Luisa Omielan: Politics For Bitches | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Luisa Omielan: Politics For Bitches

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

This is one of those shows that is impossible to rank by attaching a simplistic star rating to a review, since it very much depends what you hope to get out of it. 

Certainly by comedy standards it’s not very funny, and Omielan knows that well. She has decided to cash in some of the capital she’s earned from her breakout hits What Would Beyonce Do? and Am I Right Ladies? and use it to speak on a heartfelt, tragic subject very close to her heart. 

She feels understandably compelled to use the platform she built for herself, from the grassroots up, to discuss the state of the NHS, the laws that forbid cannabis oil to be used for pain relief, and attitudes to assisted suicide. All subjects she has been brutally forced to address first-hand following the death of her much-loved mother earlier this year.

Comics, of course, have been tackling serious topics for years, and Hannah Gadsby took that freedom to new levels with Nanette, using tragedy to puncture comedy, when traditionally those roles were the other way around. That show prompted debate as to whether it was amusing enough for comedy – yet for a good two-thirds of its running time, it most definitely was. But Politics For Bitches is a different prospect, as it’s almost relentlessly miserable.

Omielan starts with some comic intent, setting out that she was, until this happened, so apolitical she didn’t realise the Tories and the Conservatives were the same. She imagines politics being an unwanted penis, intrusively slapping her in her face when she didn’t want anything to do with it.

But she wants to try to get involved so starts explaining the big issue for the unengaged: there is a great analogy for Brexit, a deliberately convoluted one for health service funding, and the blame for Trump being laid, quite justifiably, at the door of toxic masculinity. 

We run through how elitist Parliament is, vastly over-representing the wealthy and the privately educated. These are not new facts, but they are apparently not well known. ‘Oh my god!’ I heard one appalled Scottish voice mutter in the darkness a few times. Although it’s true it’s a little simplistic to suggest that all MPs are out of touch and that the solution is more money, all from taxing Amazon presumably. But if this is Politics 101, it’s as good a way as any to get people involved.

Omielan, the livewire party girl wrapped up in her own problems, was forced to consider politics after her mother became ill with what turned out to be stomach and bowel cancer last year. And what happened next is an agonising catalogue of blunders, red-tape, jobsworth intransigence and uncaring laws. 

Her GP missing vital clues, agonisingly long waiting lists for appointments and treatment, being denied even the basic humanity of water without prescription, and eventually dying, in agony and with no dignity. It is nothing less than cruel.

After being so uplifting and empowering previously, this show sometimes feels hopeless. By wearing her heart on her sleeve Omielan puts her audience through one fraction of one per cent of the anguish she suffered, and we feel terrible, so what she must have endured is almost unimaginable.

The comedian feels a great, justifiable anger, at the system that treated her mother so badly, and the show is a howl at the injustice at it all, ending in a powerful, emotive polemic about how politics affects real lives in major ways, and how we SHOULD care about it, that brings the audience to their feet.

They didn’t laugh, not for half an hour or more as this appalling situation unfolded, but by heck were they moved.

Review date: 12 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon

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