Angela Barnes: Come As You Are

★★★★
comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 14 Aug 2015

To say that Angela Barnes’s second Fringe show packs a surprising emotional punch may be to spoil the surprise. For much of the first 20 minutes of this show we seem to be witnessing a fairly routine, observational set, albeit from a performer with better-than-average levels of stage presence and chutzpah.

Indeed, these qualities allow Barnes to carry some fairly trite jokes as she warms us up: she’s surprised to have been sunburnt in Edinburgh; she’s not keen on owning a kitten because “if I want shit in my kitchen I’ll do it myself.” The more personal material is funnier: Barnes says she is so self-consciously terrible at flirting that most of her attempts start with “I’m sorry,” and end with “Fuck you”.

It’s only about halfway through the set that these more personal stories start to coalesce into a theme. Barnes tells us about the time when, at the age of eight, some boys in her local playground let her know she was ugly. “A seed was planted” for her, as it is for us. This seed grows over the last half of the set into a bracingly honest examination of Barnes’ own relationship with her face, how the world perceives her, and how she rates herself.

The points are never hammered, and the jokes only get funnier as Barnes digs deeper into the psychology and politics of ‘ugliness’. Online and offline trolls get hilariously roasted, but so too do well-meaning but ham-fisted friends who try to tell her she's beautiful. Worthwhile but never worthy, this show goes well beyond the pat homily implied in the show title; it’s confessional standup that really earns its emotional moments, as well as its best laughs.