KATE at the Soho Theatre
“A true tour de force and a must-see show.”
Kate Berlant is an excellent comic. The eponymously titled KATE is the second of her one-woman shows to be directed by fellow comedian Bo Burnham and explores the events in her life that have brought her to the London stage. Semi-autobiographical with a good helping of the surreal, Berlant becomes KATE, a young actress (with a devastating secret) who simply cannot cry on camera. The show is deeply ironic. Platitudes and parody abound – Berlant’s material is as smart as it is silly.
KATE laughs openly at the self-importance of the acting world. Before even entering the auditorium, graphics of Berlant are plastered on the walls of the theatre’s stairs. Berlant herself even sits outside the theatre space holding a large sign that reads ‘IGNORE ME’ whilst front of house staff wear t-shirts and hats branded with her name.
The show begins with a five-minute slideshow of quotes from Oscar Wilde, Stanislavski and other theatre greats next to professional photos and videos of Berlant pouting and her iMDb page. These opening slides are amusingly in the same typeface and colour scheme as the Royal National Theatre.
For the following 70 minutes, the audience is treated to snapshots of Berlant’s exaggerated life. Her birth (where she was first captured on film), her difficult family life as half-Spanish, half-Jewish (“They don’t even have a word for that!”), and her move to find fame and fortune in New York City (cue Frank Sinatra). Throughout, Berlant considers who she really is – her love for acting fuelled by a desire to escape her own reality.
Berlant’s character craves the camera. Positioned stage left, certain scenes – such as an audition – are livestreamed up close and personal on a large projector screen. Our star leans into clownery here, her face contorting impressively, as she mocks the acting differences between theatre and the silver screen.
Berlant breaks character numerous times, and it is never quite clear what is scripted and what is not. She giggles at her questionable British accent, expresses frustration at the one-second delay between her camera and the screen, and reruns scenes when she thinks she could do better. The ego of the actor is constantly lampooned – the show is set up as a display for an important Disney+ executive – and descends into angry chaos when the incompetent stagehand Isaac reveals that he has not shown up.
There are some excellent moments of audience interaction. Berlant – playing a seedy bar dweller who has met her character at a bar – shines a torch on an audience member and engages in fantastic nonsensical banter. Knowing looks to the audience and direct addresses are also peppered throughout. Even as the show seemingly falls apart, you know you are in safe hands.
Few props or set pieces are utilised. The screen backdrop displays in simple lettering the location – Porch, Apartment, Nightclub – and Berlant does the rest. She often uses excellent (and hilarious) movement to set the scene or speaks with off-stage or imagined characters to flesh out the space. A particular highlight is a scene of her ‘Irish’ mother (in fact from Santa Monica and an accent she prescribes to explore motherly emotions) rifling through imaginary drawers while cooking and cleaning at great speed.
KATE is very, very funny. It is gripping, clever and brilliantly self-referential. A true tour de force and a must-see show.
KATE at the Soho Theatre
Reviewed on 5th September 2023
by Flora Doble
Photography by Emilio Madrid
Previously reviewed at this venue: