Thursday, 12 February 2015

Gillian Cosgriff is Whelmed - Fringe World (11 February 2015)

Beware the gift giver! The ones who impart the ‘gift’ of inspiration and false advice; the ‘gift’ of all the spurious knowledge you could ever wish for nowadays in the palm of your hand; and those people who simply give bad gifts. 

Yes, in her new show, Cosgriff is squarely taking aim at all the fortune cookie nonsense that passes for wisdom these days and the means of its dissemination. Plus, you know, all 198 capital cities of the world, some crazy ass lizards from Madagascar, and a handbag made out of an old pair of jeans.

Early on, Cosgriff mentioned how some people compare her to Tim Minchin because, well, they both play keyboards and sing witty songs with a healthy dose of stand up comedy thrown in for good measure. I’ve never seen Tim Minchin perform live but I've seen Gillian Cosgriff twice now and she is forging her own identity as a gifted entertainer. There is the engaging stage presence, excellent voice and keyboard skills, and songs that crackle with wit and intelligence - probably due to all the research done online in the name of procrastination and over-achievement.

Earlier on though, the show starts before the show starts with a song about the usual sort of front of house announcements to do with mobile phones being switched off and where the exits are and hoping people don’t burn to death in a fire and the like. It’s all sensible advice that would look great on the poster... of a lush rain forest. Yes, wanky motivational tools, #thinspiration, #fitspiration and #hashtags in general #bugthehelloutofgillian.

Then we launch into an explanation of the title ‘Whelmed’ which is indeed a real word and has something to do with boats not capsizing. Don’t worry, it’s fine; tricky stuff, sure, but you’re in safe hands as Cosgriff is nothing less than a compelling storyteller and has a knack for making the obscure come to life in the funniest of ways.

Like her award show from last year, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, plenty of personal revelations pepper her feeling of whelmedness (this may actually not be a word) and this time her mother plays a pivotal role in the tale of ‘The ugliest bag in the world, parts one and two’ with a charming reprise.

Some guy named Guy is called up from the front row to be an accessory to Cosgriff’s ability to overachieve at learning new things that totally don’t help her write a new show... until she decides to take all that stuff and put it in her new show. A tantalising ten dollar note was on offer if the guy Guy could stump her with the aid of an online quiz about capital cities. That bounty ain’t going nowhere but back into (probably) the ugliest bag in the world, my friends. I have not the slightest doubt that all 198 cities are committed to memory... because 56 just wasn’t good enough for our procrastinating, overachieving heroine the first time around!

The internet comes in for some stick as do those folks who try to cheer up depressed people by telling them others have it worse... saying things like, ‘Syria’. Then again, what’s the point of being happy when there are others even happier? I mean, Richard Branson bought an island when he was 28. The jabs at hypocrisy, nonsensical platitudes, and the obsession with being happy - in both lyric and patter - are razor sharp. Then there are those lizards. That’s a tale to be amazed by (Cosgriff clearly is) as an exuberant explanation details some seriously weird evolutionary shenanigans.

What I like about the performance style here is that Cosgriff isn’t afraid to follow tangents, to reveal personal information, and to engage with the audience by being effusive and self-deprecating. It’s all very impressive and when it’s done you’ll be singing the final song as you leave (trust me, you will, #noseriously) with a smile on your face. This show is what I’ve come to expect from Cosgriff - sharp, witty, and very clever. Get along and see it!

Gillian Cosgriff is Whelmed is on at the PICA Performance Space as part of Fringe World until 21 February

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