Note: This review is from the 2023 Fringe

Kelly is on the surface a bubbly, energetic and excitable child on their way to army camp, a premise that will likely herald a wave of nostalgia for anybody who did army cadets as a child (or anyone with a fondness for pre-2012 pop music). What Stephanie Manton’s one woman show turns into however is a deeply personal look at classism, belonging, and purpose. Tucked away as it is in the downstairs bar of CC Blooms, Bag Lady could easily be missed by passing crowds. But it is a performance that deserves your attention. 

The immediate appeal of the show lies in the puppets, who are not too complex in their design but are still a sight to behold. Manton’s ventriloquism is sound, breathing life and personality into the puppets as each of them leave a lasting influence on Kelly’s story. One early story involving Kelly’s goth best friend Tina is perhaps the highlight, while another sequence involving a nettle sting will make you recoil and laugh in equal measure. 

Some weird and loveable set pieces prove memorable, but the biggest source of success comes from Manton’s onstage vitality and wit. She inhabits all the hopes, dreams, and hyper-activeness of an excitable young teenager trying to find where they belong in the world, feeling pushed back when she learns of how snobbish and unfair those around her can be. Some of her peers back her up, but others look at her as nothing more than a lowlife nobody. ‘Bag lady’ is not a title that is embraced – it is angrily, emphatically rejected, and if Kelly is still unsure about who she is in the world, she certainly knows what she is not.

The result is a show that smoothly blends comedy and sincerity. It feels natural, with Manton never forcing any dialogue or jokes that don’t belong. Bag Lady is incredibly funny and endearing without inviting undue levels of sympathy or pity. Topped off with puppetry, great comedy, and enough energy to jump start a truck, Bag Lady is a hidden gem.  

Bag Lady runs until Sun 7 Aug 2023 at PBH’s Free Fringe @CC Blooms at 13:45