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Nails Must Be Kept Short: The Warm Up - Factory Theatre (NSW)

Book and lyrics by Soph Davis and Laura McDonald & music by Harry Collins, presented through Fruit Box Theatre’s RIPE Development Programme during Sydney WorldPride.

Reviewed by Caitlin A. Kearney World premiere 1st-3rd March Factory Floor, Factory Theatre (Marrickville)

4 STARS

- The first iteration of Australia’s brand new queer, female-centred (that’s a pun) netball-flavoured musical comedy has arrived -


Before anything else, I should declare that I have had difficulty navigating how to fairly assess this production without having experienced the full narrative of the piece just yet. I have, in the past, attended a fair few musical theatre workshop presentations and have often hugely enjoyed getting to preview new work in that stripped-down (yet still highly energetic) and usually intimate format- and this was no exception. However, an issue does arise for me when it is not made clear that we will only be viewing part of the piece. I am not certain if what we were privy to was the first act or closer to three quarters of the work, but I would be very surprised if the story ends where the evening did, and I definitely wanted to know what would have come next.


With all that being said, everything about the music in this production is brilliant and it can only be a good thing that there is more to come. The show starts with the type of gag that will never fail to make this reviewer cackle: An acappella hymn in Latin, based around netball’s “no contact” rule - and implicitly the fact that lesbianism in predominantly female sports is both rife and still somewhat taboo.


In hindsight I realised the dramaturgical relevance of such a thing is even more layered than I initially thought, given the setting of the story is conservative enough to be religious in character if not necessarily in a literal sense. This was a clever opener as it set the tone for the comedy of the piece very precisely. We were never in any doubt where we were humour-wise and the book carried this understanding through artfully from start to finish.



Credit: Matthew Miceli Photography


What we ostensibly get is a story about a group of quite overtly queer netballers who enter into the world of competitive netball in Sydney’s Northern suburbs - a space that insists on its straightness (but the lady doth protest too much). The show is narrated throughout by a longtime player on the team who is confronted by her own buried queerness at the arrival of the newcomers and what that means for her existing relationships. This is a beautifully fresh concept, and one that I think is going to draw in a wide audience based both on relatability for more than one distinct demographic- real people I know and love- and the fact that it’s frankly just fun and camp. We were afforded twelve excellent numbers from a highly engaged music director (Zara Stanton) and a consistently talented cast, with standout performances from Katelin Koprivec and Madeleine Wighton as dysfunctional best friends, and Sinead Cristaudo as a wonderfully puritanical and overzealous team coach.


One thing I struggled with in the text was the absence of certain points of specificity that I hope will be added in time or with staging- for example, it was never made clear exactly how old the characters are meant to be. Late reference was made to their teen years being in their past and potentially a decade or so, but then why does this story play like a coming-of-age tale where the central characters live and die by the opinions of the older adults in their lives?


Whilst the queer experience is impossibly diverse and personal milestones are often achieved at a different rate to what is traditionally considered standard in a heteronormative society, some important clarity could have been gained by us simply knowing what age bracket we were watching. It’s musical theatre with a narrator figure; sometimes blatant exposition is more than okay.


Build it and they will come - I will make sure of it because I have hugely high hopes for the future of this project.

Probably the most thrilling (and, frankly, relatable) part for me was the group number “Hindsight”, in which the team members who are aware of their queerness list celebrities, and characters for whom they had suspicious feelings for when they were younger - feelings which they can now see were early signs of queerness. This kind of careful detail gives the show a voice of unapologetic authenticity that I believe it deserves to speak with throughout. In general, I found the albeit hilarious text oddly sanitised for a new queer musical with a very pointed innuendo for a title, and I think this contributed to the lack of believable chemistry between the main character and her love interest. I thought this was a shame, as no performance was obviously lacking in and of itself.


I understand that it is the creators’ goal for Nails to grow into a mainstage production - a “beloved mainstream cultural item”- and not remain a piece of queer fringe theatre for the duration of its life. I don’t personally believe that this goal is best achieved by writing for an audience that is not queer. Build it and they will come - I will make sure of it because I have hugely high hopes for the future of this project.

 

Nails Must Be Kept Short: The Warm Up played at the Factory Theatre until 3rd March 2023.

Follow us on socials @nailsthemusical and @fruitboxtheatre for more releases, insider content and updates.


SONG LIST

  1. Nullus Contactus

  2. Potential

  3. Centre Court Queen

  4. Pivot

  5. No Contact

  6. Shower Steam

  7. Invisible Girls

  8. Hindsight

  9. Girls Hurt Girls

  10. Centre Court Queen Reprise

  11. Here If You Need


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