”One Woman Show” in the West End – review

Let me preface this unqualified rave review by stating that, unless you are sensitive to the point of deep melancholia at the plight of rare bird species or exotic plants, then you really really have to see this show.

The problem is, I can’t specifically tell you why. That’s mainly because…well, spoilers. But it’s also partly because there is a certain ineffable magic in live performance when an artist connects with their audience to the extent that delight, surprise and recognition commingle to such blissful comic effect, that it’s hard to explain without running out of superlatives: you just need to experience it for yourself. I know he’s not exactly well-liked these days, but James Corden’s much lauded performance in One Man Two Guv’nors was a case in point.

The flipside of that theatrical euphoria comes when you get a performer so self-absorbed yet insecure that the paying customers (and the backstage team trying to help make the show happen) are an inconvenience at best, a downright annoyance at worst. If it’s ALL about them, then what are the rest of us even doing here?

Liz Kingsman’s solo-ish piece (we get to see and hear a couple of increasingly exasperated technical staff) gives us all of the above as it deconstructs both the extended monologues that, however brilliant (hello Fleabag), pass for fully realised plays at inflated ticket prices, and the Bridget Jones-esque romcom tropes that condemn young women to needy, messily partying loners (“I’ve been single all day”) whose lives get turned around by the right man. Kingsman takes these familiar elements and bodyslams them into a sharp, merciless, cacophonous hybrid of surreal stand-up comedy and rigorously well-drilled meta-theatre (with some surprisingly full-on dancing: terrific choreography by Joshua Lay). It interrogates how women are portrayed in popular culture and whether the “flawed but lovable” cliché is actually doing more harm than good.

Kingsman presents herself as a natural clown but also an impressively truthful actress, albeit with an alarming narcissistic streak, as she embarks upon a performance of her new piece Wildfowl, a deeply moving, yet hopefully commercial, romantic comedy, rich in avian metaphor and sexual references, about a messed up young woman and her quest for love and the meaning of marketing. The problem is, the TV producer who’s going to pick up this masterpiece of self-regard and sexy bits and turn it into a multimedia money-spinner, has failed to turn up, so the whole thing is having to be filmed to send to him. This is where the trouble starts, or at least some of it.

Joking apart for a moment, Kingsman has the kind of deadpan comic timing that lesser mortals take decades to learn, plus an irresistible ‘everywoman’ energy and a remarkable ability to morph between characters and moods in the blink of an eye. Her writing is equally sublime, some of the crazier, absurdist elements (“we fell asleep, with our feet in each others ears”) sitting deliciously close to the relatable bits to create a bizarre, exhilarating alternative universe that winks at pop culture before punching it in the face.

—-DO WE NEED THIS PARA?? — I won’t say any more about Kingsman’s performance, not because I didn’t love it (I did) but because she definitely comes across as the type that could get pretty nasty if she’s not happy about something (listen…go and see this show, you’ll see what I mean). Would I have preferred Kit Harington? Well, it’s hard to say (the Game of Thrones star features in the show’s advertising campaign) but Ms Kingsman gets the job done.

Adam Brace’s production is technically flawless, and a significant upgrade from the show’s earlier outings at Soho Theatre and Edinburgh: there’s now a gargantuan lighting design by Daniel Carter-Brennan, rambunctious sound from Max Perryment and a simple but stylish Chloe Lamford set. The glossiness of the presentation somehow enhances the sheer gorgeous lunacy of the material: this definitely now feels like a West End show, one so rapid fire in its humour that you may feel the need to go more than once to see what you missed while you were busy guffawing.

I really am being serious here when I say that you need to see Liz Kingsman in One Woman Show in this intimate venue (the newly refurbished Ambassadors is looking magnificent) before she becomes the global superstar she deserves to be. She’s the real deal, and so is this joyfully bonkers new comedy. I cannot remember the last time I laughed this much in a theatre.

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