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Hannah Gadbsy: Mrs Chuckles at Melbourne 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

To say Hannah Gadsby gets off to a sluggish start would be an insult to gastropods. She makes no secret about her lack of energy, sighing laconic self-deprecating comments about her love of the nap and lack of adventure.

Not only is her delivery sleepy, her background is too. She dryly tells of the comfortable misery of growing up in the rural backwater of Smithton, Tasmania, a quiet outsider at a quiet school, only tolerated by her peers because she could impersonate Donald Duck and make fart sounds with her throat – party tricks that still stand her in good stead today.

Plenty of country-town comedians describe their isolated upbringings in similar ways, and for a while it seems like Gadsby is the by-the-book social misfit. You might not think she’s progressed much from that quiet introvert, but the dour figure we see today is apparently the ‘after’ state; the product of a social makeover she forced herself to undergo when she moved to the big city. Canberra.

What these small-town tales are doing, though, is laying sturdy foundations for an elegantly constructed stand-up routine. The show moves on to her thoughts on what her last words might be, travel tales from her solo trip through Vietnam and her failures in flirting (‘Mrs Chuckles’ being the nickname one girl she fancied gave her on their first, awkward encounter) – all the while building meticulously on what has gone before.

Callbacks reveal how integral each anecdote is to the show as a whole, even if you mightn’t have realised it at the time. And by the end of the hour, what started as loose, amusing-enough yarns have contributed to a satisfying and substantial piece of witty, if desert-dry, storytelling.

As a performer, she has become relaxed enough to have confidence in her low-key abilities, while not losing sight of the failings that make her so appealing. Stand-up has taken her social malfunctions and turned them into unshakeable nonchalance.

There are hints here, too, of half-formed thoughts that could show where even more intriguing material may lie in the future. Her almost throwaway comment that she’s prudish about sex, yet as a lesbian defined by her sexuality, suggests a whole social agenda she’s not going to tap in this inward-looking show.

Ironically, for someone who so freely admits to being an appalling conversationalist, when the dialogue is all one way, she shines.

Review date: 1 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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