Energetic opera singer turned stand-up comedian Abi Roberts begins her returning one-woman show with a bang, getting the audience to recreate the atmosphere of a Moscow comedy club and later giving them vocal lessons on Russian pronunciation. Anglichanka centres around Roberts’ relationship with Russia, in particular, her stay in Moscow where she was accepted to study opera at the Conservatoire as a nineteen year old, as well as her experiences performing stand-up there last year.
Roberts provides vivid descriptions of meeting her Russian host family, complete with an eccentric babushka, and of performing opera at the Moscow Met. This allows Roberts to show off her powerful singing voice to great effect. Two particular examples include Roberts’ first meeting with her stern opera teacher, who she fails to impress with a partying-ravaged singing voice that sounds more like Marge Simpson, and her climactic rendition of All That Jazz, sung entirely in Russian. Roberts only briefly touches upon her experiences of the political upheaval overtaking Russia at the time – her take on the Chicago number relates to her missed opportunity of providing her Russian friends with an experience of Western musicals, which was cut short as a result of the 1993 coup.
Unfortunately, Roberts relates surprisingly little of her experiences in Russia, considering this is the intended focus of her show. We hardly learn anything about her wider experiences of Russian society, bar a few somewhat cliched observations about the poor quality of Aeroflot flights and the authoritarian nature of Moscow airport security. The opening section concerns Roberts’ life as a student in Cardiff and contains an excess of tired jokes about getting drunk and having sex with the head of the Communist Society.
Whilst this provides some context for her initial journey to Russia – her mother enrolled her at the Moscow Conservatoire during this period, the material isn’t exactly original and uses up time that could be spent on Russia. As a result, Roberts only briefly touches upon her stand-up show in Moscow’s only comedy club and limits her stories about Russia to the anecdotes listed above. Whilst it is understandable that Roberts would want to discuss this part of her life, as it details her familial connections with Russia and opera (her father spoke Russian and her mother was an aspiring opera singer), it results in the show appearing somewhat unfocused.
Anglichanka is an interesting, entertaining and energetic look at Russia in the early 1990s from the perspective of a British opera student that unfortunately suffers from a lack of narrative focus. Roberts makes her tales of life in Russia sound so compelling, it’s a shame that we don’t get a chance to hear more of them.