The Girls From Oz – Pizza Express Holborn, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Performers: Kara Lane, Sally White, Jessica Condon

What better day to watch three-piece vocal trio The Girls From Oz but on January 26, Australia Day? The trio marked their home country’s day of national celebration with an evening of close vocal harmony dedicated to songs with a connection to the country.

And apart from their opening introductory number (a jovial reworking of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Three Little Girls From School) the trio set out their stall early, with arrangements of Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky and Men At Work’s Down Under. The incongruity of Andrews Sisters-style harmonies being used to perform Stock Aitken and Waterman bubblegum pop or tales of thundering men and Vegemite sandwiches is part of The Girls From Oz’s charm.

But with an increasing number of acts such as Postmodern Jukebox giving retro spins on modern songs, The Girls From Oz need that little bit extra to stand out. And while they do seem to be trying, the trio doesn’t quite cohere as well as they could. This is most visible when the group split up into solo numbers; Jessica Condon’s performance of Madison Avenue’s Don’t Call Me Baby is preceded by an excruciating routine about couple’s pet names for each other which kills the show’s momentum. Things pick up with musical director Gemma Hawkins leading fellow redhead Kara Lane with the anti-prejudice number Only a Ginger Can Call Another Ginger Ginger, while Sally White tries to craft a sexually precocious persona with a ragtime arrangement of the Divinyls’ I Touch Myself.

But the performers are definitely better performing as a trio than on their own, as their rendition of Everything Old is New Again (by the original Boy from Oz, Peter Allen) demonstrates. They are helped enormously by their all-female backing band, although for the second half of Act I they are replaced by the Jive Aces, a swing band with whom Lane regularly tours. One might dispute the connection that Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot has to Australia, save for an oblique (and rather poor taste) reference to the country’s current wildfire crisis, but the performance itself is great fun.

The group’s second act opens with a rather more stereotypical Aussie slant, leading the audience in a rendition of Slim Dusty’s G’Day G’Day, swiftly followed by advertising jungle Happy Little Vegemites and a rather beautiful arrangement of Waltzing Matilda. It is all to lull one into a sense of familiarity and security, though, ready for the cobwebs to be blown away by an operatic reinterpretation of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.

Further offbeat covers follow, from Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl to Sia’s Chandelier. Perhaps the best, though, is a largely a capella performance of Gotye’s Somebody I Used to Know, accompanied only by Sophie Walker on double bass and some percussion instruments wielded by the singers. The latter instruments – which include a barbecue grill, because of course – don’t bring a huge amount to the song, though, and their absence may well have improved matters yet further.

By the time the trio’s set comes to a conclusion, Lane (the natural leader of the group) makes an impassioned plea for donations to charities which are supporting relief efforts in those parts of Australia affected by the wildfire crisis. The group has been donating their time to fundraising events around London, and the impact the disaster is having on people half a world away from their relatives is palpable.

As a result, the concluding rendition of Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home is imbued with an extra layer of emotion. That sense of connection to one’s homeland, no matter how far away one is, comes through in a way that even born-and-bred Londoners can understand. It caps an evening of Aussie celebrations that is entertainingly fun.

Reviewed on 26 January 2020

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