Squeezed into the Soho Theatre’s laidback, jazz club-style space, we are welcomed aboard a metaphorical voyage into the imagination of Fancy Chance, as she flies us through an eclectic assembly of skits, songs, satires, cabaret and a bit of burlesque. Based around her own coming-of-age narrative, the performer’s first solo show treads through potentially fraught identity politics with ease. Seattle-raised, South Korea-born and now London-resident, the fringe cabaret star serves as our hostess. She oozes confidence, her diminutive size easily filling the space, an un-ignorable bundle of energy and pizzazz. But Flights of Fancy is about more than just razzle-dazzle.
This is a rather personal affair, framed aboard her own virtual American-Korean airline as she gently guides us through her genre-defying exploration of identity. She’s not out to shock or provoke here: the tone is one of warmth, humour and compassion. Fancy’s ease and confidence on stage is unassailable and infectious. A burlesque snapshot sees her get naked, ruminating on her own absence of concern about showing her body. She is so comfortable, the audience barely bats an eyelid, aside from some genuine admiration of her spectacular skill with nipple tassels.
What does surprise is Fancy’s genuine gift for satire. A pitch-perfect YouTube beauty vlogger parody pokes playful and penetrating fun at Asian beauty ideals (e.g. be more white), even if the delightful details were a little lost on a too-cool Soho crowd. It’s just one of many examples across the 60-minute show that reveals the performer’s ability to draw out meaning from fleeting cultural reference points and use them to explore her own identity, and their wider relevance.
Radiohead’s paean to alienation, Weirdo, gets some Fancy treatment as she delves into her years of teenage rebellion in song and struggles to understand the interplay between her ethnic origins and her upbringing. A silly and sassy Sesame Street skit picks over the hypocrisy of racial stereotyping, while a potently honest tale of a fleeting visit to Seoul, which leaves her – a tattooed American who can’t speak Korean – feeling more out of place than ever, adds poignancy.
Things feel less successful when Fancy lands in London and makes a life as a staple of the fringe cabaret scene. Here, things get properly polemical, leaving the final third of the show feeling underdeveloped and underpowered. An amusing bitch about the London housing crisis tries to tackle the hypocrisy – another overarching theme – of the city’s attitude to incomers (rich equals good, poor equals bad) and offers some good, hot-topic fun until it descends into a rant. And the brisk evening’s entertainment concludes with an invitation – poorly taken up – to join in with a song. While it’s warm witty, engaging and inquisitive, Flights of Fancy feels like it is missing the final sucker-punch that would make it unmissable.
Flights of Fancy is at Soho Theatre until April 29th. For more details, click here.