Maeve and Lilly Higgins: Ha Ha Yum
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
Maeve and Lilly Higgins, two of seven sisters from Cobh, an island on the southcoast of Ireland make Comedy and Cake in this "ladies in the kitchen" celebration of modernity and nostalgia. It's a perfect way to spend an hour if you're hungry for laughs and a Victoria sponge and want be enlightened on why these modern women still hanker for the past (unless of course you happen to be lactose intolerant).
The obvious thing to mention about this show is that you get a cake at the end of it. As Maeve Higgins performs stand-up, her sister Lilly makes rice cakes although the heat of the lights mean they cannot set properly. Such confectionary sloppiness really ought to cost them a star in itself.
But it would be impossible to take umbrage at any aspect this unceasingly sweet show that offers an hour of warm, life-affirming whimsy. How can you crticise the only stand-up show that employs paper doilies?
Maeve and Lilly are from the David O'Doherty school of Irish comedy: deadpan, low-energy, but quietly wonderful as they chatter with a naïve innocence about their simple life.
They dress in boldly coloured Fifties frocks, and it doesn't seem an affectation, just another throwback to the more optimistic, less complex ideal they yearn for. Their image is that they are faithful, unpretentious housewives full of the quiet bliss of domesticity or they would be, could they find husbands.
Maeve's stand-up is touchingly innocent, with laughs coming not necessarily from the artifice of punchlines but from the delightful way she phrases things. Phrases such as 'ever since the real Pope died' seem almost accidentally hilarious, a quirk of the character rather than something planned.
Lilly occasionally interjects with some helpful aside or another, but it's made clear from the beginning she's not a stand-up after all, she never craved the attention as a child as she had a hole in her heart, so it was her sister who had to show off. These asides, revealing such glimpses of backstory, are carefully rationed to add an extra element to the performance, without it becoming a double act.
They do perform together for a couple of sketches. One explores the complex protocol of how girls need to exchange compliments, or disguise insults as backhanded praise. You can tell how well observed these are, because they elicit outraged gasps from one woman in the audience, even though they're relatively tame. And in another joint sketch, two sock puppets demonstrate the awkwardness of male interactions.
But it is Maeve who provides most the comedy. She has such a lovable manner you instantly empathise but the routines also glisten with such lovely dialogue, whether it be on perfume, or fake tan, or 'getting those laser eyes put in'. There are a few lulls, but overall the pair of them are charm personified.
The cakes are so obviously a gimmick, but the talent is genuine.