[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)
Bright Lights is Léonie Kate Higgins’s one-woman show; the anti-Fame story, told from the perspective of someone with dreams, but no tangible chance, of becoming famous.
It begins with a simple-but-effective device: the audience is a trainee, spending the day observing secretary Léonie’s last day before she leaves for (un)certain fame and fortune.
This strategy ensures laughs; arriving late for instance, though not encouraged, is allowed. This grants Léonie the opportunity to chide latecomers for her – and our – amusement. She thinks on her feet too; the showing I attended was interrupted multiple times by latecomers, each receiving a unique and witty chastising. Embarrassing if it’s at your expense, I’d imagine, but hilarious for everyone who arrives on time. Possibly Léonie sees it as an outlet for venting at rude audience members, putting them on the spot. One intruder blushed as infa-red as the spotlight, but he still sat down to enjoy the rest of the show.
Whereas moments of improvisation exhibit raw wit, the sophisticated monologues indicate mature comic talent. From an elaborate exposition of office politics to a mimed retch as she recalls a man who once lecherously bought all the women in the office t-shirts which read “weapons of mass distraction”, Léonie’s delivery is as considered as her writing.
After some time spent amusingly establishing the office setting, we launch into an unsettling daydream-sequence (or is it a forecast?) of Léonie’s future in the fabled “biz”. She goes from making tea at the office, to making tea for the mum of her shifty producer Kenny. Kenny’s mum’s house in Eastbourne conveniently doubles as the recording studio.
Much of the comedy derives from these naïve monologues from a tragically star-gazing, eternal optimist, destined to have her dreams smashed. Blindly hopeful lines such as “London’s not where it’s at anymore” when justifying why Kenny is moving her to Eastbourne, convey a scepticism shared between writer and audience, but not realised by the protagonist. As tragic as the optimistic-but-doomed star’s plight is, her dreams are backed up by genuine musical talent. As well as demonstrating vocal range she mixes from the record button on her office-desk telephone which range from girl-band ensemble to dinner at the never-ambient Pizza Express. Like Sóley, but funny.
The title is more than a reference to aspirational glitz and glamour. As Léonie gathers animated momentum, so the red, yellow and white spotlights intensify, framing her in a coloured hue as her fantasies grow more vivid, yet conversely less realistic.
The rest of the humour is pointed at targets like voice-warbling (even while mockingly imitating this, Léonie’s singing is still outstanding). That kind of Mariah Carey, “bit more… tingly, y’know” kind of noise perpetually plaguing TV-talent contests, another target. A potential manager, “David Fishy, but you can call me Dave Fish”, is an obvious Simon Cowell figure whose disagreements with Léonie threaten to condemn her to Steve Brookstein-realms of obscurity, from where the office’s “chippy-Fridays” and karaoke at the bar after work look alluringly comfortable.
For all Léonie’s multiple talents, the play does have shortcomings. The 12 o’clock lunch sequence grates as the gag is stretched to an awkward death. But those shortcomings are part and parcel of the rawness and originality which feed its many triumphs.
Bright Lights is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.