It’s a rare sight at the fringe: a stand-up set with a genuine and serious slant. Baines wants to shine a light on three lost women of science. Or at least two lost women of science and Sally Ride, whose portrait I recognised even with the word LOST hung over her entire face; she is niche at worst.
Still, it’s a laudable subject matter and the greatest strength of the hour. It would be nice to see more comedy take on topics like this. Baines deserves a lot of credit for taking something without obvious comic potential and turning it into a capable set. This plays an influential role in keeping the audience engaged throughout; she’s found three fascinating women well-deserving of praise and the audience delights in learning about them.
This material is interspersed with segments about her recently deceased father and readings from her book of comic poems – which is better than it sounds on paper. Despite the potentially morose, incongruous topics, the set never ventures into the gloomy. Instead, it uses parallels between the lives of the three women and her experiences losing a parent to create funny, touching stories. It’s very well planned, with the poetry being used to break up the set between the three women’s stories, giving structure to the carefully interwoven subjects.
Her chatty, affable style gives her a wonderful stage presence
All of this is capably managed by Baines. Her chatty, affable style gives her a wonderful stage presence and she has no problem engaging a large audience in a small space. There’s plenty of bouncing enthusiasm here and it drags the audience along with it, brushing past the weaker points of the set and securely hammering home the funnier parts.
Nonetheless, there’s a fair amount of shameless self-aggrandising and self-promotion here, with several references to the sell-out show she performed at last year’s fringe (though fewer to its poor critical reception), repeated appeals to casting directors and Radio 4 producers, and barefaced advertisements for her poetry book read from throughout the show. There’s a huge assortment of puns thrown in throughout the set too: “groans are as good as laughs!” she quips at one point after a particularly dire piece of word play.
But therein lies the key flaw of this ostensibly comic hour: it just wasn’t very funny. There are several shows at this year’s fringe that will have you in tears throughout; this one elicited only a handful of outright laughs. That’s not to say it was awkward or actively unfunny – it kept a smile on my face throughout – but there are much better hours of comedy on offer. I’m sure this was in part due to personal taste (as with any review), and there were certainly audience members who found it all a good deal more hilarious than I did – but it is hard to recommend a stand-up comic who rarely made me laugh.
It’s hard to fault Baines’ technique or the subject on display; the set is well structured and consummately performed; lagging moments are quickly and capably brushed past. Nevertheless, it was lacking in humour and where it had it, it certainly wasn’t for everyone.
1 Woman, a High Flyer, and a Flat Bottom: Samantha Baines is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe, more information here.
Image: Samantha Baines