Heartfelt review of Jean-Luc Picard and Me from Emma O’Brien, who saw it at The Edinburgh Fringe on its first day. Boy was I a big old scared mess. It was originally meant for The Skinny, but they didn’t have space for it – so I am keeping it here, coz it’s so lovely and well written and totally gets what I was trying to do/say/express poorly.
Five minutes into Ellen Waddell’s first ever performance at the Fringe, she is kneeling before a papier mache effigy of Captain Jean Luc Picard, begging him to guide her out of the mess she’s making of her adult life. I mean, luckily it’s in the script so I didn’t have to call anyone, but it’s still a pretty brave way to hit the ground running.
Jean-Luc Picard And Me, an hour long autobiographical exploration of a strange little girl self-medicating her way through her parent’s bitter divorce with a love of science fiction gifted by her absent father, is not by any means an hour of jokes about Star Trek, if that’s what you were expecting. (although it does explain how to call someone a cunt in Klingon. Try and do that in a sentence today!) But that would have been a sad loss to the Fringe, in my opinion, because this is a genuinely surprising hour: simultaneously raw and sweet, painfully frank and ultimately bursting with the joy of connecting with the story that saves you. And brave. Did I say brave? Because it is: there’s parts of this that are almost painful to watch, and must be so to recount in a room full of strangers, some of whom are inevitably pondering how long it will take to get back down the hill before the panel show comedians’ hours start and the bar prices get stupid. Eeven aided as she is by the blank eyed, smirking dummy of Jean Luc Picard, this takes some doing. (The whole hour he just stands there, smirking, except when castigating a distressed young woman for failing adulthood. What a dick.)
Now neither pop culture or personal tragedy are unusual fare at the Fringe: what sets this apart is partly that Ellen is a natural storyteller – even on a sparsely attended first night she is able to carry it off with enough wit and genuine warmth to intrigue some straggling audience members who I suspect had no idea what they were coming to see. It also helps that she has a sharp eye for the universal bits that underlie all our weirdness. Having never seen a minute of Star Trek and having parents who (for reasons best known to themselves) are inexplicably still married, I didn’t feel at all that either of those experiences were necessary to get where this show is coming from. (Although I will cop to an equally mortifying childhood experience with morris dancing: I could probably trump her there, actually, but that’s for the TV movie of my life.)
What she has nailed-and where a lot of the laughter comes in-is the ridiculous part of all of us that will speak Klingon or morris dance or take up experimental mime just as a means of connecting with other people, and the things we seek comfort in when those connections aren’t forthcoming, and the creeping sense that whatever we manage to achieve as adults, we are still just never quite enough. Ellen, for example, “accidentally became indie famous” and spent much of her twenties having bizarre japes in a touring band, which serves here only as exposition for the pursuit of a wholly unsuitable boyfriend and the sound life advice from Neil Gaiman that wraps things up neatly, or not-so-neatly as the case may be, given that we’re all still wondering who left us in charge of our lives.
In short,there’s real heart here. This hour has resonance, and it won’t just be with weirdos like me. Had you come out specifically for an hour of jokes about Star Trek, you might be a bit pissed off, and that may prove to be a problem with selling this show, but my advice would be to go along anyway, substitute your own childhood pop culture prescription for the psyche and take comfort in the certain knowledge that even the most cool, together and intimidating person you know probably has a Transformer on their bedside table.