Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Heard It On the Wireless

The following review was printed in today's Straits Times Life! - or at least, a version of it was.  Since I disagree with the way the editor treated it, I'm just gonna reproduce the original review here so it can be googlable.

Heard it on the Wireless
The Kransky Sisters
Esplanade Recital Studio
Ng Yi-Sheng

Even before the Kransky Sisters step on stage, you know they're going to be fun. A projector flashes photographs of their tours across Australia: a provincial world of dodgy rest-stops, community centre recitals and kangaroo road-kill.

Then the three sisters enter, dressed identically in black wigs, long-sleeved polka dotted blouses and low heeled shoes, each one dolled up as the very image of a stereotypical, straight-laced old maid. They bumble into position, introducing themselves with their eccentric brand of deadpan humour.

The real surprise for the audience is their music – oddly beautiful, yet completely off-kilter renditions of pop songs, played on a bizarre ensemble of electone, tuba, tambourine and carpenter's saw. (The last of these produces an eerily lovely twang when stroked with a violin bow).

You have to love the incongruity of the act: three middle-aged women performing tunefully harmonious covers of “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”, “The Age of Aquarius” and “Highway to Hell”, all in the clipped, precise English of antique schoolteachers.

Songs are accompanied by rib-tickling banter: Mourne, the lead singer, describes their rural Queensland life with appalling anecdotes - memories of drunken fathers, hallucinogenic trips after mushroom soup, accidental burials of pet rabbits in wet concrete.

Mourne is echoed by her sister Eve, the percussionist, who barely dares to speak for herself, while Dawn – the woodwind player, born from their mother's scandalous second marriage – stays rigidly wordless throughout.

It's all terribly funny till halfway through, when the freshness of the concept starts to sag. Mind you, the Sisters never stop being amusing, and some great gags emerge involving audience participation. Still, they can't quite sustain the original energy of their comedy.

And it's at this point that the darkness of the show sinks in. These characters have led horribly oppressive lives, from the abuse suffered under their mother (who went after their ankles with a cheese-grater) to the way Mourne restrains Eve from pursuing romance. At one point, silent Dawn interrupts a song with an unending scream - plus, she's revealed to have tried to murder her sisters by marooning them in the desert.

I have to ask: is it tasteless of this show to mock spinsters, lampooning them as frigid and repressed? Or is it empowering – does it celebrate the figure of the independent, nonconformist older woman, one who can subvert pop culture as casually as she buries a dead emu?

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