Juliette Burton: Look at Me is not entirely what I would call a comedy. Certainly there are jokes in there, mostly consisting of light audience banter and innuendo of the ‘ex-boyfriend’ variety. The humour is delivered in a tight, nervous fashion - a little as if read from a script - and never elicits more than patchy laughter. For an average comedy, this would be disastrous, and one would barely expect the show to last the run. But this is not an average comedy, and gags are not the point. Like the jokes in a sermon or a group therapy session, they are the smooth coating which makes the pill easier to swallow.
This is an uplifting show rather than a funny one and a valuable addition to the Fringe experience.
There is an element of deception to the whole show, from the listing in the comedy section and the cheerful posters to Burton’s pink dress, bright makeup and taut smile. She begins the show with a time-lapse video of her own makeover and magazine shoot, then steps out and asks the audience the question implicit in her title: “What do you see?” While it is clear from the start that she is concerned with the question of appearances, it is not immediately apparent quite how concerned she is.
Burton has experienced anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and an overeating disorder. She has gone from a size four to a size 20 and returned to a body which she describes as ‘perfectly imperfect’ and with which she may never be happy. Tanya, the internalised magazine-model hyper-critic with whom she lives – given voice in this show through an amplifier in the blackouts – may never go away. The centrepiece of the show is a series of entertaining and thought-provoking videos, detailing the results of her recent experiments in image alteration, intercut with a number of fascinating interviews with others who have cause to think hard about the question of image. Hers is in many ways a feminist message, but her fear is not only for women. Her contention is that we are all beautiful, and should treat each other as such.
Perhaps the comedy would be stronger and the delivery more slick if she had hired another actress to perform for her, but this would be to rob the show of both its power and its very content: the message of someone who has personally experienced the darkness she is trying to fight. This is an uplifting show rather than a funny one and a valuable addition to the Fringe experience. It is entertainment with a real social purpose and this deserves recognition.It may seem at times that too many people are raging against our society’s obsession with image, telling us to love one another as people and not as the images of people. Yet since the problem persists we can hardly ignore them, especially when they are as articulate and persuasive as this. Whether or not Burton sweetens the pill to our taste, it is medicine we really ought to take.