Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: November 4 2016
Location: Unity Theatre, Liverpool, England
If you are unfamiliar with the term “Hamburger Queen”, you may wonder what the title means. Is it a new mascot for a fast food chain? Is it a best-selling Halloween costume at Asda George? Is it a secret character in a Mario Kart videogame? In reality, Hamburger Queen is a unique competition held annually in London; however, for the purpose of this article, Hamburger Queen is of greater relevance in providing the backdrop for Ashleigh Owen to tell a very interesting, and very funny, first-person account of her life story so far.
A local Liverpool girl whose carefree ways and innocent naivety are topped only by an outspoken love/hate relationship with her mother and an outrageous sense of humour, Ashleigh Owen uses her conversational personality, musical numbers, eye-catching props, plenty of memorable one-liners and, most importantly, the art of dance – or, as Ashleigh puts it, DANNNCE! – to explain how, inspired by aspects of her late father’s own career, she decides to embark on a new path, one which in her mind could make her the next great British dance sensation.
Met with negativity and cynicism by her mother, Ashleigh nevertheless uses every opportunity that she can to further her skills and, soon, she takes a major gamble towards trying to make her dream come true by moving to London. After an initial and lengthy period of inactivity, a chance encounter with an apparently-charming talent agent opens one door ajar to the point that Ashleigh has the opportunity to kick it wide open. Yes, this is the aforementioned Hamburger Queen competition, and it’s her performance on that stage and its fall-out which shape the remainder of the show, and provide Ashleigh with her first real experience in the world of DANNNCE!
As this is a one-woman show (with only very fleeting appearances by an assistant, whose quick cameos are handled in hilarious fashion by Ashleigh), the pressure is on the star performer to keep the audience engaged throughout, especially in such an intimate environment – and she does so spectacularly. Rarely are there moments when at least one of the spectators is not laughing, either from a clever joke or a hammy facial expression or an unpredictable dance move, and Ashleigh’s timing, delivery and general confidence are all spot-on throughout the evening. It’s equally admirable to see how Ashleigh, a real natural in a theatre setting, is able to both perform and essentially manage the show from the stage; after all, in a venue where the audience are so close to the stage, meaning that every single movement and stage direction is picked up on, it’s astonishing that Owen is able to remember the large variety of lines and back-and-forth chatter between “characters” (Ashleigh impersonates family members and her agent Beverly, rather than there being other performers acting as extras in these roles) whilst also being able to control everything else that is happening on the stage and on the projected screen.
While Ashleigh uses comedy to showcase her dance moves, and at various points we are treated to some very impressive vocal renditions of completely original songs, the strength of the show really does lie in its humour. The writing of the show, put together by Ashleigh herself and Paul Burke, ensures that there’s always something to laugh at, even during scenes when Ashleigh reveals some of the more challenging experiences of her life and career so far. Not afraid to poke fun at herself through some deliberately ironic statements, Ashleigh is also a top-notch ad-libber, throwing in some unexpected one-liners that help to make an already-humorous situation even funnier. And this extends to audience interaction or, more rather, Ashleigh – how should I put it – “persuading” members of the audience to get involved in a way that they could have never imagined when they entered the theatre at the beginning of the evening. The writing is further proven to be witty and intelligent by the use of popular songs and television theme tunes at points which are both completely logical, given what is happening on the stage, and hilarious, especially in cases where the content becomes a little risqué.
This show is a part of Unity Theatre’s Homotopia showcase, with there having been a preview of the main show during Homotopia 2015. During such festivals, there is a danger that certain shows can be easily forgotten, given the wide variety of performers and stories that one would see. However, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who attended this show will forget their experience: there are tons of jokes which the audience could take away and repeat to their friends, whilst some of the situations (especially those involving props) must be seen to be believed, and although the humour takes centre stage (no pun intended), even the dance moves and singing are of a high standard, too.
In line with the theme of the show itself, The Rise and Fall of The Hamburger Queen is the first major theatre role for Ashleigh Owen – but judging by this production, her claim to fame of being the Hamburger Queen, and the way in which she has used her experience to tell a first-person story through comedy, really does appear to be the start of a special journey for her. If you’re planning to attend Homotopia events, this is one show that you should see but, even if you previously wouldn’t have an interest in viewing any shows during the Homotopia festival, I strongly recommend that you find a way to see The Rise and Fall of The Hamburger Queen; it is, as Ashleigh herself would say, the equivalent of a packet of Prawn Cocktail-flavoured Walkers Sensations within a group of Ready Salted packs.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent