It’s no secret that the “one-woman show” is in its Fleabag era. Like the avid little theatre critic that I am, I saw at least five one-person shows in the latter half of 2022 (and tried my best not to tire of them). At fringe festivals across the world, confessional monologues written and performed by women are being lumped into the Fleabag category by critics and audiences alike (despite them only featuring a woman and some trauma). Any form of entertainment that features a woman making a wryly funny aside is eagerly compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s uncanny style. It was only a matter of time, then, before someone decided to bring a meta-theatrical parody sending up the old “confessional monologue” to the Sydney Opera House.
And boy, does Liz Kingsman bring it. The Australian writer and performer’s One Woman Show was received on the West End with wild enthusiasm, and now she’s brought this show-within-a-show back to home shores to show us what all the fuss is about. In One Woman Show, Kingsman is messy, funny, and sexy – just like her unnamed counterpart in the monologue she performs as she tells us she’s performing it, hilariously named Wildfowl. The parallels to Fleabag are difficult to escape – with Kingsman dressed in a striped t-shirt and a black jumpsuit, like this scene of the tv show, and a singular red chair placed in the centre of the stage, like the original stage version. But this is not a “take-down” of Fleabag or a “warning” for those of us embracing our messy hot girl eras. Rather, it celebrates the inherent silliness of making art and entertainment while simultaneously calling that silliness into question.
...a delightfully precise experience that never lets you forget that this is all made up
The show begins with Kingsman telling us she’s having this version recorded for an unnamed TV commissioner, who needs to decide which woman is going to be successful this year. She then launches into Wildfowl, a monologue about a woman who is so “messy” and “quirky” that she doesn’t quite know what marketing is, even though she works in the marketing department of a wildlife charity that tracks endangered species of birds. She pulls together every manic pixie dream girl trope you can imagine, plus the “voice of reason” in the form of her hand-on-heart Australian boss, and the woefully two-dimensional best friend who is constantly rolling a cigarette and giving advice that “Wildfowl” ignores.
Kingsman’s jokes, paired with Adam Brace’s direction, range from brilliant character work to more subtle visual gags: having a sip of water on stage, a creaky video camera, and even stagehands pointlessly moving around objects before the show has really “started”. The wistful uttering of the line “I’m having a remember…” paired with a shift to orange lighting and melancholic sound design is a hilarious highlight. There’s even an earnest moment of “truth”, but I won’t ruin that for you. Every beat and every lighting cue is as sharp as Kingsman’s wit, which makes for a delightfully precise experience that never lets you forget that this is all made up. Often you won’t know which way is up, but it’s such a thrill to follow Kingsman down her cunningly crafted rabbit holes upon rabbit holes.
With the “frazzled English woman” aesthetic and Fleabag eras making the rounds on small, rectangular TikTok screens everywhere, One Woman Show is an all-too-familiar romp into the brain of the dissociative feminist. Tell your mum it’s “whip-smart” and a “five-star comedy”, and get her to buy you a ticket to the funniest, trickiest trainwreck in town.
One Woman Show is playing at the Sydney Opera House until February 19, 2023. Tickets start at $76+bf. Get your tickets here.