Review: Dirty Corset (Touring)

Thursday, 11th May 2023 at York Theatre Royal.


Billed as “a company of flea-bitten actors” who “try and fail to live up to their on-stage personas” in 1687, Bang Average Theatre’s Dirty Corset offers a loose but fun premise with early signs of the hygiene-averse brand of humour awaiting us. This is a tongue-in-cheek, gleefully bonkers and highly physical show, yet while it starts out strong with plenty of promise, it ultimately feels jumbled in its narrative, not just its comic characters, and I found myself left wanting for clarity.

The company (under direction of Helen Tennison) arrive on stage as a trio of bold and brazen inventions, peacocking proudly as they announce their appeal as talented actors here to entertain us. There’s easy comedy in this and the acting troupe are oddly likeable in their own singular ways: we have the sweet, amorous youngster (Susannah Scott); the comical Bottom-type egotist (Laurie Coldwell) and the actress wounded and discarded by lustful men (Chloe Darke). Their bickering and one-upmanship are engaging and they handle a decidedly random script well, giving their all to the antics of their on-stage characters as they partake in a series of sharp-elbowed exchanges and enthusiastic rutting.

Comedy fodder covers a range of bases: the all-important toilet humour, grossness and general smuttiness; funny little dances and an entertaining vagina-themed ditty. There are also some good running gags throughout, particularly with the physicality, which is the greatest strength of this piece – the wooden posturing with grimacing smiles being a highlight. Costume designs are fun too, offering striking full-face seventeenth century powdered faces and various versions of undergarments.

What lacks is a sense of clarity and cohesion. Yes, this show does call itself “a raucous, surreal comedy”, but I can’t piece together the purpose of glimpses of heartache amidst such madcap slapstick; if a weepy element was really necessary, surely it should have been given more investment and development than it gets here between bonkers gags. The decision to try to land both is jarring I think, not quite landing emotionally and undercutting the comedy of whichever gag follows next. And this extends to the final moments too, which almost feel imported from another show entirely, not belonging to the close of a weird and wired comedy. It just doesn’t feel like there’s enough holding everything together, and even though the physicality is strong, even those gags often feel like a random collection of comic moments rather than elements crafted to work together.

The chutzpah and bravery of Bang Average Theatre are all apparent here, but the show itself didn’t shine for me. What I’d really like to see sometime is this trio in a more cohesive piece.

Dirty Corset has now completed its Spring 2023 Tour.

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