Review by Raphael Kohn
There’s a delightful charm about Victoria Melody. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the breezy way she strides onto the stage at the beginning of her hour-long stand-up-storytelling-theatre mishmash wearing a top hat, long coat and holding a cane. Maybe it’s the cheeky glint in her eye as she revels in the stories she’s telling. Either way, it makes for a rather enjoyable evening as her show Head Set, previously seen at the Edinburgh Fringe, begins a tour around the UK.
She begins with a light-hearted introduction, speaking directly to us to set the mood for the show, before letting us enter the world of her life. It’s an autobiographical hour, one in which she delves deep into her (very varied) careers and how she got to the point she’s at today. Most of it focusses on her determination to reinvent herself as a stand-up comedian and her self-discovery through an ADHD diagnosis, learning more about who she is and why she does what she does.
And speaking from an ADHD perspective, it by and large works. The titular ‘Head Set’ is a literal headset, one she wears during her stand-up routines that monitors her neural activity and is projected in real-time for the audience to see her brain’s reaction to the set as it progresses. Frankly, it’s a genius idea that really only someone with ADHD could come up with, and she clearly speaks from knowledge throughout. I truly felt represented and related to a lot of what Melody was saying onstage – so much so that I’ll forgive her description of lisdexamfetamine (a medication for ADHD) as a ‘cure’ (it is a treatment, not a ‘cure’) and her use of the frankly vomit-inducing term ‘neurospicy’.
It just has that essence of inattentiveness and hyperactivity throughout – and I mean this in the best way. It’s proper ADHD art. Even the preshow playlist alternates between sleepy vocal chords and chaotic jazz music, initiating that feeling of daydreaming and hyperactivity before Melody walks on stage. And thanks to her unmasking (not hiding neurodivergent traits) as the show progresses, and she begins to show us more and more of herself as a person with ADHD, endearing herself to us and allowing us to really see her for who she is, not held back by masking.
It’s not always plain sailing for Melody, whose natural awkwardness and slightly stilted comedic timing at times gets in the way of really engaging with the audience and drawing us to in to her story. While it is a story about navigating the amateur stand-up circuit, there seems to always be something slightly holding her back as she tells her story, not just when re-enacting her first few gigs. It’s by no means boring – I had barely looked up from my watch at the beginning of the show when the hour had completely passed me by – but at times just a touch awkward.
Yet there is still a great emotional punch to be packed towards the end as Melody reaches ever closer to the present day and gives us an account of her journey recently and changes in her personal life. Not a single person in the room did not feel a great sense of attachment to Melody’s story at that point as she truly bared it all emotionally on stage. While possibly more affecting for me as someone with ADHD, it’s well-written enough so that anyone, of any neurotype, will be taken by it.
She’s described as ‘funny, but not in a conventional way’ in the show, and frankly I think that is a perfect descriptor for Melody. It might not be exactly what you had in mind if you walk in looking for a laugh-a-minute stand-up show, but if you want to see a genuinely engrossing exploration of the chaos of an adult ADHD diagnosis and the way it impacts a person told through a truly unique storytelling style, you’ll be in for a treat.
Head Set is touring the UK. To book tickets to a venue near you, visit https://victoriamelody.com/tour-dates
Photos by Steve Ullathorne