Anything But (A One-Woman Play)

In the second thrust of her Week 8 double-whammy, MATILDA WNEK glories in a whole hour of just Abi Tedder and a fistful of lolz.

Abi Tedder ADC Ben Ashenden Comedy four stars lateshow laugh Mark Fiddaman matilda wnek new writing

ADC Theatre, 16th- 19th March, 11pm, £5

Written by Mark Fiddaman

Directed by Ben Ashenden

[rating: 4/5]

The main thing about Anything But, the Harry Porter Prize winner written by Mark Fiddaman, is it makes you wonder why one person plays aren’t written more often. It’s amazing the licence they give you, and, though this is presumably in no small way due to Abi Tedder’s skilful performance, how wonderfully embracing they can be.

This is a look into the life of Agnes, a 29 year old woman backstage (nibbles) at her father’s funeral. Nothing about it is particularly unpredictable or surprising; the minute the word ‘funeral’ is uttered we anticipate that she might later reveal a layer of reflective melancholy, the minute she mentions her ‘friend’ Jacob we expect  to hear more about him later, the minute the lights of the oven come on we expect the pie to burn.

But the one thing we do not expect is more characters to enter, which even while she had us giggling about the mournfulness of the cheesy football produced a quite new tension in the audience. It was like each laugh was saying ‘Ok sure you’ve got our attention now, but are you going to be able to sustain it for a whole hour?’ It was sustained though, completely, and it makes you realise how little you need to become interested in someone else’s life, which is a nice observation in itself.

It happened though that this person’s life was also extremely funny. One of the nicest things about the format was how sensitive Abi Tedder was able to be to our reactions, and often the real comedy was in her very slight changes in expression to match audience expectation. I liked her reaction to the unexpectedly enormous success of an ostensibly flippant line with a squint as if retrospectively at its hilarity and at the audience for laughing so hard, which elicited a hearty second-wave. Her performance was so open and unassuming that it took barely any time for us to be wholly on her side, something that also allowed her to manage the transitions from comic to tragic with ease.

In reality, although a lot of the script was very funny in its own right, it would be unfair not to say that much of it was like quite weak stand-up material made funny by our investment in Agnes. There were a few purely hilarious observations (to relate them would be sacrilege, but they’ll be being quoted in the ADC bar all this week I’m sure), but the most common joke took the form of a statement then qualified against expectation- like “dad would be squeezing all the nurses’ buns… he’s not even allowed pastry!” However, it was funny because it was part of Agnes’ manner, which I suppose is just a different route.

The script was managed cleverly to always balance the more serious moments with the best comic ones, and there was certainly enough variation to keep us interested from start to finish. If there is one hang-up, it’s that it sometimes felt as if the comic episodes were unearned- like the one-person aspect allowed Fiddaman to get away with just putting funny ideas onstage without needing to find a way to get them there. My favourite part was a reading from ‘Sainsbury’s Basics Pride and Pedjudice’, which was genius (“he’s so hot and aloof”), but only required her to sit down and announce she was going to read from it to work its way into the play. Sometimes this meant it felt a bit cobbled-together, and a bit like cheating in a competition to write a funny play.

That said, this is definitely worth seeing, and a brilliant production from a lot of very funny people. If you have a loud or funny-sounding laugh, you have an obligation to go.