If you had a daughter growing up in today’s steamy political climate what is the advice you’d give her? Would you tell her that the blame is always on her and her alcohol consumption if she is assaulted or would you urge her to stand up for her rights? It seems silly that we still have to ask these questions, but for all the girls out there – it’s still hard to be a woman. I mean, we get wrinkles when we are twenty five! And while consent and equal pay are issues we desperately need to talk about, there all those other things – why do we feel a toxic attraction to expensive handbags? Insensitive men? Yoyo diets? Why do we fear the big 4-0? These are some of the questions performer and writer Tanya Holt asks in her musical comedy Cautionary Tales for Daughters.
They are songs your mother never taught you – advice you learnt the hard way, or advice you simply chose to ignore and then stumbled into anyway. Like a storytelling session for already come-of-age “experienced” adults, Holt reflects on what it means to be a woman in today’s world, and what girls have to go through in their process of becoming ‘someone’ in the world. The set is small scale and quirky, dress up boxes with a range of peculiar outfits and props that Holt uses to portray various parents and daughters she has encountered over the years. Compiled of stories from audience members and friends it becomes a heartfelt, comic nod to the different stages in life and the problems we encounter. Accompanied by pianist Birgitta Kenyon (also known as A Girl Called Fred) we are taken through a musical score of many different genres, from the 80s to country and western to folk songs and circus.
The first half is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and very charming. Holt has an intimate rapport with the audience, a natural sense of timing and ease that makes the songs flow together. Her voice spans an impressive range from beautiful operatic tones to character acting and with the many changes in costume and use of props it’s like a cabaret night of parenthood and coming of age.
The second half is considerably darker and this is where the struggles of being a woman really bite. The overall light tone of the piece saves it from being a rant, and through audience interaction you feel like we’re all in it together, women and men alike. The animation keeps it rooted in the land of make-believe and storytelling, but though it’s charming it sometimes seems a little too sweet and illustrative with the colourful and childlike props and play. But the musical duo reign it in, humouring us in what seems like such a simple, understated setting, yet with such inspiring stories behind it. All in all, despite it being a good laugh, Cautionary Tales for Daughters is super relevant today and certainly asks what advice we should give to women – and whether our expectations are correct.
Cautionary Tales for Daughters is playing at Jermyn Street Theatre until February 11.
Photo: Scott Wishart