views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Judge Judy's Buzz World
Etcetera Theatre
5th August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for Judge Judy's Buzz World

Photography © Timothy Stubbs Hughes

Anyone who knows anything about comics, knows Batman is a deeply troubled individual rather than a role model. You can't survive your parents being killed in front of you as a child and not grow up a little messed up, but putting on a costume and throwing batarangs at dangerous criminals? Issues, I tell you. With a capital I. Lurking behind a sheriff life-size cut out on stage, there's a giant cardboard Batman, which doesn't bode well for our protagonist's state of mind or her recreational activities. In Judge Judy's Buzz World, a woman tells us and a video camera the tale of how she too became a vigilante type superhero.

Yasmin Watson commands the stage for a whole hour with a thick, polished American drawl. The accent never wavers, but her tone shifts every time her persona does. It's a subtle change that marks when she's being Billie, Buzz or Judy. Given this is a very dialogue intensive monologue, it's impressive that she gets to the end of the show without one fluff. There's some really cute animation at times (an interesting contrast with the horrific violence of her spoken words), however director Anna Mason keeps the focus on what Watson is saying. Whilst the props and animation do all add something, at its core, Judge Judy's Buzz World is a captivating piece of storytelling which could work with absolutely no bangs and whistles. Well, maybe a few bangs and pows, Judy isn't exactly the quiet, well-behaved type.

Billie is a nobody, Buzz is an angrier, edgier version of Billie and Judge Judy is a self-styled superhero, whose job is to keep America safe by killing all the killers. There's a biting political comment in there somewhere. Judy is the name she's chosen for herself, and whilst she has nothing to do with the infamous Mrs Scheindlin, she has the same conviction and desire for justice as her namesake, only combined with the coldness and fighting skills of Tarantino's Bride. There's always something about a female serial killer that grips the imagination: after all, us women are supposedly programmed to be nurturing types. However Judy feels completely justified in all she has done and remains a feminine character, with playwright Rachel Tookey challenging this unconscious bias.

The sweltering temperature of the theatre admittedly makes it hard to focus (turning the air conditioning off is never a smart move in August). The narrative is so complex though that you would probably also have to work just as hard to follow it all in better conditions. I don't think this is actually a bad thing, you would enjoy seeing this more than once and focusing on another aspect of the woman's story. As for Watson, she manages to win us back every time we tune out, with a commanding stage presence and an impressive gift for storytelling. Her dialogue is full of graphic, violent description - it's not for everyone, as the pair of walkouts proves, but it's very well crafted. Although some of the sound cues weren't perfect, this didn't detract from Watson's excellent performance.

Judge Judy's Buzz World is a mighty fine piece of storytelling with plenty of disturbing description. Whilst it's hard to tell how much is real and how much is fantasied, we would listen to anything Judy tells us. Partially because the darkness and aggression feel genuine and we'd rather not find out if she can really fire lasers at us.

Judge Judy's Buzz World opened on 4th August and runs until 7th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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