Hils Barker: In the Wrong Place

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Hils Barker is an appealing stage presence, a chipper middle-class girl, perhaps a bit to eager to please, but full of friendly energy. She knows how to write a gag, too, as she quickly demonstrates with a few pithy slogans for various tourist boards or for Radio 4 ­ all mocking but affectionate.

But despite some lovely moments, her debut hour doesn't quite hold together as a show, sagging in momentum towards the middle as the gag rate starts falling away. You'll be smiling throughout, Barker will make sure of that, but belly laughs are rare.

The idea, supposedly, behind the show is the sense of alienation Barker feels. That might appear odd because she seems so resolutely Middle England that she ought to be thatched. But, she tells us, she's not as posh as her accent, nor does she have the tastes she thinks a 29-year-old woman should have, especially in her soft spot for hoedown music. The fact that she's had a transient life over the last year, moving from address to address since a relationship break-up only adds to the sense of not fitting in.

There's a certain irony, then, that most of her material doesn't fit in with this central idea. Wrong Place is as much about alienation as it is about the Kaiser Chiefs, Nectar cards or chic lit ­ all topics she talks about, and despises.

She's well read, a fact which she proudly wears on her sleeve. She is just as likely to namecheck Noam Chomsky as she is Take A Break magazine ­ in fact, they both get a mention in the same sentence. But flaunting her highbrow reference points, without particular reason, brings her dangerously close to smug.

The show is punctuated with a couple of musical interludes to maintain the breezy mood Barker sets up, and her charm sees her through as her train of thought and writing become fuzzier towards the show's end. It's enjoyable, but slight, and her best material suggests she's capable of a much more solidly strong show than this.

Steve Bennett



Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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