saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Better Than Dying Alone
Camden Comedy Club
9th August 2018
Photography provided by Ros Ballinger
Let me start by making one thing clear, Camden: Ros Ballinger's latest show is about sex parties, as opposed to being one big orgy in its own right. That's probably no bad thing – you'll leave less sticky and there's no risk of having regrets later, because Better Than Dying Alone guarantees a good time. You never quite know which way it will go down with an orgy. In her return to the Camden Fringe, Ballinger revisits the topics of S&M and kink and updates us on her many bedroom adventures since she last regaled us with such a family-friendly 60 minutes. (I say family-friendly, because Ballinger always bravely invites her dad along to hear her perform.)
If you listen very carefully to Ballinger's delivery, you'll notice that she doesn't ever actually pause to create an appropriate gap for the audience and wait for them to fill it. Her gaps are planned, fixed length and generally, she's already guessed how long the audience will need. She doesn't always get it spot on though, which betrays what she's doing. It's not hugely obvious, but the fact that she is rattling through her lines at breakneck speed and constantly looking above the audience rather than to the audience, does show a desire to tell a story to us, rather than have a chat with us. The Camden Comedy Club is an intimate venue where you expect a bit more interaction than that.
Now, if you're one of those conflicted people who really likes live comedy yet lives in fear of audience participation, you'll love Ballinger's approach. However, truth be told... it is a bit distant. Ballinger simply needs to trust that if she pauses at the funny bits in her show - and it is packed full of funny bits - the audience will laugh. It's also okay for her to wait until they're done chuckling before moving on, and if she does need to stop for different lengths of time on different nights because she has a different crowd in who don't quite react in the same way, that's fine too.
Whilst she might be talking about some X-rated material, Ballinger and her posh Cheltenham accent give the distinct impression of her being A Very Nice Girl, so the idea of heckling her just seems in poor taste. On the odd occasion that a stranger breaks this unspoken agreement to pay attention and not pick on the Very Nice Girl, Ballinger deviates from her plan, actually makes eye contact, engages and swiftly shuts down that person. This sex kitten has claws and knows how to use them. She is perfectly capable of reacting quickly and cleverly, and therefore should have the confidence to allow for more unplanned banter – she's very good at it.
Sticking so rigidly to her planned, well-rehearsed material (some of which I'm sure I've heard before in her previous show about kink) is fine to a certain point. However, it does leave the comedienne vulnerable whenever she forgets her exact place in the show - not unreasonable given how much she has to power through – at which point she feels obliged to find where she got lost and return to the pre-set running order rather than move on and throw in some different jokes elsewhere. Ballinger says she is a natural planner, but there is plenty of scope in simply relaxing, enjoying the moment and being open to the shocking possibility of not covering all her material in one gig and going off script if it feels right. A comedy audience expects a healthy dose of spontaneity and on-the-spot thinking - if you've got it, why not flaunt it?
To end on a minor point if ever there were one, Ballinger has a curious tendency to finish recounting an anecdote, accept the positive reaction from her audience and then take a sip of water. By having a drink as soon as she finishes the punchline rather than waiting, the laughter would neatly cover her break and remove any awkwardness. These are tiny, nit-picky issues, but ones that Ballinger needs to resolve before taking the show up to Edinburgh.
A damn sight more entertaining and spontaneous than she gives herself credit for, Ballinger is fun to spend time with and has some wild stories to tell. Better Than Dying Alone is an hour of polite debauchery.
Better Than Dying Alone opened on 7th August and runs until 11th August 2018 at the Camden Comedy Club, as part of the Camden Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)