Ava Vidal Goes Dutch

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Nione Meakin

Has Ava Vidal mellowed? Her tone seems gentler than previously, the smile more frequent. But it turns out she’s done nothing of the sort.

Recently on tour in the Netherlands, which partly explains the title, Vidal wastes no time in launching into a furious critique of the place. She’s not keen on the Dutch habit of ‘smiling very loudly’ and even less enamoured of ‘Black Peter’, a counter-Santa Claus figure that is an integral part of Christmas tradition there.

Locals tell her he is only black on account of the soot in the chimney he comes down. ‘Really?’ she snorts, ‘…and his nose got broader and his lips fatter too?’

If Vidal seems pissed off, it’s with good reason. She lives in a society where her arrival in an Australian TV green room can completely confound a make-up artist and she has to instruct her teenage son on what to do when (not if) the police stop and search him.

Clearly upset by Vidal’s experiences, one audience member hamfistedly attempts to make amends, reassuring her he doesn’t even think of her as black. She’s temporarily rendered speechless.

Although she’s developed an appealing habit of undercutting herself when she gets too serious, here, even more than previously, Vidal struggles to balance her political feeling with the demands of comedy. There are moments when one wonders if she doesn’t belong better on Newsnight or This Week – where she gave Michael Portillo a piece of her mind on benefit cuts just last week – than on the comedy circuit.

None of which is to underestimate her skills as a comedian; she has a calm, relaxed delivery that perfectly balances the acerbic material and a brilliant knack for toying with audience sensibilities. There's no room for comfortable spectator complacency here, Vidal forces everyone to question what they think and constantly invites us to reevaluate her too as she flips between good cop and bad.

It’s interesting that of everything she says, it’s the stuff about her children that causes the most stony faces in the auditorium, particularly when one considers the breeziness with which rape jokes tend to be greeted on the comedy circuit. Is the 'bad mother' the last real taboo?

It will be interesting to see what happens next with Vidal's career. She makes a fascinating, informed and refreshingly unpredictable comedian but should she choose to go down that path, she would make a genuinely seismic impact on politics.

Review date: 15 Oct 2012
Reviewed by: Nione Meakin
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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