Harriet Braine @ Gilded Balloon, Tolbooth Market

Harriet Braine's Les Admirables is a disappointingly loose hour from a reliably likeable talent

Review by Charlie Ralph | 16 Aug 2019
  • Harriet Braine

If you've ever wanted to learn about Hedy Lamarr's contributions to the technological developments of allied powers during World War II, this is the semi-autobiographical musical comedy hour for you. Harriet Braine has started to make a career out of mining impossibly niche material for punchlines, often to great success. With impeccable comic timing and ramshackle narrative structure, she pulls together disparate elements from history and art to craft tight sets of musical comedy.

While this hour undoubtedly has niche appeal, it fails where Braine has succeeded previously: cajoling the audience into being fascinated by what they previously didn't know. There is simply so much disparate material in Les Admirables that none of it feels connected despite the strong themes that supposedly tie them together (famous, forgotten women of history). The addition of an extra narrative strand on Harriet's student acting CV and multiple references to the musical Cats in the opening that never really pay off lead to a show that feels like a messy collation of moving parts attempting to pass itself off as a tightly-constructed hour. 

The main casualty of this is that the "forgotten women of history" that make up the show's backbone only get around three or four minutes each, crammed among anecdotes of musical theatre gone wrong and imaginary stories about her scientist grandmothers. With any one of these elements making up the core of the show it would work very well, but throwing them all together leaves very little room to breathe.

Harriet Braine: Les Admirables, Gilded Balloon @ Old Tolbooth Market (Top), until 25th Aug, 6pm, £6/PWYW