Vanity Bites Back
Helen Duff @ Tuxedo Cat – The Coffee Pot
7:15pm, Fri 20 Feb 2015
The small performance space atop The Coffee Pot has been transformed into a small TV studio, where Jill – played by Helen Duff with a gorgeously rounded British accent and dressed like a 50s cooking maven – greets each audience member with a biscuit and a kind word.
An aspiring TV cook, Jill informs the studio audience (and the viewers) that we’re going to be preparing a cheesecake; it’s not long before she’s circulating with the audience, trying to gee us up for the adventure we’re about to undertake. But there’s not a big crowd in this evening, and we’re usually pretty conservative audiences… so Duff has to work hard to get any audience engagement.
(Of course, the crowd might have been a bit more enthused had the biscuits been something other than Granita biscuits… I mean, we’ve got standards here! Granitas simply aren’t offered to people you want to keep as friends!)
Jill’s cooking style is… unorthodox, as necessitated by the lack of kitchenware provided by her unseen – but oft frustratingly conversed with – producer, Glen. You sense that not everything is right with Jill when she beats the shit out of the remaining Granitas with a frying pan for the cheesecake crust; her actions are bold and comical, yes, but there’s a violence of desperation in there, too.
Vanity Bites Back has a couple of threads running throughout, with Jill throwing linked narrative asides to the audience during prep and “ad breaks”. There’s also recurring comments to the audience, which aren’t always as sweet and cheerful as Duff’s demeanour would suggest; but despite its threat, the audience abuse isn’t there to humiliate us… it’s there for
Jill Duff to open up herself. For as the show goes on, the side narratives coalesce into a solitary, heartbreaking expose of her own life… it’s an incredibly potent sting in the tail of this performance.
I really, really loved Vanity Bites Back. I was just cruising along, enjoying the show that I thought was there, but when The Heavy Stuff kicked in? Oh man, that was fabulous. Great writing, a wonderful hostess, and an emotional rollercoaster. Kudos!
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 20, 2015