Holly Burn: I Am Special



Underbelly, Med Quad, Edinburgh

Shirley Bassey is bellowing My Life as Holly Burn slinks onto the stage, clad in a red jumpsuit. She’s clutching a stuffed parrot and exudes enough confidence to light up the Royal Mile. Back in the 80s, growing up in Newcastle, she was told by just about everybody she knew that she was ‘special.’ But now it’s 2016 and she’s finding it difficult to admit that things haven’t worked out as well as she might have hoped. This show is essentially about the yawning chasm that lies between our childhood ambitions and what most of us have to settle for as grown ups.

Holly sings a bit of Barbara Streisand (very well, I might add) and she interacts effortlessly with her audience. I am dubbed ‘Spaghetti Phil’ (largely because of what I had to eat before attending the show) while three young girls off to one side of the performance space are adopted as Holly’s posse. There are some genuinely funny lines here. ‘What do you want to do with your life, Holly?’ ‘I want everything but I don’t want to do anything to get it. I just want to faff around until somebody notices me.’

Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

She cuts back and forth between scenes from her childhood and some of the outlandish fantasies she indulged in back then. An extended sequence that has her riding a scooter naked through Sienna is a highlight. Occasionally the piece loses its focus, and she has to work hard to get the audience back again, but she largely succeeds. It’s a diverting hour spent in her company and while it may not be the most memorable performance we’ve seen, it’s nonetheless enjoyable. Hearing Holly sing makes me wonder if that’s a part of the show she might want to develop more in the future.

I for one would be interested to see where she takes this next.

3.6 stars

(Spaghetti) Philip Caveney

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