Review: Anything But

Davina Moss 17 May 2012

Anything But

ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 19 May

I’m surprised Abi Tedder is still standing. I’m surprised she can physically keep upright under the weight of all that talent. She probably trips over her talent as she walks down the street. Possibly she’ll need to buy a bigger place to house it. Tedder’s talent filled the ADC stage, the whole auditorium and was probably spilling out onto the street and across Jesus Green. She’s only got an hour, but uses every moment of it to open up the character she is portraying and subtly introduce the audience to her various layers. Agnes, Tedder’s persona for the night, is a strange blend of straightforward and much more than she appears, and Tedder’s deft use of glances and shuffles, frowns and gurns allowed the person underneath to filter through.

We meet Agnes fixing the finger food at her father’s funeral, and she takes us through her relationship with her parents, her wicked stepmother, best friend Jason and – ultimately – with herself. The plot’s a string of clichés, in truth, but Mark Fiddaman and Lucien Young’s writing keeps it original, bringing us tantalisingly close to cringing and then sweeping the story in a different direction. Though the events described may be staples of many a family drama, it is Agnes’ unique voice and strange brand of honesty which are so engaging. The clever thing about the writing here is that it’s sharp and witty, but presented as if the humour is accidental, just the natural material to spill out of this woman’s head. It’s the collaboration which is so successful – Fiddaman and Young’s words fit the character so well, and Tedder’s performance brings a freshness which they could so easily lack. Directed by veteran Footlight Ben Ashenden, Tedder’s pacing is spot on – the darker moments (and there are plenty) are neither dwelt on too long nor cut off too soon. Every time the audience feels itself getting towards a real insight into the character’s loneliness and self-doubt, we are pulled frustratingly away with a quip so good you have to laugh, even amongst the angsty depths that this play can take us to.

As a dramatic monologue it’s a four star show – impressive and highly watchable but, as mentioned, based on a quite hackneyed premise. As a night of comedy it’s also four stars – a series of fantastic one-liners but not crammed with belly-laughs; skilled but not out of this world. But it’s the intermingling of the two which merit this show a highly deserved five stars – these veteran Footlights really show us how it’s done, taking me from near-tears of sympathy to actual tears of laughter with slickness and polish. And Abi Tedder really might need a taxi for all that talent she’s got to haul around.

Davina Moss