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Unhappy Birthday
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
3

3 stars

Assembly George Square (venue website)
Theatre
2-11, 14-19, 21-26 Aug, 6:40pm-7:40pm
Reviewed by Lynne Morris

 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.

Unhappy Birthday is the latest solo-show by Amy Lamé – the American-born, London-based writer, broadcaster and entertainer. She’s a woman armed with serious steel, relentless quick wit and a penchant for most things feminist, ridiculous, queer and Morrisey-related. She clearly likes to push boundaries and I want to love her.  While confirming my schedule, friends, performers and even this very website had been united in their assurance that Unhappy Birthday was among the must-see shows of the festival. Well?

In case you haven’t worked it out, your ticket is no ordinary ticket; it is an invitation to Lamé’s birthday party. The show’s website promises “cake and quiffs, balloons and beer, party poppers and pass the parcel”, and these are indeed among the things that you will receive. As the audience arrives at the venue with no idea what to expect, the brave, natural-born performer Lamé is immediately in her element – welcoming the roomful of guests, seeking out your party spirit. Commanding the room, Lamé is determined to have a good time.

As a fan of experimental and daring performance art, I delight at being thrown into the unexpected, so deliberately avoided reading any press before the show. In guilty and relieved amusement, I watched as other audience members were drawn into the action at this surreal and dramatic party. But, although entertaining, I found little of what unfolded all that unexpected. The only genuine surprise was also the biggest disappointment – the moment it turned into a Morrissey tribute show. I am not a fan, and Lamé was never going to convince me otherwise.

Looking again at that website, it declares that the show “cracks open celebrity, flays fat, fandom and faith, and probes the pains of growing up”. I was also promised a raucous, in your face, solo feminist riot that would terrify, delight and amuse. Unhappy Birthday does touch upon serious and emotional material with levity and irreverence – but sadly these moments are fleeting, without depth and not necessarily very funny.

I understand that the success of a piece of performance art is almost entirely subjective; but for all its energy, dynamism and bravery it left me a little numb. My intense dislike of Morrissey certainly didn’t help. But the novelty of pass-the-parcel had worn off long before I won the main prize, and much of the slapstick/physical theatre feels forced. I can’t help but wonder if the feminist-performance-art police might be expected someday soon, leaving Lamé feeling obliged to tick a few boxes.

I definitely fell under the spell of the wonderful Lamé, who tirelessly performed for her guests. But very much like an unhappy birthday party, I grew bored, irritated and wanted to leave. Do go along and make up your own mind – especially if you’re new to this type of work. But if you’re like me, then despite laughing and squirming in the right places, you’ll spend most of the show desperately hoping that your mum might appear at the door to take you home. Amy Lamé: I am certain that you are much more entertaining than this.

<< Not My Cup of Tea   Hearts on Fire >>

FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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