Caroline Horton has two shows up at the Fringe this year, and they make for a stark contrast. Islands, love it or loathe it, is calculatedly grotesque, courting repulsion in its attack on tax-dodging economic elites. You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy, on the other hand, is wilfully endearing. There’s a French accent. There’s a little model of the Eiffel Tower. There are suitcases that explode with whimsical surprises. It should all be unbearably twee.
And it is twee, but it’s also infectiously loveable. Chrissy, played by Horton with an accent that stays just the right side of caricature, is the theatre-maker’s irrepressible French grandmother. In the 1930s, she was sent to Staffordshire to improve her English, where she met and swiftly fell in love with an Englishman. But the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of Chrissy’s native France followed hot on the heels of their whirlwind engagement, threatening to bring the burgeoning romance to an abrupt end.
Chrissy (short for Christianne), suitcases in tow, tells us this story from the busy concourse of Paris’s Gare du Nord. She’s the sort of person affectionately described as a “character”: all charming quirks and excitable exclamations. But she’s also allowed her imperfections. Chrissy is clumsy, goofy and nothing short of dogged in her determination. First, she pursues her man with hilariously single-minded wit. And then, when war separates her and her new fiancé, she refuses to let anything – Nazis, intercepted mail or petty bureaucracy – stop her from eventually marching down the aisle.
The story is told simply but with some gorgeous touches. The suitcases, a reminder of Chrissy’s packed up and precarious life, hold all the most precious of her memories, from wartime letters to a romantic night in Paris. Opened with a wide grin, up leap delicate cityscapes or the BBC radio microphone that sends news of the war to a stranded Chrissy in occupied Paris. The style of Horton’s performance, meanwhile, is somewhere between clowning and confessional, each incident in the narrative told with twinkling glances to the audience.
Compared with subsequent shows Mess and Islands, though, there’s not a lot to dig away at beneath the surface of Horton’s breakthrough hit. Chrissy is a singular character, with a history that touches on turbulent – and certainly not sugar-coated – events in Europe’s past. But Horton’s show is not really about any of that context, which fades into the background beside its vivid protagonist. Scratch away and it’s Chrissy all the way through.
That said, there’s no doubt Chrissy makes excellent company. And ultimately it feels churlish to complain about a piece of theatre so carefully constructed and utterly charming. Five years on from its Fringe premiere, Horton’s show is still a beautiful demonstration of one theatre-maker’s skill and a loving portrait of one ordinary yet extraordinary woman. Neither Chrissy nor her creator are quite like anyone else.