In the darkness of our political moment, Rosie Holt’s videos, in her guise as a floundering government spokesperson, offer a glimmer of light. Beautifully observed, performed – and timed – they’ve skewered with such precision the contortions required of the current crop of Tory MPs that they’ve been mistaken for the real thing. Their effectiveness, and the performing flair Holt brings to her live show, The Woman’s Hour, leave you in no doubt of her ability. But, for me, the show dilutes rather than distils the qualities evident in her online work.
There are the makings of a fruitful hour here, as Holt sows seeds of confusion among the audience as to when she’s in character or otherwise. But those seeds don’t germinate: nods to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator aside, nothing comes of the blurred identity. Her alter egos are strongest when they cleave closest to those we know from online, like the burbling backbencher whose every mealy mouthed statement cancels out its predecessor. Then there’s her desperate-to-be-controversial, woke-bashing TV host, with whom we have some fun, even if the joke – like her Titania McGrath-style posh lefty, to whose social-justice standards no one can measure up – is obvious.
These sketches are bound together by supposed phone calls from Holt’s mum and agent, fretting that our host has been cancelled or, even worse, publicly championed by Vladimir Putin. It’s a glimpse, perhaps, into Holt’s disorienting experience of fame. But it doesn’t resolve into a convincing subplot to the show, whose energy dissipates as weaker personas (a French-accented wife of a House of Commons sex pest; a sexy conspiracy theorist à la Russell Brand) take to the stage.
Holt brings them to life boldly, but these aren’t characters that ring true or tell us anything we don’t know. A central Liz Truss section, which finds the potential PM frozen in the headlights of a Robert Peston grilling, and a sketch where Holt abstracts into a staccato symphony the sound of a woman interrupted by Rishi Sunak, make more of a satirical impact. Such are the highlights of an hour that, while revealing Holt to be more than just a digital talent, never quite coalesces into a strong show.