views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Memoirs of a Slutsky
RADA Studios
10th August 2015

★★★★☆

Zoe Charles

Photography provided by Zoe Charles

You may think that your family are nutters who have constantly tried to wreck your life (c'mon, be honest, everyone feels like that at some point!) but you'll have to dig deep to compete with Zoe Charles' recollections of her childhood. Charles is a burlesque performer, instructor and entrepreneur, but despite the provocative title - Memoirs of a Slutsky - there's not a huge amount of flesh on display, nor is it the real focus of her show. Over 60 minutes, Charles tells us all about her extended, blended, quirky parents and siblings and her search to find her biological father. It turns out that there are more interesting subjects than nipple tassles and thongs gone wrong. (Who knew?)

I swear I was paying attention, but explaining the intricacies of Charles' family tree is no easy task. Suffice to say, her mum drove a mini-van rather than a conventional family sized-car and there were always plenty of people in her household growing up. We hear of an accidental incestuous clubbing incident, a slightly disturbing womanhood ceremony, her first proper boyfriend's horror at meeting her dad - as Charles says, "you couldn't make it up". It's always reassuring to hear that someone else's childhood was weirder than your own.

Charles has been working on this show for about two years and you can sense this in her delivery. It feels scripted and very controlled, almost like an author reading out loud an extract from her autobiography. Whilst Charles has her pacing spot on, her style isn't conversational in the slightest; it's very measured, sucking some the emotion out of the piece. She's rehearsed Memoirs of a Slutsky to the point where the words tumble out of her mouth easily, and when relating all the amusing little anecdotes, that's great. She never messes up a punchline.

The flipside is that in some of the more serious, bleak reveals, we don't get a lot of Charles and we need to. I'm not saying we want her to drop to the ground wailing and balling up in the foetal position, however we need some kind of reaction for the tragedy to really resonate. Leading a somewhat unusual life, we can't necessarily slip on Charles' shoes without a bit of help. When the circumstances don't exactly mirror our own experiences, we need the sentiment to be shared with us so we can instead connect on a much more visceral level.

With that said, when Charles launches into her material about tracking down her biological father, she does finally let some of the mask slip. Her eyes say it all, and the sniffling in the audience backs up my assertion that you need to share more of yourself with the audience for them to truly connect. This is the moment when Memoirs of a Slutsky rises up and becomes more than just another comedy or cabaret act and a powerful piece of storytelling. It's also the point where Charles takes the puzzle pieces she's carefully left out for us, pushes them together and reveals a well-crafted payoff. This isn't one woman rambling, she's planned exactly where to take us.

Charles is completely confident in who she is now - just going to prove no matter what life throws at you, you can come out the other side smiling. And covered in glitter and sequins. As with any life story, there are some downs as well as ups. On the whole, it's a very funny, well-written show with some really inspiring moments.

Memoirs of a Slutsky opened on 10th August and runs until 11th August 2015 at RADA Studios, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Goodge Street (Northern)



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