Maria Peters: The Science Of Cringe | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson
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Maria Peters: The Science Of Cringe

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson

You might think nothing illustrates the concept of cringe better than a socially awkward science teacher recreating an intimate bodily procedure with a banana to a roomful of strangers.

But London-based Kiwi comic Maria Peters, who used to work at the Science Museum making presentations for children, grew up in a different education system.

The teenage dance audition that saw her isolated from and embarrassed in front of her friends is just one of several formative incidents, or 'cringe-cidents' as she calls them, that have made her the person she is today.

Defining cringe as a fear of social rejection, and outlining why it's been a matter of life and death since earliest human society, Peters employs her versatile banana to introduce her Four Horsemen of Cringe: Shame, Embarrassment, Awkwardness and Disgust.

In this breezily light behavioural science lecture, Peters shows herself to be game from the first, clumsily miming to Pat Benatar's soft rock anthem Shadows of the Night and soliciting anonymous donations of cringe-cidents from the audience. 

Some of these she improvises songs and playlets around, and while she's no Abandoman, the ad-libbed tunes and act-outs are quirkily and empathetically relayed back.

Messing up a job interview, getting too friendly with a taxi driver she thought she shared a connection with, and the stand-up staple of being caught in a compromising position as a train toilet door opened too soon, mark Peters out as a try-hard, well-meaning bumbler.

But she also opens up her heart about the inhibiting terror of unrequited love and an excruciating moment that's passed unremarked between her and her mother for decades. Arriving at a string of insecurities that have arisen from her cringe, she's exorcising these by sharing them. Drip-fed, it's involving personal angst smuggled into a pop science presentation.

As befits her former employment, Peters is adept at getting the audience involved and conveying certain concepts, such as the visceral wince we experience hearing of others' physical pain and where the strength of our reaction places us on the empathy scale.

There's little in the way of revelatory science though, not much you won't have intuited for yourself. And she can rather overplay the show-and-tell aspects, with a reversible satin robe plastered in large post-it notes with her outward and inner feelings an unnecessary prop.

Still, The Science of Cringe is a sprightly and entertaining take on the familiar stand-up staple of social awkwardness and an appealing insight into the extrovert-introvert mentality of a comic, with Peters owning her fears and earning her big finale.

Review date: 28 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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