reviews and recommendations

Harriet Braine: Apocolibrary

Since winning the Funny Women Award 2016 Harriet Braine treated audiences to a musical art lecture, Total Eclipse Of The Art, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. This year, armed with her trusty acoustic guitar, she’s back with a work in progress hour: Apocalibrary.

Harriet’s imaginative new show transports us to a library at the end of the world, just five years from now, in 2023. Turns out that President Trump literally broke the internet and it’s truly the end of days as no-one can remember anything without turning to Google. Our only hope of making sense of what is to come, and learn what’s gone before, is Harriet. She’s a government-appointed Apocalibrarian, who must now answer pre-recorded telephone enquiries from members of the public (mostly time-wasters and trolls). Armed with only her guitar, and one copy of a Harry Potter book, she has very limited resources.

Harriet Braine, a former History of Art student, is a clever writer and is building an assured confidence as a performer. She manages to test her audience’s noggins while making niche material accessible using familiar melodies from Elton John, Kate Bush and Jacques Brel. It is work in progress so, of course, there’s room for improvement but this is an impressive hour with plenty of promise. Harriet slickly combines cutting observations on historical and famous figures with the worrying state of modern world politics and our hopeless reliability on tech.

In an ideal world, the apocalyptic atmosphere would be set with a table strewn with dusty papers and an eerie gramophone recording of her catchy ditty ‘Apocalibrary’ (set to the theme tune of The Addams Family). As it is, we’re at the Free Festival, essentially shoved in a cupboard above a pub with nothing but a lamp, black curtain and Harriet’s laptop (which she admits doesn’t fit the theme.) Still, none of this distracts from her impressive musical talents. Some jokes may fall flat but lyrically she’s on top form. Previously, Harriet’s songs featured the likes of Pablo Picasso and Rennie Macintosh. Fans will be pleased there’s a new host of cleverly constructed witty ditties about Sigmund Freud, William Holgarth and landscape architect Capability Brown. Both amusing and informative, Harriet even weaves in a spot of ‘pat yourself on the back’ audience participation which left one chap thoroughly pleased with himself as he shouted out the correct words with the suffix “-ability”.

The main difficulty Harriet faces with her crowd is keeping the energy up. As she chats between songs, the audience seem far too polite to make noise. As you’d expect in a library, everyone’s smiling, nodding and keeping quiet while listening to her intently. Harriet’s appeal isn’t all that niche, the content is accessible and, as the audience queued up to stuff notes into her donations bucket, it’s clear that they enjoyed the journey. One can only hope that Harriet’s tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic vision is not a true prediction of what’ll happen in ‘four more years’ or so…

★★★★

Harriet Braine: Apocolibrary is at 21:00 at the Counting House until 19th August. For tickets and more information click here!

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