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Frocks and Divas

"upbeat and engaging"

★★★½ - STUFF 

- Doco investigates Tauranga's famous, empowering Tarnished show - 

It’s Tauranga’s answer to the World of WearableArt Show. A biennial variety performance that brings together music and fashion to create a visual and aural symphony. 

But unlike its more high-profile counterpart, Tarnished Frocks and Divas originally started as a way of showcasing women over-40’s talents and passion for life. Or as, regular host Jackie Clarke more snappily distils the ethos, “nobody puts baby in the corner…with a jar of wrinkle cream”.

In Paul and Sass Innes’ upbeat and engaging documentary, we learn how the show was put together by a tight-knit group of local dance moms who, having lost one of their number to cancer, wanted to “throw a party, rather than wear black”. How it has grown from a single performance in front of 180 people in 2005 to a 200-strong cast and crew multi-night extravaganza at the city’s TrustPower Arena. And its ongoing legacy in terms of inspiring women to be bold, get out of their comfort zone and simply strut their stuff.

Focused around the lead-up to the 2019 edition (sadly the last one to have taken place, the current pandemic having put it on an indefinite hiatus), viewers are taken behind the scenes, from the audition process to the opening night.

Models and performers like Bridget McKinley, Tina Jennen, Bryony Skillington and Caitriona Fallon share what being a part of the show means to each of them, while creative director Denny Spee and others detail the backstory, logistics, creative aspects (some of the 2019 outfits are described as “a mixture of reused garments and Bunnings”) and challenges and the effervescent Clarke and her now regular co-collaborator Annie Crummer get all the best lines (with on-screen graphics ensuring no one misses their zingers).

Archival footage and stills demonstrate the latter pair and the models at their best, especially as Clarke cavorts and cajoles the crowd, at one point wryly noting that there’s “more breast action [on stage] than at the Ingham Chicken Factory”.

Like last year’s The Pinkies Are Back, this is a celebration of Kiwi women and their humour, sass and strength in facing a new challenge – or adversity. “It is the God-given right of every woman to get dressed up and feel fabulous,” Clarke says, “And we are more able to emote, inspire, understand and share now, than when we were in our prime.”

Its running time and style suggests its more natural home will be on the small screen (at just over an hour, it’s perfect for a 90-minute free-to-air broadcast slot), but if you’re looking to get a group together for a winter outing to warm your heart – this may be just the ticket.

- James Croot, STUFF

Frocks and Divas is now playing at Light House Petone!

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