Gwyneth Goes Skiing ★★★★★

In Gwyneth Goes Skiing, Awkward Productions hit the slopes of Utah to reimagine Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous ski crash with retired optometrist Terry Sanderson

In 2016, Hollywood Gooperstar Gwyneth Paltrow took to the ski slopes of Deer Valley in Utah for a day of skiing. She was not to get a full day…

That same day, retired optometrist Terry Sanderson also took to the slopes for a day of skiing…

It was a day they both would collide with fate. And also each other!

A mere seven years later, a courtroom case would transfix the world as the wheels of Utah justice found an Oscar-winning, vagina-candle flogging, Hollywood actress spinning in its orbit. Gwyneth Goes Skiing is a gritty, meticulous recreation of that deeply important legal battle…. as if!

The Utah trial wove a hypnotic story of baffling, I-can’t-believe-my-ears, rank stupidity and who better than Awkward Productions to pick up that delirious, dizzyingly dumb material and turn it into a high-camp, snow-speckled, fevered fantasia of Queer Joy.

All images by Jonny Ruff

Building up a devoted following with shows such as How To Live A Jellicle Life: Life Lessons from the 2019 Hit Musical Cats and Diana: The Untold and Untrue StoryGwyneth Goes Skiing features their trademark silliness ramped up to the max.

Linus Karp takes the role of Paltrow, perfectly capturing her woozy “oh I’m just a normal Hollywood superstar” condescension that only a Nepo baby can exude. Karp delivers a volley of Paltrow-centred gags from her “flawless” English accent to Chris Martin (“the colour of beige personified”), from her daughter Apple (played by a literal apple) to the actress’s inability to remember which Marvel films she starred in. Just as he did with Princess Diana, Karp manages the impressive trick of elevating Paltrow at the same time as lampooning her. It is a performance filled with good-heartedness.

The yin to Gwyneth’s yang, retired Utahan optometrist Terry Sanderson is a less-familiar entity. There’s a certain stubbornness mixed with delusion to take one of the most famous women in the world to court. An aged-up Joseph Martin manages to imbue Sanderson with the necessary eccentricity but also an important sense of pathos to prevent his character becoming merely a punchline to the joke. Martin’s versatility really comes to the fore when he takes on the dual role of the optometrist’s lawyer, Kristin Van Orman. Did we mention that Van Orman is a puppet? Much fun is made from verbatim questions that the Gwyneth-admiring lawyer actually asked, but it’s Martin’s puppeteering skills that makes you forget the character is a puppet within minutes. 

Gwyneth Goes Skiing is a wild ride but one carefully structured by Karp and Martin. The first act teasingly builds up to the fateful incident on the slopes. Wooden trees and painted snowy panoramas are soon filled with the fauna of the forest. The eponymous Deer of Deer Valley is a wooden cut out on wheels. A glove puppet Squirrel leads the audience in a snowball fight. And the world’s slowest revolve renders Gwyneth and Terry’s escapades on the slope as irresistibly camp.

The second half is taken up with the courtroom drama. Was the actress off piste or was the optometrist just piste off? The audience, suitably lubricated by interval drinks, are tasked with rendering a verdict (via QR code) leading to one of two endings of the show.

What impresses so much about Gwyneth Goes Skiing is that it feels that Awkward Productions are taking a step up to the next stage of theatre making but retaining what has made them so popular in the first place. The production values are bigger. They are attracting ‘names’ to work with them. Drag Race alumnus Trixie Mattel makes a brief but hilarious onscreen appearance as Gwyneth’s actress mother Blythe Danner. Equally impressive, Leland, the resident songwriter and producer for RuPaul’s Drag Race and songwriter for the likes of Cher and Troye Sivan, has contributed four original songs to the show. “I’ll See You In Court”, the Act 1 finale song, is an instant earworm that’s impossible to shift! 

No-one makes shows like Awkward Productions. There’s something unmistakably, refreshingly child-like in how they approach their cultural targets. The default gravitational pull for most Queer theatre creators tends towards the angst, the pain, and the struggles within gay life. It is welcome that Linus Karp and Joseph Martin buck this trend, preferring to seek out and celebrate moments of Queer joy and fun. There is a quiet defiance in exploring the comedy rather than tragedy in LGBTQ+ worlds. It’s a much needed balance.

This new show couldn’t be more knowing if they had a giant neon eye over the stage, winking throughout the performance. Did The Recs love every chaotic moment? Gwuilty as charged!

And to any naysayers who can’t immerse themselves in the Queer joy of Gwyneth Goes Skiing, The Recs has only one message for you: “We wish you well!”

‘Snow doubt, it’s an avalanche of Queer joy, camp delights and BIG laughs – ★ 5 stars

Gwyneth Goes Skiing Tickets

Gwyneth Goes Skiing runs at the Pleasance, London until 16th February 2024

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