Britney is a triumph of perfectly pitched comedy, delivered with impeccable skill and timing, yet retaining a relaxed, informal atmosphere. The subject matter, performer Charly Clive’s experience with a brain tumour, was dealt with impressively. Clive – along with lifelong friend Ellen Robertson – managed to effectively combine gasping, laugh-out-loud comedy with moments of genuine heart-warming sympathy, without any moments of discomfort. No mean feat, considering the sensitive and obviously deeply resonant topic of the show.
I have never seen a sketch show this good at storytelling before, and this is what gave Britney its warmth and honesty. There were hilarious moments of absolute silliness: the comparison of the tumour to Aberystwyth, complete with angrily campaigning townspeople, or the parody of Harry Potter in the consultation room. Nonetheless, the performance was also deeply rooted in the true experience of the two performers, who have an astoundingly genuine stage chemistry that cannot fail to make you smile.
Robertson was particularly adept at line delivery, with a perfect comic instinct. Her use of dead-pan and self-aware moments of comedy drew countless cackles from the audience throughout the show. Clive complemented her perfectly, often playing lines straight to heighten the overall comic effect of the double act. Additionally, her character work was very strong with notable performances such as the inappropriate anaesthetist, the 101-year-old blind lady, and the enthusiastic estate agent amongst many others being executed energetically and with sharp accuracy.
The structure of the show was smooth and well-balanced, and the two women even took time for self-parody, with a mixture of relaxed dialogue and well-rehearsed routines. Technically, some scene transitions could have been slicker, particularly with sound and lighting changes, though this is doubtlessly due to lack of time to rehearse in the space. Regardless, the professionalism on stage overcame any inconsistencies here.
What is most remarkable is the duo’s ability to laugh at their difficult experiences, and to make others laugh too. There were a couple of jokes that drew gasping laughs from me as I remarked how close to the mark they were, for example the dieting advert suggesting a tumour as the best method of weight loss. However, none of the comedy never felt in bad taste, and that is because Clive and Robertson were always keen to remind us that all their jokes were adapted from their own observations. The show had an overriding message of the healing nature of laughter, and this gave it an endearing friendliness which invited us to share in the use of humour as a coping mechanism.