Who: Millicent Sarre
Where: The Bally at Gluttony
When: 16 Feb-1 March
Tickets: $26 to $33, available here
Feminist-themed cabaret shows are becoming a mainstay of Adelaide Fringe programming. As a self-professed ‘social justice warrior’, I’m always down for another show that will both make me laugh and validate my ‘lefty’ ideals. Despite an admirable message and strong performances, however, I found Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered to be one of the more humdrum entries into the feminist cabaret phenomenon.
Performer Millicent Sarre is undoubtedly a delight to listen to, with a sweet, lilting voice and infectiously cute persona. She’s versatile and clearly seasoned, with no trouble shifting between powerful high notes and ‘white-girl rap’. Unfortunately, Sarre’s undeniable talent is somewhat wasted on mostly bland and unoriginal songs. The show felt obviously calculated to be educational, and although this is a noble goal, it rarely offered much beyond that. When covering hard-hitting topics such as toxic masculinity, rape culture, and allyship, most of Sarre’s lyrics felt they were taken straight from Twitter soundbites or Guardian opinion pieces. The intersectional feminist rhetoric was rarely injected with enough personal experience or humour to be engaging, and many lyrics felt corny as a result. I hate to say it, but at times it was hard not to feel lectured, even for someone as avidly feminist as myself.
Even the show’s boppy earworm “Don’t Make Them Drink The Tea” was a rhetorical device taken straight from a years-old viral internet video. Although the performers acknowledged their inspiration, it was disappointing to hear an old joke repeated rather than something fresh and original. This was perhaps my main issue with the show – it offers nothing new for those already familiar with intersectional feminism and online activism. If you’ve ever read a Clementine Ford article or followed a feminist Twitter thread, you’ve already heard all the content in Sarre’s show.
This doesn’t mean it was entirely without worthwhile moments. A glimpse of what the show could have been was the shattering “#MeToo” song, in which Sarre told the story of her own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Here, she showed us arresting vulnerability and real, raw emotion. I was genuinely moved by this highlight because it offered what the rest of the songs lacked: original anecdotes and personal narratives to connect with the audience, something beyond the oft-repeated feminist clichés. The ‘mansplaining’ song also offered some solid laughs due to the back-and-forth gags between Sarre and her talented band. More content of this calibre would have showcased Sarre’s chops much more effectively.
It’s always hard to criticise a show whose message I agree with so wholeheartedly. This show may be a good choice if you’re only vaguely familiar with modern intersectional feminism, or if you have a friend or family that needs some education delivered in an entertaining pop-song format. If you consider yourself a seasoned social justice warrior, however, you’re unlikely to find anything revelatory here.