The reason aquariums do not keep Great White Sharks is because they cannot survive in enclosures. One Woman Show is not dissimilar. It has been plucked from its natural habitat at the Edinburgh Fringe and transferred to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End, a fundamentally unsuitable environment for it to thrive.
A critical and commercial darling, Liz’s Kingsman’s self-penned show was a smash hit in Edinburgh. The show pokes fun at the artifice and preciousness of a ‘One Woman Show’, a genre that rose to the front of our cultural conscience with a certain one woman show that goes unnamed (hint: rhymes with shmee-bag). Kingsman gets the knives out. She has it in for everything and seemingly everyone: token working class and ethnic friends who are thinly veiled narrative devices, upper-middle class navel gazing, shmaltzy trauma dumps, faux emotional climaxes, candid casual sex as a signpost for loneliness, the list goes on.
It’s a credit to Kingsman’s writing that the play can both mock itself whilst playing out the very tropes it is mocking at the same time. A curious interplay of theatricality and cynicism, Kingsman’s onstage persona is a cross between Nathan Fielder and Aubrey Plaza. Each line is delivered with deliciously dry deadpan nonchalance and millennial apathy.
The whole show is pretty much a theatre world in joke; whilst there’s enough wit woven in for the layperson to ride along, only those in the theatre world will know where the road is leading. It’s easy to see why critics have adored it thus far with its not so surreptitious winks to zeitgeistal hits of the last five years (again no names mentioned). Naturally it will thrive in environments like the Edinburgh Fringe, where everyone is clued up on what’s hot in theatreland, or at the Soho Theatre which is practically a yearlong testing-ground-cum-microcosm of the Fringe.
But in the commercial wilderness of the West End? Not only will it lose its charm, being taken out of its natural ecosystem, but it becomes everything it wants to parody. It cannot criticise F***bag if it becomes its spiritual successor; plucked by producers from relative obscurity onto a West End stage, the same meteoric rise garlanded with the same critical brouhaha. It’s even transferring to the Sydney Opera House next year, an eyebrow raising decision given its esoteric charm.
Kingsman’s magnetism can’t unknot the metathetical paradox that has been created. Being self-aware is not a get out of jail free card that vindicates the show of its own criticism: it now exists in a strange chasm between what it is and what it doesn’t want to be; a theatrical Ouroboros.
Producers take note: Great White Sharks that have been kept in aquariums have almost always died as a result. As well crafted, witty, and cunning the show is, and in the most loving way possible, it should have stayed at the Fringe where it can live happily.
One Woman Show plays at Ambassadors Theatre until 14th December to 21st January.