Anti-Valentine’s Double Bill

Canal Cafe Theatre, 15 May 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Comics Rosie Wilby and Helen Arney were both single when they wrote their 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows, The Science of Sex and 8 1/2 Songs About Love (and other myths). That makes a handy pretext for staging them back-to-back in this one-off “Anti-Valentine’s Day” double bill, but anyone anticipating an evening of sneers and jeers at smug couples is soon surprised.

The two shows share a gentle, warm-hearted sensibility; bitterness features, but is used consciously and sparingly to season choice punchlines. And that’s not all the shows have in common: they tackle the same subject matter (love and relationships), and both women use an initial show of demureness to add a kick to occasional admissions of naughtiness (as opposed to bawdiness or filthiness).

Dressed in a lab coat and goggles, Wilby approaches the topic with a scientific eye, discussing the biology of attraction with the help of some layperson-accessible graphs and formulae. While the science isn’t especially funny, it is at least interesting, and provides Wilby with an original angle from which to tackle one of stand-up’s best-loved subjects: the differences between men and women (and, more originally still, the differences between straight, gay and lesbian couples).

Arney, on the other hand, takes the musical approach. Her titular eight-and-a-half songs are not so much songs as tuneful poems accompanied by looping keyboard, ukulele or miniature accordion phrases: they rhyme only when it suits her and tend to fizzle without recognisable cadences (her “Thank you”s are necessary applause cues for an audience unsure whether or not the song is over). That said, they all feature at least one killer line, and Arney’s delivery – at once irreverent and heartfelt – makes it difficult (if not downright curmudgeonly) not to warm to her.

Both shows have evolved since the Fringe, to include references to Tiger Woods, John Terry, the Winter Olympics – and the fact that neither Wilby nor Arney remains single: a potentially dangerous fact to admit to a tight-packed roomful of (mostly) singletons wanting an antidote to St Valentine’s romantic media saturation.

But while an antidote may be what we want, all we really need is a soothing salve, and that’s what this double bill provides: uplifting sufferers of Valentine’s Fatigue without resentfully shooting down St Valentine’s devotees. Aww, how sweet.

Featuring Rosie Wilby and Helen Arney

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