FatG: Fringe at the Gryphon, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

10/03/2020 - 13/03/2020

NZ Fringe Festival 2020

Production Details

Power pussy ballad of your dreams. 

After a sold out, triple award-winning Perth Fringe World season earlier this year and taking over Sydney and Melbourne; Feminah is ready to take over New Zealand Fringe Festival!

Feminah is a cabaret piece about the vulgar women of the world; the women that embrace all things trashy and beastly and that celebrate their intrinsically hideous selves. It is a power ballad for women too scared to unleash the beast within and let her wreak havoc.

Feminah follows one woman on a war-path to dismantle every structure set in place to keep her calm and appropriate; she’s here to destroy the town, and maybe take you with it.

A solo show created by Perth’s staunchly seductive powerhouse Charlotte Otton, Feminah is an ode to women that censor themselves for the sake of being professional, tasteful or – heaven forbid – cute. This explosion of gritty femininity is what happens when a woman refuses the idea of ‘having it all’ and instead, annihilates it.

WINNER New Zealand Tour Ready Award 2019 (Sydney Fringe 2019) // WINNER Melbourne Tour Ready Award 2019 (Fringe World 2019) // WINNER Sydney Tour Ready Award 2019 (Fringe World 2019) // WINNER ECU Performing Arts Award 2019 (Fringe World 2019) // WINNER Theatre Weekly Award 2019 (Fringe World 2019) // NOMINEE Martin Sims Award 2019 (Fringe World 2019)

“Feminah is a fierce autobiographical manifesto in the guise of light cabaret.” – Isolated Nation (5 Stars)

“A Star on the rise!” – SeeSaw Magazine (4 Stars)

“Charlotte Otton had me from the minute she walked on stage. FEMINAH is a breath of Fringe fresh air…” Agent Mystery Case (4.5 Stars)

“Unforgettable and a must-see this Fringe Season!…” FRINGEFEED (4.5 Stars)

FatG: Fringe at the Gryphon, 22 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro
Tuesday 10 – Friday 13 March 2020
Price General Admission $27.00 Concession $22.00 Fringe Addict $19.00 Group 10+ $18.00 Group 6+ $20.00
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Wheelchair access available

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Smart, funny, incisive, cathartic

Review by Elspeth Tilley 11th Mar 2020

Charlotte Otton is fearless, funny and the Spanks are off. From the opening pouted question, “Do you think I’m pretty?” to the closing fierce retort, “Suck my clit!” Feminah is a tour de force of female disruption, ripping apart patriarchy’s power moves from the 1800s to the present day.  

Written and performed by Otton, with directing and mentorship from Libby Klysz, Feminah is essentially a one woman solo, although George Ashforth provides live guitar music (and some exquisite harmonies) on stage, and is patiently on the receiving end of some unabashed body pride from Otton on more than one occasion.  The whole shebang (pun intended) is produced by Alexandre Egloff.

Otton, a 2017 WAAPA graduate from Perth, is an improviser, comedian, deviser, puppeteer and – very clear from her performance – a trained classical singer.  Her trademark is multidisciplinary works that push back urgently against the invisible bounds of our socialisation into gender and sexuality stereotypes.  She won the inaugural WAAPA Fremantle Arts Centre Residency Prize in 2018, to develop her first solo piece, Let Me Finish, about women’s sexuality, over a four-week rehearsal period. We can see the echoes of that early work here, but Feminah has been developed and honed to a frenzied peak of timing and tone that deliver a polished, professional, multi-layered performance.

We start with a deceptively demure Bo Peep type character complete with beribboned hat and ballooning crinoline. A slide show outlines the expectations of purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness associated with the ‘ideal woman’ of the 19th Century while Bo Peep sweetly sings a syrupy love song. If this sounds sickly, it’s not – Otton’s narrator persona intercuts Bo Peep’s compliant cutie-pie routine constantly with wickedly funny physical comedy and witty asides that recruit the audience to will her to bust out of her literal and figurative corsets. Comparing internalised misogyny to a lost Yoni egg that’s somewhere in her vagina but she’s not sure where, is just one of the many jokes in Feminah that have the audience guffawing.

We continue through the 1950s and Otton morphs into a convincing jazz club bombshell, complete with sultry crooner tones as her versatile voice takes on a resonant ’50s edge to match the character change. Again, there’s a kind of tug of war between the character representing the period and Otton’s present day narratorial persona, who connects the 50s invention of porn to seeing her own father bring porn into her childhood home.  Before long a curious teenaged narrator is watching it herself and taking in restrictive images of body and sexuality that she’s too young to process critically. 

The lineage is clear, from the historical expectations of duty and pliability of the 19th Century through to the passive women of porn, a trajectory that Feminah then traces onwards right through the 60s and 70s (when ‘women’s lib’ was hijacked to sell cigarettes) to the 90s, to question what kind of impact a hypersexualised Britney Spears’ music video has on a wide-eyed seven year old. And yes, Otton can sing uncannily like Britney Spears, too.

After a poignant, often painfully funny, stomping tour through decades of women-shaming, women-taming stereotypes we arrive at today, complete with Kardashian-style tummy trainer underpants. And then the pants are off, the baby is on the floor and one breast is determinedly, unapologetically out, in defiance of a nosy bystander, the narrator tells, who told her not to be ‘disgusting’ when she flashed her friends in a pub. 

Feminah promised the “Power pussy ballad of your dreams … for women too scared to unleash the beast within and let her wreak havoc.”  And after storming through 150 years of mealy mouthed male rule-making in a tightly timed 50 minutes, for the last ten of this 1-hour show we are here at last in power ballad territory – and it’s well worth the wait.  Catharsis, in loud, funny, unabashed spadesful of body pride, swearing, filthy, funny humour and just plain unleashed fearlessness. No self-censorship here.

Ever since I read Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés I’ve felt fortified, fascinated and encouraged by the subversive power of archetypes of wild women. Magic, medicine – reclaiming the disparaged ‘wicked witch’ figure as a source of potent healing and wisdom, understanding the freedom that comes with releasing femininity from its weighty ties to consumerism, permitting women to be loud and lascivious and unfettered so that we realise just how often we censor ourselves to be anything but: all of these things I got from Estés. Of course her book, although spending a record-breaking spell on best seller lists worldwide back when it was published, has since been critiqued for the hetero-, cis- and gender binary normativity that mark it as a product of its late 20th Century time.

I didn’t realise how much I’d been yearning for a replacement – a more nuanced yet still powerful update that would celebrate womanhood in all its forms and keep what is great about unleashing wild womanhood while being more inclusive in embracing the breadth of what womanhood is.  Then Feminah explodes onto the stage at Gryphon Theatre in Ghuznee Street as part of NZ Fringe, and I get the catharsis I’ve been missing. Thank you Charlotte Otton. I leave reinvigorated and renewed – and with a slew of Fringe awards (Perth, Sydney, Melbourne) already under its belt, I predict Feminah is on track for gongs at festivals around the world.

Feminah is smart, funny, incisive, makes us think about gender in new and provocative ways, and if the words ‘power pussy ballad’ pique your eardrums like they did mine, you will love it.  It’s on every night until Friday, at 7.30pm. 


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