British comedienne Anna Nicholson’s one woman comedy show Woman Of The Year centres on the premise that four women from disparate backgrounds have been (self?) nominated for the prestigious ‘Woman Of The Year’ Award and are all keen to convince the audience they deserve to win the title .
The show is subsequently structured around meeting each of the nominees, one by one, in their natural habitats and having them outline their claim to the title in order for the audience to make the decision who ultimately wins on the basis of a final popular vote.
It is a clever idea, and Nicholson keeps the pace up throughout by working through some lightning costume changes, and liberally using the disembodied announcer ‘Kevin The Voice’ to keep us abreast of where in the U.K. we will be travelling to next, as well as an effective device to pass the odd editorial comment. Nicholson also employs the impressive musical talent of Natalia Ainslie, who, sitting unobtrusively in the back corner of the stage, plays piano interludes and provides the backing for the four contestants’ obligatory musical numbers.
Nicholson’s characters are well drawn, but some are more appealing than others and this does cause a slight sense of overall imbalance in the show.
‘Denise’, who is a schoolmarmish shop assistant who works in the lingerie section of an upmarket British department store, works well. An author who has written a self-help tome especially for women, she is keen to use the contest as a vehicle to promote sales. She is also keen to replace an unfortunate audience member’s ill-chosen K-Mart brassiere with something more classier and aesthetically appropriate and at this performance as Nicholson leaves the helpless Claire nervously awaiting her fitting appointment for later in the show, in an example of how well structured this performance is.
‘Bianca’, a narcissistic vlogger, is consumed by the need to validate herself through the vainglorious use of social media, and this character is by far the strongest and funniest character in the show. With her street slang Newcastle accent, her vampish self-assurance, and her devotion to her selfish charity, ‘Save The Babes’, Bianca is obviously, from the audience reaction to her stage presence (which is most actively sought during her segments of the show), the one meant to be the prime candidate to win the contest.
The weakest character situation wise is the local vicar at St Mark’s Church, ‘Reverend Ruth’. Nicholson seems to have the least ‘acting’ to do here, and the character is not exaggerated enough to be a successful archetypal caricature. Her funniest lines are built around the annual bake-off, which has limited scope for belly laughs, and the Reverend simply proves a hard person to warm to – which, then again, in a world which is placing less and less trust in those who peddle their own self-interests through religion, possibly may have been the point?
The last contestant, ‘Shirley’, is an over-sexed old aged pensioner. This character has lots of potential which is not fully exploited, although Nicholson plays the role with a good balance of gentle pathos and dark mischief, and also flirts with tragedy to good effect. Having Shirley appear last though, dealing with the inevitability of decrepitude and eventual loss, does mean the show ends on a rather low note.
There is no doubt that Nicholson is a talented comic actress who possesses a clear and powerful singing voice and whilst her show appears to lack balance at times, there is plenty to admire over the fifty minute duration of the show.
The show was developed by the artist in association with James Cary who has written comedy for the BBC – his most notable credit being the comedy show, Miranda – and has enjoyed a sell-out season at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, so it has a high degree of ‘comedy cred’ to recommend it.
Overall, it is an entertaining show. It’s fast paced, tightly structured, but not all of the characters will insinuate their way into your affections to the same extent.
Rating: 4 stars
Anna Nicholson: Woman Of The Year is being performed in the Ferguson Room at the National Wine Centre, corner of Hackney Road & Botanic Road, Adelaide, at 7:15pm, 26 & 27 February, and 2 March until 17 March (4 & 11 March excluded). Tickets are available HERE.