Camden Fringe Festival 2021

Review: Lady Ilaria’s Drawers, Hen & Chickens, Camden Fringe

In America, there’s the idea of being from the wrong side of the tracks. You still get a feel of this, though it’s now an automobile nation – drive over the railroad in many an American town and you find yourself moving from the haves to the have-nots.

In Lady Ilaria’s world, just like Britain generally, class is a bit more granular. At 6 ¾ years old, with a terrifying 3 year old sibling in tow, she knows she’s not as poor as the kids who use old mattressses for trampolines, but she also will never truly fit in with people whose gardens are so big they’re used for the village fete. 

With her brash Scottish mother and deadbeat Italian dad, she’s somewhere in the middle, observing and absorbing all, ready to turn the vividity of childhood into an hour-long comedy monologue a quarter of a decade later.

Owning the stage in a sparkly tiara, and with eponymous drawers full of illustrative props, Ilaria Passeri has a Bennettian eye for funny detail. From third-best bubblegum brands to guinea pigs buried in Kwik Save bags, the specificity is the charm.

Her mimicry of her larger than life, force of nature mother and struggling northern children’s entertainers is hilarious, but my favourite parts of this show is when she’s herself: observing, jumping to the wrong conclusions as children are wont to do, and building tiny incidents into full-blown moral crises, as children are also wont to do.

The rhythm of Passeri’s isn’t quite stand up, but could almost be developed into that, such are the quality of the observations. I suspect – I could be wrong – that this is a tricky tightrope to teeter along, between making the audience laugh and making the audience invested.

The second half of the show, where we see Passeri in adulthood but still seeing things through Lady Illaria’s eyes, is slightly less successful. I enjoyed child Illaria’s wide-eyed approximation of what a grown up would buy at a shop – TWO CARROTS AND A BIN BAG – but the narrative could have been stronger. 

While I loved grown-up Illaria exuding such trust that strangers ask her to help them choose a conservatory, and a gross-out bus travel tale that raises philosophical questions about reusable cups, I wanted to know more about her beyond her interactions with these random characters. We get a note of this when, as a child, she realises drama might help her with the important business of lying, but I wanted a clearer resolution. Though, of course: perhaps there simply isn’t one yet.

Also, I’d loved more on the class aspect. Passeri’s character claims she feels comfortable in both worlds; whereas I was wondering whether, like me, she feels like a bit of an alien in all. And that this comfort, like the show, is at least partiality an act. Lady suggests ideas above your station – hearing a bit more about how adult Illaria has navigated those infinite class subtleties would have been fascinating.

Still, this is a thoroughly enjoyable show, which I’d recommend to anyone, wherever they are in the endlessly intersecting Venn diagrams of class, identity and life. Also, there’s a good bit with a clown, an Italian man, and a shoe.

RATING **** out of *****

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