Ever since Phoebe Waller-Bridge wowed the Edinburgh Festival in 2013 with ‘Fleabag’, a litany of semi-autobiographical dark comedies have trod the same path in the hope of emulating her success. Selina Helliwell has the latest hopeful incarnation of this confessional oeuvre, bringing ‘the Formidable Lizzie Boone’ to the Anthony Burgess Foundation for a two-night residency, beginning on 24th September.
Helliwell appears alone onstage throughout the hour-long performance, her only support being a number of recorded voice artists playing the various characters that flit in and out of the narrative she unfolds. As Lizzie Boone, she unburdens herself to an unseen therapist (Marie) and we move through the chronology of her sad childhood and adolescence, chronicling broken relationships with wearisome predictability. She inevitably is drawn to ‘bad boys’ who treat her poorly, whilst rejecting Robin, the only decent man in her life, on spurious grounds. This ‘personal journey to self-worth’ is utilised to explore the tropes of body image in a social media age, bullying and the scars that abuse can cause in forming and maintaining relationships.
As worthy as these aims are, the show felt formulaic in both structure and content, with no insight into why we should choose to spend time listening to a recitation of her relationship issues, without any real comedic or serious insight. It fell between two stools as an evening’s entertainment, being neither funny enough to be a comedy, nor hard hitting enough to be revelatory. The introduction of a burlesque segment into the show felt out of place, if it was an attempt to illustrate the stripping away of the layers of Lizzies psyche, it failed as pure burlesque it was a damp squib.
I have no doubt that Helliwell found the writing and performance of this piece a cathartic exercise during the long months of lockdown, I fear she needs to decide who she wants Lizzie Boone to be, if it isn’t to be seen as a just a pale imitation of more illustrious predecessors.
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 24 September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★