Frankie McNair in An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth

By Peter Hodgson

It was during The Days Of Lockdown that I first noticed Frankie McNair posting the odd video where they played a sort of old-timey Hollywood starlet character doing line readings. “Dance? Oh no, I don’t dance, I don’t dance [damaged expression] …anymore…” I don’t know if this led directly to the invention of Tabitha Booth but it sure feels like it. A bit of backstory: Tabitha is a star of yesteryear with a roster of films, TV shows, cabaret and burlesque. She’s led a very French lifestyle, oo-er. She’s rubbed shoulders and probably other bits with legendary movers and shakers. And found great success with the character of Long Fork Lady, success that overshadowed her other achievements until the true Tabitha was left in the dark. People didn’t want to see Tabitha. They wanted to see the lady with the extremely long fork. Tabitha wanted to make it outside of cutlery-based comedy.

And that brings us to An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth. We find Tabitha making a triumphant return to the stage as she regales us with tales from her days of glamour and stardom, complete with musical numbers from her prestigious career (including a hitherto unheard submission for the theme to Goldeneye that you just have to hear to believe). But things soon start to go just a little bit wrong: invited guests don’t show up, there are issues procuring props, Tabitha hits the pills, her stage manager Harris tries his best to work with what he has, and Tabitha ends up having a little psychedelic freak-out that exposes her deep resentment of and debt to her past success.

Frankie McNair is such a naturally funny, charismatic little comedy gremlin, and the Tabitha Booth alter-ego provides plenty of scope for their many talents, from dancing to singing to a real command of the ‘the mouth says one thing while the face says another’ school of acting as Tabitha’s mask slips. And this may be a comedy show but there are some genuine moments of real, poignant emotion, particularly a video segment where a throes-of-success Tabitha, eyes glittering with optimism, reveals her thoughts on artistic purpose and the spectre of failure.

I saw this performance last year too, and while the general show is more or less the same, the 2024 incarnation is lifted up by McNair’s increased comfort with the character. There’s now more of an understanding of what Tabitha is capable of, more nimbleness in catching little moments to build improv out of, and just a generally deeper journey into the world building. I’d love to see Tabitha continue her story, and can’t help but think what a Tabitha Booth TV show would be like, maybe showing us her day-to-day life intercut with clips of her classic performances and interviews. The character herself is becoming so well fleshed out now that it feels like time to let her truly run free, out of the pronged shadow of the Long Fork Lady.

Frankie McNair performs An Intimate Evening With Tabitha Booth at the Town Hall til April 7