Sarah Johnson - Reminiscing
Leicester Comedy Festival, February 2017
In a surprisingly full pub on a wet and windy Wednesday evening in Leicester Sarah Johnson unveiled and shared her new show with a fully-suspecting public. Fully-suspecting as, unlike the majority of small-venue shows at this festival, most people in this audience had heard great things about her and knew that in the short couple of years that she has been doing stand-up she has already made a name for herself on the circuit and even won some quite prestigious awards. Ahead of what was to be her first full 1-hour, 1-woman show the atmosphere was tangibly buoyant and bouncing with anticipation, yet when she took to the stage it was without a single hint of nerves or trepidation.
She smashed it.
Here is a comedian that has the enviable combination of funny bones and the knowledge of what is required to do a great show. Johnson has clearly put an enormous amount of work in to this show and not just with its props, music, costume and tech, but the overall structure and writing was a beautiful balance of whimsy and filth, self-deprecation and boldness, and most importantly - punchline after callback after punchline. Not every gag landed properly, and several missed completely, but she created and then rode the wave of a supportive audience triumphantly from start to finish quite unphased by any minor glitches.
As the title of the show suggests her set rolled through her childhood and formative years, hilariously illustrated with a wealth of highly personal pictures, memory-inducing books and magazines and even family video-clips which she has done well to preserve for decades. Through her perfomance the audience re-lived their own childhoods, her hilarious recollections bringing instant nostalgia but each time skewing the memories with the ridicule and downright embarrassment of the folly and foolishness of her - and all of our - youth. This is very much a "variety show" style of stand up, she barely stood still for the entire hour but danced, sang, ran, mimed, acted and tottered along in equal measure, to finally close the show with a series of superb and very visual callbacks each topping the previous one.
Sarah Johnson's passage to success will be swift if she is able to maintain this level of performance and there is no reason to believe she couldn't, although perhaps the next test will come when she faces a crowd of strangers not bolstered by the many excited friends and relatives present in her debut audience. Trickier still would be the inevitable gig to four people perhaps at an ill-advised weekday afternoon fringe slot. This is not a show full of gags but rather one that feeds off the involvement of the audience albeit without any of the usual "what's your name and what do you do for a living" interaction.
Occasionally, very occasionally one gets the feeling of being ''in on the ground" at the start of something new and exciting. If the comedy gods are listening at all, please may they open a path for this woman as she is too fine and funny a talent to go to waste.