REVIEW: Mustard Doesn’t Go With Girls, Bric a Brac Theatre (The Pleasance)

What’s not to love about a feminist fairy-tale fringe musical for children? Nope, we’ve got nothing either. Which is why we’ve been desperate to catch Mustard Does’t Go With Girls. After missing it every time it came our way earlier in the year, and suffering severe fringe FOMO when it went up to Edinburgh, we were thrilled when it came back down to London on a date we could actually do. So this Sunday we made the trek up to Islington for our inaugural trip to The Pleasance. Despite leaving home almost two hours before the show started, our North London travel curse struck again and we got there with about two minutes to spare. (Except Mrs Mummy, who took a detour to acquire sustenance for the munchkins, and actually had to break into a sprint to make it just before the doors closed.) Thankfully we managed to slip into the naughty children seats at the back before Croque (or is it Croc?) Madame noticed.

Bow-On-Tie is a very traditional town, or at least as traditional as it can be when your Mayor’s a crocodile. Fairy-tales are studied in school and independent thought is outlawed. Eight year old Abigail wants to be a rocket scientist but that’s not a job befitting of a lady. Meanwhile, her best friend and reluctant hero Henry just wants to make cakes, but boys can’t be bakers. Not that girls are allowed to be friends with boys in Bow-On-Tie anyway. After all, a girl’s best friend is her reflection. So when Abigail starts to notice children going missing in school, she really should just keep her pretty little head out of it. But instead she starts to investigate. And she soon discovers that detention leads straight to the stomach of Croque Madame. Will Abigail and Henry smash stereotypes and save the day? Or will they end up marinated in gender-appropriate condiments?

Mustard Doesn’t Go With Girls is a hilarious and empowering take on classic fairy-tales, with a powerful message about being who you want to be (unless you want to be a child-eating crocodile) and the importance of questioning the status quo instead of blindly following rules. Unashamedly low budget, it is a triumph of a fringe production which proves that you don’t need flashy sets or costumes to have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand. It’s one of those shows that is so genuinely funny that it results in those rare moments when the audience loses it completely, with everyone laughing at everyone else’s laughter. The cast expertly capitalise on this, with just a small look or gesture from the stage setting off a ripple of laughter once more. It’s funny for adults and children alike, with a brilliant mix of visual humour and more subtle satire.

The predominantly female cast work together superbly as a team, feeding off each other’s energy and that of the audience. There is a good amount of audience interaction, but the kind that is actually amusing, instead of just awkward enforced fun. It works well in the intimate space of The Pleasance, but could easily be scaled up for a larger venue. The songs (accompanied by Henry, who spends most of the show at the keyboard) are upbeat and catchy, the lyrics sometimes deliberately clunky but always entertaining. The stand-out moments involve the hilarious Croque Madame, who commands her animal cabinet with an air that feels a bit like Edina Monsoon playing a pantomime villain.

It ends, as all good shows do, with a song summing up its main messages. Although in theory Mummy believes that children should be left to interpret the moral of a story, her own experiences have led her to conclude that in practice they need bashing about the head with it (in a metaphorical, musical manner of course). Although, with hindsight, maybe there should have been a caveat about steadfastly and unquestioningly obeying the rules set by your perfect parents…….?

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles, Mittens and Brown Paper Packages (aka all 5 of my favourite things).

Mustard Doesn’t Go With Girls played at The Pleasance on 16 and 17 November 2019. It is recommended for ages 5+