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Hannah Gadsby: The Cliff Young Shuffle

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

It wouldn’t be too unkind to suggest that Hannah Gadsby is not the perfect specimen for most physical activities. An overweight drinker prone to injury, she spends much of this show making cruel jibes at the expense of her own body.

Nonetheless, and for no good reason, she decided to tackle Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk across England. Without training, or any real sense of what the trek would entail, she donned her brand new hiking boots and set off shuffling morosely across 300km of bleak countryside, hating every painful step.

However, what she might have lacked in grace on the Yorkshire fells, she more than makes up for with the construction of this elegant hour, full of incisive self-doubt and witheringly witty putdowns for the fellow walkers who irritated her so much. Exercise might not be her forte, but she did excel in one activity among the English world champions – whinging.

The show is named after a 64-year-old potato farmer whose slow-and-steady approach allowed him to win a race between Melbourne and Sydney, simply by not quitting, not even to sleep. Despite that inspirational ‘tortoise and the hare’ story, Gadsby hated every step, and didn’t understand why she was putting herself through such a miserable challenge. Only a tenuous bond with a similarly grumpy walker kept her going.

But to think this is a story about fellwalking is to think Animal Farm is about cute talking pigs. It’s about mental health, about the difference between depression and despair, about what happens when the mind breaks down, frozen with indecision, and the strange processes and slightest human interactions that can get it going again. You can see why she didn’t mention that on the poster.

Though frank about her own problems in this area, Gadsby dexterously keeps the tone light. This subject, though usually only an undercurrent, gives what in any case would have been an absorbing, entertaining yarn an added dimension.

But that’s only incidental to the funnies, which stem from mainly her mean-spirited bitchiness, directed at both herself and others. She doesn’t come off as the best person in all of this, but she does come across as brutally honest. Combine that with a yarn made compelling in the hands of an expert storyteller, and you’ve got one hell of an entertaining hit.

Review date: 16 Apr 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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