Barbara The Vampire Slayer
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
The ever-lovable and entirely-practical Barbara returns to the Fringe with her practical guide to slaying the undead, including useful tips for removing those stubborn blood stains and unpleasant garlic odours.
Stockport's Mrs Barbara Nice, "mother of five and keen Take A Break reader", is a genius at audience interaction.
With her firm but jolly schoolmaamish manner, she gently bullies, patronises and cajoles us all to get up and have fun. However cynical the response, she won't take no for an answer and will beat each and every punter into grudging submission. If you disobey, you worry she'll tell your mum.
Thus we rehearse countless silly call-and-response scripts, up to and including a cheerful kiddies' song about a Sunshine Mountain, complete with actions, designed to cheer up depressed tykes. All good fun, in a "If You're Happy And You Know It' kind of way.
The strength of Janice Connolly's creation is that she's such an easily identifiable character. The hard-working, hard-gossiping mum on the boundary of the working and middle classes, set in her ways but good at heart, offers plenty of opportunity for affectionate mockery. She's well-enough defined to accommodate plenty of little asides and quirks, too, such as her endearing tendency for malapropisms, and there's a handful of wonderful character-defining jokes in here.
The only problem is that with all her silly games, she comes across as a compere in need of a show; amusing enough, but going nowhere. A fatal flaw when you're asking for an hour of someone's time.
Eventually, we do get to a hint of substance, some Buffy-inspired stuff and nonsense about slaying the undead who roam the streets of Stockport. Thus we get a dreadfully amateurish film of her vanquishing vampires (its slapdash approach being the point, of course) before the whole show deteriorates into a mess of half-hearted, cheap parody.
To lampoon such shoddiness is harder than it looks, especially when the targets are hard to identify. Get it wrong, and it just looks shoody. This finale is presumably meant to be just some more mindless fun but it only gets it half right.
Barbara Nice is such a strong character, it would be great to see her used much better perhaps in something more rooted in reality, than this cheap and only sometimes cheerful nonsense.