tue 28/09/2021

Josie Long, Brighton Festival 2021 review - giddy post-lockdown spin on pregnancy-based show | reviews, news & interviews

Josie Long, Brighton Festival 2021 review - giddy post-lockdown spin on pregnancy-based show

Josie Long, Brighton Festival 2021 review - giddy post-lockdown spin on pregnancy-based show

Delayed for a year, Long's 2019 Edinburgh Fringe success finally makes it to Brighton

One funny mother with her baby© Giles Smith

Introduced by Brighton Festival 2021 Guest Director, poet Lemn Sissay, Josie Long, clad in blue denim dungarees and a black tee-shirt, initially hits the stage for a celebratory introduction. She’s here to perform her Tender show about pregnancy and childbirth, but this is her first show in well over a year, due to COVID-19, and she’s keen to say hello first.

She’s excited and it’s contagious.

Back in summer 2019 theartsdesk reviewed Tender in its original Edinburgh Fringe incarnation but tonight’s version is not a straight rerun. Pulling it from mothballs, Long is constantly aware that a lot has happened since she last performed it, and, while she eventually sticks to the structure of the original, she also revels in its ragged, under-rehearsed edges, and wanders off for tangential riffs when she fancies.

The introduction, for instance, is a chunky and amusing aside, perhaps the beginning of an new COVID-related piece, wherein she explains that she now feels like “an old husk that crawled out of a cave”, that she’s been missing things she doesn’t even care about, such as the Ministry of Sound and Ketamine, then she snipes cattily at those who’ve written a novel or run a marathon during lockdown. She also points out that now her baby is actually a toddler, so circumstances have moved on regarding the show’s subject matter too.

After the intro, she goes off stage and returns for Tender proper. Its component parts are one third pregnancy, one third childbirth and one third climate change paranoia/activism. Long uses the ecological theme analogously, both as a metaphor for the terrors of giving birth and the worries for her daughter’s future. In fact, the evening begins with discussion of a George Monbiot article in the Guardian and concludes in praise of Greta Thunberg and teen ecological activists.

Before that, though, while dropping in post-COVID asides, such as suggesting comedians are “the cherry at the top of Maslov’s triangle of needs”, Long has tasty routines about being in denial during her 50-hour labour; the foolishness of suddenly deciding to cook a chicken as her contractions grew closer; the excellence of the name Claire; her gas’n’air-addled time in a hospital birthing pool; and her adoration of Baby on Board badges. The latter leads to a demonstration of her gift for physical comedy, as she shows how pregnant women sit down on public transport. She gives good clown.

In this passable purgatory before full unlocking, the venue arrangement and audience numbers are pared back. The tabled cabaret set-up where the stalls should be does, as Long suggests have “a bit of a wedding vibe”. However, comedy works better in these straitened circumstances than music, as we would usually be sitting down for it anyway. Also, the enthusiasm of everyone, just at being here, is audible. Long’s super-PC, Brighton-friendly right-on-ness, combined with her smiley, open-hearted, eager-beaver stage persona could be grating but, while she takes a while to hit full making-us-laugh-aloud stride, her loved-up, new parent attitude is actually a tonic.

Towards the close she likens giving birth to “a cross between MDMA and death” and does a great bit about carrying the baby out of the hospital in a surreal daze “like buying a cake on magic mushrooms”. Then she’s into all the eco stuff again. It’s a dynamic note to end on, her righteous rage at the Tories firing up the room, but her charm tempering it. When she suddenly stops, there’s a moment’s silence, then the room explodes into deserved whoops and applause.

Below: One minute promo clip for Josie Long's Tender show

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