In her latest hour, Harriet Braine has come to the Fringe not just to entertain but also to educate her audience. Having previously, in her 2017 show, covered art history in Total Eclipse of the Art, this time she has come to teach us about pioneering women in science. Albeit with a bit of autobiography thrown in.
If you read synopsis expecting the show to be in any way dry you would be dead wrong, as the method Braine uses to educate is through a series of musical comedy numbers. The first of which is Bandwagon, which amusingly explains all the bandwagons she is supposedly jumping. Namely historical musicals (post-Hamilton), feminism (post-MeToo) and the autobiographical one (because you know…Fringe).
The songs are undoubtedly the strongest element of the set. Whether it be a drunken Ada Lovelace telling us how she became the first “computer programmer.” Or an effort grumpily “sang” by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper set to the tune of Amazing Grace. Or a number about Mexican healer Maria Sabina sung in the style of Phil Daniels, they all hit the mark.
Although not for everybody apparently as two blokes got up and left after the Sabina number. Something that seemed kind of absurd given Braine naturally likable stage presence and it’s not exactly the kind of divisive material that you would expect walkouts. Maybe as Braine quip’s they merely took offence to her stab at a Cockney accent. There is actually an array of accents here including an amusingly bad Austrian one during a number about Hedy Lamarr.
If there any weakness here it is during the autobiographical sections exploring her youth theatre career. During these sections, the material feels slightly thinner and lacking the verve of other songs. However, most of these weaknesses are glossed over due to Braine’s innate charm and wit as a performer.
Towards the end of Les Admirables Braine humourously explains why this show is a failure in purely feminist terms (while making a more serious broader cultural point). However, that is the only way this witty, wonderfully performed, laugh-filled, and informative hour can be considered a failure.