Beth Vyse reprises her long-standing role as Olive Hands, a washed-up actress-cum-daytime TV presenter who’s so desperate to resurrect the glory years of her careers (which included a real-life appearance on A Touch of Frost) that she’s willing to milk her baby onstage (figuratively, not literally) to do so. The character is grotesquely exaggerated for comic effect, but given that Vyse does bring her own infant son Henry into the show several times, the parallels are there to be drawn.
Earlier this year, Vyse told Fest mag that the show is “about being a real mum but still wanting your career. It’s about me wanting to hold onto my old dreams instead of evolving with my child and discussing that problem.” All talk of problems is unequivocally kicked into the long grass, but to draw deeper meanings from the lunatic show which Vyse presides over like a Mad leopardskin-clad Hatter at a lawless tea party appears to be clutching at a significance which is barely there, if at all.
Instead, it’s the silliest hour you’re likely to see at the Fringe. There’s gentle fun-poking at some names from TV, including Gillian McKeith, Paddy McGuiness and Sir David Jason, as well as face-painting, teat-milking, tampon upcycling and pubic hair as a musical instrument. The audience is encouraged (or perhaps coerced is a better word) into playing along, betraying a frequent over-reliance on our readiness to laugh at all manner of inane jokes and goofs. Of course, such off-the-wall material is never going to unite the whole room, and one especially uncomfortable audience member even descends into tears at a visceral (but entirely harmless) poop gag.
Of more concern is the fact that Vyse cajoles us into chuckling along with “come on, that’s a fucking good joke” on more than occasion. She’s like a clown who can elicit a guffaw with her oversized disposable slippers or her water-squirting corsage, but her heady, unpredictable temperament implies that laughter isn’t optional in this particular show. And that’s before we even visit the morass of child exploitation thrown up by Henry’s repeated cameos.
Is the show exploitative? Without a doubt. Is it immoral? That depends on your own outlook, though young Henry certainly seems to be enjoying himself… perhaps more than some of the audience, which tells its own story. If surrealism and silliness is your thing and you’re eager to throw nuance, logic and wit to the wind, this may well be the show for you. But if you’re looking for a linear narrative which doesn’t rely on humiliating its audience or parading a baby for most of its laughs, you might want to look elsewhere.