Comedy review: Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Hannah Gadsby (and Douglas)
Hannah Gadsby (and Douglas)
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How do you follow up Nanette, the most impactful stand-up performance of the last five years? That’s the challenge facing Hannah Gadsby, yet it’s one she surmounts with bravura ease. The international success of her previous special on Netflix has attracted a considerable amount of backlash for the Australian from angry male trolls. But she gorges on their misogyny and has found greater self-awareness, her confidence demonstrated in her higher status assurance at the mic.

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

An extended introduction brilliantly sets the parameters of her relationship with the audience, herself and her fame, outlining the upcoming running order of “needling” the patriarchy; slamming anti-vaxxers and Louis CK; exploring Renaissance art; Gadsby’s diagnosis with autism in her late thirties and plenty of puns, the most overt expression of the playful manipulation of language threaded throughout this show.

Her analysis of her autism, and the way she pre-empts and subverts expectations around it, capably align the audience to her atypical thought processes. But her struggles to connect with other people, from childhood to the present day, are presented with a light touch. Less so are her controlled rants at the male dominance of language and culture, especially with regard to women’s bodies, though their tone is offset by her sillier romp through its expression in the work of the great Renaissance painters, a long-established element of Gadsby’s comedy pre-dating her global standing.

Combining the punchy and the whimsical, strong opinion and impish capriciousness, Douglas is masterfully put together and reframes a mental health struggle as an enabling creativity. Jay Richardson