Following their smash hit musical Buzz about the history of the vibrator, Fat Rascal Theatre return to Edinburgh Fringe with a feminist superhero story about tampon tax. Bryony Buckle (Allie Munroe) is just your ordinary everyday woman working in an office job in High Wycombe, a place where absolutely nothing interesting ever happens. Following a visit to the doctor, Bryony is injected with a hormone and then struck by lightning, transforming her into a superhero and saviour of womankind, Vulvarine. A typical superhero story follows as Bryony uses her powers to defeat the evil Mansplainer (Robyn Grant), with a little help from her friends and features, of course, a love story underpinning the rest of the action.
The set is built of large wooden flats, painted cartoon-style, with flaps opening up to create the various settings. The actors multi-role to play a whole village of characters, popping their heads out from behind the flats brings much comedy. Vulvarine features slapstick-style physical comedy, and highlights include when one of the citizens is caught in a windstorm, the actor violently shakes the hood of their raincoat to portray this. Costumes are vibrant and colourful; Grant’s hideous orange cardigan is particularly fitting when playing the office boss. We all know a person like this, and yes, this is actually what she would be wearing.
There’s an absolute silliness which Fat Rascal include in their work, but they do so with such commitment and skill that it becomes totally genius. A pigeon on a stick is brought in at one point for a laugh-out-loud cameo, and the puppet cat is a total delight.
The music is a little forgettable, although certainly entertaining in the moment. ‘Who’s That Girl’ and a song sung by the cat about licking its own anus are particular highlights. Some of the comedy seems almost too subtle: a reference to The Shape of Water either doesn’t land or gets lost within the rest of what’s going on, and a comment from Grant about difficult logistics for the cat and villain to be in the same room at the same time goes unnoticed. But those of us listening out for this stuff are totally there for it.
Fat Rascal’s success comes from not only their ability to make an audience chuckle, but also from the sheer commitment to the musical genre, with an abundance of talent among the cast. In addition to this, they’re dealing with really serious and pertinent issues at the heart of it all. The show doesn’t shy away from its post-Time’s Up references as the baddy himself announces “Times’s up on the age of feminism”, and in twisting the stereotypical gender-conforming superhero/comic book plot and placing a female hero in the leading role, Vulvarine becomes a super fresh feminist take on the age-old story we’ve frankly heard enough of.
Vulvarine: A New Musical played Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose until 26 August. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.