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Shappi Khorsandi: The Distracted Activist - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Over the past 12 months, Shappi Khorsandi has written an autobiographical book, recorded a Radio 2 series and appeared on just about every TV show going, from Jonathan Ross to Al Jazeera, via Question Time. You do wonder where she found time to write an Edinburgh show.

In fact, The Distracted Activist does feel like something of a placeholder: a reminder that the live stage is where she shines brightest, but perhaps not as polished or as structured as her best work. It’s testament to her warm wit and light touch on matters serious that the show is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, despite some wobblier, underwritten moments.

The amount of audience interaction is one clue that she hasn’t quite generated enough top-drawer material, yet her easy banter with the front row of teenagers does bear fruit. Absent-mindedly wondering aloud just how much give there is in the microphone cable is an unsurprisingly less productive time-filler.

But then ‘distracted’ is what it says on the poster. It’s a reference to a litany of short-lived, but consumingly passionate, causes she has backed over the years: from animal rights to feminism. Events in her native Iran this year have suddenly made her a semi-reluctantly political act – and prompted that suddenly prolific TV career - and fired up that campaigning spark once again.

Khorsandi has finely-tuned social antenna and a strong sense of injustice, but she will never be an overtly hectoring polemist. Instead she draws you in by being bubbly, chatty and all-round charming in her enthusiastic middle-class way, before gently suggesting her opinions, cosseted in the cotton-wool of middle-class niceness.

Such stealthy charisma gets the political message across more effectively than ranting and raving, while the topical, relevant content ensures the show is never less than interesting.

A few routines sit oddly in the mix – the relevance of her arm-wrestling with a butch Manchester lesbian seems especially out of context – but for the most part Khorsandi delivers affectionately witty jokes with her astutely-observed commentary on contemporary life.

Review date: 14 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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