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28 October 2014

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Going solo - 10.07.02
Geraldine McNulty as Betty
Geraldine McNulty in the 'darkly comic' one-character show Betty
spacer Our critic Mark Shenton on the virtues and virtuosity of the solo show...

Get talking! Seen something you loved or loathed in the theatre? Give us your views at:

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Where Have They Been?

Humble Boy
Blood Brothers

The Constant Wife
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The Vagina Monologues
We Will Rock You
Up for Grabs
Bombay Dreams


What do comic actress Geraldine McNulty, playwright David Hare and occasional BBC London 94.9FM presenter and cabaret singer/comedian Jackie Clune have in common?

All are currently to be found gracing London stages in one-person shows.

Kathy BurkeMcNulty is playing the title role of Betty, described as a ‘darkly comic’ new play by Karen McLachlan and directed by Kathy Burke (pictured), which has just opened at the Vaudeville.

Hare is about to reprise his theatrical response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Via Dolorosa, at the Duchess, first produced under the auspices of the Royal Court at the Duke of York’s.

And Clune is starring in Tim Fountain’s Julie Burchill Is Away, just finishing its run at Soho Theatre on 13 July.

A veritable avalanche

Meanwhile, next month’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival promises a veritable avalanche of one-person shows, on subjects as diverse as tributes to George Orwell and explorations of child sex abuse.

There are lots of reasons why one-person shows are so popular, but it often boils down to two things: economics and ego.

With a cast of one, your wage bill is at its absolute minimum; and there’s also no one else to take the limelight, a place that actors like being in because (it goes without saying) they wouldn’t be onstage otherwise!

Perils and pleasures

Jackie Clune and director Jonathon Lloyd

Jackie Clune comments on the perils as well as the pleasures of going it alone:

“It’s lonely, there’s nobody to chat to in the dressing room and there’s nobody else to take the flak. The pressure is all on me and sometimes it’s too much. It can lead you into all sorts of terrors. But when it’s good and the audience applauds, I know they’re clapping for me and no one else.”


Some one-person shows, like David Hare’s, are born of an urgent and personal need to say something. Or to celebrate a particular personality, like Clune’s current incarnation as newspaper columnist Julie Burchill.

Sometimes something begins as a one-person show, but grows into something else. Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues – which she culled from over 200 interviews with women and originally performed solo – has now become a show whose speeches are distributed amongst a changing rota of three celebrity performers.

But ultimately, if it succeeds, the solo show isn’t so solo after all: not because it becomes part of something else like this, but because the audience becomes a part of it, too.

That’s the true test of the virtue – and virtuosity – of the solo show.

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