This was another of our “we’ve seen them on telly, let’s see what they’re like in real life” punts. To say that Lucy Porter has been around for ages doesn’t sound like a very gentlemanly comment to make but she did intimate during the course of the show that she’s chalking up the years a little, so it was about time we saw her in the flesh. Choose Your Battles is the show she took to Edinburgh last year and jolly well received it was too.
The title comes from the age-old advice not to fight those battles you can’t win (if only the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle could have done that she would have been so much happier) but it also points to the fact that Lucy Porter doesn’t like battles. In fact, she’s the least battlish person you’d ever come across. If you drew a Venn Diagram with her in one circle and, say, renowned battleaxe Christine Hamilton in another, not only would they not intersect, they wouldn’t even appear on the same piece of paper.
Much of the show is given over to examples of how conflict-averse our comic heroine is. She gives us an entertaining insight into how she doesn’t like to engage in conflict with the children, so they run amok in posh restaurants whilst she and her husband discuss the niceties of that day’s Guardian opinion piece. She tells us how difficult it was when her mother came to live with them in her old age, because she found it impossible to challenge her on her passive-aggressive note-leaving. She explains how she and her husband never come to blows on anything, but just quietly seethe in voiceless anger because she can never clear the air on anything disharmonious in the relationship. We re-enact with her an unpleasant experience where a driver almost ran over her and her kids on a zebra crossing because he was on his phone – yet he still made her feel it was his fault. Take a bow, Ed from Peterborough, you did a grand job.
This is a beautifully constructed show, packed with material and incident, with some gentle, totally unforced callbacks that create a satisfying climax, if you’ll pardon the expression. Ms Porter has a very genial air about her onstage – delightfully unthreatening, respectful and polite, and you’d never run the risk of humiliation, unless you really, really asked for it. She engages the audience and draws us in to her life and experiences, so that you get the feeling you’re chatting with an old pal rather than watching a fully scripted stand-up gig. Included in the material are a few opportunities to take surveys of the audience to see how conflict-averse we are too, particularly in relation to social media and dealing with trolls. I was surprised to find that I’m not as conflict-averse as most of my co-audience members. So you can even learn a bit about yourself too. You’ll also find out how much it costs to get a new set of keys for a Volvo.
It’s not earth-shatteringly challenging, but nor is it in any way bland or vanilla. Two hours of fully recognisable and quite possibly shared emotions and observations. Very enjoyable, and enormously self-assured. Ms Porter may have chalked up a few years, but experience tells!