REVIEW: Judge Judy’s Buzz World

Joseph Spencer is confused by this year’s Footlights Harry Porter Prize winner

ADC theatre Cambridge cambridge comedy Cambridge University Footlights judge judy new writing plot student writing

This was an utterly bizarre one-woman show, starring a superb Eve Delaney.

I am writing this review with some hesitation, chastened as I am by the views of Rachel Tookey (the playwright) on the problem with student reviewers, elucidated to the Tab here:

“It can stifle the creative process. People have to be so concerned about putting on a polished show, and that can take priority over being experimental and trying something new out, being ambitious with tech or using space differently. This is student theatre; there should be more space for innovation.”

This show is certainly not what I would call polished, but that would not necessarily be the end of the world if it had been a rollercoaster of surreal laughter and a plot that could have been tentatively followed or discerned through the madness.

It should be said from the off that this play has nothing to do with the Judge Judy television show. It is instead about about a female superhero in Middle America who adopts the moniker ‘Judge Judy’. There was a moment when I thought the  impossible to follow plot was about to develop into a clever satire of reality television, vigilanteism, Middle America, or Quentin Tarantino, or something. It didn’t come off.

Eve Delaney stars as a vigilante cum serial killer ‘Buzz’ alias ‘Judge Judy’ and she is undoubtedly the primary reason to come and see this show. Her acting is remarkable, as is her memory. On stage and speaking almost continuously for an hour, with only occasional, amusing, interjections by Radio DJ Tim Vaughan, she didn’t put a foot wrong. Her delivery was excellent, and her range of voices and facial expressions extraordinary.

But this doesn’t change the primary problem with this show, the script. The largest of the very few outright audience laughs came when Delaney’s character digressed into a commentary about how common it is that female serial killers are portrayed as using poison as a weapon of choice. The great shame of a narrative that crammed far too many hard-to-follow plot details in was that it overshadowed Tookey’s clear comic writing ability (as expressed in lines such as that) as well as allowing Delaney and Patrick Wilson, the Director, very little wriggle-room for deviation.

Was it that line even much of a digression, though? I couldn’t tell. Dramatic lighting and sound meant I at least understood when we were reaching the denouement of the play. But that was about the only point that I really clicked that there was drama going on on stage. There were numerous moments that were clearly supposed to be funny, and probably could have been with better signposting or a tighter narrative. I worried last night that I had missed something, that it was my fault, as the audience member, that I didn’t get it. That I had missed the point. But I awoke this morning confident I was not alone. This was meant to be a funny play, but it wasn’t funny. We in the audience tried our best to be supportive but with the greatest regret it didn’t work on the night.

This is not to say I was not left appreciating Delaney’s abilities. She and the Director, Patrick Wilson, evidently worked hard and with skill with the script they had.

But I am worried that this theatre of the absurd wasted their talents.

2/5 stars