Sandra Bernhard: Everything Bad & Beautiful, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

Too much bluster, not enough depth
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The Independent Culture

"You should have gone to Brighton!" a group of diehard fans chorused to Sandra Bernhard early on in her half-full Worthing show. "Tell the promoter. I don't know what I'm doing here," retorted the sassy comedian and singer. "I've been to the UK before but this is really weird."

While her promoter does indeed have some questions to answer, the 52-year-old performer, not seen on these shores since 2002 at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, has to ask herself why she decided not to show off to British audiences material aired in the US outing of this show in 2006. Though Bernhard understandably lets her work evolve with time, this incarnation of Everything Bad & Beautiful had little of the social insight or political bite of the original.

Rather than pointed attacks on poverty and on political personalities such as Laura Bush, the Bush daughters and Condoleezza Rice, we were treated to one-dimensional routines sarcastically juxtaposing Justin Timberlake's emotional musicianship and a concurrent improvement in the state of the world, or describing how she has taken Britney Spears under her wing, which for the most part was an excuse to burst into a ballad – albeit an apparently heartfelt one.

While the Britney routine at least had some deft asides (such as advising Britney to "let the wind blow through your hair", knowing full well that the fallen star recently shaved her head), this was not the case in a routine based on a brochure for luxury homes where there was almost no attempt made to embroider in some humorous deconstruction. At times she looked like a showbiz seamstress without a needle to hand. In fact, the only thing she did have to hand were her notes on a music stand, to which she referred repeatedly.

From a fairly sparky start the trend of the show was downwards, all the way to the faintly ludicrous ending where, dressed as a policewoman (the kind you might hire for a stag party), she raunched through Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle", Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and Prince's "Little Red Corvette". We needed a little more than bump and grind to take away from an evening hosted by someone who labels herself "a representative of the talented, sane, smart, passionate people".

There were occasional frissons: Bernhard is a formidable presence even when things are not going her way, and she had to reprimand the audience for "not getting with the programme". In another of those positive flashes, she joked about the time when Chrissie Hynde took her to a function for Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) two days before 11 September 2001, and she found the evening not to her taste: "The energy in that room tipped the scales in favour of al-Qa'ida."

Elsewhere, Bernhard's deconstruction of blogs was pithy: "Liza Minnelli doesn't wake up in the mornings and start to blog... Liza Minnelli doesn't wake up in the mornings." It was a two-for-one comment and one of the best of the night.

Some modicum of the fiery, free-spirited force that made David Letterman look so uncomfortable when he had Bernhard on his show in the Eighties remains. In the show, however, the force of nature that is Bernhard was unfocused, perturbed, and ill at ease with her venue, despite a willing audience. Perhaps the most telling point for me was the pleasure she told us she'd had in procuring herself a pair of $600 Manolo Blahnik shoes, the trademark of Carrie Bradshaw from the very same Sex and the City that she recently criticised in an interview in The Independent for being "superficial".

Though contradictions are all part of what makes her, and she has a love-hate relationship with celebrity, fame and riches, here her remark has come back to haunt her as it precisely described the level of impression that this show made on the memory.

Touring to 29 October (www.sandrabernhard.com)

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