In our grizzled and jaded comedy reviewing opinion – we have sat in dark rooms with student troupes; we have drunk room temperature beer while watching actors; we have suffered for our art – there are two kinds of comic stage presence. There is the nervous and cardigan-wearing, who come out stooped and leave sweating; and there is the confident and magnetic, who stride on stage as though they own it. “Which one of those two is left-field antipodean comedian Claudia O’Doherty, then?” you ask. “Which of those two is she?” Good question. Answer: neither.
Claudia O’Doherty’s stage presence is… ‘deliberately bewildered’. There is something of the thousand yard about her stare. There is something puppyish about her enthusiasm. It’s charming, and, for the first half of the show, that is enough to carry the performance, as she muses on comedy and being hella poor and not telling her parents she was coming to Britain, and stuff like that.
But there aren’t any big laughs, which, by the end of the Pioneer, starts to make the whole thing sag. We’ve seen O’Doherty in a more intimate setting, where she killed – the whole audience was her friend, and her sort of children’s-TV-presenter-gone-hauntingly-wrong brand of wackiness completely worked – but the Soho Theatre (and the hour-long set that makes up Pioneer) seemed a bit too big for her, a little too stuffy a setting, a bit too much time to fill.
O’Doherty’s stage charm really has to be seen, but it’s possible Pioneer is not the best way to see it. Her ideas are playful and creative – she performs in front of, on top of and between a 3D-style projector, which is used sparingly and well – but there aren’t quite enough of them to hold up an hour of comic performance. O’Doherty is an wonderful performer, but Pioneer falls just short.
Claudia O’Doherty: Pioneer is on at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street W1, until 5 October. Tickets £10-£17.50. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary review ticket.