Lizzie Bates Pleasance Courtyard 1500 until 25th August Reviewed 19th August £10 3 stars
The name’s Lizzie Bates, but throughout the show I was reminded both of Kathy Bates and Lizzie Borden: axe murderers with a kind of commanding hysteria.
Lizzie comes out fully charged, but with a bag of neuroses and more tics to her face than Big Ben. She has an excellent control of her venue, and the bomb shelter sketch works perfectly in setting the tone and unsettling her audience. Reprobates is definitely a show with a lot of nervous energy in the air.
We work through a series of extended sketches, most of them based around middle-class middle-aged middle England women having a breakdown and behaving badly. These are seemingly powerful women with explosive dysfunctions; classically flawed tragic heroines for the modern age. They’re very well written, both intelligent and funny, and the pace and execution feel well rehearsed. Audience participation is quite heavy, involving both callouts and active interaction.
This can work to its detriment – I feel that a lot of the audience was not overly pleased with the demands made on them by Bates. And while she’s a superb writer and a very good actor, I think that her improvisation skills may be letting her down. She feeds her participants but then doesn’t engage with their responses, and one gets the sense that her scenes are too tightly written to allow any flexibility. This can result in an underwhelming experience for both the contributors and the spectators.
Unfortunately, as a solo sketch show, this is both the most important element of Reprobates as well as its weakest. If Bates could either improve on it, or rework her material and style to focus on her strengths, she’d be an outstanding comedian. As it is, her show is a mirror of her characters: enormous strengths undercut by some essential flaws.