Crone – Camden Fringe, Hope Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Liam Webber and Daniel Potts

 For hundreds of years the hunched and cloaked old woman has been a figure of fear, a fairy tale villain or witch, sent among us to cause havoc. But the old woman also brings spiritual knowledge, often with an ability to tell the future or contact the mystical realm. Liam Webber’s Camden Fringe comedy show Crone, showing at the Hope Theatre, does little to alter this perception or to interact with the myths but it is certainly full of atmosphere.

The crone arrives in darkness claiming to have been summoned to the veil of reality by the people in this room. Before our hour is up, she will read several fortunes using objects that audience members have brought along, contact a spirit and perform a communal blessing. But with the demon Clive trapped in the radio and determined to make mischief, is the crone powerful enough to save us?

Webber’s show is a surreal experience with an unexpected quirky humour. There is a loose structure or formula for each performance within which Crone operates, while many of the jokes themselves are largely improvised based on the audience responses and the meaningful objects they bring. While each object reading is managed slightly differently to create variety, anyone sceptical of clairvoyants will note the predictable audience questions about happiness and marriage which Webber could prepare humorous responses to in advance.

But Webber makes this a safe space, no one is required to interact unless they actively want to, creating an easier atmosphere in the room to respond to the off-beat style including two long narrative sections that tend to the surreal – one about a student Vince Cable and another performed as part of the finale blessing ritual. Webber is an engaging storyteller, creating descriptive fantasy worlds that build to a single punchline, although often the journey is far more interesting than the destination.

Webber dons an upper facial mask and wig to transform into a crone, bedecked in a jingly gilet with hanging cassette tapes and other junk over an otherwise mismatched outfit. The eccentric look works, supported by some effective technical wizardry from Daniel Potts that makes the demon Clive jump seemingly between lamps, adding to the drama that Webber is creating.

But the show never fully brings its strands together to investigate its central character or to balance its jokey and light horror influences. Webber puts in a strange but enjoyable comedy performance without ever turning the attention on the crone. Just who is this woman and why does she have the gift of prophesy and communion with the dead, and how did she come to capture Clive in the first place?

There seems to be a missed opportunity here to investigate whether our protagonist is an eccentric fraud or a true mystic. It deliberately perpetuates the notions of frightening old women without ever seeking to challenge the cliché. After all the fictional crone doesn’t peddle her wares for free, whether it is the death of a prettier face or communion with the devil, she always wants something for herself.

Runs until 21 August 2022

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

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