Theatre review: Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka

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“I’m not Anneka Rice,” a woman who is dressed as and sounds a bit like Anneka Rice tells us at the start, handing out Haribo sweets, Ribena and packets of raisins like it’s 1989.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Summerhall (Venue 26)

However, when she takes off the wig, she’s “Holly”, a young woman struggling to find her place in the world – literally – as she moves from house to house, unable to stay anywhere for long in the overpriced London property market. While the effervescent Anneka suffers from a shell-suit and bum bag, teacher Holly has anxiety and struggles to get on the Tube.

And, nostalgic for the ­stability of her childhood, she seeks Anneka’s help. When one’s on stage, the other’s on the telly, and vice versa – and so a strange, but very apt, dialogue begins between live and pre-recorded performances. It’s a ­brilliant ­concept, from ­creator/­performer Sophie Winter, that taps into a simpler time, when TV show hosts could be called in to not only tackle the “challenges” facing members of the public but, in the case of Anneka Rice, “solve” them in two to three days with simply a headset, some running around and a go-getter attitude.

Winter plays multiple characters, and one particularly meta-theatrical scene parodies the kind of “navel ­gazing” that one-woman shows exploring mental health issues are often accused of. “You’re from Surrey!” Holly shouts at a younger version of herself. At another moment, she’s in the audience, having a panic attack, as we watch her watching herself on stage.

While the Holly’s final message to “just get on with it”, feels a bit simplistic, the real Anneka pops up at the end to tell us there are no “quick ­fixes”, whether you’re ­building a Peace Centre in Northern Ireland, or simply trying to get out of the house.

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