On Thursday 29th October I went to see ‘Vanity Bites Back’ at the Tobacco Factory Brewery Theatre. Billed as a comedy ‘clowning cookery show about searching for self worth …’ As a late 30’s male I had my doubts as to whether this would be for me but was pleasantly proved wrong.
Vanity Bites Back is the latest piece from writer and solo performer Helen Duff starring as her alter ego, wannabe cookery show host Jill Grainger. Duff has studied under the Master Clown Philippe Gaulier and has been performing stand up comedy since the end of 2013. This quick thinking grounding has served her well as the show relies on some audience participation which, while guaranteeing that every show is slightly different, means the performer needs to make the most of every offering, however strange. Some of the biggest laughs of the night came from the audience related ad libs, moments that made the show feel like a cross between a stand up gig and a traditional play.
This particular comedy vehicle delivers a deeper emotional message though, which unfolds during the ad ‘breaks’ as the show progresses. Her increasingly odd behavior with the food starts to make more sense as we begin to discover her back-story and struggles. Although she never broke character, save for a few words of thanks at the end, I got the feeling that there was a fair bit of Helen’s own experience in Jill. And if that’s completely wrong then it’s a great testament to her straight acting skills.
I really enjoyed this show despite my initial reservations. It was a great piece of live comedy complete with all the usual asides and ad libs you might expect from a stand up gig, as well as a surprisingly emotional piece about our character’s battles with food and self image.
This funny, touching and thoroughly messy show is on until the 31st October and you should go and see it; if you’re really lucky, you’ll get a biscuit.
Review by David Blake