No Hat! No Play! The Cabaret

No Hat! No Play! The Cabaret
Written & performed by Samantha Andrew & Mel O’Brien. Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The Toff in Town. 6 – 18 April 2021

Mel O’Brien and Samantha Andrew are dressed as primary school (Year 6) girls in those uniforms primary school kids have to wear – in this case bright yellow tops, red pants and, of course, wide-brimmed red hats. 

It’s always great fun to see grown-ups pretend to be kids – and this pair do it perfectly with all that grimacing, squirming, defiance and embarrassment – and with just a touch of knowing, ironic distancing that makes it all ever funnier.  The physical contrast between the two makes the show all the better - ‘Claire’ – bossy, a bit humourless – and ‘Susan’ – naughty but sensitive.  For fifty-five minutes, they sing one clever, witty, pointed song after another – and in an astonishing range of musical styles and periods – about the trials and tribulations of being Year 6 girls. 

Well, they are slightly smarter, slightly recalcitrant, slightly subversive Year 6 girls – who can shock us as they veer into subjects and attitudes Year 6 girls couldn’t possibly know.  Or could they?

I confess that I didn’t know what ‘No Hat! No Play!’ means until I saw this marvellous show.  It’s a slogan for primary school kids to prevent melanoma meaning, ‘If you don’t wear your hat outside, you don’t get to play outside!’  In other words, it’s perfectly rational, designed for kids’ safety, and at the same time irksome and authoritarian. 

The ‘irksome and authoritarian’ is supplied by the PA voice of ‘Ms Stephenson’, headmistress, who seems to have this pair under constant surveillance, thus curtailing their more adventurous and inventive activities.  If there’s a ‘serious’ point to this ‘satirical’ show, it’s a libertarian one.  Claire and Susan are bursting with life and emotion but hemmed in and constrained by ignorance, rules and grown-up expectations.

I couldn’t say how many songs there are, but they go by fast with enormous energy and professionalism.  They also dance like marionettes jerked about from above - but in perfect and very funny synchronicity.  No choreographer is credited so I guess the two of them are responsible for that too – as they are for the music and lyrics.  Samantha Andrew (now a TikTok star, incidentally) is known as a composer and lyricist, but I’ve no doubt that this show is a close collaboration between Andrew and the opera and music theatre trained Mel O’Brien.  The two of them are a brilliant combination and together have created a brilliant show. 

Michael Brindley

Photographer: Evangeline Kepler Studios

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