Bloody Mary Live! review – an audience with the killer queen

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Y ou might consider the fraught life of Mary Tudor, England’s first queen, for a long time before thinking: standup comedy. But that’s the leap Olivia Miller has made with this punky solo, first performed in her home town of New York. It reimagines Mary as an in-yer-face Gen-Z teen, back from the dead to reprise her lurid life story, defend her name and justify that small matter of 280 heretics burned alive.

She makes a good fist of it. In fishnets and bovver boots, Miller shows off her standup chops, if not always in the quality of the jokes then in the dazzle and charm with which she brings her crowd on side. The repeated technique is to mine inappropriate intimacies (“raise your hand if you’ve imagined your parents having sex?”), then demonstrate how our experiences can’t touch hers. Her parents’ sex life is a matter of national debate, while Mary is put on the marriage market from two years old. Her mum is then exiled, never to be seen again, while dad upends a kingdom, affronts God and murders multiple wives, all to right the wrong of Mary’s unsatisfactory gender.

‘Raise your hands if you’ve imagined your parents having sex’ … Miller bringing the crowd on side. Photograph: Ashley Garrett Photography

Miller’s show only gestures at rehabilitating Mary’s reputation: she rages at her “Bloody Mary” nickname, then embraces it. The show’s ahistorical stylings, as our host wisecracks about therapy and condemns the homophobia of 21st-century Catholicism, give her story a tart immediacy, but make the tonal shifts tricky when Miller bids later for emotional effect. But under Olivia Munk’s direction, this short show leaves a vivid impression, of an avenging ex-queen sharp-elbowing out from her predecessor’s and successor’s shadows.

  • At Assembly Festival Garden, Coventry, until 5 September

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