One thing Liz Kingsman wants to make clear is that she is not a comedian. ‘I see a comedian as being a person who can be funny as themselves and I can’t do that,’ she explains. ‘I would never be able to present a TV show or even go on a panel show.’
Still, that hasn’t stopped her attracting headlines like, ‘Is this the funniest woman in Britain?’ over the last year thanks to her sensational, hysterical One Woman Show.
She remains nonplussed about the hype she has generated – ‘it’s all an invention, right?’ Nevertheless, that hype has led to the show earning a six-week run in the West End, quite something for a solo performer.
Trying to describe One Woman Show is a bit of a fool’s errand. It sees Liz play an absurd, fictional version of herself, an actor/writer desperate to become the designated ‘successful woman’ for the year so has decided to capitalise on the appetite for shows about ‘messy’ millennial heroines a la Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag by creating her own.
Called Wildfowl, it is a monologue centring on another oh-so-chaotic, sexually frank twentysomething. As her performance of Wildfowl proceeds, though, there are various interruptions, due to her supposedly trying to record the show for a TV producer, among other things.
The end result is a brilliant satire about the limiting ways women are portrayed on stage and screen, even if the original intention was less deep than that, Liz says. ‘It probably feels like this was a vehicle to say something. But it never was – I was just seeing some things that I felt were a pattern. And my reaction to that was, “That’s quite funny”. And then you just want to write a joke version.’
Liz first trialled the show in March 2020 at London’s Vault festival, before the pandemic put the brakes on everything. Then, after significant recalibrating with director Adam Brace, the finished version opened at London’s Soho Theatre last October, and was an instant hit.
The response, Liz says, has been ‘constantly surprising’, including how the show has been framed in some of the coverage to sound like a direct attack on Waller-Bridge’s show – ‘Take that Fleabag!’ said one newspaper – rather than something much more offbeat and affectionately funny. ‘You could say that some of the headlines that leaned a little bit into the catfight territory are making my point for me,’ she says.
Nevertheless, there is obvious irony in the fact that the last one woman show to make a big splash in the West End was, indeed, Fleabag. And as Liz prepares to move the show into the Ambassadors Theatre, she says she’s going through a ‘tricky negotiation’ about how to adapt it to the bigger space. ‘I want it to expand like a gas to fill the space. So what I’ve effectively said there is “my show is like a gas”,’ she laughs.
Originally from Australia, but with a British mother, Liz grew up in Sydney before moving over here to study English at Durham University, where she spent a lot of time doing comedy shows and plays. But, after leaving, she decided to work behind the scenes doing a series of runner jobs on big films.
She sometimes found herself standing in for stars like Felicity Jones and Natalie Portman, and that was a cause of ‘envy, because when they were ready for the take, the real actor would arrive and then get to do it, obviously, and I’d think, “No, but I was doing such a good job.”’
After making the leap into acting full-time, her biggest screen role has been in a French series, Parlement, which is a political sitcom akin to The Thick Of It but set around the EU parliament.
Currently she is filming the third series, simultaneously with another Gallic show, Icon Of French Cinema. The opportunities across the Channel have been a pleasant surprise, she says – confirming to her that the way an actor’s career often pans out is less down to deliberate choices, and more ‘a complete fluke’.
Having starred in shows with mundane, everyday settings, she’s got her heart set on projects that will involve more fantastical locales. ‘What I’m saying is I’d like to go to space,’ she laughs. ‘And I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean somebody put me in a moon film.’
Can we expect another one woman show? Unlikely, she admits. ‘I’ve burnt my own bridge, so I can’t do that’, though she has ideas for a couple of non-solo theatre projects. ‘We’ll chat about them when I’ve made them in ten years,’ she says, wryly. ‘So if we could lock in a zoom conversation for then, that would be great.’
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