Female Personality of the Year

OLIVIA BELL is underwhelmed by a promising production that was let down by its pacing

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‘Every woman is a winner!’ Katie Old (played by Helen Charman, a clever send-up of Kirsty Young) proclaims in the closing moments of this week’s ADC Late Show, ‘Female Personality of the Year’.

And this is certainly true of the competing females – Ellen Robertson (Dolly), Olivia Le Anderson (Ruth), Jess Franklin (Valerie) and Cat Stirling (Kookie) joined Charman in a strong cast that brought interesting and strong personalities to Mollie Wintle and Emma Wilkinson’s dynamic script.

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And there were moments of hilarity – many of them – witty, intelligent flashes of humour interspersed with crude but effective interjections ranging from disparaging motherhood to bemoaning cavernous vaginas; but all too often these moments of clever writing just missed the mark due to problems with pacing.

This misjudgment, an unfortunate feature of the show, was perhaps more down to first night nerves than anything else, as there were some moments of pure gold; the ‘baking’ scene in particular, gloriously acted by Robertson, was a master-class in comic timing.

But just as the individual performances were slightly off-kilter, so too was there a problem with pacing in the show as a whole – it peaked with half an hour to go into practically all-out farce; Ruth’s raging alcoholism, Dolly’s misguided patriotism, Valerie’s ‘cultured’ narcissm and Kookie’s – whatever-the-hell-that-was – were originally hilarious, but quickly became monotonously clichéd, so that Old’s breakdown was not nearly as powerful or amusing as it had potential to be.

One was more relieved than ironically impressed by ‘The Man’s’ entrance to calm down the women and send them off stage, as it brought an end to an unsustainable climax.

Particularly amusing, though, was the use of adverts throughout the ‘breaks’ in the filming, where clichés of women driving, buying makeup and dieting became more and more ironic and outrageous as the show disintegrated into chaos, the humour not distracting from the more sobering realisation of how sadly true to life they were.

Despite some incredibly strong character portrayal by all five members of the cast, Robertson and Charman giving particularly convincing performances, there was a distinct lack of energy in non-scripted reactions, and attempts to improvise often fell flat and were markedly obvious from the rest of the well crafted script.

But if the purpose of this all-female cast performing a show that deliberately stereotyped women into absurd but amusing caricatures was to prove a point about women in comedy, they certainly succeeded.

I was more than skeptical about the premise of a show that exists with such an obvious, in-your-face feminist agenda, but Female Personality of the Year exceeded expectations.

It is an amusing and clever attack on the ultimately ridiculous portrayal of women both in comedy and in general in the public eye and, with a bit of tweaking, could really be something quite special.