Review of One-Woman Show: Liz Kingsman Mocks The ‘Messy Woman’ In A Disorientating Way
In recent years, the theatre has been fascinated with the chaotic woman. From prestigious venues to fringe festivals, female theatre makers told their own stories about young, modern women and the complexities of life. This formula has produced many excellent shows for me (often at the Soho Theatre itself). But a sold-out second run of Liz Kingsman’s One-Woman Show proves that nothing is too good for parody. It may have been built to throw off outdated tropes, but it has developed a unique language all its own. We’re told that women no longer have to be perfect – they can be “rude, uppity… abusive, even”.
The show by Kingsman is brilliant, snarky, met theatrical, and manic. Wildfowl is a one-woman show about a twenty-something woman working for a bird conservation charity. We meet a mysterious female character who is quirky and self-identifies as “sexy in a non-threatening way.” She is prone to eye rolls, inappropriate sexual comments, and launching into metaphor-laden monologues about modern dating and the perils of social media.
The expected tropes of this character and those of the broader genre are mimicked and unpicked for an hour. The supporting cast of characters (all voiced by Kingsman) serves only to further her central story, from the friendly Australian boss who asks her about her problems to her northern best friend who is always smoking. In a nightclub, lighting and sound cues play with and warp these stereotypes, with strobe lights and blackouts used to demonstrate both eliciting sexual activity and to have a good time. Moreover, as our hero puts it, “There’s no point in hitting rock bottom unless you do it in a healthy way.”
One-Woman Show would not be as singular if it were a parody. There are bizarre details in Kingsman’s writing and performance that elevate the production and make it, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Kingsman plays grotesquely with her hair and cheeks, making her mouth show gargoyle-like expressions. She hits a charity worker in the face on her way to work. Despite her trademark defiance, she says, “We don’t have to be likeable anymore.”
Kingsman’s gag rate is genuinely astonishing. There are so many jokes coming at once that the audience often clutches their sides from the last line before being hit with another. It’s like regaining your balance after being toppled by a crashing wave, only to be pulled under again shortly afterward. In the script, the Meta elements also impact – even when we’ve been told that what we’re seeing is or isn’t real, it’s hard to know what to believe. Together, the two makes for a deliciously disorienting experience where you never know what to expect next.
Kingsman makes some profound points about the nature of this theatre genre among all the laughs. At multiple points, she breaks the fourth wall to berate herself for mocking it, but her sincerity never lasts long before it’s undermined. Still, she brings up some fascinating points. Women no longer need to be one-dimensional wives and girlfriends, but does this glut reinforce outdated gender stereotypes? “You are not a mess, you just want to be seen as one” is one of many moments in One-Woman Show that I can’t forget.