views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Leicester Square Theatre
3rd April 2015


Jo Burke

Photography provided by Jo Burke

Don't judge a book by its cover, or for that matter, a standup by her hazmat suit. Despite a slightly bizarre entrance, Jo Burke is not a scary comedian - she's not the kind who is responsible for doling out lifelong fears of the front row, rather she's warm and likeable. If you prefer your comedy on the safe side, you could do worse than to spend an hour with Burke. I mean, sure, there's always the risk of an unexpected poo dash from the stage, but she's not going to insult you and yours and make you weep in the toilets afterwards. Possibly because she needs that cubicle to be empty, just in case. But the point is, she's very nice and really funny with it.

This is Burke's first non-character based gig and, as far as making her debut in her own right goes, iScream is decent fare. Many are guilty of not putting enough of themselves into their writing but, if anything, Burke goes the other way and this can sometimes verge on the uncomfortable. We don't mind laughing at an embarrassing incident, especially if Burke is giggling too, yet when she lets us glimpse her very personal, very real grief, it's harder to find the humour in that. Despite these occasional flashes of too much, it's a fun show in which Burke does genuinely win over her audience.

Throughout the show, Burke maintains a good balance between deliberately crazy and actually crazy, with an amiable personality and growl reminiscent of Katherine Parkinson as Jen from the IT Crowd. This demeanour helps keep a little distance between what actually happened to Burke and what she's telling us, still she does drop her guard from time to time.

Initially we expect a dissection of The Show That Goes Wrong, with iScream shaping up to be a post-mortem of Burke's summer in Edinburgh last year. People can and do successfully write comedy gigs based on past failures: Peter Michael Marino's Desperately Seeking the Exit is all about that on a grand scale. However, Burke quickly moves from tales of the festival to a Q&A session with "celebrity guests", which is a somewhat contrived framing device, and then onto an unexpected finish involving seizing the day. You're always enjoying yourself, but there are only ideas and tangents, lots of tangents - tightening up the writing with one clearer theme would greatly improve the show. Burke as an underdog is endearing, and making this the emphasis would give more needed structure.

Burke keeps to time, which is always encouraging for an EdFringe preview, yet this time isn't evenly spent, with some bits dragging and others glossed over, stretching out the wrong parts. Her introduction feels longer than it actually is, and whilst her closing song is a good-natured way to round off the night, it's generally better to stick to only one verse and one chorus to avoid losing any of the audience's energy. And we don't hear enough about Burke's dreadful Fringe experience, leading us to wonder if secretly she actually had quite a good time, despite the mix up with the flyers.

There are a few tweaks required, but that's the whole point of a preview: it's good, but not quite ready yet. From what Burke overshared with us all, she's nothing if not determined, so I fully expect the finished piece to be smoother than this. Then iScream would be something definitely worth shouting about.

iScream ran on 3rd April 2015 at the Leicester Square Theatre. Jo Burke plans to take the show to the Brighton Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe later in 2015.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

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