Overall, This is a very strong performance, despite its few irregularities. Sam Carlyle has a strong command on her material and great comedic talent, proving in this performance a great ability to structure her comedic content. Because it is such a strong performance, the harsher criticisms I will make are rather pedantic, I must admit.
Whilst the title implies that we will be exposed to a great deal about Sam’s life in general, we mostly learn about her development into womanhood, her relationships with and appreciation of female role models and her feelings towards men and male representations as a feminist. Of course, there is material beyond this, but the former is allowed to have a far greater weight and importance in this text. I would slightly change the descriptions and promotions of this performance for this reason, as currently, ‘my life’ is certainly not what we are getting.
Regardless of this miscommunication of aims, the vast majority of Carlyle’s material is well structured, sufficiently detailed and, above all, funny. Carlyle succeeds in demonstrating a strong on-stage persona and in delivering her ‘biographical’ material in a relatable, endearing, cohesive and credible manner. I think it was a good decision to choose a chronological narrative for this performance, and the songs [or, rather, the lyrics] that Carlyle has written to facilitate this narrative are strong, punchy and clear. They are certainly incorporated appropriately and at a fitting rate, blending seamlessly into the narrative. My only substantial negative insofar as content is concerned: I would just shorten the female role models section — specifically, the material surrounding the mention of J K Rowling’s character, Hermione; this material is far too long and slows momentum considerably. But this is something Carlyle recognises, for she tells us that the section will be over soon. I would recommend, if Carlyle does not wish to reduce the material in any way [but I would advise this], finding a way to scatter these references throughout the text, rather than having them so heavily concentrated in this section.
In terms of Carlyle’s delivery, Carlyle approaches her material and the audience confidently, demonstrating good stage presence in her self-assured demeanour and conviction. I would perhaps recommend a little more eye contact with the house, unaided by the height of the microphone – positioned way too high and obscuring her face. But this issue is not too subtractive. Carlyle does also get tongue-tied quite a lot when speaking to the audience, particularly towards the middle-end of her performance, but diction remains superb, overall, especially in song. This is most commendable.
On the topic of song, music is wonderfully composed and performed by Thomas Duchan, whose sudden active participation in the final scenes proves to be most effective and valuable. Carlyle has a great ability to tell stories through song and to infuse them with her a rather unique comedy. That every song should have a repeated chorus becomes somewhat irksome, however, especially for Carlyle’s variation on the song, ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ by Shania Twain. I understand that these are songs from popular culture whose lyrics have been completely changed by Carlyle, but to retain the exact structure of each of these songs is unnecessary. The material becomes repetitive in this way, and there is no need for or worthwhile effect produced by this repetition.
In terms of Carlyle’s singing, her voice is strong and adequate, overall. As I mentioned above, her diction is also impressive. However, her pitch sometimes falters notably, and her notes become flat. This could be negligible if this was made a deliberate and conspicuous part of the comedy, but it is not and thus remains somewhat dissatisfying. I can certainly see the musical theatre training coming through in places, and Carlyle should be aware of the style of her singing and how this reflects or conflicts with the style of her performance.
I really understand the desire to have the audience play the kazoo, the sense of co-experience and togetherness, the campiness of its quirky sound, and I understand why Carlyle thought this would be a clever thing to include in this performance. However, the two kazoo sections – handing them out and playing them at the end – are far too drastic and disruptive, especially considering that the kazoo actually has a very understated presence in this performance and so does not merit these two sections dedicated to it. A fleeting and comical moment in the performance, when Carlyle suddenly whips it out and gives us a quirky tune, is unnecessarily immortalised.
It seems to me that Carlyle has given far too much thought to the kazoos, complete with her “face on them”, as the synecdochical representation of her comedy, as though the kazoos reflect and typify the identity of her performance; this is not the case. And this is without mentioning that the handing out of the kazoos takes far too long, diverting our attention to the bucket and subtracting from the action on stage. We then have to wait the entire performance to use them, and the effect is in severe danger of wearing off before then. I would note the difference here between an audience’s excitement to play a campy/quirky instrument and the audience’s recognition that playing this has some fundamental pertinence to the text, that it reflects and intensifies their experience of this text specifically. I am not too sure, either, that it was a particularly informed idea to request that audience members place their lips around unsanitised objects during a pandemic, especially those that come from a bucket into which all other audience members have placed their unwashed hands.
Some quick final notes. I would recommend Carlyle completely scrap the placards… It seems that Carlyle felt the need to add some variation in her performance, and this is certainly not the way to do that. The placards are ineffective and add nothing of value to our reading of the subsequent scene that they introduce. Dare I also mention that they are [deliberately] not particularly funny, either, when they really ought to be when included in the manner that they are. Secondly and finally, at the end of the performance, leave the stage! Do not hang around awkwardly, slowly cleaning things up as the audience watch on, expecting that perhaps there is more. Leave immediately; otherwise, there is a compromise of the final ambience, that which is most important in leaving the audience with a personal, everlasting delight from their night out.
These negatives aside, this remains a very strong performance, indeed. Carlyle is a natural musical comedian.