Happy Birthday Without You

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2015

Violet Fox isn’t just an artist. She’s an award-winning live and visual spoken word vegan solo artist and occasional collaborator. And she’s here to be real. She’s here to tell us the truth. She’s here to share her—cue dramatic lights—struggle.

Violet is, thankfully, the fictional creation of Sonia Jalaly, who’s a pretty impressive artist herself. Straddling theatre and stand-up, Happy Birthday Without You is a riotous journey through Violet’s traumatic birthdays past, from burst balloons to bumps on the head. In the process, it skewers every live art trope in the book, chipping wittily away at our obsession with autobiography. Violet has it all: a complicated relationship with her mother, a childhood bathed in tears, a durational work in progress.

This relentless assault on autobiographical performance art could quickly wear thin, but Jalaly’s charisma and untiring energy keep it powering on with barely a pause for breath between laughs. As a performer, she’s blessed with brilliant comic timing, an elastically expressive face and a formidable arsenal of impressions, switching mid-song from Marilyn Monroe to Judy Garland to Julie Andrews. The writing, meanwhile, is hilarious and self-aware, carefully crafted to play to Jalaly’s many strengths.

And the intimate circular space of Paines Plough’s Roundabout auditorium suits it perfectly, creating a birthday bash to which we’re all invited – complete with balloons, cakes and party poppers. The show might be about birthdays gone wrong, but Jalaly throws one hell of a party.