BLISS! could be seen as the final of an amazing trilogy of feminist comedy plays, but it is actually Isabel Angus’s debut solo festival show in a similar vein. Isabel has created another captivating character in Penny P who does a lot of “Thinsplaining” about the wonders of “Wellbeing” and nails the ludicrous nature of these quasi health websites on the head.
The extraordinary award winning masterpiece Edge!, set in the world of pop music, was about the sexualisation of children and the infantilisation of women. The impressive and somewhat astonishing Prime! was about how sexual politics is changing and the new teen bro culture. They were performed by Isabel and Rachel and Rachel had small but vital roles in both shows. I hate to say this but her grounding presence to Isabel’s tyrannical character is very much missed from BLISS!
This is not to say that BLISS! isn’t a blast in its own right and no doubt better than a lot of Fringe shows trying to entertain audiences with serious subject matter. Isabel has clearly studied a lot of dodgy “Wellness” and “Fitness” stuff online. You only have to have a brief dip into “Wellness’” Instagram to see that it is full of vile bon mots like “Sweat is Your Fat Crying”. Penny P is spouting these exact phrases, while exercising hard on stage, stopping for selfies and to promote her merch. It’s occasionally exhausting to watch, and often very funny, Isabel is a brilliant physical comedian and is certainly going to be super fit by the end of the run.
There’s a reference in BLISS! to Belle Gibson (the girl who faked cancer as well as fake curing her own fake cancer, made lots of money and published a health book despite the lack of any actual health qualifications) which is the dark side of these sites and why I felt Isabel could’ve gone even harder on them. For a show about social media, it was very low tech and could’ve done with a big screen and a lot of title cards and screenshots to help her create the world we might be less familiar with. When the serious dark turn arrives it feels too contrived and sudden, adding to the feeling that this production might be a bit rushed and unfinished. The end appears out of nowhere, the ideas peter out with a very tacked on ending that makes me think, “I know what she’s going for, but it’s not quite working”.
It’s clear that it will always be interesting and entertaining to see the work of Isabel Angus. No one is doing feminist, political comedic theatre that’s as accessible and as much fun, as she is. This one needs a bit of tinkering but it’s still one of the better shows at Melbourne Fringe and I’m sure as the season goes along it will only get better.
Isabel Angus performs BLISS! at The Courthouse Hotel until Sept 25