Bad news. By the time you read this, everyone who was at Hayley Sproull’s Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues last night will have raved to their friends about how fantastic it was, and any tickets that were left will probably have been snatched up.
But if you do manage to lie, cheat or steal your way into Sproull’s show – my pick of the festival so far – you’ll be amply rewarded.
First of all, it’s not stand-up – more of a cabaret performance, without the bad jokes and so-so singing.
Sproull is Miss Fletcher, a well-meaning, but slightly unhinged high school teacher who treats an unwitting geography class to a surprise music lesson.
Over the course of the hour she tries valiantly to connect with the class through a series of musical numbers, touching on everything from the trials of puberty to her own insatiable lust for moustachioed men.
Sproull was equally at ease on the piano and behind the microphone.
In one song, an instructional number on how to fake singing talent, she flew through about half a dozen imitations – from Creed to the Cranberries – at dazzling speed. It was masterful.
Sproull is a recent graduate of Toi Whakaari drama school, and her training shows. Her characterisation was impeccable, and she didn’t drop it for a second.
Every gesture, every word and every vocal feat was perfectly controlled and delivered for maximum comic effect. With just a well-timed lift of the eyebrows, she could send the crowd into hysterics.
While she had a style all her own, some aspects of her show reminded me of Flight of the Conchords – not just the musical stylings, but the way she nailed a ‘type’ we all know (the trying-too-hard teacher) with such uncanny accuracy, in the same way Rhys Darby nailed the inept manager in FOTC.
Will Sproull find the same level of success they have? Based on last night’s performance, I’d lay my money on it.
John Smythe, Theatreview'Her hour of fretting and strutting upon the stage, and tinkling and pounding upon the piano, is as brilliantly performed as it is conceived.'open/close
There was rapture last night at Bats, as the lights went out on actor / composer / musician Hayley Sproull's superb formidable creation, Miss Fletcher. Her hour of fretting and strutting upon the stage, and tinkling and pounding upon the piano, is as brilliantly performed as it is conceived.
A progression from her 20-minute Go Solo show last year, it doesn't suffer in the least from being expanded. Indeed it suggests Not In That Context, Of Course (as it was then called) was always just a taster for Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues.
The Music teacher at an all boys' school, Miss Fletcher finds herself having to substitute for an indisposed Geography teacher, and we find ourselves cast as her adolescent, puberty-confronting pupils. The instant she commands "No laughing!" it starts and Sproull rides it like a pro, playing us with as much skill as she does the upright.
Her mission is to help us cope with good and bad feelings – with fear, anger and love, for example; with compulsions towards violence – in a trusting environment. And she does this with songs: "Instead of getting mental, I get musical!"
'Songs of Hate' bookend the show, recalling an early Rodney Rude routine but delivered with much more finesse … Can I say that when she references her Brazilian in the first song and gets very down and dirty in the last? Well yes, because the way she counterpoints her majestic feminine style with her earthy lyrics generates a lot of the comedy.
She chooses moustaches as the inspiration for a love song – 'tache rhymes with pash when 'Searching for a Moustache Paradise' – and revels in comedy-of-embarrassment with 'Puberty'. Without over-explaining it, it has to be said her deliciously complex characterisation is comedy gold.
Her insistence that anyone who can talk can sing provokes a glorious pastiche of 'Real Fake Singing' which doubles as a game of 'pick the artist she's sending up'. The animated foyer-chat afterwards suggested this included Salonga's Princess Jasmine from Disney's Aladdin, a heavily Irish Dolores O'Riordan from the Cranberries' 'Zombie', 'On My Own' from Les Mis and some soul-vibrating Gospel singing. (Feel free to add your own thoughts on this via Comment, below.)
Given the necessarily overblown accents employed in this delectable mash-up, I have to add that Sproull's use of her own strong and naturally Kiwi voice in the Hate songs strengthens the comedy of the Fake songs no end: brava to that!
Miss Fletcher's compassionate concern for little Mukti (sp? usually a girl's name?), who has been subjected to bullying, leads to a rousing 'Song For India' and then another song for the Planet – 'Key Changes For Africa' (nothing to do with the PM, though) – which allows for some amusing instrumental audience participation.
Most musical entertainments end with a glorious upbeat resolution to all that has gone before. Here again Sproull's Miss Fetcher subverts our expectations, delivering an ending I am not about to give away here, except to say it too is glorious in its own special way.
Presumably the constraints of Bats' fast-turnarounds in a Festival slot means she cannot indulge our desire for an encore. But when this plays elsewhere – as I am sure it will – an encore or two will need to be factored in.