Keara Murphy's Travelling Circus

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Jason Stone

Keara Murphy notices fairly early on in her show that there's a number of people in her audience for whom English is a second or third language and she acknowledges the need to slow down a little. Unfortunately she only manages to do this for a few minutes before she speeds her powerboat delivery to full throttle again, leaving her audience bobbing helplessly like flotsam in her wake.

Speed of delivery was only part of the problem though. Murphy's show is overloaded with local cultural references that required explanation and even the members of her small audience from the 'wrong' side of Hadrian's Wall must have been struggling to keep up with her determinedly Scottish vernacular.  

Since the Fringe is an Edinburgh event, it may seem small-minded to be critical of an act for including too many Scottish references but it is an international festival and it's foolish for any performer to overlook this. And it's counter-productive as there's not much chance of generating laughter if your audience doesn't understand your jokes.

Murphy's show is built on the premise that she has an association with circuses.  But this idea drifts in and out of the show in a similar fashion to the music from the band in the courtyard below... randomly and without making any kind of positive contribution to the comedy.  

Speaking of the band, it always seems fair to draw attention to the elements that are beyond the control of performers at The Fringe, especially at venues like The Three Sisters, and it was genuinely difficult for Murphy to combat the extraordinary noise coming from outside the room. As well as the band's loud rendition of Sweet Home Alabama et al, she had to contend with the din generated by a performer in an adjacent venue who sounded like she was conducting a Baptist service in the Deep South, but petulantly drawing attention to these problems is not the best approach.  Nor is constantly changing your mind about whether or not it's best to have the windows open and chiding the crowd for being ‘quiet’.

The only entertaining moments in this show come when Murphy offers impersonations of Oprah Winfrey and Liza Minnelli, which are uncannily good.  So much so that it strikes you that she's doing the wrong show... with her gift for mimicry, she ought to build her entire set around impersonations. But this is far too insignificant an element of her show to redeem it.  

Elsewhere there's some hackneyed stuff about growing up in Scotland with an Irish mother as well as predictable routines about the merits of sex toys. This kind of a fodder is now so frequently chewed over by female performers that there ought to be some kind of legally-enforced moratorium.

Long after making her promise to slow down, Murphy breathlessly performed a routine built on a Gaelic pun.  Unsurprisingly, she was the only person in the room who understood the joke which made it necessary for her to explain it – needless to say, this didn't improve it any.

Close to the stage were an elderly couple who, Murphy discovered with some gentle probing, were visiting from California.  They had been married for 53 years but as they sat glum-faced as the rest of us, you couldn't help wondering whether the post-gig argument about which of them was to blame for deciding to attend this show would bring their lengthy union to an end.

In front of a West of Scotland audience with a smattering of Gaelic, ten or twenty minutes if Murphy's material might have made a positive impact, but in front of an international Fringe audience, she produced a painful and unrewarding experience.

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Published: 29 Aug 2010

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2006

Travels With My Hip Flask


Edinburgh Fringe 2009

Keara Murphy: Lyre Burd


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