Fringe Review: Stephanie Laing, Mad About the Boy

Stephanie Laing is a long way from home. Hailing from Manchester, England, Laing has performed in many of the U.K.’s iconic comedy venues where she has thrilled audiences and critics alike with her ‘mixture of charm, wit, honesty and downright filth’ (David Kelly, edfringe.com). Making her Australian debut in 2018, I can’t help wondering how audiences on this side of the planet will react to Laing’s explicit style. (Note that this show is strictly adults only and comes with trigger warnings for self-harm, domestic violence and drug use.)

First impressions of Laing are confusing – she has the sweet, innocent face of a high school head girl but the vocabulary of an over-worked porn star. Laing’s shocking style is evident from the opening as she catalogues her sexual misdemeanours in graphic, technicolour detail. With the help of a male heckler from the second row, she waffles through her first sexual encounters, inviting commentary on her techniques and experiences. The banter between heckler and host is amusing and Laing’s quick, quality retorts easily outwit his off-beat innuendos.

With a nicely warmed-up audience, Laing directs the conversation towards deeper issues. Her introduction briefly touched on her own depression and anxiety and she now returns her full attention to these topics. With a straight face, Laing strongly recommends acid rather than therapy to combat feelings of awkwardness and self-loathing. We gain insight into Laing’s earlier life, from self-harming during her school years to disguising her despair in shambolic, soulless sex at university. Laing’s chatty, self-depreciating style is engaging and she re-examines her history with brutal honesty. However the serious subject drains humour from the situation and attempts to interject comedic value sometimes border insensitivity.

As we move into the show’s final segment we meet ‘the boy’ from the performance’s title and Laing reveals exactly what she is ‘mad about’. Through a series of short, joke-peppered anecdotes, Laing builds details of her previous relationship with a controlling, abusive partner. Sarcastic suggestions from ‘the boy’ dictating the way she cuts her sandwiches, develop into full-blown domestic abuse over the interlocking stories. Laing’s former partner is eventually seen as a violent, over-whelming individual who causes our host mental, physical and emotional harm. Throughout the series of anecdotes, Laing pauses several times to ask the audience, ‘Who would’ve left then?’ The technique is alarming as it forces us to imagine ourselves within the escalating series of events.

Whilst it is wonderful that Laing so openly and honestly discusses topics which are frequently stigmatised, the content sometimes misfires within the context of a stand-up comedy show. In my opinion the performance often lacks power – shocking, sexual misadventures somewhat falter into anti-climax and serious messages are weakened for cheap laughs.

I left with the impression that I had not caught the show at its best. Whether due to the heat in the small room, underestimating Australian audiences or some other unknown factor, the performance seemed under par. The fact that the show ran for only thirty-eight minutes rather than the advertised fifty was an unfortunate metaphor for the entire performance – initial promise fell short of expectations.                                                                                         

(3 out of 5 stars)

 

Reviewed by Jo Withers

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