Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: 'Lippy' at The Wandsworth Arts Fringe, 12th May 2018

Lippy reviewed by David James
Rating: 2 Stars

Lippy is right about everything. It's right about body fascism. It's right about the unfairly limited social expectations of women. It's right about the ways age brings both fresh perspectives and new neuroses. It's right about unrealistic expectations of sex. It's especially right about the way female comedians are sidelined despite being some of the funniest performers around.

All that is bang on. But, sadly, Lippy doesn't work as a show. 

Written and performed by Rachel Causer, the show is an exhaustive autopsy on her life to date. Confessional shows like these live and die on whether the performer is interesting enough to warrant an hour of self-obsession - and Causer actually is. She's witty, insightful, unflinchingly honest about her flaws and has charisma to spare. It's easy to get involved in the minutia of her life: some elements universal to the human condition, some speaking directly to feminine experiences and some particular to her as an individual.

The problem comes with the conceit of the show: that we're hearing Causer's internal voice and seeing her external reactions to it. On the face of it, it's a great shortcut to getting under her skin and seeing how she really feels without having to bother with subtext and all that and were it an element of the show rather than the whole show it'd be effective.

Sadly it is the whole show. Causer essentially hits play at the beginning of Lippy and then reacts to a pre-recorded soundtrack for about an hour. The most immediate consequence is that there is no sense of spontaneity or excitement - once that play button has been pressed Lippy is going to rumble to its conclusion regardless of what happens on stage. It undermines the connection we feel with Causer and makes us feel like we're watching someone going through the motions - because we are.

Causer's own voice is punctuated by sequences in which she lip-syncs to lengthy excerpts from the live acts of comedians she admires: Amy Schumer, Caitlin Moran, Andi Osho, Joan Rivers and Victoria Wood (among others). Causer's enthusiasm and admiration for these women is palpable, though it's a hell of a risky move to fill about half of your own 50-minute show with other people's material. 

Predictably enough, these excerpts are by far the funniest and most entertaining parts of the show. It raises the question of precisely where the credit for Lippy lies - is Causer strengthening her own story by contrasting it to her comedy icons or is the show running on stolen fuel? Is the show really recontextualising these performances enough to justify doing this? It's definitely not plagiarism - but it's somewhere in the same area code.

It leaves with a show with an artificially transplanted emotional core, whose dramatic conceit efficiently siphons away pathos, excitement and the vulnerability crucial to making the comedic confessional work. If I squint I can kind of imagine the intellectual justification behind the show's style, but in this instance, the method cancels out the meaning. Rachel Causer seems like an interesting performer with some important stuff to say -  I want to hear her say it.

Photo by Alex Harvey-Brown

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