Courtney Rose Brown
The cast is small, with only 6 women who play a variety of roles. The role of women in the musical are played by mannequins, a strong visual metaphor for how the boys view them and reminder that they don’t know as much as they think they do.
The ‘Bro Dome’, where the pick up artistry *cough* magic *cough* happens, is collaged with movie posters, memes and the darker side of the internet (Reddit, trolls, women-hating content), topped off with a chandelier of energy drinks (which is my personal fav touch). There’s a pop out window that is used as the TV for the sports presenters, and when it’s closed it’s covered with an image (e.g. a movie title) to show a change in location. It is a simple backdrop, but a great constant reminder of influences behind the thoughts of the boys.
The gender swap of women playing the boys makes the characters larger than life, but not by that much. Their swagger, sexual aggression and over-confidence is always rooted in truth and it never goes far enough where I would call the ignorance of the boys unrealistic. The swapping of gender adds another layer of emphasis into how disgusting all of their views are by seeing how unnatural the perspectives are, and how the boys perform their gender. But in seeing this, I’m not presented with anything new, my views aren’t challenged and I don’t gain any understanding (apart from what negging is - a negative spin on compliments). There was also definitely a missed opportunity to throw mansplaining under a spotlight!
There is a fun play with movie stereotypes within Elliot. He’s the boy who loves the perfect girl, who he doesn’t really know, who he obsesses about, who he makes big romantic gestures for; he thinks he’s well-intentioned, but it’s actually just creepy. Smith embodies the awkwardness and charm of Elliot easily; you grow to love and hate him simultaneously for every snarl and sulk made and despite his naivety you can’t help but want him to win.
The cast is a whirlwind of talent and the show is at its best when the whole ensemble is used in musical numbers. Karen Anslow wins the crowd over, first as Al (Elliot’s dad) and then in the second half as Nemesis (the world’s greatest pick up artist and G’s nemesis). Greer Phillips and Marysia Collins are an exciting team, they play a range of roles throughout, a favourite is their TV presenter personas who not only place an emphasis on classic masculine roles in New Zealand (father and son combo, watching the footie with a cold one) and how Al and Elliot just aren’t that.
Due to illness, Grace was unable to sing on the preview. However, her lip syncing (Tse sung for her) and performance were crisp. Her eyebrows alone, say enough. Her energy and dedication to G is captivating to watch, with every hip thrust, eyebrow wiggle and finger gun. Despite the grossness of her role, she quickly becomes a favourite and she brought a lovely sympathy to G particularly at the end when everything starts to unravel.
The show kicks off with an upbeat and fun song about getting out of the friendzone, but it the tone seems to stay the same for the whole show. The plot thins out with the introduction of ‘Pick Up Off’ battle and is stretched to reach the length of the two acts; although, the end of the competition does link well to Elliot’s steps towards pursuing Freda. Most of the first act could be condensed to create a stronger and clearer climax of the show, as there were a few times near the end that there were false endings. It soon became unclear what the show’s overarching goal was, whether it’s to be the best pick up artist or for Freda to know just how ‘nice’ Elliot really is.
There’s moments of interaction with Elliot and his dad Al that place emphasis on how, with masculinity, there’s also the inability to express emotions. This is heightened by Al’s obsession with watching the footy on the telly and their inability to really connect as father and son. Although the stereotype of the rugby-loving dad who finds it hard to share his feelings has a distinct tie to New Zealand culture, it feels like an easy path to follow. There’s potential for M’Lady to push how ingrained ‘men finding it hard to express their emotions’ is by presenting the unexpected stereotype such as an artist or a teacher.
Although the script doesn’t push barriers beyond gender binary clashes, there could have been potential to explore consent or trans perspectives (two things that are deeply linked to misogyny). But, it still presents an important perspective for those who aren’t already engaging with feminist discourse.
On my way into the show, I narrowly dodge my very own ‘Nice Guy’. It’s reaffirming that although larger than life, the presentation of everyday man Elliot hopefully will allow young men and the rest of the audience to see themselves and reflect. I encourage you to bring anyone to this show who is stuck in the stereotypes of masculinity so they can learn another narrative and for those who have long been involved in the discourse. Because all-in-all, M’Lady is an enjoyable night filled with fun musical numbers.