Harriet Dyer is accidentally alternative. She doesn’t mean to be, she assures us, but her “default setting is just a bit too weird”. And in a circuit dominated by identical middle-age blokes making identical observation comedy, it’s hardly a surprise that a woman in possession of gremlin-y voices, erratic tangents, tropical print shirts and fantastical stories is considered a bit of a curveball.
Dyer is absolutely worth watching
Dyer’s format is certainly unconventional. Experiencing her giggly, rambling style of storytelling is akin to watching your best mate chat nervously to the bloke she fancies. This isn’t just thanks to the groans and gurns that pepper her speech, or because the stories that unstoppably spill from her mouth are always beautifully, brilliantly weird, but because she is so endearing that you can’t help but wish she was your best friend. Dyer exists in a joyful equilibrium, at the point where self-depreciation and a total embracement of oddness meet in utterly likeable harmony. This likability sustains her through the weaker moments of her set, which unfortunately occur intermittently as a natural consequence of her confusing and sometimes uncertain style of delivery.
Indeed, Dyer is generally a bit of risk. Her greatest assets teeter dangerously into being the biggest turn-offs of her set. Her gurning expressions defy the laws of nature and, when they pepper her wildly imaginative tales, are hilarious; but they have a habit of disrupting important preambles without any reason, throwing the audience as well as the performer. The same goes for her silly voices, which voice her mid-set self-doubts with devilish aplomb (and also make several Coldplay renditions beer-snortingly funny), but which can run away with themselves. Dyer’s easy distractibility is charming — but the ad libs and audience interaction just isn’t as consistently good as the more straightforward set. The lack of structure is not inherently a problem, it’s just that Dyer is so damn good when she’s on a roll. Careering confidently from a wonderful extended gag about a childhood costume (its Bob Marley, in case you weren’t intrigued enough) to the unlikeliest of comic fountains, a 10 minute tale about crabbing, and she is excellent. Not to mention the gorgeous, interwoven memories of her mum, whose death she discusses with an highly intelligent mix of matter-of-fact comedy and tender sadness. Dyer may not be mainstream, but when she hits her stride she is silly, smart and sentimental all at once.
Dyer is absolutely worth watching — both at the Fringe this year, and more generally as a rising star set to shake-up the boring, blokey comedy world with her sparkling stories and unstoppable openness. I just hope it's less of the incongruent eruption ‘90s anthems, and more of the bittersweet stories in future, please.