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Still on the Shelf: Shelf Life: Lotta Quizeen’s ABC of Home Management at Battersea Arts Centre

Repost: with One Stop Arts closing, I migrated this review here.

Katie Richardson’s Lotta Quizeen is a charming pastiche of several female TV cooking show presenters. Shelf Life features some fun ribald interactive party games but ultimately struggles to keep its energy up. At the Battersea Arts Centre.

Before entering Lotta Quizeen’s Guide to Managing the Modern Home we are all asked to don nametags. Lotta, in a perfectly coiffed blonde wig and black “New Look”-style dress (that’s Christian Dior’s 1947 collection, dear reader, not the contemporary High Street shop), greets us individually with a plate full of candies as we make our way to round cafe tables, the consummate hostess.

The show takes the form of a sort of 1950s-style cocktail party with audience-participation fun and games interspersed with monologues about Lotta’s life, including her relationship with her stalwart husband Johnnie and her ambitious sister Sharon. At intervals Lotta sings verses of I Am a Little Wife, a slightly reimagined version of I Had a Little Hen that stresses the ultimate emptiness of striving to be a domestic goddess.

Katie Richardson creates a charming and very recognisable figure in Lotta, imbuing her with shades of Nigella Lawson, Fanny Craddock, and just a touch of Dame Edna’s straight-faced and straitlaced naughtiness. The show’s strength lies in Richardson’s warmth and ability to draw the audience in. The two tech assistants are also very much part of the show, providing adroit foils for Lotta to berate, praise, or mock as the atmosphere suits her.

Shelf Life struggles to build the raucous momentum it seems to be seeking with the audience-participation games and activities. With a group of mates or at a party of close friends, Richardson’s wit and energy must sparkle as she gently steers people into embarrassing situations. Among a group of strangers all eager to be on their best behaviour, the games lose some oomph.

The games are all in relation to Lotta’s fabled Guide to Managing the Modern Home, but there isn’t a clear rhythm between them, Lotta’s personal monologues, and her snatches of song. The obvious logic would be to feature a game every time Lotta refers to a tip from the Guide and to structure them in an order related to the “Perfect Menu” featured in the Guide (handily doubling as the playbill), interspersing periods of audience activity with the stillness of the monologues. But there are some speeches about the Guide that have no corresponding games and references to the Guide seem to be structured in no particular order. There are definitely funny moments, but they are too loosely stitched together to give a satisfying sense of progression through the show.

During this performance Richardson loses her place a couple of times, on one occasion asking for a look at the script. While witty in moments, it’s difficult for the show to recover momentum from these interruptions. I was left feeling that if you can’t even remember your own story, it will be difficult for others to remain invested in it. Lotta as a character is very entertaining, but I felt she would be much better suited as a shorter recurring sketch in a variety show rather than carrying the evening on her own.

Originally reviewed for One Stop Arts on 3 August 2013.

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