing and ill-considered politics.
Let’s start with the unfunny reproduction of harmful attitudes around gender. At one point Longschlongadongski tells the audience about the bisexual donkey which had a ‘hee in the morning and a haw at night’. Haha, get it, because women are whores? Am I right ladies? It speaks volumes that this joke can be found at Sickipedia.org, which has a cock and balls for its logo and the tagline “the sickest, most outrageous and offensive bisexual jokes”. The ass based humour continues with a projected image of Waxoffski naked and pregnant, riding a donkey. For Longschlongadongski, this is an image about which ‘man can only dream’, ingeniously degrading both Russians and women in four easy words.
As if women didn’t have enough trouble worrying about how they appear to men, Waxoffski spends an hour and ten minutes on the vital importance of an expensive and painful treatment to remove natural body hair. In fact she gets a big laugh when she mimes spewing at the idea that women might keep their pubic hair. At this point readers might be thinking ‘Hey square, it’s a comedy cabaret show, can you lighten up and have a giggle at the great sexism?’ To which I would politely decline.
It’s not a shock then to learn that the Hair to the Throne script was co-written by a man, Tim Bain. That this man also wrote for sketch comedy show The Wedge, once described as ‘an amalgam of every single thing that is wrong with Australian TV comedy’, might also explain the quality of the jokes.
Yet it’s not like the depiction of masculinity is any more sophisticated. Waxoffski conducts the ‘Manliest Man’ competition between two audience members to decide who will be her lover. The best man is essentially the one who is better at binge drinking and eating. A man can only dream I guess.
The show’s approach to race is no better. The bad Russian accents wouldn’t be so bothersome if not for the jokes about giving Barack Obama his regular spray tan or the song suggesting Russians commonly practise incest. It’s interesting that Russians are the butt of the joke in this production, instead of the more contemporary targeting of Muslims. At least it’s consistent with the rest of the jokes from the 1970s.
The show is disappointing because you get the sense that with the right script, Marney McQueen would be brilliant. She has a beautiful voice, oozes charisma, and is quick witted in audience interactions. One of the biggest laughs of the night comes when an audience member gives an incredibly precise definition of vajazzling. McQueen smiles and with lovely timing quips ‘I’m overwhelmed by the accuracy of your response’.
In saying that, even some of these interactions are uncomfortable. Addressing an older man in the crowd by ‘little four eyes’ seems totally unnecessary, and demanding answers from a couple on whether the female had ever had a ‘fanicure’ is too much. It is however a tribute to McQueen that she’s still likeable despite much of her material.
Now if you were to judge Hair to the Throne by audience reaction on the night, or by reviews for performances at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and elsewhere, you’d be bikini waxing lyrical (I should write for a new series of The Wedge) about this ‘hilarious' show which is a ‘marvellous character-driven musical spectacle’. If on the other hand you’re looking for original material which doesn’t generate cheap laughs using dated and offensive stereotypes, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Late in the piece Marney McQueen belts out a version of ‘I am woman’, adapted to ‘I am Rosa’, to help ‘empower my sisters across the world’. With her quick wit, confident stage presence and powerful voice, McQueen could perform cabaret which does just that. Yet so long as her scripts perpetuate sexist expectations of women, shows like Hair to the Throne will only serve to undermine female empowerment.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Hair to the Throne
Written by Marney McQueen and Tim Bain
Director: Adam Cook
Musical Director: Mark Jones
Starring Marney McQueen
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point, NSW
13 and 21 June