Life in Plastic

Life in Plastic
Christie Whelan Browne. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Banquet Room. 8 June, 2024

Christie Whelan Browne proudly announces her goal in Life in Plastic is to empower the women in the audience to love themselves, and we are with her all the way!

Her show Life in Plastic is a tribute to women, to their resilience and the sisterhood. We journey with her for an hour through her life, which has been full of joys but also full of many difficult times. The empathy from the audience was palpable.

She begins the show as a whiny Year 9 student in uniform, complete with lisp-inducing braces, who chats to her Barbie doll about her life. This is clever comedy but with an element of pathos as she recalls feeling ‘equal amounts of self-confidence and self-loathing’. The quips about being a mean girl, stuffing her dress with tissues and spraying herself incessantly with Impulse Free Spirit in the ‘90s brings much laughter and recognition.

This banter is punctuated by the first of her songs for the evening, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Whelan Browne has a stunningly powerful voice which is chameleon-like. Her conversations with Barbie are ventriloquist in style as Barbie comments in a very SoCal accent in reaction to her questions.

She muses about how Barbie is perfect, doesn’t get bloated, feel pain or anxiety. This is the paradox - a doll created for little girls to have something beautiful in their lives, in itself created a desire for girls to mirror this image of unrealistic sizing, perfect skin and hair. This inability for girls to be ‘like Barbie’ is a contributor to who we became as women. Whelan Browne comments that being a woman is hard - we struggle with our insecurities and our appearance - and says ‘like all normal women I hate myself’.

The next songs, inevitably “I’m a Barbie Girl” and “Material Girl” likewise are brilliantly sung, supported by great disco lighting. We then travel back to Year 6 when Whelan Browne recounts the advent of her period, which prompted her to dive into Dolly Doctor to try and work out ‘why does my body do this?’ She talks of being a ‘judgy bitch who was confident and annoying’. At this time, however, quite oblivious to beauty image at 10, all she wanted to do was dance. Enrolling in a dance school, she didn’t understand why she was always relegated to the back row. Realisation of her own self-image occurred, when her teacher put her in a dinosaur costume where she wouldn’t be ‘seen’. We see footage of this actual concert, and whilst funny, again there is the sadness of a girl who realised she was ‘not beautiful’. This prompts comment about how many people contribute to shame and self-loathing, even though at times, unintentionally.

The show travels on through her life, complete with an ‘interview’ by Barbie. Commentary about Barbie’s smooth skin also becomes a segue to one of the funniest parts of the show where she appears in a body suit with overexaggerated body hair and tells of the incessant plucking, waxing and shaving endured by women in an effort to appear beautiful. “Born This Way” is sung as a tribute to all her lost hair!

Whelan Browne has made this journey very personal to this point - even sharing photos of herself as a child, but it is the latter part of the show that really hits hard.

As an Endometriosis Australia ambassador, Whelan Browne shares her journey with this insidious disease. The first half of the show is about how she hated her ‘outside’ but then we see true pain as she tells us that she ‘hated her insides too’. A non-stop reign of terror by ovarian cysts, endometriosis and a soul-destroying series of IVF attempts led her to believe she would never be a mother.

The support she received through all of this from her husband induced sighs from the audience - him claiming- ‘if we cant have a baby, we are enough’. Whelan Browne sings a beautiful rendition of “Even When I’m Sleeping’ in tribute. Her IVF journey took two and a half years, with her raging at her body for ‘not being able to do what it is supposed to do’ and the unspoken shame it brings.

Probably the most poignant moment in this performance was her reading from her journal to her unborn baby during this time - she herself crying whilst reading and the audience likewise shedding empathic tears. So raw and real and beautiful. Whelan Browne shows her vulnerability and emotion leading up to the eventual success - pregnancy with her son Duke. We are even given a glimpse into the birth - beautiful. She sums it up saying that ‘my body finally did something good’.

The finale of the show lifts the mood in celebration of the woman she has become. Resplendent in a blue dinosaur costume we hear of the three court cases she has had to endure and the awful process of having every element of her life analysed. But she is a strong, resilient, non-stereotypical woman and for that I admire her! As we celebrate, she sings “Man I Feel Like a Woman” and “Roar” as we bounce giant inflatable penises around the room. There was definitely a sisterhood in the audience!

Life in Plastic is a brilliant piece of cabaret - funny, poignant, challenging, questioning and thought provoking. Coupled with that, Whelan Browne is a damn good performer with a stunning voice, brilliant comic timing and the ability to take an audience on a ride. Wonderful!

Shelley Hampton

Photographer: Claudio Raschella


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