Hils Barker: Exhibitionist
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2008
What's the point in even taking a shit if no one knows about it? From a 1950s diva to a "nothing to hide" obsessive, Hils Barker’s four rich and colourful characters give you far, far too much information… The question is, why?
Hils brings together four disparate comic characters whose worlds collide as they reach out across the internet via the slightly sinister online chat site Profile Me!
It’s a tall order. The sweet-natured Hils Barker is taking on the full might of the worldwide military-industrial complex with a quartet of whimsical comedy characters.
Unsubtle messages about the Iraq war, ID cards, the erosion of privacy and free speech, and the state’s insidious plan to hold people for 42 days without charge run through what is otherwise a straightforward showcase of comic acting.
After a brief preamble as herself, Barker presents her creations, linked by virtue of being on the same social networking website.
The first of them, Joanna, is a buttoned-down IT technician from Stoke whose contributions are mainly on webcam, neatly covering Baker’s costume changes. She’s a fairly off-the-peg geek character; with thick-rimmed bottle-bottom glasses and a libido that’s aroused by a flush headphone jack on an iPhone 3G.
More distinctive is Katherine Leigh, who lives her life as if a sophisticated Fifties film star, speaking in clipped received pronunciation but obsessed with sex and politics. She takes a well-aimed sideswipe at Sex And The City, but otherwise the character is underwritten, making a long point about Iraq with no bid for comedy.
Bethan Williams is certainly a daring creation; a self-harming, suicidal emo teen whom no one understands. The brave part was having her hail from Bridgend, which makes the character a bit too real for humour. It’s not played for bad taste – in fact, it might have been easier viewing if she had been a stupidly exaggerated caricature – but in being so convincing, it’s harder to laugh at her pain.
Derek Connelly is the funniest character of the lot, a bigoted Daily Mail reader and vigorous racist, complaining that it’s politically correctness gone mad that you can’t call anyone a ‘wop’ any more. The satire here is fairly obvious, but Barker pulls it off with style and aplomb.
In any guise, she is an appealing, instantly likeable performer, and she certainly shows off her skills as an actress here; all her creations are convincingly realised with subtle character traits.
But while all of them deliver and nice aside, the main thrust of the script tends to be only mildly amusing, with the mainstream political messages playing to heavily on the comedy and not enough emphasis on fusing jokes onto the characters. Nicely executed as this show is, it doesn’t quite seem enough.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett