Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Chastity Butterworth and the Spanish Hamster
Venue: Assembly Roxy
Gemma Whelan gives a polished comic performance as a genteel lady fallen on hard times and working in variety to pay off her drug dealer. Some good ideas but more writing ideas required.
Chastity Butterworth is the creation of actor Gemma Whelan. She gives a very polished performance as a ‘lady’ desperately trying to be genteel but fallen on hard times due to her mescaline habit, and obsession with sex. One senses she left the missionary position behind a long time ago. Whelan is an experienced professional actor and this shows in her perfect timing, precise facial expressions and eloquent gestures. She has been billed as a female Tim Vine and although the show’s opening section is replete with punning one-liners there was more than a touch of Kenneth Williams in delivery and intent.
Whelan wisely recognises that 50 minutes of arch one-liners would become tiresome and so Chastity moves onto readings from her (very funny) novel and anecdotes of life with her long-suffering husband Horace before introducing us to various entrants on a threesome dating site; Horace and Chastity have decided that their bedroom antics need additional spice. This gives Whelan a chance to demonstrate further her acting talent via video footage and on stage (a quick change behind the scenes). We met the odious Dave, although you might get to meet one of the other roster of pathetic men bidding from Chastity’s attention as we, the audience, got to vote on who would step out from behind the scenes.
A show very much of two halves – it starts very perkily but runs out of puff. Whelan is better at delivering scripted comedy than handling audience interaction, which needs the skill of an experienced improviser. Although she was lucky in her choice of audience member to take part in some of Chastity’s short plays.
We saw less of the Spanish hamster, than might be expected from the title and Chastity’s explanation that the title was conceived before the material is indicative of the biggest problem with this production.
What let Whelan’s performance down was the writing – simply not enough good material for a 50 minute show. Some of it was witty and original, but other parts needed ruthless editing and maybe other writers. And perhaps the comedy to be wrung from appearances juxtaposed with language could be improved with a proper prim costume, a severe bun and hints of a Victorian parlour; an ugly pot plant and patterned rug would set Chastity off a treat.
This wasn’t my cup of Assam tea with lemon in a nice china cup but the nearly full house was an appreciative audience, with much chortling and whooping, and with more of the right material Gemma Whelan can certainly pull it off, ahem, I thank you.