Smurthwaite on Masculinity
Leicester Comedy Festival, February 2017
This show opened displaying all the hallmarks of a professionally directed and presented piece of entertainment. This was not a straightforward stand-up with a microphone, but a character performance with a supporting cast, all very much on-script right from the start. Kate Smurthwaite clearly has some very well thought out ideas about gender inequality and how to deliver her message with real satirical punchiness. In fact, so plentiful and intricately interwoven are her ideas that sadly they became a bit of a blur of anti-misogynist evangelising, all highly reasonable points, probably factually correct, sometimes crammed with intrigue and spiked with humour... But this decent-sized audience just couldn't keep up with the layering of multiple nuance and unfortunately the biggest laughs came at the crudest - but easiest to understand - points of the show which felt rather disappointing for those of us who were hoping to be taken on a rather more challenging and intellectual journey. The material was all there, but it would have perhaps been better, or at least more effective as a platform for the message, if it were to have been delivered in book form, or possibly even a dramatic Radio Four monologue.
Smurthwaite played her alter-ego character convincingly, inhabiting the male role with a considered but funny balance of caricature and caution. Perhaps in her world she has encountered men that really are like this and is merely deprecating them, perhaps she is deliberately spoofing an exaggerated version of maleness as a vehicle for her ideas, either way it is funny and engaging to a point and the audience laughs sporadically at the material and is captured by the theatre of her character.
The interjection of her sound-guy-cum-comedy-partner may be a structurally good idea but it is one that needs developing much more. His scripted additions to the show and evolvement into a "character" simply do not match the energy that Smurthwaite delivers, and the gradual progression of his involvement begins to turn the whole thing into rather a long-winded comedy sketch rather than an hour of strong, feminist-based stand-up. The whole abortion routine towards the end is a perfect example of why it was a great idea that didn't quite work. The male character is not an actor so was not convincing, the satire was delivered too fast, the props looked very homemade, the arguments didn't quite make perfect sense or relied on assumptions about what the audience may or may not know...
Smurthwaite is a clever, funny woman, with a lot of ideas. Unfortunately she has tried to cram too many of those ideas into one small show, but with a little less theatre and a little more relating with her audience she could really develop this into something important.