If the topic of feminism puts you off in any way, then seeing Millicent Sarre’s Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered will change that. It’s exactly what it says it is – perfectly amiable, vitriol-free feminism, packaged up in a cabaret of catchy pop tunes and tasteful lyrics.
Calling herself a “non-badass feminist”, singer and songwriter Sarre, and her all-female band take you through ten short and snappy songs which Sarre composed herself, based on her own experiences and personal reflections. Together with witty, humorous dialogue, and a vocal range to rival songbirds, she simultaneously tackles misogyny, mansplaining, and more. For some people, it’s an exposition of modern intersectional feminism. For others, it’s a display of camaraderie and reassurance.
Sarre has an exceptional talent for songwriting and storytelling. The lyrics are clever and geniously-scripted to rhythmic verse that fits the style of music perfectly. Her first (and hopefully not her last) “white-girl rap” number, ‘The ABC of Feminism’ is an impressive showcase of this talent. It’s a series of intelligent prose that becomes increasingly biting, but never polemic – something which Sarre has a knack for, exemplified in all her songs. The rap number is made only more perfect to the beatbox of Jemma Allen, Sarre’s backup vocalist and entertaining right hand woman.
Sarre’s positivity and non-confrontational character is reflected in her style of music. Her ditties are typically lighthearted, melodious, and cute, even. With her honeyed voice, they could easily be mistaken as regular pop songs you could have children singing along to.
And why wouldn’t you? Though they are by no means regular, most of her songs are wonderfully illuminating, whilst perfectly palatable for a range of audiences. Such songs include her own take on one particular popular and quippy British animation about consent. ‘The Tea Song’, which goes one step further in endorsing enthusiastic consent, is so ridiculously catchy, it’s guaranteed to make you (and the kids) hum and smile days later, particularly when making or drinking tea.
From cheery alto to soaring soprano, Sarre’s voice transforms to soft, bluesy tones for a repertoire of ballads remarking heavier topics. Her songs ‘It’s Okay to Cry’, and ‘Welcome to the Female Experience’, address toxic masculinity, domestic violence, and rape culture. I saw a man in the second row nod in agreement as Sarre invited us to think about how we talk to men, and how toxic masculinity’s domino effect “hurts more than men”. Her lyrics become more serious and earnest, but by no means moralistic.
‘Me Too’ is her own contribution to the popular feminist movement that happened during a period in her life where she too, was forced to deal with her own sexual assault. Raw and brave, the song also addresses the issue of underlying male superiority and skewed ideas of women as possessions that we as a society still grapple with.
Perhaps the most illuminating part of all is Sarre’s demonstration of prudent awareness of her own privilege, and in doing so, she helps the audience understand what intersectional feminism means. As a caucasian female she throws open to the audience the question of the incessant threat of violence against people who belong to more than one vulnerable group. Through her song ‘Ally’, she doubles down on her commitment to be a friend to them.
Together with her talented team featuring Jemma Allen (back up vocals), Danni Sikanen (bass), Kyrie Anderson (drums), and Maddy Gibbons (sound and lighting), Millicent Sarre’s sincerity, music, and lyrics may very well be the force of change we need to shake things up about how we see feminism.
Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered is an exceptionally perceptive yet entertaining feminist cabaret that doesn’t push, demean or scare. You’ll leave the show feeling like you’ve just been given some good advice and a fresh perspective from a friend and ally.
Don’t delay in seeing Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered, performing at The Bally, Gluttony for Adelaide Fringe until 1 March 2020.
Reviewed performance: Saturday 22 February