Lou Kelman’s one woman show is actually a hard one to categorize and therefore somewhat difficult to review. It’s a funny show, without a doubt, but now, twelve hours later, I’m struggling to remember the funny jokes and am left with a vague sense of regretful amnesia - like I got terribly, horribly drunk last night and, while certain I had myself some grand ol’ fun, I can’t quite recall it. Not a helpful condition for a reviewer, I agree.
Kelman is like a female combination of Benny Hill and Matt Lucas (Little Britain), so if you’re a fan of British comedy, you’ll most certainly love her. It’s also geared towards the older woman. My friend and I seemed to be the youngest in attendance by at least 20 years and I can’t help but think I would have enjoyed the show more if I’d had some mammograms and a few divorces in my recent past. There were at least thirty Red Hat Society ladies in attendance, along with a packed theatre of older women, and three brave, brave, brave men. Despite my own lukewarm response, the show was extremely well received, Kelman having to pause on several occasions just to be heard above the hoots of laughter.
What irritated me was the overall lack of theatricality of the show. It began with Kelman walking onstage with a handheld mic and singing, out of tune, to a pre-recorded track. If you’re going to start a show with a song, wouldn’t it be better in tune? Maybe that’s just me. The handheld mic was a permanent fixture for the whole two and a half hour performance and seemed to hinder Kelman greatly. A lapel mic would have been a far better choice for a one woman show where she’s trying to hold props, dance, sing, drink water, and talk to audience members all at the same time.
The show is a combination of stand-up, story-telling, and performance poetry, and the energy levels that Kelman maintains throughout the show are impressive. She has an extremely congenial presence that, combined with her liveliness, makes for an intimate gathering of women, which is hard to achieve in such a big space. Her stand-up was the stand-out for me. Her improvisational skills were impressive. She must’ve thought all her Christmases had come at once when she pulled three random women from the audience who all happened to be called Lorraine, one of whom was a quite mad (or possibly very drunk) psychic woman who (in her own words) “sees dead people”. Kelman made numerous references to this Lorraine during the rest of the show: “We’re going to play a game called getting to know you now, and you’ve gotta tell the truth, because Lorraine will know.”
Kelman has had considerable success touring the show in the United States, and having seen it, this comes as no surprise to me. “I’m a good Christian woman”, she says at the end as she thanks God and brings her children out for a bow (which I thought terribly self-indulgent). Her humour is clean, despite its focus on the battle of the sexes, mammograms, and pap smears, and it celebrates as well as makes fun of the female condition: “The Salvation Army bra lifts up the fallen… while the Catholic bra gathers in the masses.” I do wonder though, if Australian audiences, entertained in recent years by such successful female-centric shows as Menopause the Musical and The Female of the Species, are looking for something a little more sophisticated. Kelman doesn’t use the stage well, has a simple (tacky) set, uses a poorly disguised lectern as a line prompt onstage, and, despite the humour, is bringing us nothing terribly new. Of course, this tackiness is more than likely intentional; if that’s the case then Kelman’s show is simply not well suited to a professional theatre stage. A pub or community hall seems a better sort of venue, though the blue rinse set would probably steer clear of the former.
While Kelman’s poetry was good clean fun, it was the performance aspect that was disappointing. Her facial contortions (á la Benny Hill) were overdone and her ‘poetry stance’ was amateurish to say the least. With some extremely impressive performance poets in this country (Sydney’s Miles Merrill, who graced us with his presence at the recent Perth Writer’s Festival, for one), more work on her delivery would go a long way. Despite having toured the show extensively last year, Kelman managed to forget her lines in “her favourite poem to perform” and had to walk to the wings to get a prompt from her son.
But my main gripe about Big Purple Undies has to be the continuous shameless plugging of Kelman’s book. She mentioned it frequently and encouraged her audience on several occasions to stay back to get it signed. Even the program, which was ‘brought to you’ by her publisher, was one big ad. The show is clearly just one link in the BPU campaign.
I fear that I have protested too much, because, despite my criticisms, I laughed a lot. It’s just that I can’t quite remember why now... maybe Lorraine put a curse on me?
Big Purple Undies
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre
Dates: August 13 - 16th
Bookings: BOCS ticketing