The Freak and The Showgirl
11:30pm, Fri 11 Mar 2011
Having enjoyed the risqué standup comedy of The Freak (Mat Fraser) at Quake, Rattle & Roll, his full length show was chucked on The Shortlist. A late-night timeslot guaranteed it a look-see… and the Spiegeltent was pretty much packed out for the occasion.
Mat Fraser’s mother was prescribed thalidomide during her pregnancy; as a result, he was born with phocomelia of both arms. And whilst he has enough leverage within his arms to clutch a microphone, he still performs a lot of manual interactions with his feet – which leads into a spate of pretty funny masturbation jokes. He has a fantastic stage presence, and really knows how to work the crowd.
Julie Atlas Muz is The Showgirl – a dazzling dancer and burlesque artist who also works with… ummm… her genitals. In fact, during one of the duo’s costume change breaks, a video was shown that displayed a labial rendition of Hair.
Together, their act is overtly sexual in nature; neither have any problem getting their gear off, and some of their acts are a real sight to behold. But there’s pacing problems a-plenty, especially when we take a diversion into the history of the sideshow – in itself, it’s an interesting bit, but after what had come before it there was a noticeable drop in intensity. But that’s part of their presentation style, which relies heavily on sideshow psychology: right down to the description of a trick that they cannot show, because it once got them into legal troubles because of “accidental penetration” – yes, it’s titillating, but it’s cheap titillation.
And that’s largely my problem with The Freak and The Showgirl: it all feels a bit cheap, a bit exploitative of the audience… a bit like (dare I say it) the Wau Wau Sisters (though, to be clear, this was nowhere near as bad as that tripe). Some interesting points are made by Fraser about the sexuality of the disabled, and the role of the disabled in entertainment, but at the end of the day the bulk of the performance felt very much like a sideshow: a curiosity, without being substantive.