Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Joanna Neary – Youth Club
Joanna Neary / The Stand Comedy Club
Stand, Metropolitan Hotel, Picard Street
Joanna Neary harks back to her teenage years growing up in a Cornish village revealing the inner workings of her teenage chums’ minds. As she tells us, changing their names and identities would have got in the way of a good story – so she didn’t. And her tale is all the more believable for it.
Joanna Neary is back at the Fringe for the first time since 2007. Or at least I think she is. Such is her talent for character and caricature acting, it’s hard to know when you’re listening to the real Joanna Neary or one of her seemingly endless list of alter-egos. But she assures us that this is her real self as she embarks on a true-to-life tale of her teenage years, much of which seemed to centre on the youth club in the small Cornish village where she grew up in the 1980’s.
It’s a chance for us to hear the natural Neary tones, rich and rounded with that characteristic West- Country burr, as she introduces us to her principal classmates. This, of course, allows her to display her considerable talents in mimicry as she unveils a series of male and female friends, each with a distinctive lilt and mannerisms that aid identification as her quick-fire delivery delivers the story.
There’s Diana Budd, whose idea of a heaven is an empty Weetabix box with a free day ahead of her. Diana is a thoroughbred Victorian prude as is her best friend Lisa, also known as Bats (for good reasons) and both are dreamers in the best teenage style. Then there’s the geeky Gavin (who’s just starting to show the virile shadow of a moustache), the thrusting Tamsin and the poetically inclined Andrew. More characters pile in as the story unfolds, including the adults who run the Youth Club, complete with its own arcane set of rules and regulations which seem to involve serving revolting tasting squash and making sure the curtains are not drawn whilst the youngsters are at the disco – a snogging prevention device if ever there was one.
Her command of accents, expressive face and immaculate enunciation mark Neary out as someone special in the crowded genre of Fringe comedic storytelling. She writes with perception and humour and narrates with an energy and enthusiasm that make it clear that she is really enjoying what she is doing. This energy extends to interludes in the dialogue where she manages to sing in that truly cringing teenage style – discordant and loud – and perform a much admired mime involving a table tennis bat.
But it’s words with wit that she does best and these keep tumbling out right to the end. Dubbed the 21st Century Joyce Grenfell by The Times for the quality of her character acting, this show has moved her beyond that. She reminds me of the young Victoria Wood, full of nervous energy with a huge determination to entertain, and knowing what will make people laugh. This was as engaging an hour of comedic storytelling as you are likely to find making it well worth the excursion down to Picardy Place.