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Hannah Gadsby: Hannah Wants A Wife

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s often said that history of art is a joke subject, and now Hannah Gadsby proves it.

For this hour, the comedian and art geek, shares the stage with a reproduction of Flemish master Jan van Eyck's 1434 painting of The Arnolfini Marriage, and proceeds to explain its providence and symbolism – or ‘Dan Browns the shit out of it’ in her laywoman’s terms.

But the choice of this painting is not simply because it’s an important work, but because she saw it used on a leaflet by those opposed to legalising gay weddings in Australia. Opponents of the idea usually suggest it would somehow demean the institution of marriage – and Gadsby’s made it her mission to prove that it’s hardly an institution with a salubrious past.

Thus any high-falutin artistic ideas are thrown out the window as Gadsby, with the aid of a trusty PowerPoint presentation, considers how, until recently, wives were simply property, forbidden from having a life or mind of their own. It’s a whirlwind journey through the ages, with special, erm, thrills to be had with the Victorians’ attitude to the female orgasm.

That may have been misunderstood, but so, Gadsby finds, is lesbianism to this day – which she illustrates with some hilarious personal examples, not to mention the story of the one hapless boy who asked her out in London.

Fifteenth century art and gender issues might not sound the most hilarious of evenings, but Gadsby has a deft, light touch as she navigates the subject matter. Her delivery, once soporifically deadpan, has lightened, too. She’s never going to be the Mrs Chuckles of her sarcastic nickname – but there’s a new good humour to her manner, whether due to her increasing mainstream recognition as Adam Hills’s talk-show sidekick, or just because laughing off the strange opinions she’s confronted with is the reaction they deserve.

The show cracks along its multi-threaded way, fascinating and fun in equal measure. There’s no great soul-stirring moment, but just a thoroughly entertaining hour of good, intelligent company. She’ll make someone a wonderful wife one day…

Review date: 6 Apr 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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