As we enter the venue, Chelsea Birkby is waiting at the entrance with a tray of glasses of water for us because it can get pretty hot inside the room. It’s a nice thing to do. The seating is made up of church pews. It’s a nice setting. Early ‘00s tunes are playing (Nickelback and OPM – so ten-year-old James is in heaven). It’s a nice thing to hear. Birkby’s leaflet states that her hour is “a stand-up show about what it is to be nice”. In this regard, the show succeeds. However, I was left wanting more than just “nice”.
Chelsea Birkby has a lot of potential
Birkby comes on to the stage and, surprisingly, shatters expectations by saying that she doesn’t want to be nice anymore and is trying to be a bit more of a bad girl, a joke she openly admits would be a bit funnier if this re-brand didn’t happen at her debut show. It’s a strange start, but as we move into the opening material surrounding the deconstruction of ‘00s pop-rock, Birkby finds her feet and settles in to her routine. I’m a fan of any type of nostalgia material so I was engaged throughout and the observations were smart and witty. Sections from her diary that she wrote aged seven were also brilliantly captured and turned into routines that I’m sure everyone could relate to in some sense, myself included.
Birkby shines when it comes to one-liners and quick gags. There were several lines that I enjoyed immensely (my favourite being about the artist Pitbull) and it’s apparent why she’s written for Mock The Week and Radio 4. I found that audience interactions were slightly hit and miss. Banter with a latecomer was professionally handled, but others, including a front row interaction with someone drinking Diet Coke went on for a bit too long. However, with more boisterous interactions, Birkby was more than capable of getting the show back on the right track.
I found the show as a whole a little clunky in parts. For me, the whole theme of “being nice” seemed a little shoehorned in. I don’t think there was enough of it throughout the set. In the final twenty minutes of the act, Birkby moves on to some genuinely interesting material regarding mental health and therapy. Birkby recalls an incident that happens to her which makes her think about herself and her “niceness”. It’s an emotional incident that encompasses the entire theme, enough that I thought this would be the final routine of the act. However, she quickly moves on to other material and doesn’t spend enough time letting the audience feel the full weight of that story. This, unfortunately, quickly weakens the impact of the incident and her thoughts about “niceness” become inconsequential. If the final twenty minutes of the show are restructured, I feel she would have a very strong final act.
As I said in the beginning of this review, this is a nice show. However, I know Chelsea Birkby has a lot of potential. It’s clear in her status as multi-competition finalist. With a little work, I think a brilliant career awaits.