Shelf is the self-described ‘sort of’ musical comedy double act made up of Rachel and Ruby (‘sort of’ because one of them is tone deaf, so they’re more like a musical single act and a dancer). After accumulating over a million views on BBC 3, they arrived at the Fringe with their highly anticipated debut live show Hair. An autobiographical stand-up/musical mixture exploring gender and sexuality.
The show follows the lifelong friends’ two very different stories. Rachel describes herself as having been raised in a queer utopia by gay parents, and has pretty much always been out. Whereas it is revealed (rather dramatically via portrait unveiling) that Ruby’s androgynous appearance is a relatively new phenomenon. Ruby has been seen as a ‘pretty girl’ for most of her life, and has only recently started presenting more as masculine following the eponymous haircut.
The two therefore pitch their friendship as a lifelong social experiment in gender perceptions. Ruby has changed different aspects of herself and her appearance over time, and seen how this has affected peoples’ perspective of her. Whereas Rachel has acted as the ‘control’ in the experiment.
There’s social commentary juxtaposed with ridiculous punchlines and creative songwriting that highlights their findings; Rachel’s obliviousness to bullying (‘You Can’t Bully Sexy’), the struggles of public bathrooms (‘Lady in the Loo’), and the difficulties of avoiding certain men, the so called ‘Murder Johns’ of the world.
Shelf are a brilliant double act with flawless comedic timing, bouncing off of one another’s opposing energies. Hair takes us on a magical journey, turning heteronormativity on its head, and having its audience fully embrace their Queer joy. It’s laugh out loud funny whilst tugging on heartstrings, and I am excited to see what this duo has for us next.