One Woman Show would rather you didn’t compare it to Fleabag, because that tired labelling of practically every solo female play since Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s smash hit is exactly what this hilarious farce satirises so brilliantly.
Wildfowl, on the other hand, is more than fine with the comparison, as the parody play comes complete with forced spoken word, eight foot tall love interests and elaborate nature-based similes. Even before it begins, its writer and performer Liz Kingsman explains the show is being recorded, and fumbles over all the necessary disclaimers. She thanks us countless times for coming along, encounters awkward sound issues and is unsure about whether her own show contains nudity (it doesn’t).
It actually follows the dysfunctional life of a woman in marketing for a wildlife charity. She’s aggressive towards colleagues and strangers, but also the 20-something without a sense of self (instead having what she refers to as a “bubble” inside of her) and thus a hint of vulnerability to make her “relatable”. She struggles with a linear narrative, lobbing in sudden character development without wider context or throwing out an internal monologue about masturbation which could actually be heard out loud. If this all sounds contradictory then, well, that’s rather the point. The expectations placed on one woman shows to present femininity in such a clichéd way is full of hypocrisies, sharply critiqued by Kingsman in a call to cut out the pigeonholing – probable pun most definitely intended – and appreciate the nuance of the female experience.
The pacing is deliberately erratic, in a way which commands respect towards Kingsman for the rather meta acting that comes with playing an actor playing a character, and balancing the rhythm of the piece so as to convey its wild nature, and to allow for comedic timing.
Of course, the hilarious hyperbole of the humour soon makes it obvious that she is highlighting all the restrictive tropes surrounding female narratives in theatre, and the wider patriarchal issues at play in the industry. Fortunately, given the success of Fleabag, you don’t have to be a seasoned theatregoer to appreciate the clever commentary. In fact, the protagonist’s overbearing work colleague Dani is given the role of providing rushed exposition – great for emphasising the real target of the ridicule here, not so great that the speedy delivery of the criticism isn’t so easily picked up at times. A lot of it is left to the audience to unpack themselves.
And there’s a lot to take in just because of the pure silliness of the show itself. I mean, the final scene is wonderfully nonsensical and is worth seeing, rather than reading. The play sure is wild in its staging (foliage coverage an orange office chair and blockish lights pulsate above), while calling out the foul play in theatre discourse. No one – not even ATG or neighbouring production The Mousetrap – is safe in this razor-sharp spoof.
One Woman Show is now playing at the Ambassadors Theatre until 21 January 2023. A captioned performance will take place on 12 January.
Production Images: Ellie Kurttz.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘One Woman Show’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.