Bella Hull’s debut hour is unfortunately a bit of a frustrating affair. The young comedian shows herself to be a seriously promising talent. However, she rather backs herself into a corner with the persona she adopts; one which only sporadically allows her to display a keen and intelligent comic mind.
Hull’s stage presence is a heightened take of the negative stereotypes of young people on the cusp of the millennial/ Gen Z divide; a performative apathy and vapidity designed to scuff at the sensibilities of the audience. There is a surfeit of material designed to portray her as shallow, such as her delight in spending money compared to her horror of earning it. There’s also a propensity to pause for perhaps a couple of beats too long before delivering a punchline; a habitual stylistic technique that often allows the audience to get to the pay-off before she does.
Therein lies the frustration. On several occasions, the pause acts as a misdirect for Hull to land an excellent curve-ball. She also occasionally matches material with manner to perfection. A slide into bad taste is met with a faux-coquettish and not at all faux-delighted ‘who, me?’ gasp of, ‘Did I find the line?’ The delivery in this instance lands as ingenue heedlessness rather than callousness.
The central issue with Babycakes is that Hull hasn’t yet managed to meld her intelligence seamlessly into this persona. Deeper and darker subjects like her father’s psychotic episode and a subsequent estrangement from her brother jar inelegantly with the image she’s presenting. The mask often slips like a reverse Oz, with the person behind the curtain revealed to be a far sharper and compassionate one than previously presented. The implication is that the slightly preening and superficial stage Bella is a defensive exoskeleton against the trauma caused by her childhood. It makes Babycakes a far more ambitious piece than it seems at first, but it’s a tough carapace to pierce.
It would be churlish to criticise such a deceptively subtle show too strongly but the execution doesn’t quite match the intent. However, Babycakes never lags and the situations Hull establishes at the beginning of the show are correspondingly addressed by the end; indicative of an already assured grasp of pacing and structure. Hopefully, Hull will find a surer way to thread the needle between content and presentation in the future.