OBVIOUSLY aiming to maximise the trip from Australia, Hannah Gadsby has two shows this year. Hannah Wants a Wife sounds like an invitation to discerning single lesbians to combine a comedy show with an audition.
Hannah Gadsby - Hannah Wants a Wife
Star rating: * * *
Hannah Gadsby - Mary, Contrary
Star rating: * * * *
Gilded Balloon Tevio (Venue 14)
But it’s not – Gadsby has a girlfriend, thanks very much. What she wants is for them to have the right to tie the knot in Oz like any straight couple.
Her visual aid for musings comedic and telling is Jan Van Eyck’s double portrait, The Arnolfini Marriage. You know, it’s that one with the weird-looking guy and the apparently pregnant woman with a mirror in the back of the frame reflecting the artist and a couple of other people… yeah, that one.
It’s a work that has invited some rather fanciful interpretations – Gadsby refers to this as “Dan Brown-ing” the image. But Gadsby’s here to strip away the layers of enigma, while commenting on the status of wives down the centuries. And telling jokes. I’ve made the show sound like an art lecture, but it’s more of an arch lecture – a classy, smart comic making points while making us laugh.
Gadsby also shows us her favourite painting in the whole wide world. It’s almost as beloved as the Van Eyck, but I shan’t spoil it.
Her other show, Mary Contrary, pretty much is an unashamed lecture – Gadsby has a degree in history of art. But it’s the funniest, most fact-filled talk on paintings you ever did see. There’s so much entertaining content that Gadsby went over her hour-slot slightly, but unless you’re on a tight schedule, that’s not a bad problem to have.
From Byzantine icons to Banksy’s graffiti, Gadsby shows how artists have visualised the Virgin Mary. Whether she’s getting the Angel Gabriel’s message, cuddling baby Jesus or holding her executed son, Mary has been central in the Western artistic tradition, though representations of her have varied wildly – according to the latest agreed version of her life, the talent of the artist or a point they’re trying to get across.
Gadsby’s commentary is fascinating and funny. If you’ve never heard of the Lactation of St Bernard, your life really is incomplete. There’s no disrespect – no meanness directed at subject, artists or audience. Gadsby is genuinely curious about what representations of Mary tell us, not about her, but about us.
I left this show not only laughing, but feeling a little bit cleverer than when I went in. That’s worth a few quid, surely?
• Hannah Wants A Wife until 26 August, today 8:10pm. Mary Contrary until 26 August, today 2pm.