Written, Devised and Performed by Elise Gilbert
The Kings Arms
It is always exciting to see performers at the start of their careers especially if you are lucky enough to get to see students honing their craft as they study. Here in Manchester those opportunities arise at The Arden School of Theatre, now futher enhanced by their new purpose built theatre. A few years ago I saw the then third year students in a memorable production working with Figs in Wigs. Now graduated, Elise Gilbert is back in Manchester with her first solo show that has previously shown at Camden Peoples Theatre in London.
Bad Jokes About Men blends truly naff jokes with Gilbert’s unique blend of exuberant charm, queer politics, clowning skills and live journaling. The range of skits use her great comic timing and natural physicality to explore traditional jokes, verbatim comments made to other young females and her own personal experience of being the butt or boobs of just a big old joke. At one point she addresses her audience asking How long can a joke keep on going for? Like so many others she is clearly not amused by the ‘joke’ and this show is a determined attempt to turn the tables and see how funny men find it when they become the butt or with her help the balloon penis of the ‘joke’.
Gilbert is multi-talented using a range of performance skills to ilustrate her argument and she carries off the performance with aplomb. She has an easy confidence on stage and has a genuine rapport with her audience that is impressive for someone doing their first solo show. She is adept at using eye contact in the space to really get the audience onside whether she is looking wryly humerous at an individual, gurning, expressing her anger or her vulnerability to the crowd.
The use of multimedia is highly effective whether to perform as alternate characters such as ‘Rob’ who tells ‘his’ traumatic experience as a WMCSM (white middle class straight man) or to gradually reveal the messages received by a male ‘friend’. It is the latter that provides the final nail in the coffin to this long running joke on women. This slow reveal alludes to the confusion and discomfort of being on the receiving end of statements such as I had a wank over you last night. Gilbert uses journaling tools to perceptively outline the many ways this might not feel funny to a young, queer woman you know. The closing technique used to make her point is intellectually incisive and theatrically very satisfying.