In the middle of the most recent spells of uncharacteristically Scottish heat when I perhaps would’ve been better off sunning myself on the Costa Del Forth. I instead found myself crammed into a tight, hot sweaty room at the top of The Counting House in Newington, perched on the end of a row of classroom chairs, staring at a layer of black fabric, whilst fanning myself with a leaflet for a different nonspecific show, all the while wondering if any of this was worth it.
The show was Cordelia Butters Investigates, part of the Pay What You Can Scheme that many venues are putting on, where you can go see a bit of light afternoon performance for little to no money – no pressure on the part of anyone, basically.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Cordelia Butters Investigates, (a title which does eventually justify itself, if not quite enough to counteract the cringing reactions it induced when I told others what I was off to see), is the secret crown jewel of the Fringe, though I don’t think lead performer Sarah Kempton is under any illusions on that front either, to be honest. What I do think CBI (shortening from hereafter for efficiency) achieves is exactly what it was supposed to; tight, serviceable fun.
The general thrust of CBI is that we are briefly privy to the colourful world of a madcap true crime fanatic making a last stab at fame with her new podcast attempting to clear the name of a well-spoken lothario from a small English town. The comedy comes from Kempton’s committed performance, some well-written vocal skits played out from her voice recorder, and the little asides with her sidekick/friend/antagonist that are shared where Kempton breaks character and accent, adding a much-needed second layer to the proceedings.
The world Kempton creates isn’t always easy to buy into, teetering dangerously on the line between zany and ridiculous, which is of course the testing portion of a one-woman show – the lead performer really having to dedicate themselves so we can envision the world as they see it – a task which is mostly achieved, I will say.
As the plot progresses, we get all the familiar beats of quiet introspection and witty asides that have come to colour comedic texts lately but honestly, as much as it might be derivative, it achieves all it sets out to, with a few nice ‘a-ha’ moments and a compelling enough commentary on our society’s obsession with narrative form in general. If you have the time, go check it out, just maybe wait till the weather calms down a bit.
Go see Cordelia Butters Investigates at Laughing Horse @ The Counting House from August 8th-18th (14+).
Image credit: Sarah Kempton of Cordelia Butters Investigates, provided to The Student as a press image.