Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Vanity Bites Back at Just the Tonic at The Caves (Venue 88). Reviewed by Sally Stott
Greeted by a woman with a voice that could cut ice and a smile even more glassy, inviting audience members to chat and then sneering at their answers, you’d be forgiven for thinking (as she might put it): “Good lord, what HAVE I let myself in for?”
With a venue she describes as “a tunnel of death” – and, as part of Edinburgh’s underground vaults, it probably literally has been – it’s not the most obvious start to what develops into a bold, subversive and very funny play about a woman’s relationship with food.
Behind the 1950s “Cooking With Mother”-style apron and persona, writer and creator Helen Duff (semi-finalist of this year’s So You Think You’re Funny?) is a highly skilled performer; able to take the mood from hilarity to something altogether more uncomfortable with a few biting words.
She plays Jill, a cross between Alan Partridge and Margaret Thatcher, who aspires to have her own television cookery show. To demonstrate her potential to any media execs in the audience, she sets about making the worst cheesecake ever, complete with half an eaten biscuit from an audience member (who warns “I have a cold”) and a block of butter melted under the arms of “the boys from the front row”.
Berating the “sharp as a hammer” Glen, who’s doing the tech, eventually, through some expertly judged shifts in tone, the true subject of the piece – Duff’s own struggle with an eating disorder – becomes apparent. To say too much about this would spoil things, but I have never seen the subject approached in such a fresh, quick-witted and supremely empowered way.
Jill is a formidable comic creation and Duff an impressive writer, improviser, mimic and actress who uses laughter to create something far deeper. BBC3, they’re waiting for you.
Vanity Bites Back is at Just the Tonic at The Caves. More info here
Originally published in The Scotsman
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