Holly Walsh: Never Had It | Review by Jay Richardson
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Holly Walsh: Never Had It

Note: This review is from 2014

Review by Jay Richardson

What is 'it'? That indefinable but instantly recognisable quality of self-possession and charisma. Barack Obama has 'it', The Fonz has 'it'. But Holly Walsh does not have 'it'. And never has.

Establishing herself as both nondescript and deeply uncool, a real ale and medieval art enthusiast who never went clubbing or under-age drinking, Walsh, ironically, reveals herself to be extremely assured at conveying her failings. Comedy she notes, is one of the only jobs where you can flourish not having 'it'.

In the negative reflection of her personality, the vague nature of 'it' equates to a usefully loose, catch-all series of aspirations and achievements to fall short of. Losing her virginity late, she lived for the self-affirmation conferred by Parents Evening and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and offers a series of unflattering portraits of herself as an insecure, slightly posh nerd, fated to measure her life unsuccessfully against that of her idol and near-age contemporary, singer Alicia Keys.

One might point to Walsh's burgeoning career as a television writer at home and in the US as proof that she's not quite the hopeless case she makes out. But why ruin a good story?

Besides, being overlooked brings tremendous opportunities for mischief, as she discovered from her study of medieval marginalia, pious depictions of religious scenes to which images of farting and sexually primed monks and nuns have been scribbled in the corners, presumably by their real-life counterparts driven rebellious and horny by deprivation.

Relating these to the More magazine 'position of the month', the only authority on sex for her awkward, boarding school adolescence, you can see how her sense of the ridiculous developed.

Sticking strongly to her central theme right to the end, where a swanky anniversary dinner with her husband forces her to rethink her envy of the It-class, the perky Walsh has developed the engaging brightness of a children's television presenter – swearing in her Julie Andrews-type tones sounds wrong she acknowledges. But she retains the astute eye of the instinctive outsider, lurking on the margins, eavesdropping on the drama.

The ingenious ways in which she reclaims the wolf-whistle for feminism or stretches the logic of loyalty card benefits to extremes, reflects a comic who's learned to make good use of time spent in her own head. And perhaps her experience of writing for Americans has taught her a thing or two after all, because she wonderfully captures the disparity in US and UK optimism, especially with regard to sex, where the familiar baseball metaphor of 'third base' etc is given an hilariously complex and uncertain British sporting equivalent.

Amiable company, Walsh's self-mockery never cravenly seeks to ingratiate, while her steady stream of witty and astute cultural observations belie her dorkiness from the first. That her closing revelation feels a bit artificial and obvious doesn't prevent this from being a meticulously well prepared and delivered Fringe show.

Review date: 20 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Assembly George Square

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