Friday 6 October 2023

BEARDIFUL: Cabaret Review

 WHAT: Beardiful
WHEN: 7 - 22 October 2023
WHERE: The Butterfly Club/Digital Fringe
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Sarah Jay

Sarah Jay - photo supplied

Nobody likes to be the first person to arrive at a party, but lucky for me Sarah Jay came through the door to make me laugh and cry, and she warmed the cockles of my heart with her first ever solo show, Beardiful. Produced by Picked Last For Sport, Beardiful is playing at The Butterfly Club for the first week of the Melbourne Fringe Festival and is then available On Demand as part of Digital Fringe.

Whilst Jay is flying solo this time around (and the nerves do show), you will probably remember her from other superb Picked Last For Sport shows such as Creatures of the Deep and 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced. Beardiful kicksoff with  a rousing little number about just how hairy we women are, accompanied by the ukele. Instantly we are transported back to the fun and wit of previous shows, supported by her visage which would look at home in the throne room of the Queen of the Dwarves in the Lord of the Rings movies.. 

Somewhere in all the fun we get a slight sense that this solo show might just have a slightly sharper edge to it as Jay slides us into the endless and unfruitful life we women lead being hair shamed by society. It doesn't take long to find out Jay is taking us on a potentially more serious journey than a standard comedy cabaret would provide. 

Jay transitions from the nascent hairs growing in our armpits and on our chins (and other places), to talking about 'becoming a woman'. The red dress becomes meaningful as mentruation is explored but don't be put off by this. Beardiful has a lot of heart and one of the more beautiful stories - and funniest songs - is the tale of how the addiction she and her school friends had for Mills and Boon novels grew into a lifelong bonding book club. Teenage tingles have turned into complicit gales of laughter but the sharing of experiences over time is a pearl in the oyster of life.

Books lead to tingles, tingles lead to boys, boys lead to men. That is the tale society tells us about our journey into womanhood. Jay is here to tell and sing us a much more convoluted story. We always hear the first time you have sex it might hurt, but what is going on if every time continues to hurt and how can you tell anyone about it if nobody, not even doctors, want to listen? It might interrupt the social narrative and how can we allow that to happen? Keep it quiet. Keep it a secret. Pretend. Always pretend to be enjoying sex. That is what women do.

Across the hour that Beardiful graces our lives we learn about debilitating conditions which come with having holes and ovaries. Jay reveals important truths about vaginismus and devastating admissions about the role polycystic ovarian syndrome. Along the way she lays open her heart and soul as we walk with her through the tale of trying to get pregnant.

We talk about 'authenticity' a lot in the theatrical realm, but the rawness and honesty of Jay's story is a pain almost too hard to bare. Don't worry though, it is padded with humorous songs and a generosity of giving. If you are the lucky live audience member you will even get a song written just for you. The magic of this song is the sincerity in which Jay delivers it to you, and only you. 

This song of generous love brings us out of Jay's great sadness and speaks to the spirit of a world I want to live in. This superb dramaturgy (created in collaboration with Sonia Di lorio) is what makes Beardiful shine and allows the audience to leave with love filling our hearts and a smile on our face. 

3 Stars

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