By all rights, Victoria Melody should be a national treasure, a household name. It’s not just that her spectacularly committed docu-theatre projects fit the mould perfectly: she’s immersed herself in everything from pigeon fancying to funeral directing and made delightful, funny shows about her experiences. But also you have to imagine that nobody else in their right mind would have actually stuck with this sort of life when treasurehood didn’t beckon some years ago. Yet Melody persists on the fringes, pushing on with her baffling array of schemes, wheezes and obsessions through what appears to be a genuine personal sense of need.
New show ‘Head Set’ is about as close as she’s likely to come to selling out: ie not very, and even then she kind of messes it up. After showing us a quick video reel of her previous shows, she tells us that after the enormous expense of ‘Ugly Chief’ – for which she became a funeral director because she thought her dad was terminally ill, except he wasn’t – she decided that she wanted to do something much cheaper. She reasoned that as her shows were funny – she’s right! – she’d have no problem smashing it on the amateur stand-up circuit, where she could, for once, explore a world free of expensive gimmicks.
As she tells it, things didn’t go to plan. Basically she lacked a fundamental understanding of what a joke actually involved, which made things very difficult. And as she relentlessly worked the toilet circuit, she received an ADHD diagnosis, started taking medication, stopped taking medication, and then for quite complicated reasons took to wiring herself up to a device – the titular head set – that displayed her brain’s real time reaction to performing. Stand-up audiences seemed to love it, but it left her saddled with an extremely complicated gimmick.
Melody’s shows are fundamentally brilliant storytelling: she gets herself into absurd scrapes and describes them to us with an irresistibly puppyish enthusiasm. It’s very, very hard to discern how authentic her stage persona is: with her too-long pauses and slightly disconcerting stare, she gives the air of a genuine outsider artist, somebody so odd you wonder she can do anything normal or mundane. I suspect there’s more calculation there than she lets on. But whatever the case, her persona is absolutely winning: she’s so sweetly intense in her curiosity that she never feels cynical or disrespectful of the subcultures she’s reporting on. And it doesn’t hurt that she is very much Not Posh.
Like all Melody’s shows, ‘Head Set’ is a funny and weird exploration of a world I’d not given much thought to before. Although she admits to a few neurological complexities here, it’s still extremely difficult to work out exactly why she persists in doing this. But I’m very glad that she does.