Brighton Fringe 2014
Part stand-up, part hilarious misery memoir, part happiness memoir, wholly enjoyable autobiographical story of burlesque performer Zoe Charles
Zoe Charles’ standup autobiography is funny, sad, and sometimes wonderfully summarised and illustrated on a flip chart. As she says it’s surprising what comes out of the small Cotswold town of Tring. Some of this may have to do with her family’s naming conventions, which had plenty of scope as she has six sisters and one brother. The only living creature in the family to have a relatively normal monicker is the cat, John Major, but I won’t put any spoilers in here by repeating any of them, and leave you with the teasing thought that the cat has a major role in the family clothing department. You know you have enjoyed a show when the jokes come flooding back to make you smile as you write the review.
Zoe Charle is a well known burlesque artist (founder of the burlesque school The Cheek of It) and this is her life, far more bizarre than you could ever imagine. She is a fluent storyteller, with good gags – and therein lies something that is a strength much of the time, but sometimes doesn’t quite meet the darker demands of some of her story. She sandwiches and links a particularly disturbing set of events in her family’s history with a couple of comic stories that are funny in themselves, but I felt there was a mismatch between this material and the solemn and serious subject matter in-between – the story arc that connects these disparate episodes doesn’t quite work. It’s always a difficult call when doing this autobiographical stuff, in that you can’t ignore events just because they are horrible to hear, but you don’t want it to misshape the course of the performance. Not that I think she should ignore the dark stuff, all credit to her for putting it in there. Perhaps it just needs to stand alone in its own frame, be acknowledged without fitting it into a comic structure.
Essentially though this is a pretty celebratory account of a hilarious but not always easy life. Zoe carries you along – the flipchart drawings were a great device for getting across this rather complex family structure – you didn’t have to try and remember it all when you were screaming with laughter at the accidental fingering incident. Not all of it works – the strip chart episode for example is a little laboured, but most of it does. Zoe has lived and survived through family exorcisms, self – examination, and the revelation of who her biological father is. It’s when we arrive at this part that her show stops being comedy and becomes a very moving story – you can see her emotion as she relates this bit of her life – there is suspense and much feeling in the events that follow. She keeps control of this section, but here more than in other sections she is displaying what is very important to her, and she does not disguise it with dramatic artifice. So at the end of the performance it’s been an enjoyable show, the audience has been laughing all through, and also a poignant and genuine autobiographical tale, worth the telling.