Review: ‘MAD WOMAN’s’ stage debut. Have we uncovered Australia’s very own Phoebe Waller-Bridge?

Get the latest from Beat


Review: ‘MAD WOMAN’s’ stage debut. Have we uncovered Australia’s very own Phoebe Waller-Bridge?

Rosaleen Cox
Words by Bridget McArthur

Irish-Australian writer-performer Rosaleen Cox wears her hyphenated existence proudly in 'MAD WOMAN' – a one-woman show that blends so-bad-they’re-good dad jokes with the sightly manic black comic sensibilities of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

“Don’t laugh at a burial.”

We’ve all been there. Right? No? Just me?

It’s the opening scene of Rosaleen Cox’s painfully relatable MAD WOMAN – a one-woman show (written and performed by Cox) about running away from your country and your problems, only to find exactly what you were running from at every turn.

Keep up with Melbourne’s latest comedy news, reviews and interviews here.

We meet Cox’s leading lady – the delightfully Irish-accented Niamh – as she is trying to pass off a cackle as sobs, accidentally attracting the attention of a handsome eligible. Inappropriate flirting ensues. The next (almost) hour sees her navigate a new city (Melbourne), therapy, Brazilian waxing and Melbourne’s backwater dating scene.

It’s all very Fleabag, which is fitting as, much like the hit play/TV series of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Cox’s first ever full-length show has also led a double-life on screen and stage. MAD WOMAN received local acclaim as a six-episode seriocomic in lockdown 2020, before finally gracing Melbourne’s Trades Hall at this year’s FRINGE REBOUND with an expanded plot and new characters.

With direction from Lennie Messing, Cox’s acting is at once subtle and grotesquely overt, as are her jokes (see: Niamh accidentally peeing in the bed of a one-night stand). The show has some moments of pure farcical comedy (Niamh’s spoon designing business is literally just a vehicle for puns), some moments of pure sadness, and a lot of confusing in-between; a nether region that is all the more gripping for its discomfort.

While there were costumes in Cox’s filmed version of the show, the stage production relies almost wholly on her accents, mannerisms and vocalised descriptions to project unseen characters. Such as Daniel – “wearing a beanie too small to give warmth” with “posture like a failed Calvin Klein model”. When Niamh asks how his day is going, he responds: “Really incredible actually.” Niamh concludes: “The sex was bad but I was always gonna have it. I mean, I’d waxed. Not gonna let 60 bucks go to waste.” Cox invokes the more bookish side of her audience’s brains as we each half-watch half-imagine the Daniels of our own lives. Beautiful.

Throughout the play, it becomes clear that Niamh is keeping one eye out for the vaguest of vaguely eligible bachelors (this is how we do), and the other, unhappily, uncontrollably, for reminders of her lost lover – Pat, who moved to America post-breakup. The plot hovers awkwardly around his shadowy spectre – at risk of giving away my hand as a more regular reviewer of music, it reminds me of the iconic track Lover You Should’ve Come Over from Jeff Buckley’s lonely hearts cult classic album Grace, which revolves hauntingly around the image of an evoked lover who is never actually present. The song also opens with… a funeral. A quick (long) stalk of Cox’s Instagram reveals she is, in fact, a Buckley fan. Coincidence? I hope not.

Even if this is not the hidden Easter egg I think it is (please say it is), the show is all-in-all very satisfying and deserving of its standing ovation. Some nonsense. Some raw clarity. 100% relatability. The sort of brutal comedy that is definitely having a moment, with the likes of Dave and Nanette.

It’s undoubtedly an ode to Millennial culture (see: The Bachelor, Tinder and DnMs with Uber drivers). Niamh is a sort of an everywoman of this generation. I have no doubt each person in the audience either is like her themselves or knows someone like her – an overly apologetic joker with a penchant for emotional avoidance. Funny, but sort of on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown funny – like, maybe we should organise an intervention soon, funny.

Yet it’s clearly not just a tale for hopeless 20-/30-somethings, hitting on several themes and experiences that humans (in particular women here) seem to be doomed to live through generation after generation.

Some mic feedback throughout the show was mildly annoying but not too amiss in a comedy about those exact mildly annoying fuck-ups that make you wonder what the fuck you’re doing with your life and how you could be such a failure in so many small ways, even if you’re vaguely surviving or even thriving in the big ones. And, I mean, a one-person show is always going to be a bit awkward. That’s half the point, right?

I’m excited to see more from Cox in the future – be it on screen or stage. A full-length TV series, perhaps? Melbourne’s very own Fleabag?

For now, she’s off to bad mouth our dating scene to the rest of Australia, and the world, landing herself at the Edinburgh Fringe later this year. Come back soon!