For a minute or two, right at the beginning, I wondered if I had been conned into attending one giant hen’s party…complete with male stripper disrobing to the beat of Tainted Love.
The theatre was full of women, with just a sprinkling of brave men. And the opening scene of the play I’d come to review was looking very like being at the most embarrassing hen’s night I can remember attending, many years ago. And I knew that this play had the potential to be either very funny or to have me cringing in my seat.
SPANK! – a parody on the inexplicably-best-selling book Fifty Shades of Grey – has taken the US by storm and opened its Australian run at Brisbane’s Twelfth Night Theatre last week.
Yes, I have read the book. But not the trilogy. One was enough. I’m not a prude; I’m a literary snob. It wasn’t the sex or the domination, the whips, the handcuffs, the Red Room of Pain, or the unbelievable plot that I didn’t like. In fact, I often felt like slapping that stupid Anastasia myself. No, it was the bad writing that turned me off; the characters who were so shallow and lightly drawn that I didn’t care two hoots what happened to them.
So despite the fact that I’m sure the theatre was filled with fans of the book, in many ways SPANK! is written for readers like me. It’s a clever and unmerciful send-up, highlighting the book’s many absurdities.
In Brisbane, the three-hander features Stephen Mahy as the young billionaire Hugh Hanson, with Caitlin Berry as his sex slave Tasha, and the hilarious Rebecca de Unamuno as Janet, the housewife-novelist who dreams them up over a long weekend with a bottle (or two) of Chardy while her hubby and kids are away.
The offical SPANK! website is a bit coy about the origins of the play, except to say it is “not associated with, nor authorized by, author E.L. James or Vintage Press”. But a quick Google reveals it was written by satirist Jim Millan, and has been a big hit in the US and Canada.
You may not have to have read the book in order to enjoy the show – but it will help. Those who haven’t will still enjoy the other pop culture references scattered throughout. Beware: if you’re in the front rows, you may be subjected to the dreaded audience participation (albeit briefly).
As for cringing…well, I didn’t. I just laughed a lot. And the obvious sign of a good night out was evident as we left. Everyone was grinning. I’m not going to give the ending away…in case you decide to see it yourself.
SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody runs in Brisbane until April 28.