Sunday 8 October 2023

Beauty Queen review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Narcissus takes centre stage in Emily Carr's new work as a young woman hell-bent on winning the Miss World Australia beauty pageant. With Carr's strong character comedy and a story that takes its audience to a few unexpected places, it's laughs aplenty and then some with Beauty Queen.

Carr is in full control of all the characters she portrays, clearly defining the various mannerisms and personality traits of each one. Voice and body language are distinctive and she doesn't take a misstep with presenting each one. Her interactions between "herself" and the AI program helping her write a feminist play that doesn't scream feminism are comical and it's amusing watching the tension and power battle between the two of them intensify.

The story momentarily loses some steam halfway through with the eliminations of a number of the beauty pageant contestants but Carr is able to ramp it back up again for the climatic finale. The introduction of AI and it being affected by the patriarchy within this context of how beauty pageants are explored in this show comes perilously close to overwhelming the work with too many ideas but Carr expertly navigates us through these hazards to hit on a good few concrete themes and ideas.

The stage is on the small side but with two moveable mirrors, new environments are created (with a little bit of imagination) and the impending showdown we eagerly await between Narcissus and Contessa is directed brilliantly by Jackson McGovern, and supported by Fabio Motta in his role as physical/character consultant. As lighting, sound (also Samuel Boyd) and set designer, McGovern knows the production innately well and brings all these elements together as solid foundations for the story being told.

Beauty Queen might be raising familiar issues around feminism, women and the standards they must abide by but the injection of AI into the mix gives it some uniqueness and freshness that leaves you pondering the impact AI will have on women and their place in a patriarchal society.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: until 15 October | Wed - Sat 8:30pm, Sun 7:30pm
Duration: 50 minutes
Tickets: $27.50 Full | $24.50 Concession | Hump Day Discount (Wednesday) $20.62
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image Credit: Sarah Clarke

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