Gaulier-trained performers are all over the Fringe these days – it’s the hook of many a blurb – and The Travelling Sisters (Lucy Fox, Laura Trenerry, Ell Sachs) are a trio of such. True to form, they’re a multi-talented bunch whose wide-ranging performances and extravagant costumery catch the eye, but the series of sketches that constitute Toupé are more impressive for their performance style than their comedic substance.
The three Australians introduce themselves by way of a song, detailing a catalogue of dead-ends in their showbiz careers, leading them and their suitcases to where they are now. A touch stage school for some comedy tastes, perhaps, but it sets their stall out.
Sketches are skilfully acted out, showcasing their physical comedy talents as much as anything. In an early sketch, Fox and Trenerry play two gym-goers, one of whom is embarrassed to be getting undressed in front of the other, only for Sachs to break the tension as an unembarrassable oldie in a daft bit of visual humour.
All too often though, the sketches feel underdeveloped, lacking a proper denouement. Fox’s tap-dancing cactus is the clearest example of this. The visual’s silly enough: cactus costume on the top half, pair of pants on the bottom. The character’s silly enough: cactus is lonely, cactus needs a hug, cactus is too prickly for anyone to come close. And there’s a daft edge created by having cactus tap-dance after every address to the audience. But the sketch doesn’t go anywhere. Prickly cactus being unhuggable is about the size of it. As it stands it seems to have been created purely to show off some tap-dancing. Trenerry’s creepy Victorian child is another nice character, but the resultant improv scene is a feat of memory rather than creativity and does leave us wanting something more character-specific as the finale.
The focus on visuals means there’s a lot of time-consuming onstage costume changes too. It shows an admirable commitment to high production values, but it’s mostly superfluous for comedy purposes. A sketch miming the theft of Edvard Munch’s Scream doesn’t merit the full bodysuit, wigs and accessories to turn them into a performance art trio, and a good routine in which they play a dysfunctional country music family doesn’t require quite the level of detail in the costume.
The one time the set-up is fully justified is in the closing scene where the three combine pantomime-horse style to create one giant cabaret singer. Boobs wobble, false teeth pop out and limbs flail everywhere, making the mic difficult to use for the vocalist. It’s a good, silly send-off.