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Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Please You
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
2

2 stars

Zoo Southside (venue website)
Theatre
3-12, 14-27 Aug, 3:20pm-4:15pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Fiona Paul offers jaffa cakes and gymnastics, all in the name of pleasing her audience. It’s an upbeat, energetic opening and she promises a show exploring the idea of pleasure. We all like different things – can she possibly please all of us?

It’s a fascinating concept reminiscent of Lorraine Bowen’s show Comfort Zone. And Paul herself, with her clipped delivery, has a style not so far removed from Bowen’s. But Paul is missing the delicate balance of genuine warmth and sly irony that Bowen delivers so well. Her desperation to please isn’t handled well, and before long, it feels intrusive and odd.

It doesn’t help that the show quickly jettisons its ideas about exploring pleasures and moves onto some character comedy, which Paul introduces by, for some reason, explaining to us what acting is. The characters are whimsical and well played, but the script lacks real laughs. There is also some confusing audience interaction – where Paul sometimes talks to imaginary people, a la Joyce Grenfell and “George, don’t do that”, and sometimes expects the audience to respond.

As the show proceeds it becomes exceedingly awkward as Paul, between skits, breaks off to tell us what pleasure level we are now at: we’re aiming, apparently, for level ten. It seems unlikely we’ll get there, unless she is just going to tell us we’re enjoying it, whether we are or not.  Which is indeed what she does.  At this point the concept of the show unravels; Paul doesn’t appear to be pleasing the audience all that much, but the show itself has no way of dealing with this situation. My pleasure level has been waning since I finished my jaffa cake, and being told, repeatedly, how much I’m enjoying the show is grating. It might work if it were played for histrionic laughs, but it isn’t here: it’s over-earnest and decidedly weird.

At one point Paul threatens to handcuff an audience member to their seat until they enjoy the show. It’s an empty threat – and I can’t help thinking this show would have been transformed if it had seemed even likely that she would. More moments like this would have made this show a dark delight. But, as it stands, it’s just baffling, and despite every cue, it entirely failed to pop.

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