Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Meet Celia Jesson, a woman of her time. Only she’s about seventy years too late. But the show must go on, this is Toxborough after all. And we are fund raising for a kitten in need of an iron lung.
After a four year absence, Joanna Neary is back at the Fringe. But this time, instead of a one-woman show with a series of sketches, she’s opted to take just one character from the many in her stable and write a whole show around it. Time to meet Celia Jesson, housewife and host, and her Toxborough Village Hall Chat Show and Quiz which is being staged exclusively for you tonight in aid of the Animal Hospital where there’s a kitten that needs an iron lung.
Cue a completely daft, absurdist, surreal hour touching some of today’s big issues including technology, Britpop, burlesque, coach trips, Facebook, Twitter, bankers and the regrettable demise of jumble sales. We get Celia’s topical talks on the most arcane subjects imaginable, some celebrity interviews (only the chosen celebs couldn’t make it, so audience members have to fill in), the confessions of a rather bawdy locksmith, readings from Celia’s blog (in the form of diary entries, as she hasn’t yet mastered the art of Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram or any of these 21st Century technologies) and a photograph of a conker. To top off this crazy selection we have musical stings from the monosyllabic Centre-Parting Martin.
Celia Jesson has been built around the role of Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter. Demur cardigan, prim blouse and skirt are finished off with a pair of brown brogue shoes that look as if they might have once belonged to Joyce Grenfell. Clipped tones, rounded vowels and engagingly gauche mannerisms complete this image of a woman of her time. And, though this woman belongs in an era long past, we still see her like today, as a stalwart of the WI, inspirational in the Pony Club or the bastion of the Village Hall Committee.
Celia is obviously one of Neary’s favourite characters. In fact, at times it’s difficult to see where Celia ends and Neary begins. Either way, she’s never happier than when dispensing a seemingly unending stream of complete babble that somehow seems to make sense. Neary’s ability to deliver lines at a terrific pace without ever seeming to pause for breath is uncanny. Yet, if you strip back the show to its bare text, what Neary (or is it Celia?) is saying really shouldn’t be funny. But it is. Hilarious in fact, all largely due to Neary’s superb development and delivery of the character she inhabits as much as portrays.
Little things stand out, like the way she played three completely different characters in a mini-radio play that formed a part of the show, switching accents so quickly (and effectively) that, if you’d shut your eyes you’d have sworn there were three actors on the stage. That’s a measure of her talent – no wonder she can do so much on her own.
Neary is a master at the difficult art of creating and sustaining a believable character. An almost obsessive attention to detail has delivered a show of real quality which you feel could take off and fly if Neary chooses to invest more time in developing the concept further. I really hope she does.