views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Half a Can of Worms
RADA Studios
17th June 2014


Deborah Frances-White

Photography supplied by Chloé Nelkin Consulting

Sometimes in life, there are just no half-measures. No one knows this better than professional funny woman Deborah Frances-White, who was adopted as a newborn. Only a few years ago, curiosity got the better of her and she decided to find out more about her birth family. Not necessarily to meet any of them, or become in any way involved in their lives on a day-to-day basis, but as she explains in her new EdFringe show, you can't open half a can of worms. Once the can is open, everything comes wriggling out.

Over the course of 75 minutes, Frances-White relates her true story, telling us how she traced her birth family by - okay, there's no way to dress this up - essentially stalking them on the internet. No one in the audience reacts to this revelation with shock, let's face it, we've all Googled and been Googled before. What is perhaps surprising is just how successful Frances-White has been in her amateur PI work.

Initially the pace is quite slow and it feels more factual than funny, but when Frances-White gets into her stride, the laughs come and keep on coming. Normally quite mild-mannered, she's at her most hilarious when she's at her most neurotic, shrieking and talking far too quickly, mocking her own natural tendency to overanalyse the facts and how her mind constantly races ahead and seeks out the most incredible of conclusions.

Frances-White is an experienced storyteller and draws us in with ease - she may not always have us laughing until our sides hurt, but she does have us hanging onto her every word, desperate to know the next twist and turn. Her material is honest, compelling and frequently very moving indeed. For a comedy show, Half a Can of Worms is unexpectedly emotional.

The comedienne first started rummaging around her roots back in 2012, but when she describes ringing up her blood relatives for the first time, it feels like we're there with her in the original moment. Even if you're not (knowingly) adopted, it's impossible not to connect with the myriad of emotions which she shares - hope, excitement, fear, longing - never bitterness though, Frances-White clearly comes across as someone who has made her peace with her lot. The worry is often that a show with such a personal basis is going to turn out to be a piece of therapy, but there's no hint of anger.

The set is currently too long for Edinburgh, but Frances-White acknowledges this and is trying to cut down her material. There is some slack at the start which could be tightened - she spends just a bit too much time trying to give us enough background - but the rest of the show is pretty slick already. Sometimes with works-in-progress, it can take a leap of faith to imagine the final version, but this is very nearly there.

There are over a thousand comedy listings in this year's EdFringe, so if you want a bog standard piece of stand up, you'll be (as ever) spoilt for choice. What Frances-White is offering at the Pleasance Dome is far more unusual and therefore pleasingly refreshing. She veers away from traditional comedy and more into storytelling, captivating her audience and making sure everyone leaves the room on a high.

Half a Can of Worms will leave you feeling entertained, moved and with a sudden urge to change all your Facebook privacy settings, lest you one day be called up by a stranger and interrogated about the shape of your eyebrows. There are a few more previews in London before Frances-White heads up north, and even in its unfinished state, her show is definitely worth seeing. It's a captivating and quirky show which is only going to get funnier as she makes her last revisions.

Half a Can of Worms ran in London from 9th June to 8th July 2014 at RADA Studios. It ran from 1st to 25th August 2014 at the Pleasance Dome, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Goodge Street (Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts