Edinburgh Fringe 2016
A really wacky and almost anarchic hour of character comedy from a very talented young comedienne.
I’ve been following Joanna Neary’s work since she first came to Edinburgh back in 2004 and the only conclusion I can draw after all this time is that she’s bonkers, nuts, off the wall, batty, scatty and dotty, but in a terribly, terribly sweet way. Say that last bit in the gushy, romantic, plummy tones of Celia Johnson in Brief Encounters and you’re as close as you’re going to get to visualising this extraordinary comedienne.
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 wearing this character like a pair of favourite slippers, using the shield to dispense 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 her latest show on animals and men to its bare text, what Neary (or is it Celia?) is saying really shouldn’t be funny.
She stands there, little red jotter in hand and announces that we’re going to be treated to a nice PowerPoint presentation on the A-Z of animals and men. By men, she notes, she means mankind. And by animals, anything that isn’t to do with mankind. But the screen, consisting of a small white cloth pinned loosely to a backdrop is too small and her dongle is too weak to project any of the PowerPoint presentation slides. So we just have to guess what each image would have looked like as she prattles gently through the alphabet, pausing occasionally to don a wig or costume and introduce a “special guest” to the proceedings. Some are fictional. Some are not.
This 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 switches accents, her expressive face and the way she uses her eyes, her eyebrows and her lips.
Someone seeing her for the first time might look askance at the ill-advised dancing, the stumbling and mumbling, the flights of fancy and wonder what’s going on. It looks shambolic, in fact. But it’s all part of her character acting. So much so that, if I held a conversation with her, I’m not really sure if I’d know what was real Neary and what was a character – she’s just such a master at what is the very difficult art of creating and sustaining a believable persona.
Art and education emerge as the twin themes of this really wacky and almost anarchic hour of character comedy from a very talented young comedienne that comes thoroughly recommended. In fact, given that it’s on at the relative outpost of the Stand Comedy Club, it qualifies as one of our “hidden gems”. Do stagger on down there – it will be well worth it.