Review by Harry Bower.
I’m sure many of our readers out there wake up every day thinking, “why oh why hasn’t anyone made a Jewish horror-comedy musical which features a giant puppetry vagina and a mirror ball?” Well, question no longer, Jew-orror-medy fans! For Candy GiGi has come to your rescue with her high energy Friday Night Sinner! show, now playing at Soho Theatre. Soho is a theatre which is brave with its programming, frequently holding up theatre that challenges norms and pushes boundaries. With Friday Night Sinner! this is taken to next level extremes. I am still trying to process what I have just witnessed.
Living a boring stereotypical Jewish housewife existence, Candy pines for fame and success and resents everything about her life, except her Borehamwood’s Got Talent win as a kid. Her mother pushing her to have children with a man she finds repulsive, the cleaning up after said man and his bowel movements, her arch nemesis’ success in amateur dramatics – these are all sore points in GiGi’s day to day. Friday Night Sinner! hosts the audience as guests in her home for a dinner party, as she bares all and expresses her true desires: to break free of her monotony and become a famous actress on a West End stage. Husband David sits motionless and with a blank expression at the piano in the corner throughout, providing an excellent original score throughout and stealing some scenes with his side-eye and an impressive ability to keep a straight face while the carnage plays out in front of him.
And carnage is really not an exaggeration. Rarely have I cringed as much as I did during this show, which is, strangely, a huge compliment. Billed as ‘horror’, GiGi’s style is more shock-and-awe than reliant on jump scares. Some of the delightfully vulgar acts wouldn’t be out of place in a Little Britain sketch, written to provoke a response in the audience, and though sometimes verging on needless, they provide endless laughs. If you attend with a friend or family member, I highly recommend watching their reactions while you enjoy the show yourself. There is a sense of communal joy being sat helpless anticipating the next bit of audience interaction (front rows may get wet) or the next bit of appropriately inappropriate puppetry.
Candy GiGi takes both writer and performer credits, and the performance element is just as impressive as the writing. Fully committed to the wacky and darkly comic world she has built, she is a tour de force of hideous wit. Despite the bull in a china shop whirlwind nature of her character, there is an uncertain vulnerability played which endears an otherwise brash personality to the audience, which is integral to eliminating any apathy in the audience who quickly become used to extremes in the plot and dialogue. As the show comes to an end you really do feel as though you have been on a journey with GiGi – and are rooting for them. There’s also nowhere to hide; for the performer to maintain such a high level of energy and strain vocally with zero backup from the other performer on stage - who is required to be stoic – was impressive.
Oddly, it took me a second to remember that Friday Night Sinner! is a musical, when writing this review. That’s not because the music is forgettable – I will remember the song with the catchy chorus about ‘finishing off what Hitler started’ for a while yet – but because the whole thing is so well blended, and songs are not inserted just for the sake of it. Dialogue is used where it fits more seamlessly, music and lyrics bolster the plot and overall cabaret feel of the show rather than acting as its sole focus. With sharp writing and toe-tapping tunes, the musical part of the show is complete with GiGi’s superb voice. Though she admitted to losing it on the night I saw the show, you really couldn’t tell. Her lungs work overtime on some ambitious numbers which transcend the comedy in the show; this voice is no joke.
There is a question to be answered about how far is going too far. The shock factor and black comedy moments are without a doubt hugely entertaining, and the vast majority of audience members laughed at even the darkest moments (jokes about religious sexualisation and abortion merely scratch the surface). But at times since the show I’ve asked myself – was it all really necessary to tell the story of a bored housewife who wants more from their life? Of a Jewish housewife, no less, desperate to break free of the norms and expectations in her corner of middle class hell in Boreham Wood? And the conclusion I’ve come to is that life is messy. Life is confronting. And there’s nothing in Friday Night Sinner! that crosses a line so far that it forfeits the character’s redemption arc. In fact, with such a unique and well crafted style of storytelling, the extremities of the drama make the experience immeasurably better.
And so, while not for the easily offended or faint of heart, Candy GiGi: Friday Night Sinner! is a fabulous night at the theatre. The show plays with as many Jewish stereotypes as it can cram into its short 70 minute run time, and has something meaningful to say on each of them. With biting social commentary and a depressingly honest assessment of very real stories, GiGi is heading onto stage each night portraying a somewhat psychotic and confused but ultimately lovable character. Slapstick comedy and cabaret style music combines with supreme comic timing and humour Frankie Boyle would be proud of, to craft distinctive and unique storytelling which fits the vibe perfectly. If Boreham Wood has got this much talent, then I’m grateful housewives are starting to rise up – West End stages are better for it.
Candi GiGi: Friday Night Sinner! plays at Soho Theatre until 20 May. For tickets and more information visit https://sohotheatre.com/shows/candy-gigi-friday-night-sinner/
Photos by David Monteith