Jan Ravens: Difficult Woman is a wonderful hour of mimicry that flies by – Edinburgh Fringe, review

Jan Ravens
Jan Ravens

I was one of those who felt that Theresa May had so botched the General Election it would be best if she stepped down pronto. But watching the silver-tongued impressionist Jan Ravens’ wonderful, if fantastically belated Edinburgh solo debut (she was here with Cambridge Footlights back in the late Seventies) I have experienced a dramatic volte-face. Theresa must stay. Not for the good of the country but the sake of comedy.

Ravens’ impersonation is so spot on, it would be a crime for it to fall out of use. Without donning a wig or costume, she conjures our embattled PM, as if seized, voodoo-style, by the force of her hyper-tense personality. Head inclining to one side as though weighed down by the cares of state, eyes wildly glinting, she has the vocal tics down to a tee, the mouth chewing on some invisible aggravation: “It’s almost like she’s embarrassed by what she’s saying,” Ravens notes. “Her mouth wants to smile but the rest of her face won’t let her.”

Jan Ravens as Prime Minister Theresa May - Credit: Steve Ullathorne
Jan Ravens as Prime Minister Theresa May Credit: Steve Ullathorne

With so many women rising to the top of political and public life, these are fertile times for impersonating the more headstrong members of her sex, though Ravens – who radiates a fresh-faced youthful personality despite approaching 60 – defends her “difficult women” as much as she lampoons their foibles (even a spoof Hilary Mantel lecture on Medusa slips in some worthwhile feminism).

In the mix too are the Queen, put through a special Anne Robinson filter to sound particularly sardonic on meeting May, post-election, at the Palace. Then there’s “the difficult woman’s difficult woman” – Arlene Foster of the DUP, wee Nicola Sturgeon, envisaged as being kept barely in check from physical violence (“Hold me back before I lamp someone”), a gloating Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who “wants everyone to play nicely in the playground”.

Jan Ravens  - Credit: Steve Ullathorne
Jan Ravens Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Perhaps the piece de resistance is her purring (and, yes, perfect) rendering of Diane Abbott in car-crash interview mode (“It will cost…”). But I enjoyed too her silken suggestion of Joanna Lumley, mindlessly cooing a holiday in the sun rhapsody about war-torn Mosul, and dames Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith in a fly-blown Best Exotic Marigold (British) Care-Home, one of several on-the-nail reflections about the harsh realities of old-age.

If Ravens has a natural gift for mimicry, she has a rare talent for compression: encapsulating the essence of a personality in a mere handful of phrases. Except when she treats us to a full-blown parody of a Victoria Wood song (mourning the star’s death), so eerily uncanny it almost brings a tear to the eye. Were it not for some heavy-handed berating of those who voted Brexit – and an invective about Grenfell Tower that feels misplaced – I’d be handing this five stars. The only major complaint, though, is that the hour flies by. I’d happily sit through another.

Jan Ravens: Difficult Woman is at Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Aug 6-27;

The funniest one-liners from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe so far
The funniest one-liners from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe so far