Jessica Fostekew

Jessica Fostekew

Jessica Fostekew: The Silence of the Nans

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson

Anyone who reckons the Edinburgh Fringe is a self-contained bubble of narrow opinion ought to try a cruise ship. That's the take-home message from Jessica Fostekew's latest hour, a cautionary tale of a stand-up booking gone horribly awry.

Like the 'vicar' comics she mocks for greeting their 'congregations' post-gig to get their egos glad-handed, cruise ship shows are something you occasionally hear of in passing, a parallel circuit of lucrative engagements spoon-feeding old-school material to pensioners. Rarely though, do you get this level of excruciating detail, with Fostekew portraying her experience as a claustrophobic floating purgatory.

Her story begins at last year's Fringe, when a dapper gentleman named Jack approached her after a show and promised her 'the big time', asking if she wanted to perform a run of dates on a Royal Caribbean liner. 

Despite some initial scepticism, the fee involved and the prospect of a free holiday was enough to persuade her to sign up, taking her newborn baby and best friend Rach along for the ride.

Once aboard the 4,000-passenger behemoth, the comic is surprised to see her name so prominently displayed in lights, misspelled but still. Warning klaxons probably should have begun sounding at that point. And turned into a distress call when she was told of the restrictions on her material. No swearing, obviously, but also an exhaustive list of potentially contentious subject matter to avoid.

Her lack of costume changes, choreography and songlist comes as something of a surprise to the stage manager. And all the while, from her cabin neighbours and the staff on the ship, she hears talk of the mythical Jane Currie, another comedian who's the darling of everyone who's seen her.

When Fostekew’s first performance duly arrives, to 2,000 people, it is, predictably, a car crash of incompatibility. The gig itself is relatively quickly dispatched in Fostekew's retelling, the laughs mostly generated by the gradual drip-feed of poisonous feedback she overhears, is passed to her in note form under her cabin door and delivered directly to her face at breakfast by old ladies charmed by her son but failing to recognise her. The ship's Chinese whispers have monstered accounts of her set into an aberration of filth and Remain-voting depravity.

The beautiful boat becomes an oppressive, persecuting environment to her band of three with her as the unifying scapegoat, its flimsy facade of civilised luxury affording them no compassion. Contractually obliged to return to the stage, she seeks to find out what has made her rival Currie such a hit, wondering all the while if her childhood crime of animal cruelty is being repaid as karma.

With the crucial disclaimer that The Silence of the Nans is 'based on real events', Fostekew paints a frightening picture for the average Fringe-goer of an older generation so staunchly set in their ways and entertainment horizons that it prompts more horror in her memory than the childbirth from which she and her son almost died.

The likes of Jack the impresario, with his spittle-flecked enthusiasm and unwillingness to hear negative thoughts, and the dead-behind-the-eyes Irish MC who introduces Fostekew with an increasingly flat build-up are mischievously well drawn, even if the pensioners are mostly an undead, prejudiced mass.

The outcome and even the various plot points are predictable from the first, with the vessel's slow-motion steaming towards disaster not coming as any revelation to anyone who holds firm views about cruise holidays. If you're happy to simply enjoy the journey though, Fostekew's a far better storyteller than octogenarians give her credit for.

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Published: 24 Aug 2017

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