Anything But

Fri 10th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

April Elisabeth Pierce

at 21:55 on 11th Aug 2012

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When the audience settled into their comfortable chairs at the smaller of the Pleasance venues, they may not have been expecting the delightfully jarring experience that turned out to be Agnus. Without any warning, Agnus (Abi Tedder) swiftly plunged into her hour-long tale, which involved frenetic commentary on music, bad sex, awkward family members, and cheesy finger food. Tedder was precocious and clever, and offered a healthy plateful of chortles over the course of her show.

'Anything But' was a an articulate, scathing, crass, touching joyride into one woman’s small, but compelling emotional world. The slightly morbid focus of the play was a father’s funeral, but Agnus managed to effortlessly toss the audience back and forth between the sad and the humorous, without losing the plot. Sharp, insightful commentary blended with completely surprising jokes, such as scat singing the word “rhubarb” and punchy portmanteaus like: “I started performing folk music under the name ‘motherfolker’”. Agnus was an odd combination of self-awareness and emotional vulnerability, and Tedder did the character’s complexity full justice.

Another admirable trait of Tedder's performance was her ability to smoothly integrate her audience into the show itself without alienating them. At one point, the sketch was interrupted by newcomers. Tedder didn’t miss a beat. In the spur of the moment, she turned the clumsy entrance into a joke without embarrassing or harassing the tardy offenders - a fragile and difficult line for the comedian to negotiate. While she made multiple inclusive gestures, she did not take advantage of cheap parlour tricks or laughs at others’ expense, which helped the audience feel at ease.

Finishing touches to this delightful number did not go unnoticed. Internal monologues, musical interludes and the use of props all worked in Tedder's favour. Although some of the narrative portions of the piece could have been abbreviated to sustain interest, they helped deliver a more personal, emotionally engaging side to Agnus’ personality. Timed to perfection, the show ended on a nostalgic rather than a bawdy note, giving the experience a sense of depth and purpose. On the whole, this show was completely enjoyable.

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James Fennemore

at 08:26 on 12th Aug 2012

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The idea of a one-person show has always struck me as quite a bizarre one. More often than not, they put you in the situation of having to listen to somebody who, if encountered in real life, you wouldn’t endure for more than five minutes without being tempted to interrupt. Let alone have to pay for the privilege. In order for them to be successful, they need to either have an engaging and interesting story to tell, or be told by an engaging and interesting character. Fortunately, ‘Anything But’ has both of these in spades. It is an exemplary one-woman show.

Agnes’s father has died. At the post-funeral nibbles she confronts memories of her father and childhood, grief and mourning, and the reactions of her family and friends. This could be pretty heavy-going stuff, but the tale is a comic one, littered with mishap. Agnes spills Bolognese into a wheelchair-bound relative’s lap; whilst trying to comfort another she sits on a snail. And when the allocation of her father’s inheritance is revealed, things really start to kick-off...

Mark Fiddaman and Lucien Young’s writing is really excellent, creating a character who is touching, funny, yet whose regular misfired jokes and occasional cliché reinforce the sensation that Agnes is a real, fallible, person, and not someone reciting an over-slick script. ‘There’s nothing like a funeral,’ Agnes says, ‘to make you talk balls.’ The range of subject is typically scatter-brained – from cheesy footballs to ukulele playing.

Abi Tedder’s performance is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the show. I could happily listen to her read the Yellow Pages. Effervescent and gutsy, Tedder wonderfully captures the necessary nervous awkwardness of a character trying to entertain an audience. She is happy to allow unfunny jokes to go un-laughed at, and by the poignant end of the piece is able to inspire real sympathy. She is a superbly talented performer; the audience feels privileged to be able to witness her character’s tale, aided by some recorded ‘thoughts’ played through speakers à la Peep Show, and some charming doodles projected onto the side of a box.

‘Anything But’ is a moving, funny, cute little gem of a production. It’s rare for a monologue performed by a single woman to be anywhere near this engrossing, for anywhere near an hour.

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