In the aftermath of this month’s divisive general election, it seems our country faces a difficult and uncertain future. But one woman is standing by to save the day, with common sense, old-fashioned values… and delicious home baking. That woman’s name is Lotta Quizeen, and her promise to “sort out this troubled nation like an unruly sock drawer” proves a fine jumping-off point for a sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heartbreaking, but always-rewarding show.
Created by actor Katie Richardson, Lotta Quizeen is a fascinating, conflicted character. The echoes of Thatcher are clear to see – but as her name suggests, Quizeen is modelled far more on 1960’s domestic goddess Fanny Craddock, who suffered her own devastating fall from grace when she misjudged the mood of a changing population. With an imperious smile, windproofed hair-do and extremely sensible shoes, Quizeen embodies a bygone spirit of no-nonsense Britishness – when the stiff-upper-lipped impulse to keep the home fires burning hadn’t quite died away.
In comparison to Richardson’s previous shows, Pull Your Socks Up, Britain! has a much stronger narrative and a clearer progression for her character. Over the course of our time with Lotta Quizeen, her unintentionally revealing asides piece together into a story of secret unhappiness; her own family, it seems, is slowly growing apart. Quizeen recognises that malaise, and feels desperate to cure it – but when her trusted techniques of polishing and baking fail to restore the lustre to domestic life, she finds she has nothing to fall back on.
It’s tempting to view Quizeen exclusively through a pro-feminist lens: to lament the way that society drove her to waste her life, keeping a perfect house and doting on a family who’ll never repay her. But actually, her story is subtler and more nuanced than that. Her resolutely old-fashioned outlook has its positive side: when she laments the off-hand treatment of a pregnant woman on a bus, it’s impossible not to join her in yearning for a long-gone, more considerate age.
The performance does have a few rough edges. Richardson doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with her earlier, more comedic material; it feels a little stiff and scripted, when the easy charm of a stand-up routine is what’s really required. And the frequent innuendo, though certainly amusing, is out of keeping with Quizeen’s character. It would work if it was deadpanned – if she had no idea why her audience was laughing – but as it stands, she seems rather too knowing.
It’s only later, when Richardson moves into a more theatrical style of storytelling, that the strength of her concept really comes through. Perhaps it’s time to embrace that truth more firmly; to view her show as a play with added humour, rather than as character comedy with a back-story bolted on. Either way though, Lotta Quizeen is an intriguing, engaging creation, who offers plenty of entertainment but some true poignancy too. Richardson earns my vote any day.