‘You guys are a horrible audience!” Like Patti Harrison at this address a few weeks ago, or US compatriot Kate Berlant, Megan Stalter doesn’t think it’s her job to entertain us – but our job to appreciate her. It’s a winning mode of comic performance, born of social media and its culture of preening self-presentation, and Hacks star Stalter (making her UK debut) has it down to a T. She barely has material, but she has a ravening ego and a tireless fascination with everything she herself says and does on stage.
The persona, like Stalter’s myriad online alter egos, is delusional: this wannabe queen of stage and screen has nothing to back up the brittle self-image. The first half is all about Stalter trying to get her intro right. Her guitarist is ordered to loiter stage-right, his awkwardness puncturing Stalter’s dream of professionalism. An audience member is co-opted to announce her entrance on stage – and another, for whatever reason, to lunge at her murderously from the front row. Then there’s a pause for Stalter to have incredible sex (she tells us, desperate to impress) with her husband, hidden in the wings.
It’s all super-silly, light on its feet and unpredictable – and Stalter offsets the faux-solipsism with an endearing bubbliness. She giggles, she banters with the crowd – then side-eyes sarcastically and pivots her attention elsewhere. The “show”, when it belatedly begins, consists of a freewheeling story about a head injury, which tries and fails to illustrate her showbiz commitment, and an eccentric grocery-store anecdote leading to a malfunctioning song. Stalter plays the failures straight, never less than convincing as a look-at-me narcissist too dim to apprehend her own mediocrity.
Until the end, when the mask slips a little, in a staged reading (with another audience member) of a supposed scene from Stalter’s new play. It’s fun enough, but the audience participation sections can feel like filler, less thrilling that Stalter uncut. Arguably, she doesn’t solve the conundrum of how to structure a satisfying show around a character who could never feasibly structure a satisfying show. But the character herself, and her creator? You can’t take your eyes off them.
Megan Stalter is at Soho theatre, London, until 11 December.