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Reviews LeicesterNationalReviews Published 23 October 2017

Review: Major Labia at Curve, Leicester

October 20 - October 21

“Give this group a TV show”: Peter Kirwan reviews Nottingham-based comedy collective Major Labia’s nameless sketch show at Leicester Curve’s Inside Out festival.

Peter Kirwan
Major Labia, Curve, Leicester. Photo: Pamela Raith.

Major Labia, Curve, Leicester. Photo: Pamela Raith.

Major Labia is a Nottingham-based collective of witty women aiming to tackle inequality through vaginal comedy. Their new sketch show is playing at Curve as part of the Inside Out festival, following the sellout Vulva la Revolution at Nottingham Playhouse earlier this month. The company revel in relocating to neighbouring Leicester, with one Sun-reading character enjoying a ‘Sexist Holiday’ from a town where misogyny is now a hate crime. The sketch show has no title; it’s simply the company and a huge vagina with sparkly clitoris acting as a Stars in Their Eyes-style curtain to introduce a consistently hilarious range of characters, dances, musical interludes and barbed commentary.

It’s fucking funny. This isn’t The Vagina Monologues with its unsettling shifts of tone, and there isn’t a narrative. The closest thing to a through-line is swimmer Rebecca Adlington, Mansfield’s local celebrity, who reappears at different points in her life being told to give up on her dreams of getting a gold medal; Adlington’s triumph comes as she stands waving atop a podium, bush of pubic hair protruding from her costume, as a flautist pipes the national anthem between her legs. The surreal imagery ties in thematically, however, with a recurring interest in young women being knocked down or misled, the comedy repeatedly having bite.

Major Labia’s interest in young girls takes in a primary school teacher demanding her charges share their ambitions, before locking herself in the stationery cupboard to cry; a beautifully pitched TV show called ‘Talk Time’ (“touching your children … in the mind!”) with sing-a-long ditties about chlamydia and parental divorce; and a pair of schoolgirls interrupting woodwind practice to share their assumptions about doggy style. Older girls form an anti-men coven and fight over who has betrayed the sisterhood the most (one self-immolates after screaming “I love anal!”), try hitchhiking to London only to come straight back, or attempt to school one another in the niceties of racial sensitivity (“It’s funny, cos I don’t even see colour?” offers one, after comparing her friend to Oprah, Beyonce and Serena Williams).

To try and capture the jokes in a review is pointless; the climactic Mary Berry rap (“I’m Mary Berry, I ain’t no fairy / Cake”) is too inspired to ruin here. But the charisma and versatility of the three performers is utterly winning, even in the rare moments when the quality of the material dips (the aforementioned ‘Sexist Holiday’ has exhausted its joke by the end of the first line, and a long sketch about two prisoners drags). The show starts and ends with the women throwing shapes, whipping up the audience and yelling joyfully; the mood of celebration is infectious.

As silly as the show is, each of the performers get their own showcase. A parody of Torvill and Dean’s ‘Bolero’, substituting Christine Dean for half-brother Christopher, is a highlight; Phoebe Frances Brown knocks Ravel out of the park on the flute, while Narisha Lawson and Gemma Caseley-Kirk offer a pretty impressive rendition of the routine. Caseley-Kirk’s dancing and rapping bring down the house in her solo numbers; Brown’s manic energy drives the longer sketches, and Lawson’s pitch-perfect voice work, switching from little girl to head witch in an instant, never misses the chance for a comic inflection. The timing is impeccable, and the sketches tend to end at their peak rather than fizzling out in the search for a punchline.

The many women of the show inhabit the recognisably dystopian world of modern Britain: budget cuts (Rebecca Adlington arrives at a pool only to be told by two receptionists that they can’t afford water anymore), the North-South divide (a crestfallen hitchhiker finds she can’t afford to follow her dreams), a Brexit designed to distract the populace, and a prime minister who is actually a robot. The shift from the young girls hoping to variously be Olympic swimmers, astronauts or simply to be Insta-famous, to the dashed dreams of Tory Britain is a subtle but bleak backdrop.

The closing number has the trio dancing to ‘Sister Suffragette’ from Mary Poppins, and as the happy marchers sing “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us / And they’ll sign in grateful chorus”, the music segues seamlessly into Lil Mama’s ‘Lip Gloss’, and the women writhe on the floor smearing red over their faces. In less capable hands it would be too on the nose; as it is, it’s deliciously subversive. The show mocks politicians and role models, social justice and chauvinism, institutional sexism and popular feminism, but with a love and energy that celebrate all women. Give this group a TV show.

Major Labia was at Curve, Leicester, until October 21st. For more details, click here.

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Peter Kirwan

Peter Kirwan is an editor, reviewer and academic, originally from the Wirral and now based at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in the contemporary performance of early modern drama and is the author of Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha (Cambridge, 2015). He is currently writing a book on Cheek by Jowl, and writes The Bardathon review blog.

Review: Major Labia at Curve, Leicester Show Info


Directed by Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie

Cast includes Narisha Lawson, Gemma Caseley-Kirk, Phoebe Frances Brown

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