One Woman Show evaluation: Liz Kingsman skewers the ‘messy woman’ with deliciously disorientating defiance

Just a few years in the past, theatre was enamoured with the “messy woman”. From mainstream venues to fringe festivals, feminine theatre makers wished to push apart the stereotypes and inform their very own tales about the complexities of life for the younger, fashionable ladies. As an viewers member, I’ve seen many wonderful exhibits on this method (typically at the Soho Theatre itself). But Liz Kingsman’s One Woman Show, at the moment in a sold-out second run at the venue, proves that nothing is simply too good for parody. The style might have been constructed round pushing off outdated tropes, however has constructed up an entire new language of its personal. Women don’t should be good anymore, we’re informed – they are often “rude, up themselves… abusive, even”.

Kingsman’s present is splendidly snarky, metatheatrical and manic. The one-woman present inside One Woman Show is titled “Wildfowl” and centres on a 20-something girl working for a chook conservation charity. Our anonymous heroine (these mysterious ladies not often have names) is quirky and self-identifies as “sexy in a non-threatening way”. She’s susceptible to eye rolls, inappropriate sexual feedback and launching into monologues thick with metaphors (typically in spoken phrase type) about the perils of recent courting and the earth-shattering concept that social media may be unhealthy, truly.

Over an hour, the anticipated tropes of this character are mimicked and unpicked, alongside with these of the broader style. The supporting characters (all voiced by Kingsman) are broad stereotypes solely serving to additional her central narrative, from the chatty Australian boss who asks her about her issues to the northern greatest mate who is consistently rolling a cigarette. Lighting and sound cues additionally play with and warp these stereotypes, strobe lights and black outs used to show each elicit sexual exercise and letting unfastened in the nightclub. After all, as our hero factors out, “There’s no point hitting rock bottom unless you do it in a fit way.”

If One Woman Show was a straight-up parody, it wouldn’t be so singular. It’s the weird particulars in Kingsman’s writing and efficiency that elevates the manufacturing and makes it not like something I’ve ever seen. A flirtatious touching of the face and fiddling of the hair is taken to grotesque extremes, Kingsman pulling her mouth aside with gargoyle-like fingers. On her method to work, it’s famous in passing that she punches a charity employee in the face. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have to be likeable anymore,” she says, with trademark #Girlboss defiance.

Within Kingsman’s script, the gag fee is genuinely astonishing. Jokes come so thick and quick that the viewers is usually nonetheless clutching their sides from the final line earlier than being hit by one other and one other. It’s the comedy equal of simply regaining your stability after being toppled by a crashing wave, solely to be instantly pulled beneath once more. The meta parts in the script have an analogous influence – even after we’ve been informed that what we’re seeing is or isn’t actual, it’s nonetheless onerous to know what we are able to belief. The mixture makes for a deliciously disorientating expertise, the place you by no means know what to anticipate subsequent.

But amongst all the laughs, Kingsman makes profound factors about the nature of this style of theatre. She clearly has a posh relationship with them and breaks the fourth wall at a number of factors to chide herself for mocking them – though that sincerity by no means lasts for lengthy earlier than its undercut. Still, fascinating factors are raised. Yes, it’s good that ladies don’t should be one-dimensional wives and girlfriends anymore, however does this glut simply reinforce outdated gendered stereotypes? And do the ladies who get to make these exhibits, who are sometimes white, center class and profitable, even match the characters they’re taking part in? The phrase: “You’re not a mess, you just want to be seen as one,” is left ringing in my ears, one among the inordinate parts of One Woman Show I simply can’t shake.

‘One Woman Show’ runs at Soho Theatre till 15 January

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