Kate Berlant is Kate review – wicked and winningly daft performance lives up to the hype

<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Comedies don’t come hipper than this New York transfer from Kate Berlant. Its director is the prodigious talent behind lockdown hit Inside, Bo Burnham; Florence Pugh and Phoebe Bridgers were in its first-night crowd. To some extent, it’s a case of do believe the hype: Berlant is one of comedy’s most electrifying, distinctive talents. Her show, titled Kate Berlant is Kate, is a success qualified only by comparison with her even-more-brilliant standup – and with Liz Kingsman’s 2021 hit One-Woman Show, whose mickey-take of self-advertising solo performance this unmistakably echoes.

The show begins in the foyer, plastered with glorifying images of Berlant, and haunted by the 36-year-old herself, wearing a sign that reads: “Ignore me.” On stage, she recounts the supposed life story of this star-in-the-making, from young Kate’s romance with her absent dad’s camcorder, via the stifling of her talent by a hostile mum (“she smashed more than my camera that day; she smashed my dreams”) to Kate’s move to New York and a career on the stage. But the screen is her destiny, and – for the stoopidest of reasons – celluloid stardom remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Book-ended by the reflections of a cockney stage-hand, and frequently interrupted by real-Kate, haughtily patronising her public and fretting (as Kingsman did) about big-hitting talent scouts in the audience, the show makes hay with rags-to-showbiz-riches cliche, trauma as origin story, and the sanctity and/or moribundity of theatre. We’re never far from a barbed millennial aside, as when Berlant spots Freakonomics on the bookshelf of an NYC hook-up. The keynote, though, is silliness, as our heroine confronts the ultimate acting challenge with little more than a series of very ridiculous faces.

The closing stages are silly too, as the “real” Berlant steps out from the wreckage of both her big-time ambitions, and her show. I was surprised by the broad artificiality of this real-Kate; knowing Berlant and Burnham’s work, I expected something more complex or closer-to-the-bone. But if Kate isn’t as dizzyingly funny as its creator’s standup, nor as out-of-the-blue as Kingsman’s forerunner, it’s still a wicked and winningly daft takedown of showbiz self-regard, by one of the sharpest acts in comedy.