Jo Caulfield – Better the Devil You Know

Jo Caulfield – Better the Devil You Know

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Exeter Northcott Theatre, 10 November 2013

THE main thing Better the Devil You Know dangles before us is the slightly ludicrous nature of all male/female relationships, its central piece being the appraisal of her eccentric marriage – making devilish observations which everyone in the audience could relate to – before drastically changing comedic style in the second act, producing much hilarity.

Image credit: Exeter Northcott
Image credit: Exeter Northcott

I felt a little like a guinea pig at some points and, as the audience was relatively small, a lot of new material was tried out. Some of this completely flopped, in particular a couple of long anecdotes lacking strong punch lines. Yet, a few new jokes got bigger laughs than her tried and tested material. It was also nice that these new sets involved topics outside her normal remit.

Where the show was at its funniest, however, was in her witty observations about marital relationships. This is where the bulk of the laughs came from: she has a knack for letting men in on the joke despite telling it from a female perspective, something which can be very difficult to achieve. Although I did sharply inhale when Jo revealed that sometimes she asks her husband whether or not he’s noticed anything different about her – when nothing has changed! I most firmly feel for the man; this question is strewn with more traps and pitfalls than an evening talking civil rights with Putin.

These one-liners and devastatingly bitchy anecdotes made up the lion’s share of the laughs in the first act. It was only towards the end of the second act that any inkling of a change in style became detectable. Elegantly, all previous jokes came together in a crescendo of ridiculousness. Here all the previous threads intertwined in a scene which, oddly enough, took a deviation from the previous observational humour and simply descended into a farcical porn scene. In this way the show was very well made. Almost adhering to Chekhov’s Gun dramatic principle, previous jokes were referenced in the final scene – a nice touch. Yet, the delivery didn’t quite match the quality of the material – somehow lacking the infectious energy of some of her contemporaries.

It was a slightly meandering performance. Jo seemed to be exploring some new material – some went with a bang, some a fizzle – but the sudden change of style and coming together of jokes was a fantastic way to end her impressive show.

****

 

James Beaney

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