EFR - Reviews of Female Personality of the Year

Female Personality of the Year

Sun 16th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Michael Roderick

at 09:43 on 19th Aug 2015

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Female Personality Of The Year is a satire, a form easily heavy-handed and overly blunt, even moralising. This show, however, is none of that. On the contrary, it is subtle, biting and hilarious. Brilliantly devised by a troupe of comics from Cambridge University, the piece lampoons the culture’s stereotypes of successful womanhood, revealing and mocking how, even in a society that ostensibly prizes the successful woman, these expectations and standards are still imperceptibly patriarchal, perhaps even more sinister because of that very hiddenness. This message – necessary though it is – is never force-fed; the comedy comes first, and consequently this play is very, very funny.

The story concerns a group of women appearing on a television show, each one competing for the title of ‘female personality of the year’ (a reference to the preposterous decision to have a ‘female sports personality of the year’, as opposed to the ungendered ‘sports personality of the year’?), and each one – broadly speaking – a parody of the various ways women are permitted to be successful in our culture. There’s Ruth Sharp (Laura Inge) a Katie-Hopkins-like businesswomen whose definition of success is how much ‘balls’ you have and who suspects women of creating their own glass ceilings. Then there’s Dolly Nomis (Ellen Robertson), a Scottish television chef utterly naïve and unawares. The remaining two are Valerie (Jess Franklin), an anally retentive art critic, and Kooki Lund (Cat Shining), a batty and Bjorkesque superstar. The show is presented hilariously by Katie Old (Emma Powell), who probes each woman about their lives and the stories of their relative successes, exposing the absurd prejudices of a culture smug enough to think that merely because it admires female success it can then impose these standards and resume the oppression.

The comedy is first class, and each of the actors exploits the idiosyncrasies of their respective roles extremely well – particularly commendable is Ella Robertson as TV chef Dolly Nomis. Her gormlessness exposed the pomposities of the other characters wonderfully. Sometimes the acting was little rushed, and some good material was squandered, but this was rare. The satire very occasionally got a little heavy-handed: a male television executive complains that the women don’t show enough gratitude for this chance to show off their talent. This occurs at the end of the play, and it’s the only time that the satire intrudes a little violently. Besides this, the show combines a cheeky social commentary with pure entertainment superbly. The result is an excellent show.

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Luke Howarth

at 11:43 on 19th Aug 2015

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Wedged between the news and 8 Out of 10 Cats on an imaginary Channel 4, the newly-commissioned Female Personality of the Year has reached it grand final. Until now, the competition has involved cooking, abseiling, and (in a gleeful reference to vintage CBBC) The Way of the Warrior. Velvet-voiced presenter Katie Old (Emma Powell) takes charge of proceedings, as each of the four finalists is interviewed one last time, with the voting lines still open, before a winner is crowned. With a sparkly tiara.

The contestants are a diverse bunch: the first is homely cook Dolly Norris – a self-confessed ‘giver’ – played by Ellen Robertson, who gives us a live demonstration of one of her fifteen-second meals; next is Ruth Sharp (Laura Inge), seemingly striding straight off The Apprentice, who likes talking figures and believes women are creating their own glass ceiling: “Any woman can succeed in business. As long as they’ve got balls.” She’s followed by cripplingly vain ‘celebrity art historian’ Valerie Davis, whose recent projects have included the documentary Monet on my Mind; and lastly, edgy Eastern-European singer Kookie Lund who, while occasionally interjecting with a listless anecdote about Marmite, says little: “So tell us - who is Kookie Lund?” “…I am Kookie Lund.”

The company, who hail from Cambridge University, and collectively devised the piece, are unanimously strong in their respective roles. The parodic line is skilfully judged - Norris is, of course, a caricature, but we feel as if know her already. Her desperation for everyone to be happy, her chastisement of the obnoxious Davis: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice”. In particular, Powell’s crack-smoothing, awkward-chuckling presenter is a truly outstanding performance; her discomfort with proceedings is always palpable behind the calm exterior as she steadily loses control of the show.

There is an important point being made by Female Personality of the Year, and the denouement is delivered with compelling conviction, but this does not endanger the comedy of the piece. On the contrary, it propels it forward. This is a crowdfunded project that boasts both compelling satire and joyfully funny characters. Highly recommended.

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