Angela Barnes‘s new show was originally, she confesses, about her diagnosis with ADHD during lockdown. However, (ironically!) she digresses onto various other topics that reflect the boredom of life in lockdown. She gets a lot of laughs out of talking about how hangovers affect you in middle age and preparing for her wedding, which provides some insights into body image and how older women who get married are viewed by society.
But it’s the sections involving her late comedic partner, the talented Phil Jerrod, that have the greatest impact. Barnes begins with light-hearted anecdotes about going on the road with Phil, with a story about him ordering a vindaloo in particular being particularly funny.
Her later stories about helping Phil as his cancer develops begin to feel more poignant, culminating in both narrative strands of the wedding and Phil’s condition becoming intertwined in an emotional way that adds depth to the show. This approach, along with Barnes angrily attacking Boris Johnson for his treatment of the NHS and the pandemic, seems highly cathartic for her, which feels a lot more refreshing than had she simply stuck to her original idea.
Instead of detracting from the overall show, the material provides an emotional truth that makes Hot Mess seem more authentic than just a basic series of jokes. By taking her show in this direction, Barnes shows why she is one of the most popular comedians at the Fringe this year.