Soaked to the skin and after a disappointing pre-performance cocktail in a piano bar sans pianist, I arrived at the Burton Taylor on Thursday evening in desperate need of a laugh. On arrival, I discovered that the performance was not a one-woman show, but in fact now included a bonus act in the shape of Adele Cliff, with added improvisation from a pair of octogenarians on a date in the front row – Bill-E and Margaret. Given Bill-E’s enthusiastic heckling and participation, Sam Baines might have regretted over-heating the audience during her warm-up.
Both Sam and Adele have experience of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe and actually met through a mutual love of puns. One of Adele’s puns featured in the top 15 jokes from the Fringe in 2017: 'As a vegan, I think people who sell meat are disgusting; but apparently people who sell fruit and veg are grocer.' And Sam’s classic pun 'Henry VIII’s wife is covered in bite marks: because he’s Tudor' appeared on Dave’s top 10 jokes at Edinburgh in 2016. Throughout the performance, both women fell back on this tried and tested comedic formula to great success.
Both also encouraged audience participation but may have bitten off slightly more than they could chew when talking to Bill-E and Margaret. Much to the audience’s amusement we learned that not only were they on a date, they had also just returned from holidays in the Med and Bill-E is Margaret’s toy boy, which led Adele quite neatly to riff on her parent’s banning of Disney movies and Barbie dolls as a child. This segwayed into further discussion of the quirks and foibles of her own family, particularly her sibling rivalry and her joke about a family game of Monopoly; Adele won not very graciously only to be put in her place by her younger sister who trumped her by pointing out she actually owned a real house.
After a brief interval Sam Baines' act began with a short introduction and some lively parlé with the audience. She successfully, succinctly and amusingly debunked any Oxford pretensions by feigning ignorance of DPhils with a determined fixation on this being a course of 'D' dinosaur studies. Baines quickly established that her audience included not only octogenarians but also a teenager, meaning a wide and varied audience to amuse. She did this successfully with a series of self-deprecating and self-effacing personal revelations on her lack of chin, her limited scientific knowledge and her fame for discussing vaginas in her act. This was a no-holds-barred approach to all topics covered in the show, but with the jokes wrapped up in warmth and humour - no withering verbal strafing of the audience here; her comedy was all inclusive and encompassing.
Wit and wisdom came together in a comedic celebration of human frailties and in particular, a focus on the neglected women of science, prompted after a sexually charged coffee with Professor Brian Cox. Unfortunately, as Sam recognised from her research, the forgotten women of science are many - only one woman scientist, Rosalind Franklin, is currently mentioned in the GCSE Science syllabus. For this show Sam had chosen to concentrate on three women: Margaret E Knight, an American woman who died with over 87 patents to her name and whose crowning achievement was the invention of a machine to produce flat-bottomed paper bags; Lillian Bland who was the first female aviation engineer who built and flew her own biplane in 1910, and Sally Ride, the first American LGBT woman in space.
Sam regaled the audience with a short infomercial for each woman wrapped up in her own experience and comedic insight and then summarized each biography with a short poem what she had written herself and performed in the style of Dave Gorman’s 'Found' poems. I'm not sure how we got there but at one point Bill-E volunteered to be the assailant as Sam demonstrated the find (by searching a member of the audience’s handbag) and clutch your keys method of self-defense. Still game aged 87, Bill-E shocked us all with the realism of his fall to the ground when he was defeated by Sam as we laughed uproariously. Unfazed, Baines effortlessly dusted him off and circled back to the amazing achievements of just these three women, their profound and lasting influence on the world and their ability to inspire other women to persevere and pursue their ambitions. Sounds serious but wrapping this message in warmth and humour was an excellent means of getting the One Billion Rising revolution across. I left the Burton Taylor theatre, still slightly damp, laughing at the jokes from Adele, Sam, Margaret and Bill-E and through my smiles reflecting on the hard truths only laughter can illuminate.