One Woman Show review – joke-packed Fleabag parody is perfectly pitched

Ambassadors theatre, London
Liz Kingsman’s slick, self-conscious ‘troubled woman’ show nests its complex jokes within jokes to tremendous effect

‘We need women’s story,” says Liz Kingsman in One Woman Show, her slick parody of Fleabag and the countless creations that have since been compared to it. It’s a show within a show – Kingsman is staging her own production, Wildfowl, filming it in front of a live audience in the desperate hope that a TV commissioner (who couldn’t make it tonight) will pick it up.

Her character is an extreme Manic Pixie Dream Girl – she “pours” herself on to the tube, she’s quirky and chaotic, and she has a dark secret. “I guess I’m just relatable,” she shrugs.

Not a minute wasted … Liz Kingsman in One Woman Show.
Not a minute wasted … Liz Kingsman in One Woman Show. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

It’s rare for a comedy show to make the leap to West End theatre. One Woman Show started out at Vault festival in early 2020 and became a sensation when it transferred to Soho theatre last year. I saw the show there when its hype was peaking. It was good then, but the latest iteration is even better.

The staging is more elaborate, but not overdone. The already excellent lighting and sound jokes are elevated. The layers of meta jokes are more complex and rewarding. The show uses its new setting to great effect, undercutting the character’s insistence that she’s a struggling artist.

Beyond the eponymous woman, Kingsman brings other characters to life. Her one-dimensional best friend offers a cheeky commentary on lazy writing, while Australian boss Dana is the knowing straightwoman, cutting through our narrator’s well-worn tropes (“You’re not a mess, you just want to be seen as one”), her analysis punctured by silly punchlines whenever it threatens to become too earnest.

Not a minute of the show is wasted. Kingsman has packed in every genre of joke, from the physical and visual, to satisfying satire of theatre and TV conventions, and countless pull-back-and-reveal punchlines. Her parody never strays into cliche; it’s too well-written for that. Twists in the story succeed in being both compelling and ridiculous. Kingsman’s performance is pitched perfectly throughout.

The core tension – “I’m mocking them for making an elaborate personal vehicle, when this is clearly an elaborate personal vehicle” – is explored effectively. One Woman Show is intelligent, funny, and anyone familiar with the troubled woman trope will love it.

• One Woman Show plays at the Ambassadors theatre, London, until 21 January


Rachael Healy

The GuardianTramp

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