Tessa Coates: Witch Hunt | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Tessa Coates: Witch Hunt

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

The stage set for Tessa Coates's second solo Fringe show away from her Massive Dad sketch trio is a waist-high pile of books whose presence she never once acknowledges. An analogy, perhaps, for the anthropology degree she never uses.

However, she's trying to change all that with a show that has no less lofty an ambition than to discover what it is to be human, a question that has dogged artists, philosophers, clergymen and scientists for centuries. Spoiler alert: she doesn't have the answers.

Or at least no new answers. A core premise is the well-explored conflict between our primal lizard brain and the more evolved frontal cortex that applies logic to quell those impulsive fight-or-flight thoughts. And a lot of the rest of her arguments are similarly well-trodden, such as the corrosive ideals suggested by Disney's princesses, who are not so much unwoke as actually unconscious.

It means her hour sometimes has the feel of a dissertation, as she's advancing an argument, pulling in various cross-references without feeling original, with the positive, feminist messages she extols seemingly drawn from a common well of consensus. Her concerns and interests certainly encapsulate that of her generation, from equality to Harry Potter, but her head-on approach doesn’t leave much room for surprise.

That sense of familiarity also extends to some of her more clearly comic sections, such as the exhausted idea of pointing out how politically incorrect sign language is. But when personal anecdotes feed into the essay, the comic potential is released – whether it's dealing with a pick-up artist in the street, terrible auditions she's done, or confessing to her over-eagerness to imagine wedding bells on the strength of the most casual encounter.

All this makes the fact she’s following the herd so closely in so much of her content a disappointment, especially given that she has much else in her favour as a performer, too. She's personable, crisp and likeable, harnessing her middle-class roots and turning her a slightly nervy disposition into the positive of a pacy delivery.

But fro playing things rather too safe, this does not feel like Coates’s breakthrough show.

Review date: 3 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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