Christie Whelan Browne appears on stage wearing a school dress, holding a Barbie, and speaking about a blue light disco, through braces that come with headgear. She’s a teenage version of herself, and the audience instantly buys in, either because of the relatability of this scenario, or because of Whelan Browne’s amusing characterisation.

Life In Plastic is a dedication to women and their resilience. It begins with the unrealistic idolisation of Barbie, with a sharp reference to the doll’s recent popularity as a feminist cultural icon. Barbie remains on stage as her own character, seamlessly voiced through sound recordings timed by sound designer Kellie-Anne Kimber, who’s also on stage.

But while it starts with Barbie, Life in Plastic ballons to encompass so much more. Whelan Browne examines her relationship with her body, her mind and with the outside world, particularly in relation to fertility, and with references to the #MeToo Movement. This is personal.

Charming – and hilarious: Christie Whelan Browne in her Adelaide Cabaret Festival show ‘Life in Plastic’. Photo: Claudio Raschella

Whelan Browne’s performance ranges from tender to hysterical, from earnest to charismatic. She entertains and moves the audience with authenticity, ease and vulnerability, making each of us feel like we know her personally. Her voice is stunning and does justice to classics, such as “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Material Girl”.

The stage is decorated with layered sparkly streamers, hanging from the ceiling to the floor. They resemble the streamers that would hang off the end of bike handles, which were all the rage in the late ’90s, early 2000s, fitting with Whelan Browne’s schoolgirl era.

Life In Plastic is elevated with artifacts from Whelan Browne’s life that are anything but plastic: a video of a dance performance as a child, a compilation of home videos, footage of the performer’s son. Paired with Sheridan Harbridge’s sharp and witty writing, which references nostalgic touchstones like Dolly Doctor, Roaccutane, and MySpace, the show gives its audience much to grasp onto and relate to.

The production is well-paced under Harbridge’s direction, and crescendos to a discussion about infertility. This is done through humour, but also the expression of heartbreak, and is beautifully tied together with Whelan Browne reading her real-life diary entries from her time working through the fertility process.

The show rounds off with Whelan Browne in a dinosaur costume – a callback to her dance-class days – blow-up dildos, and the femme anthem to end all femme anthems: Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”. What a way to celebrate sisterhood, the power of women, and a girl’s right to have fun and not be judged for it.

Life in Plastic was presented in the Banquet Room for one night only as part of the 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which continues until June 22.

Read more Cabaret Festival coverage here.

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