Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This one-woman show is a character act in which we must learn to de-stress from an unlikely practitioner. Emily Watson Howes, an performer/writer/director who works in TV, film and radio debuts her first solo show.
Pan flute covers of popular 80s and 90s pop tunes greet us as we enter the seminar room, and we are asked by an assistant for our name and greatest fear, which is written on a label and stuck to our shirts, (mine reads Vivienne – Spiders). Over the next hour we watch Kimberley Jane Felhauser, Emily Watson Howes’ goofy creation, as she imparts her tips for dealing with stress – but it seems she has a few unresolved stress issues of her own.
Guiding us through relaxation, meditation and joke-telling using cheesy aids such as a PowerPoint presentation, joke book and huge hourglass, Howes creates a very believable character who interacts with her audience perhaps a little too much. The show is amusing but not uproarious, as we watch Kimberley grapple with the struggles of life, which include, in her case, her husband leaving her for a young real estate agent, and the fabulous life she left behind her in South Africa. But her commitment to relaxation and a stress-free life rule all, to the point where she may not have a life at all, just endless meditation sound tracks.
This is a gentle parody of the kind of self-help sessions we see constantly paraded in modern life, where any old hack can be an “expert”, spouting their hokey wisdom for extortionate fees in workplace conferences or at weekend retreats. There is a whole section devoted to Kimberley’s merchandise, available on her website, though there could have been a little more of the opportunistic salesperson about the character.
In fact, I felt many of the features of this character could have been pushed a little further, to bring the show from amusing to truly funny – perhaps heading more towards jokes with punchlines rather than intentionally awkward silences. There are some great moments of audience contact, with Watson Howes’ wide-eyed character getting slightly-too-close to a few of the members of the audience, but in my audience at least, a few weren’t too keen on opting in to the silliness, always a danger with audience interaction. The character is well-conceived, and Watson Howes plays her with great commitment. I’d love to see Watson Howes pack some real punch with some great jokes and really utilise her comic timing.