Yas Queen! For the avowedly woke, yet overwhelmingly white, middle-class Edinburgh Fringe, Sophie Duker is festival royalty in-waiting.
Sophie Duker: Venus, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh ****
A queer black woman from a single-parent family with daddy issues on call, she’s nevertheless reassuringly privately educated and an Oxbridge graduate, a highly articulate, charismatic, one-woman stroke of supreme right-on-ness for smug liberal crowds.
Except hold the coronation. Notwithstanding that she’s also extremely funny, with a deft introductory gag about her status as an intersectional triple threat, Duker has long been troubled by the racial narrative of black women as empresses, goddesses and venus. An expressive performer, she takes the stage with a fully committed jerk and twerk to a rendition of the eponymous pop hit, albeit a disturbing cover version that presages the show’s intertwining themes of formative childhood influences, confused sexuality and strategically deployed ass-shaking.
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The show also takes its title from Sara Baartman, a South African slave exhibited in freak shows throughout Europe in the 19th century as the “Hottentot Venus”, a life that, suffice to say, was not a terribly happy one. Yet it’s an experience Duker can relate to, as she finds her hair constantly being marvelled at and touched in a Berlin nightclub.
Oppressed by her desire to avoid black stereotypes, which has latterly even followed her into therapy, the young Duker cast around in vain for a better role model, ultimately alighting on a sex-positive icon that still comes with some troubling baggage. While ticking the box for an introductory hour of being an affecting account of self-discovery, this is distinctly secondary to the laughs Duker mischievously elicits from would-be white knight saviours and the po-faced woke. A cautionary tale for Meghan Markle, Venus features some exceptionally witty skewering of pop culture and screamingly hilarious insight into the full horrors of Stacey Dooley Syndrome.
Until 25 August