Review: Fake It ’til You Make It

487e65cb-392b-45f0-a595-185372d3d943-620x372Last month I interviewed performance artist Bryony Kimmings for The Debrief, about what to do when your boyfriend has depression. She and her own (non-performer) boyfriend, Tim Grayburn, have spent the last eight months touring a collaborative show based on just that: their experiences, as a couple, of Tim’s depression.

Following huge acclaim in Australia, last week the couple performed a run of Edinburgh festival previews at London’s Southbank Centre, with Thursday’s performance featuring a post-show discussion with Shân Maclennan, Deputy Artistic Director of Southbank Centre; Rachel Clare, Communications Director of CALM; Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind; consultant psychiatrist Dr Jim Bolton; as well as Bryony and Tim.

The show itself is phenomenally brave, moving and powerful; heart-wrenching yet entertaining, deeply personal yet enormously relatable. From dancing around the stage in their underwear, to revealing the depths of Tim’s despair through snippets of a raw, intimate conversation the couple recorded in their living room, the show beautifully achieves what Bryony promises in its opening: a surreal and poignant blend of light and dark, vividly expressing the experiences of depression and anxiety, and exploring the impact of gender roles on the way men and women talk (or don’t talk) about our feelings.

One of the most powerful techniques, which was referred to repeatedly during the post-show discussion, initially grew out of Tim’s desire not to have to look the audience in the eye. Throughout the performance he appears with his face obscured by masks, goggles, clouds, and other props – at one time a lethargic, emotionless shell in a paper bag; at another, a frantic, panic-stricken animal, wild with fear and confusion. This makes his closing speech to the audience, with his face finally revealed and a very genuine shakiness in his voice, all the more powerful and touching. He moves from this moment of raw honesty to another dance, as he and Bryony hold up signs naming the symptoms of depression while dancing a samba, before closing with a song he wrote for her – and not a single dry eye in the house, least of all Bryony’s.

It is, as Bryony says early on, a love story (“sorry, gross!”) – but one that’s as human and real and beautiful as they get – and perhaps made all the more significant by the fact they conceived their son during the Australian leg of the tour, who appears on stage, in utero, alongside them. Tim kept his mental illness a secret from virtually everyone in his life for eight years, and clearly credits the love and support of “the one” with helping him to seek support, reduce his dosage of anti-depressants, and finally open up to his friends and family – something he says was actually a catalyst for several of his friends to do the same.

Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly bold move to go from total secrecy to playing out your darkest moments on stage in front of thousands of people (especially in your pants!) The shame and sense of failure that he describes feeling about his depression are undoubtedly feelings that many men can relate to, and Tim’s desire to help other men like himself is an incredibly inspiring part of the driving force behind the show.

In the post-show discussion, the issue of engaging men to talk about their mental health was naturally a clear focus, with Stephen and Rachel in particular discussing techniques for reaching out to men in their own terms – approaching conversations about mental health through observations (“I’ve noticed you seem down lately”, “you haven’t seen your friends for a while”), and engaging with men at gigs and football matches, or through men’s interest magazines.

Another key issue was around the support actually available for men when they do reach out – with both Mind and CALM saying that whenever they expand the capacity of their services, there are always more than enough people to fill them. Mind’s Stephen Buckley called on the audience to help the charity hold the government to account for its election promises to improve funding, while CALM’s Rachel Clare suggested we “can’t rely on this government” to adequately fund mental health care.

Despite the obvious political failings that have long existed within the sector, consultant psychiatrist Dr Jim Bolton sounded a more optimistic note, highlighting the huge improvements that have been made in tackling stigma in rent years. While there is obviously still a very long way to go, Fake It ’til You Make It fills a really important hole in that conversation.

Fake It ’till You Make It is on at Latitude Festival tomorrow, Sunday 19 July, before moving on to Edinburgh Festival. Find out more at

For more information and support on men’s mental health, visit CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) or Mind, read my previous work on men’s mental health, or check out Bryony’s advice on supporting your boyfriend.

Review: ‘The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women’ by Jane Duffus

WTFrockWhat The Frock! is one of just three all-female comedy nights held in the UK. Based in Bristol, WTF! was founded in 2012 to prove a point about the abundance of funny women (and the abundance of people eager to see them perform), and recently celebrated its third birthday.

Despite its relative infancy, WTF! is a seriously passionate, ambitious brand, committed to promoting women in comedy. After just three years, WTF! has already expanded beyond Bristol, hosting shows in nearby Bath, appearing as part of the Women In Comedy Festival in Manchester, and even putting on a show at the Southbank Centre’s iconic three-day Women of the World Festival. The WTF! Newcomer Award is now in its third year, and WTF! has been featured by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, as well as ITV, and BBC TV and radio.

So, obviously, a book was the next natural step.

I should confess at this point that Jane Duffus, the woman who single handedly runs What The Frock! and the author of this book, has been a friend since we met through feminist circles on Twitter back in 2010. I’ve been a WTF! supporter and (occasional) audience member ever since she founded it, as well as doing odd bits of content writing and social media management for the brand. So I write this not without bias, as someone who really loves and believes in what Jane is doing for women’s comedy in the UK (and who has the tote bag, car sticker, badges, fridge magnets, bookmark, but not yet the T-shirt, to prove it!)

The The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women is a relatively skinny book, smaller than I’d expected, but it packs a punch. Jane writes on the assumption that her reader already knows women are funny – there’s no time wasted on debating ‘are they or aren’t they?’ because this book is all about letting the funny women’s work speak for itself. After briefly running through the histories both of women in comedy and the WTF! brand, Jane gets straight to the women.

With a little help from contributors including Viv Groskop, James Mullinger and Kate Smurthwaite, Jane profiles a diverse array of funny women from the last century-and-a-bit, curating their achievements and career highlights in a way that makes you go ‘god, I really want to spend the rest of the day watching French and Saunders on YouTube’. Not brilliant for your afternoon productivity if you happen to be reading it during your lunch break (as I was), but great inspiration if you’re in need of a laugh and bored of the same old men on Mock The Week.

The book’s aim is to celebrate the funniest women ever to have made us laugh, and features 71 funny women in total, in what Jane admits is far from a comprehensive list. But with highlights including everyone from novelists Jane Austen and Helen Fielding to US superstars Tina Fey, Ellen Degeneres and Sarah Silverman – with British legends Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and so many more in between – it’s difficult to dispute the fact that Jane has made a pretty impressive start.

Besides the obvious choices, the book also features many women I’d never heard of, including Hollywood icons and music hall stars. It’s not just a perfect antidote with which to silence the tedious ‘women aren’t funny’ brigade, but also a great resource for discovering women of comedy history and lesser known funny women of today.

It’s probably not a book to read all in one go, so save something else for the beach, but the bite size chunks celebrating each of the 71 women make it ideal for dipping in and out of – you’ll be binge watching Dinner Ladies and Ab Fab in between anyway, or buying tickets for Sarah Millican’s next tour.

You can buy the What The Frock! Book of Funny Women here.

Review: ‘Walking on Custard & The Meaning of Life’ by Neil Hughes

cover-preview-front-onlyI’m fascinated by psychology, mental health and self-improvement, but I’ve always felt slightly ambivalent about self-help books – with my attitude generally falling somewhere between intrigued and cynical.

When Neil Hughes first contacted me about his book, he managed to appeal to the former and, as I read  Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious HumansI realised his writing is informed by a similar self-help cynicism to my own. The result is something endearingly down to earth: Walking on Custard is a self-help book for people who don’t really like self-help books.

Walking on Custard draws deeply on Neil’s life and personality: his experiences of anxiety and self-doubt, his many adventures and misadventures, his cheeky sense of humour, and his loves of physics and sci-fi – and yet, despite this, manages to avoid becoming a book about Neil Hughes.

Hughes’ Guide for Anxious Humans blends accessible physics analogies (including the eponymous non-newtonian custard) with silly fiction, entertaining anecdotes, witty footnotes, thoughtful exercises, shedloads of humour, and an enormous amount of wisdom. All this is peppered throughout by the self-deprecating voices in Neil’s heads, most notably his inner critic, who is both intensely irritating and completely relatable.

(Neil, I have to admit at this point that my own inner critic has been giving me an awful lot of grief about how long it’s taken me to read and review your book – sorry!)

Hughes’ down to earth, sometimes silly, humour and self-deprecation make him an ideal guide through the journey Walking on Custard takes you on; approachable, honest, empathic and human. This isn’t a self-help book written by a self-proclaimed expert, and that’s actually a big part of its strength. It’s well-informed, well-researched (including a ‘Further reading for anyone interested’ section) but it’s also written from the heart, by someone with first-hand experience of everything he describes.

As a guide for anxious humans, Walking on Custard covers a lot of ground – from the big, existential issues like death and the meaning of life, to the more everyday challenges like self-awareness and personal ‘monkeys’, relationships with others, and plenty more besides. At times it’s a bit ‘blokey’, but so many of his experiences and insights struck a chord with me, and it’s clearly a book that has a lot to offer anxious humans everywhere. It’s inspiring without being over-ambitious; challenging without being preachy; insightful without making you cringe (too much!); and funny without being dismissive.

In short, Hughes manages to achieve what many self-help books lack: warmth, humour, and relatablity, but without compromising on wisdom, insight, and practical, useful advice. If nothing else, it’s helped me picture my own anxiety as a giant swimming pool full of custard – and it’s remarkable how much that loosens its hold on you.

Click here to buy  Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans

Musical machinations – A review of Made In Dagenham: The Musical

Originally published at The F Word.

The cast of Made In Dagenham Photo by Manuel HarlanAs the name suggests, Made In Dagenham: The Musical is the latest retelling of the story of the fight for equal pay by an amazing group of women machinists from the Ford factory in Dagenham, in musical theatre form.

Much like the 2010 film, Made In Dagenham: The Musical is a feel-good, comic portrayal of the 1968 machinists’ strike, which succeeds in making you laugh and cry in equal measures.

Gemma Arterton plays the lead role of Rita O’Grady, a working-class Essex woman who works on the sewing machines producing car seats. Her husband, also employed by the Ford factory, is a typical 1960s ‘man’s man’ who does nothing round the house, while Rita takes on the roles of housewife, working mother and all-round “busy woman”, as she sings in the musical’s opening song.

Though adamantly “not political”, Rita is sufficiently enraged when the women’s work is downgraded from skilled to unskilled that she accidentally finds herself (alongside the women’s union convener Connie) leading a ground-breaking walk-out to demand not only the recognition of their skilled labour, but to be paid equally to men doing equivalent work, taking on Ford’s management, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the government in the process.

The production itself is unashamedly and upliftingly feminist, with the women of the cast wonderfully portraying the group of no-nonsense, working class strikers, fighting their fight with humour and passion aplenty. With a drive and determination much like the tenacious E15 mums, who are today campaigning for social housing in post-Olympic east London, Rita and the machinists are prepared to take their fight all the way to the top and unprepared to settle for anything less than the right to equal pay.

With the men forced to take on domestic responsibilities for the first time in their lives, Arterton heartbreakingly demonstrates Rita’s struggle as a mother trying to be there for her family, while fighting to build a better future for her daughter. It’s a familiar problem that, even today, women are so often expected to put their battles for equality to one side and put their domestic responsibilities first.

Equally familiar, Isla Blair, as childless Connie, captures all the frustration and disappointment of a lifetime spent fighting to change the world and being told by the men of the left that women must wait their turn. Neither the Labour party nor the TUC is let off the hook in this regard, with Sophie-Louise Dann’s formidable Barbara Castle also bemoaning the slowness of change and the need to first win over the men.

However, while the women are real and passionate and beautiful and human, the men representing their patriarchal opponents are far more two-dimensional, played as old-school casual sexists and pantomime clowns. The union bosses, Ford management and Prime Minister Harold Wilson are as bumbling and incompetent as each other. Alternatively, in the case of the cowboy from Ford’s US headquarters, they are pantomime villains: the evil capitalists the audience loves to hate.

These caricatures, pitted against the competent, wilful and articulate women, were amusing at first but quite quickly wore thin. When members of the audience began booing and hissing the villainous American Ford boss, I couldn’t help but feel that the rigid role of male power had been grossly over-simplified. As in any classic pantomime battle between good and evil, the women’s ultimate victory over patriarchal forces almost seemed inevitable rather than hard-won, which was a real shame.

Nevertheless, Made In Dagenham: The Musical was a genuinely moving, entertaining production and I cried all the way from the picket line to the TUC conference, where equal pay is finally adopted as TUC policy and Rita is reunited with proud husband Eddie.

The women’s victory was greeted with a mix of whoops and tears from the audience, as the triumphant closing song declared “Now we’re equal paid in Dagenham”, and a voiceover paid tribute to the striking machinists, likening their struggle to the suffragettes’ fight for women’s right to vote and demanding they be remembered and celebrated by the history books.

As is the nature of musical theatre, Made In Dagenham closed on an uncompromising high, with the machinists’ equal pay victory portrayed as an unqualified success.

It was somewhat unsettling to watch knowing that, just a week before the performance, it was reported that supermarket giant Asda is facing mass legal action from female employees who claim they are paid less than men for equivalent work. Equal pay may be enshrined in law but, nearly 50 years later, it remains far from a reality for many women.

Despite this, I came away feeling quite emotional. It’s not often you see a piece of theatre not only dedicated to women’s stories but that reminds you of the incredible courage and tenacity of women’s activism that makes change really possible, however slow.

Made in Dagenham: The Musical is showing at the Adelphi Theatre in London until 28 March.

Review: Teaching Men To Be Feminist

Originally published at Feminist Times.

Teachingmentobefeminist-Quartet-192x300You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I know, but I have to confess I struggled when this one arrived at the Feminist Times office. Teaching Men To Be Feminist is the latest book from Anne Dickson, celebrated author of assertiveness manual A Woman in Your Own Right. The cover is clearly designed to be provocative – the title is superimposed over the bare breasts of a faceless slim, white woman, who is pictured from the waist up to the neck – but I was baffled about the feminist implications.

Reading the blurb – “I have come to regard sexism as the most widespread and effective process of brainwashing in the history of mankind” – I first wondered whether maybe the image really was as downright patronising as it appears. Is the author really suggesting men are so brainwashed by sexism that the mere presence of a naked woman will entice them to buy her book and, in the process, learn something about the feminist movement? Surely, I thought, I must be missing something here. “Is it meant to be ironic or something?” my partner asked when I showed him; “must be,” I said, “but it would put me off buying it for anyone in the first place.”

Having read the book, I’m not sure I’m much clearer; the content itself feels just as confused and self-contradictory. The blurb explains that “Teaching Men to be Feminist is for any man who feels excluded by feminism; who finds himself believing there’s some truth in the frequently heard rationalisation that a female rape victim was ‘asking for it’ even though he may not acknowledge this out loud. This book is for men who love their partners and daughters and don’t want to see them hurt or unfairly disadvantaged but can’t find a way to speak out. It is for anyone who believes feminism is just an outdated ‘woman’s thing’ and above all it is a rallying cry for men and women who still believe in a feminism that can lead to genuine and lasting equality.” So far, so confusing.

One thing is clear: this book is for heterosexual men but, beyond that, I’m not quite sure who its audience is. Is it for men with an interest in learning more about feminism, as the title suggests? Or is it for men who think feminism is outdated and that rape victims are ‘asking for it’? From the ‘back-to-basics’ approach, I suspect it’s intended more for the latter; Dickson uses the first eight chapters (56 pages) to prove that we live under a patriarchal system, that sexism exists, and that it has a negative impact on women’s self-esteem. Clearly I am not the intended audience and much of Dickson’s explanation would, I’m sure, be useful to a man or woman who was new to feminism, but after 56 pages of “dominant and muted cultures” and “the female psyche” I found myself wanting to scream: “Yes, we get it!”

At only 99 pages in total, and with an RRP of £8, Teaching Men to be Feminist feels like a lot of money for not very much. It’s quick, easy reading and, as an informative pamphlet, it does contain some useful introductions to feminist concepts like patriarchy, objectification, and the radical idea that rape is a terrible crime and never the victim’s fault. Much emphasis is placed on the psychological effects of sexism on women (Dickson seems to invite the reader to relate this to their mother, their wife, their daughter) and in particular the idea that being treated like sexual objects – and this is where the cover comes in, I suppose – leads to poor body image and internalised sexism. While I don’t object to the idea of men putting themselves in their wives’/daughters’/mothers’ shoes to raise their awareness of the insidious impact of sexism, there were a number of times when I felt I was being led towards a position of pity for womankind.

Dickson here seems to slip into her assertiveness-training mode; there are parts of the book that felt like a self-help guide for women on the ways in which we don’t help ourselves. While much of what she says rings true for some of the women I know, she relies heavily on generalisations (“women feel”, “the majority of women”, “most women think”) based not on research or statistics, hardly any of which are mentioned, but on her anecdotal evidence from the “thousands of women I’ve worked with”. Regardless of how representive her contacts are, some of what Dickson says about women is just downright wrong. In her chapter on ambivalence, which follows her chapter on rape, Dickson writes: “It’s unlikely that women themselves will ever form a protest march against the incidence of rape.” What, like Reclaim The Night? Slutwalk? V Day?

She continues: “If those who had been raped courageously ‘came out’ and formed such a march, it would be surprising to see the sheer numbers. It might show once and for all that all women – not just the young tarty ones who ‘ask for it’ – are at risk of being raped.” In her quest to teach men about feminism, it might have been nice if Dickson had researched and flagged up the feminist activists already working hard to do exactly what she describes women as being “unlikely” to ever do. The book’s greatest weakness, in terms of content, is that it sticks firmly to the domain of the theoretical, ignoring the resurgent feminist movement, and closing with speculation about a utopic world in which equality has been achieved and men are as publically opposed to sexism as they are to racism. What the book teaches men is why they should support feminism, but the concrete action points are more thin on the ground.

Initially I felt that the book’s biggest downfall was the fact I’ve spent more time musing on, discussing and debating the front cover than the content. That is a real weakness but, in actual fact, the cover tells you as much as you need to know. I posted a photo of it on Facebook to garner reactions from an interesting cross-section of friends and relatives, both male and female; the overwhelming response was “patronising” and “off-putting” – my dad asked if the follow-up would be called Teaching Women the Offside Rule. The content felt much the same, which is disappointing for a book that claims such admirable intentions. For men who are genuinely interested in learning to be feminist, the only lesson you need is this: listen to women’s experiences, support women, and stand up to sexist men. I’ve just saved you £8; you’re welcome.

Teaching Men To Be Feminist by Anne Dickson is published on 28 November by Quartet Books.

Review: Reclaiming the F Word

Originally published at Feminist Times.


Reclaiming The F Word was one of the first feminist books I ever read as a fledgling undergraduate feminist, so when co-author Catherine Redfern offered Feminist Times a review copy, I jumped at the chance.

Reading it the first time around, Reclaiming The F Word came as a huge surprise and relief – at age 20, I suddenly realised there were thousands of feminists across the country who felt the same way I did and were doing something about it.

The book draws on Redfern and Aune’s extensive research into the 21st century feminist movement, quoting articles, books, and most interestingly the responses of the more than a thousand feminists they surveyed, covering all the hot topics of contemporary feminist debate: liberated bodies, sexual freedom and choice, violence against women, equality at work and home, politics and religion, and popular culture.

The tone of the book is, in Redfern and Aune’s own words, “unapologetically positive”, providing a clear – if slightly rose-tinted – window into the best and most diverse of the feminist movement’s work and achievements between 2000 and 2009.

The authors are evangelical about offering newcomers an easy way in via the action points that conclude each chapter. For me, it served exactly that purpose – providing a stepping-stone for discovering feminism and activism for myself.

Having started my feminist journey with Reclaiming The F Word, I’ve seen a huge number of changes – good and bad – since the first edition was released back in 2009. Four years on, and we’ve seen a renaissance in feminism online, in the media, and in popular culture. We’ve seen austerity measures put in place that have disproportionately affected women, we’ve seen a number of attacks on abortion rights across the UK, and we’ve seen the far-reaching shockwaves of Operation Yewtree in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile and others.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg and, in their preface to the new edition, Redfern and Aune explore the changes of the last four years – and its impact on national and global activism – thoroughly but concisely. A whole new book could probably have been written to take in those changes, but Redfern and Aune’s new edition brings Reclaiming The F Word up to date and shows why feminism is just as, if not more, relevant today than it was in 2009.

Reclaiming The F Word is a must-read for tentative new feminists, and an encouraging breath of fresh air for jaded older ones. It’s an energising call to arms, and a reminder that feminism is ripe for reclaiming.

Review: The Deep Space at the Old Red Lion theatre

Originally published at Islington Now.

L-R: Lila Whelan (Caitlin), Oliver Yellop (Liam), Abbiegale Duncan (Sam) and Sarah Fraser (Kay). Photography: Sprocket Theatre.
Left-right: Lila Whelan (Caitlin), Oliver Yellop (Liam), Abbiegale Duncan (Sam) and Sarah Fraser (Kay). Photography: Sprocket Theatre.

The Deep Space is a dark, moving tragedy of domestic life with a haunting intimacy that lingers with the audience long after the four actors take their final bow.

Described as a “modern horror story”, the play centres on the conversation between two women in an interrogation cell – Caitlin, a psychiatrist, and Sam, a mother whose family has died in a house fire.

Caitlin’s role is to uncover the truth about their tragic deaths, but as the play unfolds both women find themselves plumbing the depths of their darkest, most personal secrets. In the intimate space of the Old Red Lion theatre, the audience cannot avoid being drawn in.

With a starkly minimalist set, the play relies entirely on the compelling power of the script, which skillfully tackles the emotional complexity of each woman’s experience, and poignant performances from lead actors Lila Whelan (Caitlin) and Abbiegale Duncan (Sam).

Shifting smoothly between flashbacks and the present moment the small cast builds a convincing portrait of Sam’s life before the fire with two supporting actors doubling up as her mother and father, friend and husband.

The Deep Space is deliberately uncomfortable viewing taking in dark, heavy themes with uncompromising psychological realism. The audience hardly has time to get their heads around one disturbing revelation before they are confronted by another, and it is impossible not to feel emotionally involved.

Full of twists and turns – some more predictable than others – the play ends with both characters noticeably changed and one question left unanswered. I was left pondering this last secret for rest of the night.

Writer Lila Whelan, who plays Caitlin, has created a striking, heartbreaking debut with The Deep Space.

See The Deep Space at the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, St John Street, until Saturday 9th March

Stand Up For Women

Originally published at What The Frock!
Working for a violence against women charity, like being an Arsenal fan, is no laughing matter – as Denise Marshall, CEO of women’s charity Eaves, pointed out at the start of their Stand Up For Women comedy night in the Soho Theatre. Yet the amazing women (and men) who work at Eaves certainly know how to have a good time with their fundraising.

Organised by comedian and Eaves supporter James Mullinger – the self-styled “bad boy of feminism” – this fundraising event brought together a whopping 14 acts, and a packed audience of more than 100 people, for a great night of comedy in aid of a totally brilliant cause.

Compered by Mullinger, the line-up included What The Frock! regular Kate Smurthwaite, along with a host of other up-and-coming names from the stand-up and television comedy circuits.

With 14 acts, each performing for only 10 minutes, it’s hard to pick out just a few highlights. Standout moments included flirty show opener Carly Smallman, whose risqué brand of musical comedy raised laughs and eyebrows alike, and Joel Dommett, who’d come dressed to match the set.

Television comic Sara Pascoe, who’s appeared in Stand Up For The Week and The Thick Of It, had the entire audience in stitches recounting the embarrassment of her first period, feuds with her sister, and the two occasions she faked her own death to get out of a job.

In the second half my highlight, by far, was brilliantly dry comedian Ed Aczel, whose utterly bizarre set was hilariously mundane, straight-faced and surreal. In the ten short minutes of his performance, the audience reaction went from perplexed amusement, to nervous giggles, and culminated in a room full of people crying with laughter.

Other brilliant performances came from Robin Ince, Angela Barnes, Wendy Wason, and headliner Hal Cruttenden, with anecdotes ranging from family life, and yoga classes, to awkward weddings, and a private trip on the Megabus.

Most important of all, the night raised over £1,000 to help Eaves support vulnerable women who have suffered violence and trafficking.

The charity’s second comedy night, scheduled for January, already boasts big name comedians Richard Herring and Shappi Khorsandi on the line-up, with more to be confirmed. Details here.

Review by Sarah Graham, who went to see Stand Up For Women at the Soho Theatre, London, on November 5. Sarah is on Twitter here. 

Find out more about Eaves, which works to help women who have experienced violence, by clicking here.

Review: What The Frock! 3

Originally published at The Student Journals.

Saturday 15th September saw the third What The Frock! women’s comedy night in Bristol, held in association with UK Feminista’s Summer School. In just four months, since the first eventWTF’s creator and organiser Jane Duffus has successfully proven that mainstream comedy clubs are overlooking some really hilarious women comedians. In fact, she’s proved her point so successfully that, from January 2013, What The Frock! will be a monthly event. I’ve long been a supporter ofWhat The Frock! so I was really excited to experience my first show, and it far exceeded my expectations.

The show was compered by one of my favourite female comics, Kate Smurthwaite, whose uncompromising comedy style combines feminist politics, atheism, and plenty of audience interaction. Setting the tone for the rest of the night, Kate began by sharply deconstructing a Daily Mail article on the “mysteries” of the female orgasm – written, of course, by a man – before introducing the first act.

Bristol-based Angie Belcher is a stand-up comedian and poet. Combining these two skills, she performed a series of witty rhymes on single life, Bristol, and why she’d rather have a dog than a child. Some of her ideas were excellent, but the set was an amusing warm-up, rather than a side-splitting show-stopper.

Next up was Bethany Black, Britain’s only goth, lesbian, transsexual stand-up comedian, who went down an absolute storm with her uninhibited, observational style. Bethany casually chatted about everything from the C-word and her former drug addiction, to her “lesbian haircut” and the awkward moment when her cat walked in on her during sex. Thanks to her amazing ability to extract humour from the most uncomfortable of topics, Bethany had the audience roaring with laughter from the start of her set to the very finish. Bethany is friendly, cheeky and utterly hilarious; she could very easily have headlined the show, and I hope to see her heading the bill of a futureWhat The Frock! event.

The night’s headliner was Danielle Ward, who bounded on stage in a comfy-looking patterned jumpsuit and told us that she’d never wanted to be a comedian. In fact, inspired by Helen Sharman, the first British person in space, Danielle grew up wanting to be an astrophysicist and work in the European Space Centre. When 16-year-old Danielle’s teacher told her “I wouldn’t advise any girl to go into physics – you have to be very clever”, she got a job at Blockbuster video instead. Thus began an extremely funny set of feminism, sex, cinema, and politics, full of stories from Danielle’s experiences of sexism in the work place, and personal grooming disasters.

Touching on an issue raised earlier in the show by Kate, Danielle discussed the media’s obsession with describing female politicians solely in terms of their appearances. She then went on to hilariously run through a list of male politicians, complete with photographs, assessing their attractiveness and her own eagerness to sleep with them. Suffice to say the Tories didn’t come out well in those stakes. The absolute highlight though, was Ms. Ward’s irreverent response to Moremagazine’s request for her to write Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired erotic fiction for them“He looked into both of my eyes. Not just one of them, but both”, Danielle began, unfolding a tale of awkward sexual encounters that had the entire audience in stitches.

I can’t remember the last time any male stand-up made me laugh as much as funny women Bethany Black and Danielle Ward did at What The Frock! At the end of Danielle’s set my friend turned to me and said, “She was so good I almost weed!” – and if that isn’t a review enough in itself, I don’t know what is.