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Bookworm, Etcetera Theatre

Written and directed by Jessie Cave

Pros: A solid hour of fun, quirky humour, spiced with some educational tidbits and some always-satisfying Fifty Shades of Grey jokes.

Cons: A few sketches dragged, and some humour may be unapproachable for audience members who wouldn’t consider themselves well read.

Our Verdict: A dynamic and original production, and well-worth the small ticket fee. Suitable for bookworms as well as audiences just looking for a laugh.

Courtesy of the Etcetera Theatre

Jessie Cave may be most famous for her portrayal of Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter film franchise. Though you might have gagged at her portrayal of Ron Weasley’s unbearably annoying girlfriend, don’t let her well-acted intolerability on screen keep you from taking the opportunity to see her on stage this weekend. In Bookworm, her recent production from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the young actress channels her kook and quirk for the powers of good, successfully entertaining and educating during the series of sketches and stories that make up her act.

Bookworm revolves around Jessie (who plays a semi-fictionalized caricature of herself) and her goal to create an intellectual forum for booklovers. What we get instead is a much more entertaining hour than the initial premise might suggest. Audiences are ushered into the Etcetera Theatre by Jessie herself, who creates the air of an intimate gathering of soon-to-be friends that one might associate with the first meeting of a book club. But instead of reading assignments and chapter discussions, Jessie, with the help of her sister, who plays the role of a strange sort of Igoresque assistant, and her brother, who controls the lights and sound, launches into hilarious tangents throughout this “meeting”, taking us on a whirlwind adventure through her life as a bookworm.

Cave creatively intertwines teen angst and awkwardness with themes of classic and contemporary best-sellers alike, and offers literature (from high-brow to low) as a lens through which to view her world and experiences. One highlight was her explanation of her struggle with an affliction she calls “Bovarysme”, which causes her, like the heroine of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, to imagine herself as the tragic heroine to escape the banality of her daily life; this eventually leads into an hilariously bizarre shadow-puppet account of Jessie’s recent failed relationship with a struggling comedian.

The show is formatted in “chapters” of Jessie’s life, from her introduction to reading, feminism, and yoga through the child-aimed Barbar the Elephant books to her current fascination with tennis-player autobiographies. Some of her jokes and experiences with reading hit home, while others fell flat for audience members who hadn’t read, or even heard of some of the novels to which she alluded. In general, however, Cave manages to keep her strange tour through the books and experiences of her life accessible, interesting, and fun for all audiences.

Throughout the strange trip, Jessie introduces us to books that got her through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, always with a quirky and interesting tone. There are puppet-shows, ukuleles, and the promise of a Hunger Games reenactment. Surprises and twists abound, with puns a plenty and a strikingly long list of new vocabulary is acquired by the hour’s end.

After an hour spent with Jessie, you may walk out of the theatre wondering what just happened to you, but you’ll also leave wishing the experience had been a real kick-off to a book club, as weekly evenings with Jessie would certainly be good for all of us and our reading lists.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Bookworm will return to the Etcetera Theatre on 6th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=2

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