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Caroline Rhea

Monday, 27 September, 2010

An hour of Canadian comedy

Edinburgh 2010 – Gilded Balloon Teviot – 6-25 August – 21.30 (1:00)

Canadian comedian and actress Caroline Rhea gives an interesting, if occasionally scattershot, insight into her varied life in this hour of anecdote and observation.  Somewhat unusually the performer is supported by her real life partner Costaki Econompolous, who spends ten minutes grinding his way through a fairly hackneyed set concerning the differences between Britain and America. Some localised material about the notorious Edinburgh climate is the only segment which threatens to break away from his monotonous comic rhythm.  Time constraints mean “the biggest name in comedy” never able to stray from his overly-scripted performance – a shame because there is no doubting his potential and professionalism.

Caroline Rhea then takes to the stage and swiftly establishes herself as a delightfully self-deprecating figure, poking fun at her perceived fame and slightly-curvier-that-she-would-like figure in equal measure.  Wondering whether she should place her “muffin top” above or below the waistband of her dress is the type of aside she utilises to distance herself from the Hollywood glitterati and make herself appear an empathetic everywoman.  It’s a fun way to set the scene for the rest of the show.

Constantly distracted by audience members, flights of fancy, or just ideas which suddenly pop up in her brain, she is exactly the opposite of her slick and shallow warm-up man and benefits greatly from the comparison.

The heart of the show sees the actress cater to fans of the hugely successful television show ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’- the programme, she explains, that she starred in as character Aunt Hilda over six hit seasons.  She takes on the persona of a bitchy back-stage gossip, revelling in being wilfully indiscrete about the production in general.  Her scathing comments about a particularly shoddy animatronic cat who she featured alongside and many viewer’s inability to see that it clearly wasn’t a real animal is a particularly strong riff.  “Have you ever actually seen a real cat speak?”, she spits with unveiled derision.

The recent birth of her daughter at a relatively mature age (she is not shy about revealing that she is 46) is another rich seam for prepared material.  Motherhood, it seems, has not softened her, but the love for her offspring is apparent as she takes a skewed look at the changes a new arrival can bring.  Personal relationships are also picked over and audience participation dealt with in a conversational rather than confrontational manner.  This chatty demeanor successfully stetches the small amount of written comedy to fill the time while maintaining momentum throughout.

She’s not afraid to venture into more traditional comic territory, with some nice pieces of observational humour based on snippets of her experiences in Scotland.  Her amusement at how the Scottish accent can change the innocuous-sounding ‘Falkirk High Train Station’ into an expletive is one such piece of ‘fish out of water’ humour.

The show culminates in a beautifully-realised skit about a misheard line in The Sound of Music.  It’s the naughtiest moment in a set packed with good-natured joshing rather than finely-written one-liners.

The key to the whole performance is simply Caroline Rhea’s good-natured persona.  Her sheer force of personality overcomes the parts of the show which occasionally fall flat, in particular more familiar riffs on the Scottish climate, and nurtures an infectious bonhomie throughout.

Cast Credits: Costaki Econompolous. Caroline Rhea.

Company Credits: Writers – Caroline Rhea and Costaki Econompolous

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Tuesday 24 August

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