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Barbara Nice’s Raffle – The STUDIO, Birmingham REP

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

Barbara Nice: a comfort-blanket name for the champion of common people. Rather too conveniently compared to Victoria Wood and Mrs Merton, tonight she invites us to up the stakes and take a flutter on Lady Luck. No neon glitz Vegas hedonistic abandon here, mind. This is an alt.adrenaline, no-nonsense raffle that promises tombola Tom-foolery in spades.

The alter/retro-ego of Janice Connolly, actor, comedian and artistic director, Mrs Nice sacrifices humility on the altar of the ephemera to present a dazzling games-show format celebration of kitchen-based consumer kitsch. Set out on the Table of Destiny are tonight’s star-prizes. HP sauce, Dettol, marrow-fat peas, Frey Bentos flat-tinned steak-pie and a bottle of semi-sparkling Cassini wine. The second part of the show is dedicated to a whooping, climactic raffle-rousing delirium where the winners ‘Come on down.’ It’s as naïf as can be inhumanely possible and choreographed with panache and wry spontaneity. She’s the MC of glee, the baffling raffler shrewdly in command, ever ready to release a laugh-in-a-box surprise. Similar to Frank Skinner, she manipulates the comedy of trivia and nostalgic association to reveal a confederacy of a shared recognition.

She meets and greets in the atrium pre-performance as raffle tickets, cost inclusive, are handed out. Inevitably Nile Rodgers’ Lucky is funking from the PA. She likes to think the ‘Barbara’ is a homage to Streisand and ‘Nice’ to the ubiquitous biscuit. We are introduced to her current economy-focused wardrobe, a fusion of charity-shop themed pragmatism. Enthralled to be working on home ground at The ‘Respiratory’ Theatre she promises it’s going to be an exciting Saturday night’s entertainment. ‘Saturday, Barbara?’ Is this a slip or a wily guile set-up for the get-out-of-embarrassment card? – ‘Oh hell, so what day did I put the bins out then?’ This ongoing, disarming conceit of apparent self-deprecation and menopausal senior-moments is a crafted device superbly nuanced and exquisitely timed.

There are brief encounters of the absurd kind when Planet Nice pragmatism gives away to delightful surrealism. She explains that her formidable grasp of current affairs and latest gossip is due to her mid-70s redundant i.u.d. copper coil now being able to tune in to Five Live broadcasts. Several of the younger audience appear almost frightened.

Her Stockport, flat-voweled accent does recall Mrs. Merton though Dame Edna’s brash, faux modesty setting some poor punter up for the prat-fall seems more to the fore. Participants in tonight’s raffle must swear an Oath of Understanding that, where there are some winners many more must be losers, and this must be embraced as a metaphor of Life’s inevitable disappointments. Far too much political correctness these days where children might be damaged for life if they don’t all get a prize in pass-the-parcel. Streams of subconsciousness have her regretting not inviting Prince into her home when he was Jehovah Witness door-stepping. Or whether catching Bird-flu might leave her vulnerable to Thrush. Nice works her audience with relished affection exploiting a wealth of cliché and minutiae – 70s retro ad-jingles highly appreciated. She can seamlessly segue from school-day agonies with fractions to a ‘barbed’ retort aimed at bankers not get their working-out sorted before the 2008 Crash. ‘Then we might’ve be able to keep the Library of Birmingham open more often.’ Appropriately enough she uses the area beneath the vast canopy of the Library to close the show by inviting the audience outside to play a game of What’s The Time Mr Wolf? She howls, ‘It’s Dinner-time!  And it’s Showtime!’ And barking-Barbara is in her prime.

Reviewed on 23 February 2018 and on tour| Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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