The promoters of Katy Brand’s first tour seem to have grossly overestimated the pulling power of her ITV2 sketch show. On a quiet Sunday night in Bromley, around 300 fans rattle around in a theatre built for 785. It doesn’t make for much of a sense of occasion.
To add to the subdued atmosphere, Brand’s performance can also come across as flat, especially in her underpowered singing. This is a show that requires a ‘big ass’ personality to pull off – the frequently pedestrian writing certainly won’t carry it – yet Brand isn’t always the beacon of confidence she needs to be. When the impish side to her personality does shine, the show flickers into life… but it’s a fragile thing, too easily extinguished.
Her portrayal of celebrities has earned her plenty of column inches from the tabloids who obsess about the real thing, but they are the least interesting parts of the show. She usually makes no claims for accuracy in her impressions, instead fabricating a personality trait from the public image, such as Kate Winslet’s desire to be seen as ‘normal’ – an initially funny running joke that wears thin by the fourth video insert in a 90-minute show.
Brand’s Lily Allen spoof Song Of My Life has certainly perfectly captured the spirit of the original, but the song parodies are generally lazy, for example having a wasted Amy Winehouse sing not about Valerie but valium – hardly the product of a hard-working writer. That said, her Mariah Carey, warbling theatrically through I Know A Song That’ll Get On Your Nerves is a real highlight, and proof of what could happen if Brand had more faith in her voice. Plus, it’s nice to see another comedian do Joe Pasquale’s material for a change.
Her own characters tend to offer more, although again, not consistently so. She captures comic drunkenness with the skill of a female WC Fields in her portrayal of tipsy office girl Caroline, choking back the vomit after a Bailey’s binge; while Captain Rosie Fielding, her butch Army type with no empathy for anything feminine is an aggressive delight, goading a female member of the audience for her soft ways. Such crotch-grabbing machismo reinforces the show’s running theme of unladylike behaviour – from the gruff Queen speaking like an East End publican to the sweary, no-nonsense Charlotte Church.
Away from that idea, the nun who can’t keep a straight face when supposedly delivering the solemn good news is also a favourite, her giggle that cannot be stifled proving hugely infectious, and again showcasing Brand’s mischievous side. It’s a shame this is only depicted on the giant cartoon TV which comprises Brand’s set, rather than in person, but the costume changes have to be covered somehow.
But against that engaging character, we have an American cable news journalist, a character so sketchily drawn it’s impossible to see resemblance to any real person. Improbably reporting on Bromley, she exchanges clunky banter with a prerecorded newsreader, desperately resorting to gratuitous swearing (the news network is called CNT, for example) in a bid to make this in any way interesting. The bid fails.
It’s a real mixed bag of a show, and Brand doesn’t have the presence to hold it together – although she is still frequently better than her material. In an intimate arts centre, where expectations might be lower and auditoria fuller, this would probably work better. But as it is, there’s a sense Brand, though she has her moments, isn’t yet ready for the big stage.