CAROLINE MABEY: QUETZALS

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Katherine Knight

at 12:32 on 10th Aug 2017

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“What on earth are quetzals?” might be the first question on a prospective audience member’s mind, and, as if to read our minds, Mabey helpfully references this title in the midst of her performance. Not explaining it, of course – because, as she acknowledges, the definition doesn’t matter, only the Scrabble score does. Mabey touches on the game several times in the course of her performance, using it as a springboard for audience interaction, to occasionally erratic effect. Much like the game itself, the result is somewhat enjoyable, somewhat confusing.

Upon entering, the audience is immediately shepherded to the front of the (rather intimate) performance space with the use of a cordon which Mabey herself holds. Mabey is chatty, welcoming and makes an innuendo before the performance has even started (so she claims – if this is spontaneous, it shows what potential she has.) Even in the wilderness which is the Fringe, there are few who showcase a banana protector before the lights are up.

This is Mabey at her best – spontaneous and conversational, bouncing off the audience as they become increasingly warmed to her casual tone. Refreshingly, she is not afraid to poke fun in a good-natured way, and comes back again and again to favourite audience members, sometimes in an extraordinarily direct manner – a pointed “Rev Green – would you?” to a middle-aged man elicits humour. Such a small venue is an advantage in this case, creating a sense of good-natured intimacy, and by the end everyone feels in on the joke. Mabey is an energetic and expressive performer, and momentum is carried through her performance – at the risk, at times, of becoming too caricatural. It’s hard not to smile at her enthusiastic re-enactment of a fingerprint dress (only visible under UV!), but sometimes the joke falls a little flat.

The grand finale – the promised hundred and three Scrabble-approved two-letter words – is built up with sufficient suspense: but while a valiant effort, doesn’t quite work in execution. Props end up malfunctioning, volunteers refuse to get on stage, and the denouement itself is confused. Much of this is down to the luck of the night – the audience and nerves all play a factor – but one can’t help but think that, admirable as the enterprise is, it wouldn’t make much sense even with flawless execution.

A more pressing problem is Mabey’s perceived lack of confidence. Although self-deprecation is part and parcel of the successful stand-up comic, and her repeated “It’s going better than expected!” joke does play well, it treads the fine line between humour and pity and eventually tends towards the latter. This may have simply been the response on that night and she was unfortunately shaken by a few lapses in memory, although she did make attempt to recover, and this was exacerbated by pre-recorded sound which made reference to missed material. A performance with a lot of potential, but not quite as polished as it could have been.

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Eloise Heath

at 12:51 on 10th Aug 2017

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‘Caroline Mabey: Quetzals’ is described, on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe website, as a ‘joyful, addled meander’ through various themes. For me it is a too meandering, lacking any real sense of direction. ‘Quetzals' is a confused show, and I was a confused watching it.

Scrabble is recurrent theme, but rather than creating a thread to tie together Mabey’s material, it is just randomly mentioned throughout the hour at seemingly arbitrary junctures. For instance upon entry ‘DREAMS’ and ‘MEMORY’ are written on Scrabble tiles and propped up on the stage. Intriguing, but disappointing: these are used briefly and then abandoned, to no real purpose or punchline. Audience members’ names are occasionally spelt out with the tiles, but again this doesn’t generate more than a moment of material. The recitation of the 103 allowable two letter Scrabble words, which I expected to be an opening gambit or indeed the framework for the show, was instead inserted apropos nothing at the end as a finale. The show seems to fall between two stools- neither an integrated series variations on a theme, nor a collection of discrete, stand alone jokes.

Memory was another theme that made a wan attempt at unifying the material, making it an ironic shame that Mabey, in this particular performance, forgot her material on several occasions- leaving her scrabbling for something to say. Of course this is almost an inevitable occurrence during the course of a month long run, but it begets a tense atmosphere, especially in a space as intimate as Just the Tonic at the Caves. Having said this, Mabey seems to have planned for this mishap, and brazened the awkward pauses out with loud, odd noises and admirable good humour. In the closing sequence there were call backs to a joke about Liesl from ‘The Sounds of Music’ that, she openly admitted, she forgot to tell. This openness is to be admired.

Indeed Mabey herself has some winning qualities as a performer. She buzzes through the hour with a slightly manic energy, which she plays on in her material on anxiety- coining the phrase ‘all night worry rave’ in a moment of brilliance. The material and Mabey herself are at their best when there is some acidity in them. She excels on roasting audience members, and some of her more surreal humour really hits home. The portion dealing with Mabey’s worst fears, for instance, features a bizarre but brilliant musing on a dress made entirely out of fingerprints.

However, despite Mabey’s charisma, in ‘Quetzals’ the material feels uncoordinated and the delivery erratic, resulting in a slightly uncomfortable hour.

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