Caroline Mabey: Quetzals | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett
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Caroline Mabey: Quetzals

Note: This review is from 2017

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

Caroline Mabey has an appealing line in oddball wit – but the vague, almost apologetic performance in this show means she never really owns it. 

She tries hard to be likeable, probably too hard, as lays on the low-status self-deprecation. ‘This is going a lot better than I expected’ is her catchphrase, which is winningly disarming – but is a bit wobbly for an ethos for the whole hour.

The irony is that she doesn’t need to put so much effort in. Audiences instinctively warm to her, and a few times she gets a nice bit of banter going with the front few rows.

But in her scripted, kooky set pieces in this show about memory, she never really commits, preferring to undermine herself rather than going all-in and risk failure. 

She has a physical awkwardness on stage, aiming to strike bold theatrical poses to deliver her frequently surreal one-lines, but being too uncomfortable in her own skin to pull it off. That’s the joke, of course, but it does feel too uneasy.  Ditzy is one thing, but  she’s too hesitant with it, we never quite trust her to be funny because she seems to trust herself, despite some evidence to the contrary.

Her writing’s hit and miss, but again she makes things harder than they need to be. In a show that’s often about games, from Scrabble to memorising items on a tray, a discussion of Cluedo contains some good lines, offbeat an unexpected, but they need some unpicking from the unfocussed ramble around it. 

It’s common complaint. ‘I’ve no idea what I’m talking about,’ she says. Yet when a joked is delivered straight – her lovely gag about an eye test, for instant – it lands cleanly. For she has certainly applied herself to some elements: there is a structure (it’s laid bare) and her best writing doesn’t happen by accident. It’s just not consistent enough, especially in delivery. 

The big payoff is a feat of memory in which she recites all the 100-plus two letter words allowed in Scrabble, with the mnemonic she used to help her. It’s a long, meaningless and, crucially, unfunny climax to an hour that has some charm, but is too loose and light to engage very deeply.

It almost feels like the memory queen forgot to finish working on the show.

Review date: 17 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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