Reviewed by Bianca Watkins
Nails Must Be Kept Short: The Warm Up is the first stretch for this new Australian musical comedy, sparkling with promise and a fun time all round.
The intimate Factory Floor of Factory Theatre was packed for this sold out production from Fruit Box Theatre as part of their Sydney WorldPride 2023 season. Three introductions preceding the performance warmed us up for this first iteration of the show, one of which was from Nathan Despott, to represent SOGICE (Survivors of Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts), which Nails has been developed in partnership with to care for the themes of conversion efforts that the show addresses and satirises. Netball is a lighter vehicle through which to confront the oppressive ideologies perpetuated primarily by religious institutions, and Nails passes the ball with ease.
The Untouchaballs are a queer social team that converge with the golden girls of the netball world, challenged to conform to the strict aesthetic of the sport. If you’ve ever played the miniskirted game, you’ll be familiar with the rules, or rather the culture, that dominate appearances on the court. Nails must be clipped, no contact, and everyone kind of wants to don that Centre bib. Bec, Wing Attack, is one such aspirant; she sings out her heartfelt dream to be the “Centre Court Queen”, with a beautiful and distinctly Australian voice. I loved hearing our accent embedded in the glossy musical style, and it was a choice consistently upheld by all of the talented cast, fortifying the Australian identity within this playful but strong, queer story.
Sinead Cristaudo is a standout as Magda, raining hilarious yet relatable exaggerations of the hardball coach down on us, giving me goosebumps. Katelin Koprivec, Queen C, has too much power with both that Centre position velcroed to her uniform as well as the impressive range she belts out.
The music, composed by Harry Collins and directed on stage by Zara Stanton, is an undeniable asset, as every song holds its own lyrical charm, catchy enjoyability and drive for the story. The lead vocals of Cypriana Singh playing Bec shine as she narrates us through the challenges and changes of her northern Sydney netballing scene. “Pivot” is a bop, and “Invisible Girls” is especially chucklesome, firing successions of sexual awakenings layered to a point of inaudibility, but at least giving us the space to remember our own such experiences.
Writers and directors Sophie Davis and Laura McDonald assured us at the beginning that this is just the beginning for Nails; these players are just warming up, and I’m pleased I could see the showcase of a show of so much promise. I would have loved more audience-character chemistry, as eye contact with us was intermittent, but compensated for with the flow of a story that never dropped the ball. I can’t wait to see the game in motion, and I was itching for it by the end, which speaks to the efforts of everyone involved in creating this performance. Davis and McDonald have presented a phenomenal achievement in their original, protective and uplifting icon-in-the-making, bringing us towards a scintillating close for WorldPride 2023, but not without the promise for another go on the court.