Stiff & Kitsch: By All Accounts Two Normal Girls*

Sun 13th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Kate Plummer

at 23:32 on 19th Aug 2017

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As the audience sits down in front of an intimately small stage, we are told firmly by Stiff and Kitsch (Sally O'Leary and Rhiannon Neads) that they are by all accounts two normal girls. Setting up the performance, they then explain that they will teach the audience how to attain such normality through the medium of song and puns, which, in case missed by the audience are accompanied with a shrill ding of a bell. If you like puns, then these are probably a cut above the average ones. Unfortunately, I do not like puns.

And so it begins. With a bit of context setting patter in between, they lurch from song after song, 7 in all, all linked to a step needed to be taken to attain 'normality'. For example, there is a song about procrastination, a song about how Googling physical symptoms leads to fear of certain death, and a song that regurgitates now trite social commentary about how annoying boasting on social media is. Avocado on toast (which I will defend till my dying days) even gets a mention. I'm just surprised the buzzword 'millennial' doesn't.

7 songs, 7 distinct themes and yet only 1 punchline. “We are just like you!”, each song eagerly proclaims. “Aren't we such relatable messes!” is the thinly veiled message behind each query about how people manage to stop eating after just one biscuit, or admission that sometimes they stalk their ex-boyfriends on instagram.

As I looked around the audience, most around 20-30 years older than me, it soon became clear that I was not the target audience for this show. Firstly, I thought we were done with a certain kind of joke; the ones that are, at best, not funny and, at worst, damaging to mental health and body image, i.e. Jo Brand/ Sarah Millican esque tirades of 'aren't I naughty I ate a slice of cake once'. Secondly, this style of humour rests upon ideas that are no longer relevant to my generation. Humour comes partly from shock factor. I doubt hearing a woman admitting to sharing her flatmate's toothpaste is something someone in my generation would find shocking. Humour is also found when the jokes are relatable for the audience in a way that releases tension. Despite the jokes being framed in a way as if they are speaking for the silent majority, the need to liberate women from the pain of acting ultra-feminine and hygienic is thankfully, not a trapping of society that has affected my generation.

As a fringe show, this tirade of self deprecation had an almost too real pathos to it. They haven't had the same commercial success of the Sarah Millicans of this world that they seek to emulate. This is important only in so far as the fact that the style of humour they deploy needs to be counter-balanced by something positive or it becomes almost depressing. Knowledge that real celebrities are not just like us due to their fame and fortune makes their attempts to be relatable more shocking and keeps them at arms length so their pain isn't as affecting. Rhiannon and Sally's impassioned plea to keep on trying and to be yourself just doesn't have the same effect with the knowledge that they are struggling to make it.

Maybe musical humour just isn't for me. Humour is subjective and these jokes seemed to go down well with the rest of the audience. The show was certainly a well oiled machine- the music played in all the right places, the performers knew their lines well and there was a rapport between them that clearly extended beyond the stage. Maybe it just boils down to the idea that normal does not equal funny- not by this account at least.

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Tamsin Bracher

at 09:17 on 20th Aug 2017

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Sally O’Leary and Rhiannon Neads (a.k.a Stiff and Kitsch) return to Edinburgh Fringe with another musical comedy after their award-winning debut last summer, Adele is Younger Than Us (also running this August). The irony of this year’s title – ‘*A real life quote from a real life reviewer’ – provides the charming duo plenty of opportunity to both satirise and celebrate their own normality, that hallmark of ordinariness and the mundane. Staged in the basement of C Venues, C Royale, the honesty of the act and the directness with which it was aimed at the small audience cultivated an intimacy which provided the perfect setting for this hour-long exploration of the everyday.

Sally and Rhiannon, decked in ball-gowns, appeared on stage between the cardboard cut-outs of celebrities such as Ryan Gosling, Ed Sheeran, and (inevitably) Adele in a mock ceremony from the Oscars. The presence of these stars, a permanent background fixture in the performance, surrounded the cut-outs of Stiff and Kitsch themselves, thus offering a constant means of comparison between normalcy and fame. And indeed, it is this very dramatic contrast between what different people have or can achieve which informs the entire content of the piece. Sally and Rhiannon relate anecdote after anecdote from their own lives with an admirable, and yet at times, rather brutal, honesty. If it is possible, 'By All Accounts Two Normal Girls' is almost too realistic, depressingly realistic. Behind the witty quips and self-deprecating humour, the persistent focus on and repeated invocation of everyday disappointment and disillusionment often acted as a check for the laughter. And the use of the same type of humour throughout the entire show caused a few of the gags to fall flat.

And yet the camaraderie and genuine friendship Sally and Rhiannon exhibited on stage countered 'By All Accounts Two Normal Girls’ rather gloomy take on their own lives. There is a strong sense of support and comfort offered not only to each other but also to the audience as, towards the end of the show, they urge us to ‘forget the big picture and focus on the little things’. Although this much-needed shift comes perhaps a bit late, it is regaled with touching sincerity. One cannot deny that there is something very powerful about the extent to which Stiff and Kitsch are personally invested in what they are performing and writing about.

It is, rather ironically, the hyper-relatability of this show that is its major downfall. Rather than creating anything alternative or exciting, the familiarity of so much of what Sally and Rhiannon communicate forces the performance itself to veer dangerously close to the ordinary. Despite this, Sally and Rhiannon definitely had the majority of the audience on side. They performed their songs with great verve and told their tales with a wonderful authenticity. Their optimistic frustration with life was accurately depicted and each of us can ultimately say at one point or another, ‘I haven’t a fucking clue’.

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