When Elf Lyons steps onto the modest stage of the Producers Garden in a parrot costume and her knickers and begins shouting in Franglaise (well, speaking assertively, she's not an aggressive comedian), you know you're in for something very out of the ordinary. Lyons' one-woman tribute to Swan Lake is almost indescribable (in the best kind of way), and really needs to be seen to be believed. But, this is a review, and so I suppose I shall have to try!
Using Tchaikovsky's ballet as her unusual subject matter, Lyon's leads us through each act of Swan Lake in an hour of chaotic comedy. There's Odette and Siegfried, of course, plus the evil Baron von Rothbart, imagined via a range of very silly props and costumes, including shark heads and pool tubes. These are played out with all the deadpan seriousness one would expect of a proper intellectual French artiste, which, contrasted against her zany costumes, manic energy, and terrible accent, creates brilliant comedic fodder. Occasionally, she breaks out of character, giving the audience a cheeky, wide-eyed grin and the odd wink and nudge.
Lyons' physicality is boundlessly energetic, and her enthusiasm pours from the stage. She's long-limbed and ungainly, which works perfectly to satirise the physiques of the 'femmes' and 'hommes' of le ballet. You can't take your eyes off her as she leaps and stumbles across the stage. There is the odd sexy scene — "I'm the woman your mother warned you about", she says, miming a cigarette and an air of indifference – but Lyons herself seems to be daring her audience to objectify her. As a woman clown, she says, you can't just be silly. You have to be political; you have to multitask. It's a fair point, and though while for the most part Lyons evokes pure absurdity, there is an undercurrent of commentary. It does make one wonder if women can ever really just be clowns, or if the act of female clowning itself so inherently subversive (the female body can be a tool for comedy!?) that audiences expect it to be justified by some kind of feminist statement. But it's a balance that works, and she uses both satire and physical comedy to her full advantage.
I was crying from laughter throughout most of the show and couldn't stop smiling for a long while after. And so, a good ab workout, if nothing else, is an excellent reason to head to the Producer's Garden. Completely absurd, wonderfully hilarious, and utterly enchanting, Elf Lyons is one undoubtedly of the funniest women in comedy, and an absolute must see at this year's Fringe.