Review: No Hat, No Play! The Cabaret – Sydney Comedy Festival (NSW)

Written and performed by Mel O’Brien and Samantha Andrew

Review by Brad Sullivan

No Hat, No Play! The Cabaret is the latest show from duo Mel O’Brien and Sam Andrew,  telling the story of two young girls at an Australian Primary School on the eve of finishing Year 6. Set in the long forgotten (and scarily distant) late 2000s, it serves as a reminder of that most awkward time in our lives where we’re not quite kids and not quite teens in a hilariously twisted pastiche of the Australian Primary School experience.

From the minute you sit down to watch No Hat, No Play! The Cabaret you are engulfed in an overture of nostalgic hits from the early and mid 2000s. Nostalgia is a big theme in this show, and it is the specificity of this nostalgia that really draws you in.  The energy of the performers from the get go is like a wave; the opening number is the tic-tac-toe song if it had been produced by the PussyCat Dolls. You know from the moment the pair burst on stage fully clad in primary school polos and pigtails that this show is going to be weird, uncomfortable and absolutely hilarious.

O’Brien and Andrew take on the roles of Claire and Susan respectively, and occasionally dip into a range of other characters to flesh out the cast. Despite the limitations of the show’s format both performers are magnetic on stage for the entire duration with a dash of audience engagement and some fourth wall breaking thrown in to keep us on our toes.

As somebody who was in primary school when this show was set, the characters are strikingly familiar as if O’Brien and Andrew had plucked them from my own school. The show follows a loose narrative of sketches that feels timeless exploring the concepts of friendships, first crushes, arts and crafts and betrayal, in a neat hour that never feels like it drags. 

The music in No Hat, No Play is a massive highlight of the show as it bounces around a range of musical theater tropes that make the whole thing feel grander than its two person cast. Some standouts were “I Love You James L” which perfectly captures the feeling of having a crush on somebody that you know basically nothing about. O’Brien delivers with the ballad “Why’d You Steal My Juice Box” which was the peak of the show, perfectly encapsulating the melodrama of primary school life and the core idea – that everything that happens to you is the most dramatic thing ever when you are 11 years old.

The production was crisp, with some great staging, choreography and visual gags; and the pair have an effortless comedic presence that really keeps you engaged. As an aging millennial this show was a neat trip back to my youth and I cannot recommend it more highly. O’Brien and Andrews captured a very authentic representation of Australian culture without veering too far into parody. They have the makings of comedy greats in the vein of Kath and Kim creators Jane Turner and Gina Riley. I will be following them with great interest and cannot wait to see what they come up with next. 

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

No Hat, No Play! The Cabaret plays at the Factory Theatre until 22 May. Find tickets here.

You can find Mel and Sam doing more silly skits on TikTok @samanthaandrew1. Follow Mel on Instagram @melobrienn.

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