Sarah Cassidy: Beard Envy

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Jay Richardson

Vespbar, Glasgow

Less fashionable than they were, beards are nevertheless a fertile environment for comedy, to judge by the debut performance of this show from Sarah Cassidy. Just as the safety razor prompted changes in male and female body image, this is a loose collection of ideas that need serious trimming and sculpting before it’s the finished article. But the potential is clearly there.

A Glasgow-based Floridian, Cassidy has a perky stage presence and a quirky worldview that’s just the right side of self-conscious. Declaring a serious case of personal beard envy, which she more or less successfully distinguishes from penis envy, she nearly comes unstuck early on. Handing out fake beards at the door promotes a relaxed, informal atmosphere, while recalling the stoning scene in The Life of Brian. But it also encourages a couple of refreshed well-wishers in the front rows to join in a little too enthusiastically, until she capably talks them down with affectionate hugs.

Once everyone’s settled, she launches into the show’s most appealing aspect, a historical summary of the beard, featuring the most disturbing Roman and Catholic grooming till the present day. While some tales are more outlandish and better told than others, the narrative is stronger whenever she returns to them and remains on-theme. Like a composite of Richard Herring’s Hitler Moustache and Talking Cock shows, she examines the iconography and cultural significance of body hair down the ages.

Inevitably, and in accordance with Godwin’s Law that every argument evokes the Nazis eventually, she ultimately arrives at the Hitler ‘tache but with the added frisson of a nebbish Jewish girl claiming an affinity with the dictator. She sustains interest revealing why, for example, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley went clean-shaven, but is less assured exploring her feminism through whether to shave or not to shave. Astute when reasoning which parts of a woman’s body will compel a man to sympathy when she’s feeling ill, if Cassidy can expand and reinforce the material in this section, it might afford the show the opinionated ending it deserves.

Her generalised observations on Americans, Brits and even the French are commonplace but she slyly delivers a funny bit of unwitting testimony recalling a mugging in New York. There’s a decent routine about the naming of US sports teams after animals and ethnic minorities but it’s never as punchy as her compatriot W. Kamau Bell on the same subject. Whenever she veers off beards, as in an aimless anecdote about dating a moss scientist or lengthy bit about whiling her time away at a call centre on a cute baby animal website, she pulls it back with reference to her ethnicity, specifically through mention of her hirsute rabbi uncle.

These compelling personal insights, her grandmother urging her not to date ‘goyim’ or her uncle’s self-serving interpretation of the Torah, make the hair fetish seem explicable. Her father is bearded too but Scottish Catholic, never as exotic in Glasgow, so the ‘daddy issues’ are largely held back for another hour. With more focus and less tangential material crowbarred-in, Beard Envy is a show that can only grow

Review date: 17 Mar 2013
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Glasgow Yesbar

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