Ursula Burns: Get Divorced and Join the Circus @ The Stand

Review by Cayley James | 22 Aug 2014
  • Ursula Burns: Get Divorced and Join the Circus

In the quiet Fringe venue of The Stand V early last Saturday afternoon, Ursula Burns takes the stage and launches into a gorgeous folk song complete with harp looping and her ethereal voice. The two ladies sitting next to me ask one another, not all that quietly: “Is this a comedy show? Are these going to be funny songs?” 

Their questions will soon be answered. As Burns closes out her first number there’s a round of polite applause and she announces: “You’ve come to a harp recital… at lunchtime!” The multitalented Burns may be a self-taught harpist, but her off-kilter view of the world is endearing.

Some songs are stronger than others but she carries them off with aplomb. Even when she stumbles with lyrics (she's dyslexic), she’ll take a tangent and take the show in a completely different and charming new direction. Like how, in explaining her dyslexia, she notes how easy it is as a gigging harpist to mix up the wedding march and the funeral dirge. She has a vaudevillian, music hall energy – fusing natural comedic timing, a knack for storytelling and incredible musical talent into one enchanting cocktail.

There’s an old world quality to her show but despite its silliness it’s a great showcase for her talents, carried off by the charm and confidence of a veteran performer. Where a younger comic may be put off or intimidated by the small, slightly reserved crowd of a Saturday afternoon, Burns sees it as a plus. She engages in chat and makes the show feel like an intimate salon (the chandelier hanging over the stage helps a bit), with Yeats poetry read among humour songs about running away to the circus and a song narrated by a fretful fetus who doesn’t want to be born into 1970s Belfast.

Her set suffers from being scheduled at 12.30 in the afternoon. With such a strong cabaret feel, Burns could fit comfortably into a late night slot with aplomb – that being said, it’s no fault of her own, and she works very well with what she’s got. Although the word quirky is oversused, it is appropriate: Ursula Burns is a quirky and endearing performer, a pleasant surprise at Fringe 2014.

Ursula Burns: Get Divorced and Join the Circus @ The Stand, 1-24 August, 12.30 pm, £8