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Samantha's Hotline
Published on Wednesday, 11 May 2011

2.5 stars

Laughing Horse @ The Quadrant (venue website)
10-11, 16-17 May, 7:30pm-8:30pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.

Samantha's Hotline, a one-woman comedy drama play starring Sophie Gatacre in the titular role, provokes a mixed reaction.  On one hand, I admire the fearless performance, and Gatacre is clearly not afraid of making her audience uncomfortable.  On the other hand, though, it's just not quite funny enough – consistently and intentionally, anyway – and too often the discomfort turns to embarrassment.

Samantha is down on her luck.  A formerly kept woman, she has been unceremoniously dumped by her husband in favour of the secretary, and has turned to the world of the premium-rate phone line to keep little Sebastian in boarding school and ponies.  It's a solid situation for comedy, and Gatacre, who has been touring with variations of the show (including an election night special) since 2009, is clearly very comfortable in the role. She doesn't miss a beat and repeatedly dials up the energy as each call (and caller) climaxes.


However, the show is strongest during the quiet interludes between conversations.  She convincingly evokes the desperation, loneliness and deranged determination that Samantha's situation suggests, and I would have liked to have seen this explored a bit further.  Where we get bombastic caricature (cowgirls, nuns and strict school marms), perhaps a more subdued note would have better conveyed the sadness and absurdity of Samantha's life.


Moments of characterisation that were inspired (the regular caller stuck in motorway traffic, for instance) were let down by tired inventions later on.  The Catholic priest felt some way off-mark, and the expenses-fiddling MP should have been left in the election special (incidentally, it was the Honourable Member for Kensington and Chelsea who called, and I'm not sure if this was an intentional slight on poor old Sir Malcolm Rifkind).  Worse still was an inane and wholly questionable schoolgirl act that is best forgotten.


In a bizarre twist, this is the first Fringe show I can recall seeing with paid-for product placement.  In the interests of decorum, I won't name the company involved here (a vintner), whose name-dropping overshadowed an otherwise revealing and well-judged scene.  Samantha puts away a good quantity of the product during the performance, which is in keeping with the Chelsea-mum character, but the moment of brand promotion – admittedly not easy with a thirteen-syllable product name – could have been defter.


And that's as good a conclusion as any.  The comedy of Samantha's Hotline is broad and smutty, delivered with admirable conviction by Sophie Gatacre, who is herself an accomplished performer.  Reined in a bit more, I think this could have been well worth calling in.  Played as it is, it left me wanting to hang up early.

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