Looking back, my expectations were a little too high and skewed for this lunchtime event in January’s Out to Lunch festival in Belfast. Coming on the back of the previous week’s comedy lunchtime with Shappi Khorsandi, I’m not sure everyone in the audience had realised that Life Shop Till You Drop was comedy theatre rather than straight laugh-a-minute-comedy. So maybe that’s why it seemed to fall a bit flat.
Ailish McGovern (played by Clodagh Reid) first appears as the winner of Irish Tatler Woman of the Year, glad-handing through the audience and up to the stage. And up on stage, accepting the prize, she starts to retell her story. It’s a one woman show, except for her boyfriend who sits in the audience in his tuxedo until close to the end when he’s allowed to run out.
There’s a self-help section in most decent bookshops – one of those embarrassing sections to be caught in – and Ailish would have no need to browse the books as she probably has a copy in her bedroom at home. A recruitment consultant by trade, she’s ended up a self-help freak, desperate to find and keep the perfect boyfriend, with little help from the quite bizarre Concepta Dating Agency.
The plot – as it’s scripted theatre and not thrown together on the spot – is based around her self-help mantras, conveniently scribbled up on a flip chart. Classic motivational lines like
“If you shoot for the stars you might just get off the ground.”
“Life Shop rule #8. Don’t blame your parents. Reimprint them.”
One of the best sequences was a conversation between Ailish and her sister. Talking to a nodding woollen hat was clever and innovative, and got some of the best laughs. There’s lots of clever costume changes, accents aplenty and motivational crying thrown in for good measure.
A friend suggested that it would be the live performance version of chick flick ... and he got it right. Alice Coghlan’s play was good, but it wasn’t great. While it worked well as a self-help “life shopping” spoof, it didn’t really challenge my behaviour or preconceptions enough to make a big impact. (You can check out some clips yourself from a Youtube clip uploaded by Dublin’s Wonderland Theatre.)
A little hard to hear at times - the backing music and sound effects (sometimes completely out of sync with the script) could be overpowering as it pumped through the Black Box’s PA over the top of Ailish’s unmiced voice. And a little hard to see on occasion as Ailish spoke out of shadow ... standing in-between the beams of spotlights that illuminated the stage rather than in them.
But as £5 including food lunchtime comedy theatre goes, it was good enough. And fun when Rosie (from Shappi’s gig the previous week) came to sit down at the same table. (Bumped into her again at Bully too.)