Sunday, 19 March 2017

Luisa Omielan: What Would Beyoncé Do?



The thing is, I'm not a Beyoncé fan so this acclaimed stand up was possibly always likely to fail for me. I appreciate that Beyoncé has empowered women, but I don't really find her the feminist role model that many do. For a start she believes the term feminism is 'too extreme', and her suggestion is it should be replaced with her own trademark term 'bootylicious'. As Bridget Christie said "We're talking about the systematic and prolonged oppression of women across the world as a society here, for thousands of years. We're not talking about a new ass-flavoured bubblegum".  Christie isn't the only feminist comedian to criticise Beyoncé 's rather dubious status as a feminist icon, Katherine Ryan rightly called her out for being a clever, powerful, rich woman who seems to have just accepted that her husband Jay Z allegedly sleeps around (and in such dubious circumstances - Cathy White, an alleged mistress of the rap star died at home the day before she was due to meet newspapers to give her story - google it) by writing a lyric like 'she's had half of me. She ain't even half of me' to possibly express herself on such a matter. Are we to presume that she accepts that husbands are going to be unfaithful? That it's OK if they do, because you are their only wife (their 'Mrs Carter') and that ultimately you'll see him more than his mistresses do? That's hardly an empowering message to be sending out is it?


Luisa Omielan wrote this, her debut stage show five years ago and performed it in a room above a pub at the Free Fringe at Edinburgh, before being picked up by London's Soho theatre where she scored seven sell-out runs. Ten nights at Montreal's Just for Laughs followed, along with a run in London's West End, before finally being picked up by BBC3 for a specially filmed performance at Clapham Grand. Make no mistake, this show is a smash hit and it brought Omielan huge critical and commercial acclaim. Not bad for a show which began when she wondered just what Beyoncé would do when  faced with the problem of unblocking a toilet containing her younger brother's massive poo with a stick she found in the garden!

Drawing further parallels with her own life, Omielan wonders just how would Beyoncé react to getting dumped, to signing on, to being in her thirties and living back with her mum? Going deeper, she manages to touch upon more serious subjects such as depression and even suicide, yet still keeps up a remarkable party atmosphere amidst the confessional moments as she tries to shape a new philosophy from Beyoncé's work whilst still remaining aware in her subtext that there's a huge gap between the X Factor hopefuls, the everyday dreamers and the world's most famous pop diva.


What Would Beyoncé Do? is a show performed with great frenetic speed and energy by the dazzling Omielan, who mixes Beyoncé moves with fresh, revealing and frank patter that comes at you like bullets from a machine gun. I can see why so many in the audience get swept away by her remarkable energy (and believe me, this audience is so clearly full of devotees and like minds) but I couldn't help but wonder if some of that gusto is papering over the cracks in material that, despite the success, is still clearly a debut effort.

Ultimately, I found Omielan herself to be a more empowering potential role model than her heroine; from the moment she literally swaggers and shimmies onto the stage announcing her love for her own cellulite and big bottom*, this is a hugely confident and proud young woman who owns her sexuality and identity, but isn't afraid to talk frankly about her insecurities and the low points in her life. Unlike Beyoncé  then.

*Which is very nice, as you can see

You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer.

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